Aramaic Thoughts 2

Aramaic Literature – Part 2 – The Primary Targums

After Onkelos, the second primary Targum is that of Pseudo-Jonathan. The curious name comes from the fact that this Targum was (wrongly) ascribed to the same Jonathan who was responsible for the Targum Jonathan on the Prophets. This misidentification was perhaps due to wrongly reading the abbreviation TY as an abbreviation of Targum Yonathan instead of Targum Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Targum). Modern scholars thus refer to the Targum as that of Pseudo-Jonathan in order to distinguish it from the previously mentioned Targum Jonathan on the Prophets.

The Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan is distinguished from that of Onkelos by being more paraphrastic than the latter. As an example, here are the two targums on the first few verses of Genesis 1:

Targum Onkelos Genesis 1:1-5 “In the first times[1] the Lord created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and empty, and darkness was upon[2] the face of the abyss; and a wind from before the Lord blew upon the face of the waters. And the Lord said, Let there be light; and there was light. And the Lord saw the light that it was good. And the Lord distinguished between the light and between the darkness. And the Lord called the light the Day, and the darkness He called the Night. And there was evening, and there was morning, Day the First.”

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan Genesis 1:1-5 “At the beginning (min avella) the Lord created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was vacancy and desolation, solitary of the sons of men, and void of every animal; and darkness was upon the face of the abyss, and the Spirit of mercies from before the Lord breathed upon the face of the waters. And the Lord said, Let there be light and to enlighten above; and at once there was light. And the Lord beheld the light, that it was good; and the Lord divided between the light and the darkness. And the Lord call the light Day; and He made it that the inhabiters of the world might labour by it: and the darkness called He night; and He made it that in it the creatures might have rest. And it was evening, and it was morning, the First Day.”

The translations come from an 1862 translation published by J. W. Etheridge, which is available on-line at for those interested in more extensive reading in these interesting versions.

In addition to Pseudo-Jonathan and Onkelos, there are fragmentary Targums from various sources. One set of these fragments was found in the Cairo Genizah. In the days when texts were copied out painstakingly by hand, when a Biblical text became worn and hard to use, it was not simply thrown away. Instead it was set aside in a special storage room called a genizah where it would remain until it could be properly disposed of. In 1896, a genizah was found in Cairo that was filled with old texts and fragments of texts. It became an important source for textual study of the Hebrew Bible and early Aramaic versions.

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