Aramaic Thoughts Part 6

Aramaic Thoughts

Aramaic Literature – Part 6 – The Mishnah

The fourth treatise of the order Mo’ed is Shekalim (shekels). This deals with the half-shekel tax that was assessed on Israelite males (Ex 30:11-16). Originally this went to the provision for and upkeep of the tabernacle. Later, it was applied to the maintenance of the temple, and is probably the tax referred to in Matt 17:24-27, since the shekel from the fish sufficed for both Jesus and Peter. This tax was assessed when the Israelite male reached the age of twenty years. One supposes that it was an annual tax, since both Peter and Jesus would have been well beyond twenty years of age when the question was posed to Peter. This treatise also dealt with other questions regarding aspects of temple worship and Levitical and priestly service. As a result of the destruction of the temple in AD 70, a number of aspects of the treatise passed into the realm of information of historical interest only.

The next treatise is called Yoma (Aramaic for “the day”) which deals with the regulations for the Day of Atonement. The subjects treated here concern the activities of the priests, such as the selection of the two goats by lot (see Lev 16). It also deals with the responsibilities of the high priest as well as how the high priest was chosen. It also discusses the Urim and Thummim. Since one of the characteristics of the Day of Atonement was that it was to be a day for afflicting oneself (Lev 23:27), the question arose as to whether this was to be active or passive affliction. For example, did one have to go sit in the heat or the cold so that he would be afflicted? The answer is that the affliction was to be passive (hence abstinence) rather than active (such as the kind of flogging of oneself, and other forms of self-mutilation carried out in some other religions.

The sixth treatise is Sukkah (Booth) or Sukkot (Booths), since it deals primarily with the observation of the Feast of Booths. As one might expect, this deals with such issues as the dimensions of the booth, the materials to be used in the making of a booth, and whether one could reuse an old booth. As with the previous treatises, some of these matters applied primarily to the situation when the temple was still in existence in Jerusalem. As a result, some of the rules have become mostly of historical interest.

The seventh treatise in Mo’ed is called Beitza (egg, for the first word in the treatise) orYom Tov (literally “good day” for its general treatment of feast days). Here the primary concern is the use and preparation of food on the feast days. This treatise also concerns how cooking vessels are to be prepared and used on the feast days. It is probable that the modern kosher practices arose originally from concerns such as these.

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Aramaic Thoughts‘ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts‘ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/  2)Aramaic Thoughts‘ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.

Copyright Statement
‘Aramaic Thoughts’ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts’ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/ 2) ‘Aramaic Thoughts’ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.

Aramaic Thoughts 5

The Peshitta – Part 5

The Peshitta and Textual Criticism, Part 1

The Peshitta is generally considered to be of secondary importance in matters of textual criticism. This is due in large part to the fact that the Peshitta as it currently exists appears not to be a simple, straightforward translation of the Hebrew original into a related Semitic language. Rather, there are indications not only of influence from the Septuagint, but influence from early Targums as well. In that it is much like some modern English version in which the footnotes tell the reader that here the Septuagint (LXX) reads thus and such; or there the Targums (Tg) say this and that. The primary difference is, of course, that the Peshitta doesn’t have footnotes, but shows the sources of its influences in more subtly ways. That being the case, the Peshitta ordinarily serves by giving secondary support to a reading initially suggested by the Septuagint or the Targums against what the Hebrew Masoretic text (MT) has. Over the next few weeks, we will examine some passages in which the Peshitta serves in this secondary witness role, as well as a few cases in which the Peshitta may well have preserved an original reading, not only against the MT, but against the Septuagint and Targums as well.

The first passage for consideration is Genesis 2:2. Most English versions do not, by means of textual footnotes, indicate that there is a variant reading in this verse. The MT reads, “and God completed on the seventh day the work he had done.” The LXX, the Targums, and the Peshitta read, “and God completed on the sixth day.” The variation in reading here serves to illustrate a number of issues relative to the discipline of textual criticism. First, it illustrates that the majority reading is not always considered the right reading, because here we have three witnesses that say “sixth” and only one that says “seventh.” But most textual scholars and translators are so certain that the MT is correct that most English versions, as noted, do not even indicate a variant.

Second, it illustrates the principle of textual criticism that the more difficult reading is generally original. The assumption behind this is that the translator, or copyist, will have been less likely to have introduced a difficulty into the text than to have attempted to smooth one out. As an illustration, consider Psalm 2:12. The ESV reads, “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.” The New Living Translation (NLT) reads, “Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry,” with a footnote that says, “The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain.” The footnote is not entirely correct. The Hebrew is clear, except for the fact that the word “son” is not the usual Hebrew word ben, but rather the Aramaic word bar. The issue is also clouded by the fact that there is a Hebrew word bar that means “pure.” Hence the NLT and several other recent translations have sought to make a different sense of the verse by trying to make sense of it using “pure” rather than “son.” In addition, the NLT has inserted the explanatory word “royal” which has no counterpart in the Hebrew text (or in the versions, for that matter). In other words, the NLT has smoothed out what appears to be a difficulty in the text.

The third principle illustrated here is that the reading which best explains the others is most likely the original. Genesis 2:2 (MT) may give readers the impression that God had not quite finished his work on the sixth day, so he saved some of it over until the seventh day, on which the work of creation then reached its conclusion. In the view of virtually all scholars, the versions (LXX, Tg, and Peshitta), in order to avoid this possible misunderstanding, have simply changed “seventh” to “sixth.” Thus, with the weighing of these considerations, the reading “seventh” has been retained as most likely the original reading.

Aramaic Thoughts‘ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts‘ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/  2)Aramaic Thoughts‘ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.

Aramaic Literature 4

Aramaic Literature – Part 4 – The Primary Targums

Most books of the Old Testament have Targums. The only exceptions are Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. The reasons for these omissions are not clear. Perhaps it is due to the fact that these books already contain some Aramaic, especially since Daniel is about half Aramaic. It does seem to be clear that the third section of the Jewish canon was considered less important (at any rate, less in need of targumic treatment) than the books of the Law and the prophets.

This third part of the Jewish canon, known as the Writings, consists of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Books of Chronicles. The five books from Ruth through Esther are together identified as the “Five Megilloth” (the five scrolls), because they are read during annual Jewish observances. Ruth is read at Pentecost, since it deals with the barley harvest, which is about the same time as Pentecost. Song of Songs is read at Passover, since at Passover, the Lord created a people for himself. The book is understood to refer to the relationship between Yahweh and his people. Ecclesiastes is read at the Feast of Booths. Lamentations is read on the 9th of Ab, which commemorates the destruction of the temple. Esther is, of course, read at the Feast of Purim, since it tells the story of the origin of that festival.

The Targums for the Megilloth are of diverse character, though all of them have explanatory additions as well as translations of the basic Hebrew text. Thus, reading them can be helpful in learning how these texts were understood to relate to the festivals during which they were read. It appears unlikely that there was any concerted effort to provide Targums for the Writings. Some of the earlier rabbis betray no knowledge of Targums on the Writings. The Targums that do exist are also sufficiently different in character that they probably originated from several different writers. It is also the case that more attention was paid to Targums on the Law. These latter Targums reflect clearly the developments going on in Judaism that eventually resulted in the characteristics of early modern Judaism.

Though the Targums in their modern form originated in the period after the rise of the Christian church, the currents that produced them were underway in the period between the Testaments. It is during this period, that also produced the Dead Sea Scrolls, that non-canonical Jewish writings appeared, expanding the breadth of Jewish literature. It is also in this period that Judaism, as a distinct religion, is considered to have appeared. Historically speaking, in the period before the Babylonian Exile, the people are called Israelites, and their religion is simply Israelite religion. After the return from Exile, the people are called Jews, and their religion is called Judaism. Thus, the apocryphal books, the Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls all originated in this era, and it is this literature that we will begin exploring next week.

 

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Aramaic Thoughts‘ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts‘ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/  2)Aramaic Thoughts‘ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.

Aramaic Literature 3

– The Primary Targums

The other most important Targum on the Pentateuch is that of Neofiti. It was discovered only recently (1956). It had remained hidden in the Vatican library, probably for centuries, before it was re-discovered. Lest the reader think that there is some sort of Da Vinci code conspiracy at work here, the Targum was placed along with other Targum manuscripts, and catalogued under Onkelos. This sort of mis-cataloging takes place even in modern highly technological libraries, let alone when the works are in obscure languages and catalogued by someone who may or may not know the language. It is quite possible that the cleric who catalogued it knew only that it was written in Hebrew/Aramaic characters, and it came in with a batch of other texts, perhaps more clearly labeled.

[Just for a modern example of that kind of mis-cataloging: A number of years ago I was teaching at another institution, and was doing some study on the Book of Revelation. As I was perusing the commentaries on the shelves, I saw one whose title looked slightly out of place. I took a closer look at it and discovered that it was not on the Book of Revelation, but was on the doctrine of revelation (theology, rather than biblical commentary). Someone who was not paying careful attention, or didn’t really know any better, simply mis-catalogued the book,]

At any rate, Targum Neofiti was re-discovered by A. Díez-Macho, who is a specialist in Targum studies, as he was sorting through these manuscripts in the Vatican library. There is a colophon (an explanatory note at the end of a text) to the Targum that reveals that the text was copied in 1504. It is a complete text of the Pentateuch. The character of the work is such that is falls somewhere between the literalness of Onkelos and the more paraphrastic Pseudo-Jonathan. It is apparently inconsistent in its translation principles, sometimes varying between more literal and more paraphrastic renderings. There is currently no scholarly agreement on when or where the text reflected in this manuscript originated.

Apart from the Targums on the Pentateuch, there are also important Targums on other books of the Bible. I have already mentioned in passing the Targum of Jonathan on the Prophets. Along with Onkelos and Pseudo-Jonathan, it is considered an “official” Targum. According to Jewish tradition, Jonathan ben Uzziel “translated the prophets into Aramaic, revealing the divine mysteries, an endeavor that shook the foundation of the world, causing the land of Israel to move four hundred parasangs” (ISBE 4.732). “Parasang” is an old Persian term, referring to the distance one could travel by foot in an hour (roughly 3-3.5 miles). Obviously this is a fanciful account, but origins of the Targum are obscure and nothing can really be said with certainty. Its general character is closer to Onkelos than to Pseudo-Jonathan, but it does have paraphrastic passages.

All of these Targums are well-known in the Jewish and academic communities, but are generally difficult to find in English translation. The Targum Edition Exploratory Committee is currently developing a long-term plan for producing scholarly editions of all the Targums. See http://www.tulane.edu/~ntcs/news/ntcs282.html.


Copyright Statement
Aramaic Thoughts‘ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts‘ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/  2)Aramaic Thoughts‘ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.

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 http://www.tulane.edu/~ntcs/pj/psjon.htm 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.

Copyright Statement
‘Aramaic Thoughts’ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts’ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/ 2) ‘Aramaic Thoughts’ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.

Aramaic Thoughts 1

Aramaic Literature – Part 1

The most extensive, and most significant, collections of Aramaic literature (apart from the Aramaic in the Bible) exist in the various texts produced by Jewish scholars in the early centuries of the Christian era. I have given a quick survey of these materials in an earlier column in this series. It is my intention over the next several weeks to take a closer look at these materials, with more detailed descriptions, and discussion of what they tell us.

Probably the oldest of this literature is the targums. The targums are, loosely, speaking, translations of the Old Testament into Aramaic. The origins of this literature are lost in obscurity. It is sometimes supposed, on the basis of Nehemiah 8:8, that the targums originated in the period immediately after the exile. This text tells about Ezra’s reading of the law at the Feast of Trumpets. At the conclusion of that section, it says, “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.” Some have either assumed or argued that “giving the sense” meant that a verbal translation of the Hebrew was made into Aramaic. While this is indeed possible, the language doesn’t really support the contention. Rather, “giving the sense” probably has the idea of explaining the intent and purpose of the text. The law had been written for a people preparing to enter the land. The law was being read to a people only recently returned from exile—two completely different social situations. Thus, explanation would have been necessary.

Nehemiah 13:24 speaks of some of the children of returnees not being able to speak the language of Judah (that is, Hebrew). But again, it does not say that none spoke Hebrew. The idea that those attending the reading of the law in Nehemiah 8 would have been profoundly lacking in a knowledge of Hebrew, so that they would need an Aramaic translation/explanation does not fit the facts.

Whatever the precise origins of the targums might have been, it is clearly the case that some targums were in existence before the start of the Christian era. Pieces of targums on Job and Leviticus were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls material. It is usually supposed, by those who don’t adopt the Ezra explanation given above, that the targums originated as oral translations in the synagogue, only later being formalized by being written down. This may well be the case, and later Jewish tradition gives some support for it, but it must be noted that the explanation comes from a period well after extensive written Targums had appeared. The appearance of targums among the Dead Sea Scrolls literature makes it clear that targums, as a distinct literature, made their appearance no later than the 3rd-2century BC. It must be remembered, however, that these early targums differ significantly from the later targums that have achieved semi-official status with the Jewish community.

Copyright Statement
‘Aramaic Thoughts’ Copyright 2016© Benjamin Shaw. ‘Aramaic Thoughts’ articles may be reproduced in whole under the following provisions: 1) A proper credit must be given to the author at the end of each story, along with a link to http://www.studylight.org/ls/at/ 2) ‘Aramaic Thoughts’ content may not be arranged or “mirrored” as a competitive online service.