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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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TARGUMS . Originally the word targum meant ‘translation’ in reference to any language; but it acquired a restricted meaning, and came to be used only of translation from Hebrew into Aramaic. As early as the time of Ezra we find the verb used in reference to a document written in Aramaic ( Ezra 4:7 ), though in this passage the addition ‘in Aramaic’ is made, showing that the restricted meaning had not yet come into vogue. As early as the time of the Second Temple the language of the Holy Scriptures, Hebrew, was not understood by the bulk of the Jewish people, for it had been supplanted by Aramaic. When, therefore, the Scriptures were read in synagogues, it became necessary to translate them, in order that they might be understood by the congregation. The official translator who performed this duty was called the methurgeman or targeman , which is equivalent to the modern dragoman (‘interpreter’). The way in which it was done was as follows: In the case of the Pentateuch (the ‘Law’) a verse was read in Hebrew, and then translated into Aramaic, and so on to the end of the appointed portion; but in the case of the prophetical writings three verses were read and then translated. Whether this system was the custom originally may be doubted; it was probably done in a less formal way at first. By degrees the translation became stereotyped, and was ultimately reduced to writing; and thus the Targums, the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, came into existence. The various Targums which are still extant will be enumerated below. As literary products they are of late date, but they occupy a highly important place in post-Biblical Jewish religious literature, because they embody the traditional exegesis of the Scriptures. They have for many centuries ceased to be used in the synagogue; from the 9th cent. onwards their use has been discontinued. It is, however, interesting to note an exception in the case of Southern Arabia, where the custom still survives; and in Bokhara the Persian Jews read the Targum, with the Persian paraphrase of it, to the lesson from the Prophets for the last day of the Passover Feast, namely, Isaiah 10:32 to Isaiah 12:6 . There are Targums to all the books of the Bible, with the exception of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah; as these are to a large extent written in Aramaic, one can understand why Targums to these books should be wanting. Most of the Targums are mainly paraphrases; the only one which is in the form of a translation in the modern sense of the word is the Targum of Onkelos to the, Pentateuch; this is, on the whole, a fairly literal translation. Isolated passages in the Bible which are written in Aramaic, as in Genesis and Jeremiah, are also called Targums. The following is a list of the Targums which are in existence:

1. Targum of Onkelos to the Pentateuch, called also Targum Babli , i.e. the Babylonian Targum.

2. The Palestinian Targum to the Pentateuch, called also Targum Jerushalmi , i.e. the Jerusalem Targum.

3. The ‘Fragment Targum’ to the Pentateuch.

4. The Targum of Jonathan to the prophetical books (these include what we call the historical books).

5. The Targum Jerushalmi to the prophetical books.

6. The Targum to the Psalms.

7. The Targum to Job.

8. The Targum to Proverbs.

9 13. The Targums to the Five Megilloth (‘Rolls’), namely: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther; the Book of Esther has three Targums to it.

14. The Targum to Chronicles.

For printed editions of these, reference may be made to the bibliographies given in Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. i. pp. 160 163, and in the JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] xii. 63.

To come now to a brief description of these Targums:

The Targum of Onkelos is the oldest of all the Targums that have come down to us; it is for the most part a literal translation of the Pentateuch, only here and there assuming the form of a paraphrase. The name of this Targum owes its origin to a passage in the Babylonian Talmud ( Megillah , 3 a ), in which it is said: ‘The Targum to the Pentateuch was composed by the proselyte Onkelos at the dictation of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua’; and in the Jerusalem Talmud ( Megillah , 71 c ) it is said: ‘Aquila the proselyte translated the Pentateuch in the presence of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua. That Aquila is the same as Onkelos can scarcely admit of doubt. In the tractate Abodah zara , 11 a , we are told that this Onkelos was the pupil of Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder, who lived in the second half of the 1st cent. a.d. Seeing that this Targum rests on tradition, it will be clear that we have in it an ancient witness to Jewish exegesis; indeed, it is the earliest example of Midrashic tradition that we possess; and not only so, but as this Targum is mainly a translation, it is a most important authority for the pre-Massoretic text of the Pentateuch. This shows of what high value the Targum of Onkelos is, and that it is not without reason that it has always been regarded with great veneration. It is characteristic of the Targum of Onkelos that, unlike the other Targums, the Midrashic element is greatly subordinated to simple translation; when it does appear it is mainly in poetic passages, though not exclusively (cf. Genesis 49:1-33 , Numbers 24:1-25 , Deuteronomy 32:1-52; Deuteronomy 33:1-29 , which are prophetic in character. The idea apparently was that greater licence was permitted in dealing with passages of this kind than with those in which the legal element predominated. As with the Targums generally, so with that of Onkelos, there is a marked tendency to avoid anthropomorphisms and expressions which might appear derogatory to the dignity of God; this may be seen, for example, in Genesis 11:4 , where the words ‘The Lord came down,’ which seemed anthropomorphic, are rendered in this Targum, ‘the Lord revealed Himself.’ Then again, the transcendent character of the Almighty is emphasized by substituting for the Divine Person intermediate agencies like the Memra , or ‘Word’ of God, the Shekinah , or ‘Glory’ of God, to which a more or less distinct personality is imputed; in this way it was sought to avoid ascribing to God Himself actions or words which were deemed unfitting to the inexpressible majesty and transcendence of the Almighty. A good example of this, and one which will also illustrate the general character of this Targum, is the following; it is the rendering of Genesis 3:8 ff. ‘And they heard the voice of the Word ( Memra ) of the Lord God walking in the garden in the evening of the day; and Adam and his wife hid themselves from before the Lord God among the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called to Adam and said: “Where art thou?” And he said: “The voice of Thy Word ( Memra ) I heard in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I would hide.” ’

The other Targum to the Pentateuch, the Targum Jerushalmi , has come down to us in two forms: one in a complete form, the other only in fragments, hence the name of the latter which is generally used, the ‘Fragment Targum.’ The fragments have been gathered from a variety of sources, from manuscripts and from quotations found in the writings of ancient authors. But owing to its fragmentary character this Targum is of much less value than the ‘Targum Jerushalmi.’ This latter is sometimes erroneously called the ‘Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch’; but though this Jonathan was believed to be the author of the Targum to the Prophets which bears his name (see below), there was not the slightest ground for ascribing to him the authorship of the Targum to the Pentateuch (‘Targum Jerushalmi’). The mistake arose in an interesting way. In its abbreviated form this Targum was referred to as ‘Targum J’; this ‘J [Note: Jahwist.] ,’ which of course stood for ‘Jerushalmi,’ was taken to refer to ‘Jonathan,’ the generally acknowledged author of the Targum to the Prophets; thus it came about that this Targum to the Pentateuch, as well as the Targum to the Prophets, was called the Targum of Jonathan. So tenaciously has the wrong name clung to this Targum, that a kind of compromise is made as to its title, and it is now usually known as the ‘Targum of pseudo-Jonatban.’ In one important respect this Targum is quite similar to that of Onkelos, namely, in its avoidance of anthropomorphisms, and in its desire not to bring God into too close contact with man; for example, in Exodus 34:6 we have these words: ‘And the Lord descended in a cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.’ But this Targum paraphrases the verse in a roundabout way, and says that ‘Jehovah revealed Himself in the clouds of the glory of His Shekinah,’ thus avoiding what in the original text appeared to detract from the dignity of the Almighty. This kind of thing occurs with great frequency, and it is both interesting and important, as showing the evolution of the idea of God among the Jews (see Oesterley and Box, The Religion and Worship of the Synagogue , ch. viii. [1907]). But in other respects the ‘Targum Jerushalmi’ (or ‘Targum of pseudo-Jonathan’) differs from that of Onkelos, especially in its being far less a translation than a free paraphrase. The following extract will give a good idea of the character of this Targum; It is the paraphrase of Genesis 18:1 ff. ‘And the glory of the Lord was revealed to him in the valley of Mamre; and he, being ill from the pain of circumcision, sat at the door of the tabernacle in the beat of the day. And he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three angels in the resemblance of men were standing before him; angels who had been sent from the necessity of three things because it is not possible for a ministering angel to be sent for more than one purpose at a time one, then, had come to make known to him that Sarah should bear a man-child; one had come to deliver Lot; and one to overthrow Sodom and Gomorrah. And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the door of the tent, and bowed himself to the earth.’

The Targum of Jonathan to the Prophets owes its name to an ancient tradition, according to which Jonathan ben Uzziel composed it ‘from the mouths of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi’ ( Megillah , 3 a ); this is merely a figurative way of saying that the traditional interpretation, as supposed to have been handed down by these prophets, was embodied in written form by Jonathan. The latter was a pupil of Hillel, and wrote a Targum (according to the passage just referred to) for the purpose of removing ‘all impediments to the understanding of the Scriptures’ ( JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] viii. 238). It is said of this Jonathan that when he sat down and occupied himself with the study of the Law, every bird that happened to fly over his head was burned; the reason of this was that so many angels gathered around him in order to hear the words of the Law from his mouth ( Succah , 28 a [Weber, Jud. Theol . 2 , p. xviii.]). That Jonathan had the Targum of Onkelos before him when he wrote is proved by the fact that whole passages from Onkelos are incorporated verbatim in his Targum. As a pupil of Hillel, Jonathan lived during the middle and end of the 1st cent. a.d., so that the date of his Targum may safely be stated to be the end of the first century. An interesting example of this Targum is the following paraphrase of Isaiah 52:13-15 : ‘Behold, my servant the Messiah shall prosper, he shall be exalted and extolled, and he shall be very strong. Like as the house of Israel anxiously hoped for him many days, (the house of Israel) which was poor among the nations, their appearance and their brightness being worse than that of the sons of men, thus shall he scatter many nations; before him kings shall keep silence; they shall put their hands upon their mouths, for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard they shall consider.’ In the whole of the following chapter 53 ‘it is curious to notice that the passages which refer to the humiliation of the Servant are interpreted of the people of Israel, while those which speak of the glory of the Servant are referred to the Messiah’ (Oesterley and Box, op. cit. p. 49).

Of much later date, and also of less importance than the Targums of Onkelos, pseudo-Jonathan, or Jonathan, is the Targum Jerushalmi to the Prophets . According to JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] xii. 61, ‘Most of the quotations given in the Targum Jerushalmi are Haggadic additions, frequently traceable to the Babylonian Talmud, so that this Palestinian Targum to the Prophets belongs to a later period, when the Babylonian Talmud had begun to exert an influence upon Palestinian literature.’ There are not many remains extant of this Targum; most of the extracts in existence are citations in the writings of Rashi and David Kimchi; the largest number of extracts found together are those in the eleventh century Codex Reuchlinianus, edited by Lagarde, ProphetÅ“ Chaldaice .

Of the remaining Targums not much need be said; those to the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job show a close relationship and are usually assigned to the same author; they belong to the latter half of the seventh century. They are to a large extent translations, though a considerable Haggadic element is to be found in them, especially in the Targum to Job. The Targums to the five Megillolh are likewise post-Talmudic; in all five translation plays a subordinate part, the prevailing element being Midrashic; this reaches its height in the Song of Songs. Of the three Targums to Esther, the second, known as Targum Sheni , has always been extremely popular. The latest of all the Targums is that to Chronicles; it is strongly Haggadic, and is of but little importance.

‘The Targums are important not only for the light they throw on Jewish theology, but also, especially, as a thesaurus of ancient Jewish exegesis; in this way they often throw much interesting light on the use of the OT by the NT writers; in particular, it can be shown that the NT often agrees with the ancient Synagogue in interpreting certain passages Messianically which later were expounded differently in orthodox Jewish circles’ (Oesterley and Box, op. cit. p. 50).

W. O. E. Oesterley.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Targums'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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