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Yeshua in Context » Aramaic, Background to Gospels, Hebrew Bible as Testimony, Language and Literacy » Targums, Aramaic Bible Paraphrases in Yeshua’s Time

Targums, Aramaic Bible Paraphrases in Yeshua’s Time

The gospel writers occasionally use Aramaic, such as the famous talitha cumi of Mark 5:41 or Eli, Eli, lama sabach-thani? of Matthew 27:46 and the corresponding Eloi of Mark 15:34.

In spite of some evidence of popular use of Hebrew in certain circles, it is nearly unanimous amongst scholars that Aramaic was the common language of Israelites in Yeshua’s time (and Hebrew a religious language). The Targums are paraphrases of the Bible (loose translations with comments inserted, rather like study Bibles). Our manuscripts of the Targums are mostly from the Middle Ages. But were there Targums in use in Yeshua’s time?

In Noncanonical Writings and New Testament Interpretation, Craig Evans considers the evidence for Targums being in use in Yeshua’s time.

Fragments of Targums were found in the Cairo Geniza (a storehouse for old sacred scrolls which could not be thrown away which was discovered and started being studied in the late 19th century). Some of these documents were older copies of texts than any we had to date. The find of Targums here began to suggest they might be older than originally thought.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, likewise, fragments of Targums were found. This means undeniably that Targums existed before Yeshua’s time. Yet how common were they? Was there one Targum or many Targums? Evans says the preponderance of evidence is that Targums existed, multiple ones, in Yeshua’s time.

The Targum texts as we have them today are products of a later time than the New Testament, but parts of some of them date to before his time. Targum Onkelos (or Onqelos) is the best known, appearing in rabbinic Bibles next to the Hebrew Masoretic text. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (not so named because of any deception, but because of early confusion about its origin) is also well-known along with Neofiti, the Fragment Targum, and various Targums on the prophets and all books of the Hebrew Bible but Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah are known.

The Targums contain many messianic interpretations of Bible passages. There are also possible parallels to the sayings of Yeshua in the gospels which may help us understand why the gospel writers translated citations from the Hebrew Bible the way they did. Also, certain phrases in Yeshua’s words may have their origin in the Targums. It is likely that Yeshua heard the scriptures read weekly in the Aramaic and that popular translations were memorized and recounted by him in his teaching. Evans gives a list of the most promising parallels.

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Filed under: Aramaic, Background to Gospels, Hebrew Bible as Testimony, Language and Literacy

2 Responses to "Targums, Aramaic Bible Paraphrases in Yeshua’s Time"

  1. Suzan Rhodes says:

    Thank you! As I continue to read over this website I am excited to find a website that encompasses the whole of the words og G_d. I fear I will be up all night reading. I have been looking for an instructional site that would be more in-depth and balanced and more important is the teaching of how Yashua was taught and the perpective of Judism . I have been praying for a place to begin to learn how to study the bible in a way that will open up a deeper understanding of His words and how we are toninternalize His way.

    Thank you again

    Thank you for following the voice within.

    Sorry, I don’t wish to write a novel here but

  2. Don Young says:

    Yea Suzan! This says it all for me.

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