[tahr-goom; Seph. Heb. tahr-goom; Ashk. Heb. tahr-goom]

A targum (Hebrew: תרגום, plural: targumim, lit. "translation, interpretation") is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) written or compiled from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium). The two major genres of Targum reflect two geographical and cultural centers of Jewish life during the period of their creation, namely the Land of Israel and Babylonia. Aramaic was the dominant Jewish language or lingua franca for hundreds of years in these major Jewish communities.

To facilitate the study of Tanakh and make its public reading understood, authoritative translations were required. As translations, the targumim largely reflect midrashic interpretation of the Tanakh of the time, and are notable for eschewing anthropomorphisms in favor of allegorical readings. (Rambam, for one, notes this often in The Guide.) This is true both for those targumim that are fairly literal, as well as for those which contain a great many midrashic expansions.

The Aramaic Targums were used in the Christian Syriac Church. (See also Peshitta.)

Two "official" Targumim

The two most important targumim for liturgical purposes are:

These two targumim are mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud as targum dilan ("our Targum"), giving them official status. In the synagogues of talmudic times, Targum Onkelos was read alternately with the Torah, verse by verse, and Targum Jonathan was read alternately with the selection from Nevi'im (i.e. the Haftarah). This custom continues today in Yemenite Jewish synagogues. The Yemenite Jews are the only Jewish community to continue the use of Targum as liturgical text, as well as to preserve a living tradition of pronunciation for the Aramaic of the targumim (according to a Babylonian dialect).

Besides its public function in the synagogue, the Talmud also mentions targum in the context of a personal study requirement: "A person should always review his portions of scripture along with the community, reading the scripture twice and the targum once" (Berakhot 8a-b). This too refers to Targum Onkelos on the public Torah reading and to Targum Jonathan on the haftarot from Nevi'im.

Medieval biblical manuscripts of the Tiberian mesorah sometimes contain the Hebrew text interpolated, verse-by-verse, with the official targumim. This scribal practice has its roots both in the public reading of the Targum and in the private study requirement.

The two "official" targumim are considered eastern (Babylonian). Nevertheless, scholars believe they too originated in the Palestine because of a strong linguistic substratum of western Aramaic. Though these targumim were later "easternized", the substratum belying their origins still remains.

In post-talmudic times, when most Jewish communities had ceased speaking Aramaic, the public reading of Targum along with the Torah and Haftarah was abandoned in most communities. In Yemen, however, rather than abandoning the Aramaic targum during the public reading of the Torah, it was supplemented by a third version, namely the translation of the Torah into Arabic by Saadia Gaon (called the Tafsir). Thus, in Yemen each verse was read three times.

The private study requirement to review the Targum was never entirely relaxed, even when Jewish communities had largely ceased speaking Aramaic, and the Targum never ceased to be a major source for Jewish biblical exegesis. For instance, it serves as a major source in the Torah commentary of Rashi.

For these reasons, the Targum is still almost always printed alongside the text in Jewish editions of the Bible with commentaries. Nevertheless, later halakhic authorities argued that the requirement to privately review the targum might also be met by reading a translation in the current vernacular in place of the official Targum, or else by studying an important commentary containing midrashic interpretation (especially that of Rashi).

Targum Ketuvim

The Talmud explicitly states that no official targumim were composed besides these two on Torah and Nevi'im alone, and that there is no official targum to Ketuvim ("The Writings"). An official targum was in fact unnecessary for Ketuvim because its books played no fixed liturgical role. It is stated in the Talmud (Megilah 3a) that Jonathan ben Uzziel wanted to compose a targum to the Ketuvim, however a bat kol (voice from heaven) came forth and forbade it. The reason given is that the Ketuvim foretell the date of the Messiah's coming, which was not permitted to be revealed. Nevertheless, most books of Ketuvim have targumim, whose origin is mostly western (Palestine) rather than eastern (Babylonia). But for lack of a fixed place in the liturgy, they were poorly preserved and less well known. From the Palestine, the tradition of targum to Ketuvim made its way to Italy, and from there to medieval Ashkenaz and Sepharad.

Other Targumim on the Torah

There are also a variety of western targumim on the Torah, each of which was traditionally called Targum Yerushalmi ("Jerusalem Targum"). An important one of these was mistakenly labeled "Targum Jonathan" in later printed versions (though all medieval authorities refer to it by its correct name). The error crept in because of an abbreviation: The printer interpreted ת"י to stand for תרגום יונתן instead of the correct תרגום ירושלמי. Scholars refer to this targum as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. To attribute this targum to Jonathan ben Uzziel flatly contradicts the talmudic tradition (Megillah 3a), which quite clearly attributes the targum to Nevi'im alone to him, while stating that there is no official targum to Ketuvim. In the same printed versions, a similar fragment targum is correctly labeled as Targum Yerushalmi.

The Western Targumim on the Torah, or Palestinian Targumim as they are also called, consist of three manuscript groups: Targum Neofiti I, Fragment Targums, and Cairo Geniza Fragment Targums.

Of these Targum Neofiti I is by far the largest. It consist of 450 folios covering all books of the Pentateuch, with only a few damaged verses. The history of the manuscript begins in 1587 when Andrea de Monte gave it to Ugo Boncampagni. Before this de Monte had censored it by deleting most reference to idolatry. In 1602 Boncampagni gave it to Collegium Ecclesiasticum Neophytum (or Pia Domus Neophytum) until 1886 when the Vatican bought it along with other manuscripts when the Collegium closed (which is the reason for the manuscripts name and its designation). Unfortunately it was then mistitled as a manuscript of Targum Onkelos until 1949 when Alexandro Díez Macho noticed that it differed significantly from Targum Onkelos. It was translated and published during 1968-1979 and has since then been considered the most important of the Palestinian Targumim as it is by far the most complete of these and, apparently, the earliest as well.

The Fragment Targums (formerly known as Targum Yerushalmi II) consist of a large number of fragments that have been divided into ten manuscripts. Of these P, V and L were first published in 1899 by M. Ginsburger, A, B, C, D, F and G in 1930 by P. Kahle and E in 1955 by A. Díez Macho. Unfortunately these manuscripts are all too fragmented to confirm what their purpose were but they seem to be either the remains of a single complete targum or short variant readings of another targum. As a group they often share theological views and with Targum Neofiti, which has led to the belief that they could be variant readings of that targum.

The Cairo Genizah Fragment Targums originate from the Ben-Ezra Synagogues genizah in Cairo. They share similarities with The Fragment Targums in that they consist of a large number of fragmented manuscripts that have been collected in one targum-group. The manuscripts A and E are the oldest among the Palestinian Targum and have been dated to around the seventh century. Manuscipts C, E, H and Z contain only passages from Genesis, A from Exodus while MS B contain verses from both as well as from Deuteronomium.


The Peshitta is the traditional Bible of Syriac-speaking Christians (who speak several different dialects of Aramaic). Most scholars believe that its Old Testament is based on rabbinic targumim, and it is generally reckoned to have been translated between 100 B.C. and 100 A.D.


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