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The Targums

A Critical Introduction

Paul V. M. Flesher and Bruce Chilton

Publication Year: 2011

The value and significance of the targums—translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, the language of Palestinian Jews for centuries following the Babylonian Exile—lie in their approach to translation: within a typically literal rendering of a text, they incorporate extensive exegetical material, additions, and paraphrases. These alterations reveal important information about Second Temple Judaism, its interpretation of its bible, and its beliefs.

This remarkable survey introduces critical knowledge and insights that have emerged over the past forty years, including targum manuscripts discovered this century and targums known in Aramaic but only recently translated into English. Prolific scholars Flesher and Chilton guide readers in understanding the development of the targums, their relationship to the Hebrew Bible, their dates, their language, their place in the history of Christianity and Judaism, and their theologies and methods of interpretation.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Title page

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Table of Contents

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pp. ix-xi

The Jewish Targums constitute the largest body of sustained Scripture translation and interpretation from the ancient world. Unfortunately, they are also the least well known. In comparison to the (mostly fragmentary) works of biblical exegesis from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Targums lack the enthusiasm of recent discovery and decipherment. In comparison to ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

The authors would like to thank the friends and colleagues who encouraged us over the years to undertake and complete the writing of this introduction. Many scholars knowledgeable in the study of the Targums and the Aramaic language, in Rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity, made themselves available for conversation and discussion, to answer questions, ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xv-xvii

Section I: Getting Started

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pp. 1

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1. Introduction

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pp. 3-17

The origins of the Jewish synagogue remain shrouded in mystery, despite extensive research and considerable progress.

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2. Defining Targum

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pp. 19-37

In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word targum appears as a general term meaning “translation,” and may refer to the rendering of any text into any language, although translation into Aramaic is usually the focus. General usage of the term continues today in modern Israeli Hebrew. But when we use the term to designate a group of Aramaic translations of Scripture ...

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3. The Seven Rules of Targum

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pp. 39-54

In the previous chapter, we defined the Targums. A good definition identifies the category to which an item belongs—in this case, translation—and then identifies what makes it distinctive within that category. For the Targums it is their smooth combination of highly literal translation with ...

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4. Rabbinic Literature

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pp. 55-68

The Targums should generally be seen against the backdrop of the rabbinic period, which lasted from circa 70 to circa 600 CE. This was certainly the time during which Targums were widely used and most of the extant Targumim were composed. Because of this setting, it is impossible to progress very far in targumic study without understanding something ...

Section II: The Pentateuchal Targums

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pp. 69

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5. Pentateuchal Targums

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pp. 71-89

The foundation of the modern study of the Targums was laid in Germany during the nineteenth century. The first scholarly editions of the texts, the first major linguistic studies, early literary and historical studies, as well as attempts to understand the Targums’ role in worship and study were created at this time. Scholars such as Isaac Berliner, Theodore Nöldeke, ...

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6. Sources of the Palestinian Targums

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pp. 91-107

For centuries scholars have realized that many of the expansions added into the Palestinian Targums were similar across the different Targums. This was even recognized when the extant versions of what was then thought of as Targum Yerushalmi comprised only Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (which we now know is not a Palestinian Targum) and a single ...

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7. Targum Onqelos and the Targums of Israel

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pp. 109-129

At the beginning of the previous chapter, Genesis 41:43 and Exodus 14:20 illustrated the common character of the Palestinian Targums. It was clear that the expansions for each verse appear in several different Targums, and were similar in size, structure, and language, although each one had variations the others lacked. The Proto-PT source, our hypothesis for the ...

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8. The Pentateuchal Targums in Rabbinic Literature

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pp. 131-150

One of the odd features of the Pentateuchal Targums, at least when we consider them in comparison to rabbinic literature, is that they contain no attributions. Although in the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the two Talmuds and the Midrashim, acknowledged quotations from named rabbinic figures is a salient feature, nothing like this shows up in the Targums. The Tar-...

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9. Dating the Targums of Israel

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pp. 151-166

Paul Kahle’s 1930 publication of fragmentary manuscripts of Palestinian Targums from the Cairo Genizah inaugurated a new era in the study of the Pentateuchal Targums. In part, this was because the fragments were the earliest known examples of the Palestinian Targums and revealed important similarities to, as well as differences from, already accessible ...

Section III: The Targums of the Prophets and the Writings

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pp. 167

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10. Targum Jonathan of the Prophets

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pp. 169-198

The books of the Prophets—both Former and Latter—are extant in Aramaic in a single collection known as Targum Jonathan. The date and character of each Targum within the collection needs to be assessed individually. As we will see in this chapter and the next, analysis identifies definite patterns that associate some of these Targumim with definable ...

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11. Targum Jonathan

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pp. 199-228

As we move beyond the Targum of Isaiah to the Targums of the other prophetic books, we find that these contributions both reinforce and build upon the two exegetical frameworks so far identified. The Targums of the large books (Jeremiah and Ezekiel), as well as of the minor prophet Zechariah, provide solid evidence of these two major exegetical layers, ...

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12. Targums to the Writings

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pp. 229-264

The Writings Targums were composed individually at different times and by different people; they lack any overall composition scheme or approach that would unite them, like the Targums Onqelos and Jonathan. Scholars have therefore had to analyze them individually. In comparison to the other Targums, the Writings Targums attracted ...

Section IV: The Targums in Late-Antique Judaism

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pp. 265

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13. Aramaic in Judaism

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pp. 267-283

Aramaic was spread throughout the Middle East by the ancient empires of Assyria, Babylonia, and Persia, which required their vassals to learn and use the language. But it was not until the last of these empires was long gone that Aramaic became the language of choice for a great deal of Jewish writing—including the Targums. At a time when there was no exter-...

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14. Targums and Translation in the History of Rabbinic Literature

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pp. 285-324

From the time of the earliest rabbinic document, the Mishnah, the rabbis recognized the importance of translation.¹ In Mishnah Sotah 7:5, they envision the closing act of the ceremony of Blessings and Curses on mounts Gerizim and Ebal, described in Deuteronomy 27–29, to be the erection of an altar upon which the Torah is written in seventy languages. ...

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15. Targum as Scripture and Hidden Interpretation

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pp. 325-338

The prescriptive character of much of what we read concerning Targums in rabbinic literature in the previous chapter makes it difficult to deduce actual, historical practice in any detail. Attempts to delve beneath the surface of these prescriptions inevitably depend upon the applicability to real situations of general interpretive rules—and these rules are nei-...

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16. Ancient Scripture Translations

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pp. 339-381

In addition to the Targums, the Hebrew Bible was translated at least six times in antiquity,¹ sometimes paired with the New Testament as “the Old Testament.” The eastern Mediterranean provided the crucible for this linguistic activity. Among Aramaic speakers, evidence from Qumran shows that Jews translated the book of Job and other Hebrew Bible ...

Section V: The Targums and Early Christianity

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pp. 383

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17. Comparing the Targums and the New Testament

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pp. 385-408

It was inevitable that scholars would draw comparisons between the Targums and the Gospels, given that both kinds of works were linked to the Galilee of the early centuries of the Common Era. But to Paul Kahle, the Targums and the Gospels were more than comparable or similar; the latter depended upon the former. In his Schweich Lectures, given at Oxford ...

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18. The Aramaic Retroversion of Jesus Sayings

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pp. 409-421

In chapter 17, we studied how the Targums could help us understand the meaning of utterances associated with Jesus or of other remarks found in the New Testament. Here in chapter 18, we want to explore how the Targums and other Aramaic texts and inscriptions can assist us in identifying the language Jesus spoke and thus in delineating the way in which his ...

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19. The Fourth Gospel and Targumic Memra

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pp. 423-436

The Gospel according to John is widely recognized as the last in the New Testament to have been written, around 100 CE in Ephesus. Although we do not know who wrote this anonymous work, frequent references to the disciple whom Jesus loved (John 13:23-25; 19:26-27; 20:2-8; 21:7, 20) and his identification as the one who remembered or recorded this Jesus ...

Section VI: Conclusions and Prospects

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pp. 437

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20. Genesis 22 in the Targumim and in Early Jewish and Christian Interpretation

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pp. 439-473

The goal of this book has been to introduce Targums both as interpretative translations of a sacred text and as texts in their own right. In addition, they stand in relationship to other ancient writings, whether the Jewish writings of the intertestamental and rabbinic periods or the Christian writings of the New Testament and the early church. They also func-...

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21. Targums in the Rabbinic World and Beyond

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pp. 475-493

Throughout this book we have focused on the earliest centuries of the Targums, trying to understand their composition and use, primarily during the rabbinic period. We looked at the earliest known Aramaic Bible translation—the Aramaic version of Job from Qumran. We examined the rise of the Pentateuchal and Prophetic Targums during the first to the fourth ...

Appendix A: The Parallel Expansions of Genesis 28–50

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pp. 495-498

Appendix B: A Guide to Babylonian Pointing

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pp. 499


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pp. 501-509


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pp. 511-539


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pp. 541-557

E-ISBN-13: 9781602583894
E-ISBN-10: 1602583897
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602583825
Print-ISBN-10: 160258382X

Page Count: 575
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1st

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Subject Headings

  • Christian saints -- History.
  • Judaism -- History -- Post-exilic period, 586 B.C.-210 A.D.
  • Bible. O.T. -- Criticism, interpretation, etc., Jewish.
  • Rabbinical literature -- History and criticism.
  • Bible. -- N.T. -- Relation to the Old Testament.
  • Bible. O.T. Aramaic -- Versions.
  • Bible. O.T. Aramaic -- Criticism, interpretation, etc.
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