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Targum Onkelos to Genesis (Aramaic Bible, Vol 6)

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A book by Bernard Grossfeld

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Author: Bernard Grossfeld
Publisher: Michael Glazier
1 review about Targum Onkelos to Genesis (Aramaic Bible,...

A translation that alters the biblical text for a good reason

  • Jul 8, 2010
The publisher Michael Glazier printed over a dozen volumes for scholars that translate the Aramaic versions of the Hebrew Bible into English for scholars who do not understand Aramaic. The currently existing Aramaic translations were composed during the first millennium for Jews who no longer understood the Hebrew of the Bible. The Aramaic translators made a number of changes in their translations that differed, sometimes radically, from the original. Different individuals composed different Targums. Targum Onqelos, also spelt Onkelos, is the most literal of them all. In fact, only Targum Onkelos received the rabbinic imprimatur and the rabbis called it "our Targum." This Michael Glazier series focuses on pointing out the difference between some but not all of the Hebrew and Aramaic wording. It does collect and catalogue the differences, and does not explain all of the changes.

Some of the Aramaic translators, but not Onkelos, even added theological concepts that are absent from the original such as the messiah and life after death. One of the alterations that all of the Aramaic translators made was to generally, but not always, alter the biblical text to present a more favorable flawless portrait of the Israelite ancestors.

Virtually every figure in the Hebrew Bible is presented with his or her faults. Adam and Eve, for example, disobey God and eat a forbidden fruit. Abraham tells Pharaoh that his wife is his sister to save his life. Isaac thinks that Esau is the better of his two sons. Jacob tricks his father to get a blessing. Moses is punished for a misdeed by loosing permission to enter Canaan. David has a man killed to obtain his wife. And on and on.

Many readers find this portrayal satisfying. They see that the biblical figures were also human and that they should not worry overmuch if they make a mistake. However the Aramaic translators felt that is was their duty to present their readers with a white-washed ancestry. The following are a few of the over one hundred instances of these changes in Genesis.

A great patriarch, the founder of Judaism, Abraham is not "set away" from Pharaoh, like a commoner, in 12:20, but is "escorted," like royalty.
Abraham who the translator considered pious does not "laugh" in 17:17 when he hears that he will have a son in his old age, a word that implies that he thought that the divine revelation was ridiculous, but he "rejoiced."
His son Isaac did not waste his time and "take a walk" in 24:63, he "prayed."
Jacob his son is not described as "dwelling in tents" like a common shepherd in 25:27, but a scholar "who ministers in the house of study."
Jacob did not use deceit in 27:35 when he took his father's blessing, but "wisdom."
Rachael, Jacob's wife, did not "steal" her father's idols in 31:19 and 32, she only took them.
Joseph, Jacob and Rachel's son did not marry the daughter of an idolatrous "priest" in 41:45 and 50 and 46:20, but the daughter of a "prince."

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