Origin of the Bible


The Targum (530 BC to 500 AD); (Hebrew: תרגום, plural: targumim) When the Israelites returned from their exile in Babylon in the 6th century BC, most of them no longer spoke Hebrew; they spoke Aramaic. Nevertheless, the Scriptures have always been read in Hebrew even if no one in the greater community could speak it.

Something had to be done so that the people would understand God and His Word.

The sages again found an answer. After hearing a priest read a few verses of the Torah scroll in Hebrew, they then heard a translation in Aramaic called a Targum, which simply means translation.

Hence the Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) that was written or compiled in Palestine or in Babylonia from the Second Temple period until the early Middle Ages (late first millennium).

One might think that God would have given the Levites privileged land as their inheritance to match their privileged position, but God actually gave them no land inheritance at all.

Instead, they received agricultural and monetary tithes from the people as their inheritance, particularly the Maaser Rishon or First Tithe, which was ten percent (Numbers 18:26, 10:38, 18:24).

The Levites and Cohanim lived among the other Israelites on pasture land allotted to them outside their city. In this capacity, the Levites and priests had the opportunity to minister to the people through the instruction of Torah.

In Jerusalem, for instance, after returning from Babylonian exile, the Levites translated the Torah, often into the common Aramaic language, and explained it so the people could understand.

“The Levites … instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.” (Nehemiah 8:7–8)

Nehemiah 8:7 NKJV Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. 8 So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.

VOICE Ezra read the law, the people listened, and the Levites explained it to them. Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, and Pelaiah—these are the Levites who interpreted what Ezra read for the people. Nehemiah 8:8 So they read in the book, in the law of God, distinctly, and gave the sense and caused them to understand the reading.

Another way of saying: The Law was read by Ezra verse by verse, and each verse was followed by a recitation by the Levites of the Aramaic version. Hence, we have to assume that the action of Ezra narrated in Nehemiah 8:8 implied not only the reading of the Law, but also the interpretation of its language–its translation in fact from Hebrew to Aramaic, and that, further, this practice was ere long followed in all the synagogues in Judea.

By the time of Yeshua (Jesus) the Levitical priests had become religious aristocrats holding powerful positions, including the chief priest in the Sanhedrin court.

Though they considered Scripture to be far more important than oral traditions, politics held more power than religion, and many judicial decisions were made in order to keep the peace with the Roman government instead of keeping God’s law.

With this hierarchy firmly in place, they condemned Yeshua and turned Him over to the Romans to be executed.

Comments: In some churches today, the pastor speaks, then waited for the translation, then the pastor speaks again, and then waited. This continues from beginning to end. One can visualise a rabbi read from the Torah in Hebrew and then waited for his message to be translated into Aramaic, as that was the lingua franca or vehicular language of the people at the time. Hence it started as an Oral translation but gradually transformed into Written translation from 530 BC to 500 AD, a thousand year period. Targum also means translation or interpretation.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan is a western targum (translation) of the Torah from the land of Israel (as opposed to the eastern Babylonian Targum Onkelos). Its correct title was originally Targum Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Targum), which is how it was known in medieval times. But because of a printer’s or translator’s mistake it was later labeled Targum Jonathan, in reference to Jonathan ben Uzziel. Some editions of the Pentateuch continue to call it Targum Jonathan to this day. Most scholars refer to the text as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, or with the acronym TPsJ.

The Talmud relates that Yonatan ben Uziel, a student of Hillel, fashioned an Aramaic translation of the Prophets (Megillah 3a). It makes no mention of any translation by him of the Torah. So all scholars agree that this Targum is not due to Yonatan ben Uziel. Indeed, de Rossi (16th century) reports that he saw two very similar complete Targumim to the Torah, one called Targum Yonatan Ben Uziel and the other called Targum Yerushalmi. A standard explanation is that the original title of this work was Targum Yerushalmi, which was abbreviated to ת”י (TY), and these initials were then incorrectly expanded to Targum Yonatan which was then further incorrectly expanded to Targum Yonatan ben Uziel. For these reasons, scholars call it “Targum Pseudo-Jonathan”.

The earliest Targums date from the time after the Babylonian Exile when Aramaic had superseded Hebrew as the spoken language of the Jews in exile. It is impossible to give more than a rough estimate as to the period in which Hebrew was displaced by Aramaic as a spoken language. It is certain, however, that Aramaic was firmly established in exile or in Palestine by the 1st century AD, although Hebrew still remained the learned and sacred language. Thus the Targums were designed to meet the needs of unlearned Jews to whom the Hebrew of the Old Testament was unintelligible.

The status and influence of the Targums became assured after the Second Temple was destroyed in AD 70, when synagogues replaced the Temple as houses of worship. For it was in the synagogue that the practice of reading from the Old Testament became widely observed, along with the custom of providing these readings with a translation into Aramaic. When Scripture was read aloud in the synagogue, it was translated aloud by a meturgeman, or professional interpreter (hence the name Targum), for the benefit of the congregation.

Though written Targums gradually came into being, it was the living tradition of oral translation and exposition that was recognized as authoritative throughout the Talmudic period of the early centuries of the Christian Era. The official recognition of a written Targum, and therefore the final fixing of its text, belongs to the post-Talmudic period of the 5th century AD.

When Ezra and his company arrived in Jerusalem, they immediately set about to fulfill the king’s decree by educating the people in the laws of God. Their first step was to translate the new lawbook into Aramaic, which was the current language of the Jews: “Ezra was ready to present the new lawbook. Naturally, it was written in the ancient Hebrew, for all the sacred prescriptions were now assigned to the great lawgiver Moses; as naturally, the majority of Ezra’s hearers did not fully understand it, for they spoke the current Aramaic.

Accordingly, with the first introduction of the new lawbook to the Palestinian Jews came the practice of giving a translation into the vernacular. [See Nehemiah 8.] The ‘original’ words of Moses were, of course, read in the sacred language, but the translation was spoken, and we may be sure that from the beginning a written Aramaic copy had been prepared to serve as an aid for the translators and to guarantee the accuracy of the translation” (Olmstead, History of the Persian Empire, pp. 306-307; Quoted by Fred Coulter, The Christian Passover, pg 179).

Advantage: the translators captured the true intent of the enunciations of the original intent of the Torah otherwise the translators would be corrected right there and then.

~ by Joel Huan on June 14, 2019.

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