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

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Adam was created for the highest mission, to “fill the earth and conquer it and rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and every living being swarming on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). But Adam fell from his mission, and instead of “tending and guarding” the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15), he was driven out to become slave to the earth: “With the sweat of your brow you will eat bread.” (Gen. 3:19).

The only way for the Children of Adam to escape this servitude is through the Shabbos, which each week releases man from slavery to the material world and the battle for survival, lifting him above it to the world of DAAS, the knowledge and awareness of G-d.

Thus when Moses first went into Pharaoh, his initial request was that the Children of Israel should have a holiday from their slavery: “Let us please go for a journey of three days into the wilderness, and there we will sacrifice to HaShem our G-d” (Ex. 5:3).

Pharaoh’s immediate reaction was to resist the idea: “Why are you disturbing the people from their labors, go back to your tasks. You are causing them to cease from their tasks” (Ex. 5:5). The Hebrew for “you are disturbing” is taPhRiyOO, containing the word PHARAOH — as if Moses and Aaron are the tyrants. The Hebrew for “You are causing them to cease” is ve-hiSHBATem, containing the word SHABBOS. Pharaoh’s scheme for preventing DAAS spreading from the head, Moses, to the Children of Israel, the body, was to make the Children of Israel so busy with this-worldliness that they would not have TIME to be aware of G-d. And indeed the Children of Israel became so wearied by their intensified servitude on the threshold of redemption that “they did not listen to Moses because of shortness of spirit and hard work” (Gen. 6:9).

Moses had to legislate the Shabbos because there is a wicked force in man — Pharaoh — that will not allow him to rest from the world until he must by law! Shabbos was the first commandment given to the Children of Israel directly after their entry into the wilderness following the crossing of the Red Sea (Rashi on Ex. 15:25). Shabbos — SHEVITA, the willful cessation of and resting from MELACHAH, deliberate, manipulative labor — is the very key to man’s freedom from the tyranny of this world.

Did Jesus Contradict the Torah’s Commandments?

Bible teachers often make a simple mistake of presenting the teachings of Yeshua in antithesis to the Torah of Moses. Since we assume that the Gospel replaced the Torah (and that the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant), we misread the teaching of Yeshua to support that wrong assumption. We mistakenly suppose that Yeshua came to replace the Torah, or at least to correct it.

Yeshua’s Sermon on the Mount contains six short expositions in which the Master introduced a commandment of Torah saying, “You have heard that it was said …” after which He added, “But I say to you …” Theologians refer to the teachings in Matthew 5:21-48 as the six antithesis statements. That is to say that Yeshua introduced an old, obsolete commandment of the Torah and then contradicted it with His new teaching in “antithesis” to the original. According to this interpretation, Yeshua replaced the Torah with His own, new commandments.For example:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

The Greek and English language translations of the Master’s words heighten the sense of antithesis by translating Yeshua as saying, “But I say to you.” In the Hebrew or Aramaic spoken by the Master, the common conjunction does not necessarily indicate antithesis. A better translation of the Semitic idiom might be, “You have heard that it was said … and I say to you …”

This common formula from rabbinic teaching never introduces a contradiction to the Torah. Instead, the rabbi who speaks this way introduces an elucidation of the Torah. It’s a common form of rabbinic rhetoric to open a new teaching with the words, “You have heard” or the words “It is said” followed by “And I say to you.” The first statement means, “Up until now, you have understood this passage to mean such and such.” Then the second phrase, ‘And I say to you,’ presents the rabbi’s new insight or new explanation of the passage just quoted.

When we understand Rabbi Yeshua’s teaching from this perspective, it is clear that the so-called “antithesis statements” are not contradictions to the commandments in the Torah. Instead, Yeshua offered fresh interpretations of the commandments. He expounded upon the text of Torah like any rabbi of His day by revealing the Torah’s intentions and working out its implications. Far from contradicting the Torah or abolishing it, He fulfilled it by dispelling misconceptions and establishing its core principles all the firmer.

Parashat Noach / פרשת נח

NOACH (CHAPTERS 6:9-11:32)
Noah is deemed righteous enough to be spared from the impending destruction of
the wicked world; God tells him about the upcoming flood and commands him to build
an ark; Noah gathers his family and animals into the ark in accordance with God’s
instructions; It rains for forty days, blotting out all existence; God promises not to
destroy the world again; The rainbow becomes a sign of God’s covenant that a flood will
never again destroy the world; Noah debases himself by becoming drunk and curses his
grandson Canaan; the story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersion of the world’s
The Torah, speaking figuratively, uses anthropomorphism’s to describe God.
“Anthropomorphism’s” ascribe human form to a being that is not human. The Bible
describes God, who has no body performing acts such as speaking, seeing, walking; and
having a finger or hand. Our translator, realized that these portrayals of the divine are
figurative, that they were placed in Scripture to help readers understand what is
happening, but they are not precisely true. He uses his translation to point this out to
his readers. He frequently does so by omitting the anthropomorphism and explaining
what it intends to say.
But he does not always do so, for several reasons: (1) Replacing every
anthropomorphism would alter Scripture too drastically and reduce it to an
unrecognizable text because the Torah has so many anthropomorphic statements. (2)
He might retain the anthropomorphism when the description is included in a
metaphoric phrase that he feels is well known and frequently used by his reading
audience, like tzelem Elohim, “image of God”, where he even keeps Elohim with the
anthropomorphic tzelem, and does not substitute the Tetragrammaton. (3) He also
ignores the anthropomorphism when he cannot imagine that a person would accept the
word or phrase literally, as in 2:8 where the verse reads, “The Lord God planted a
garden. . . .” No one would think of God engaged in an afternoon of planting.
The use of dachalta, “fear”
One of the targumist’s techniques to transform anthropomorphism’s is to substitute
the physical portrait with certain words. One of these words is dachalta. We will discuss
other words in future Guides.
The Torah describes why Noah was saved from the impending destruction of the
world in 6:9 (pages 34 and 35),1 “Noah walked with God.” This statement is an
anthropomorphism; God does not appear on earth and walk like a human being.
The targumist altered the passage to read, “Noah walked in the fear (dachalta) of
God.” The Aramaic dachalta means “fear” and suggests “worship.” Our translator felt
that this was the Bible’s intent.
The targumist was reluctant to explain this anthropomorphism with another, as
Rashi did when he relied on Midrash Tanchuma and Midrash Genesis Rabbah, that “with
God” means that Noah needed God’s support while Abraham, who walked “before God”
(17:1), could walk alone before God.
Another Anthropomorphism
In 7:16 (pages 40 and 41), Onkelos modifies another anthropomorphism by
switching Scripture’s “the Lord closed (the Ark) for him (Noah)” to “the Lord protected
him.” The verb “closed” suggests physical acts of reaching down, grasping the door, and
swinging it shut.
Our translator’s attempt to teach his readers the truth about God was unsuccessful.
He wrote his translation around the year 400, but some 800 years later, Moses
Maimonides (1138–1204) had to devote close to a third of his Guide of the Perplexed to
teach again that God does not have physical features or emotions. Remarkably,
Maimonides was criticized for his rational stand with strong language. One of the great

1 All page numbers refer to the Onkelos on the Torah volume.
rabbis of his time wrote that smarter people than Maimonides knew that God has
physical features.
Why do people want to or perhaps even need to think of God as having a body like
humans? What is your view? Do you believe that a biblical phrase like the “finger of
God” is literally true? Or can you accept the idea that the Bible frequently speaks in
figurative language, as humans do, and that the words should not be taken literally?
The idea that God has no body and no human emotions, according to its proponents,
is a reasonable philosophical truth. Many who disagree rely on “faith.” They might say,
“I am convinced that God does become angry at us when we do wrong, even though this
is a human reaction, and He punishes us for our bad behavior. This is basic to my faith.”
What other issues are debated between proponents of “reason” and “faith”? Would the
nature of Sinai revelation, the belief in resurrection of the dead, prophecy, angels, and
miracles, enter this arena of controversy? Discuss the “battle lines.”
1. See 8:1 and commentary, “REMEMBERED” (page 43). Onkelos does not change all
biblical anthropomorphism.
2. See 9:20 (pages 50 and 51) and commentary. Noah’s first act after leaving the Ark.
3. See 9:25 (pages 52 and 53) and commentary. Noah cursed his grandson Canaan rather
than his son Ham.