The New International Encyclopædia/Targum

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TARGUM (Aram, targūm, translation, explanation, from targēm, to interpret). The general term for the Aramaic versions of the Old Testament, sometimes less correctly referred to as the Chaldee Paraphrase. The origin of the Targum is to be looked for in the Persian period of the Jews, when Hebrew ceased to be the popular language and gave way to the Aramaic. The first indication of the practice of explanation is to be found in Neh. viii. 8, where it is said that Ezra read the Law to the people while his assistants “caused them to understand the reading.” The custom grew and gradually there arose a class of Meturgemans (mod. dragoman, interpreter) and finally the system was regulated by the Rabbis. At first and indeed for many centuries the Targum from its very nature was not committed to writing, for the same reason that the oral law itself was never intended to become a definitely formulated written code. In the course of time, however, both yielded to circumstances and it was thought preferable to write them down rather than have them forgotten. Yet only a small portion of the immense mass of oral Targums that was produced survived. All that is now extant are three distinct Targums on the Pentateuch, one on the Prophets, and Targums on the Hagiographa, viz. on Psalms, Job, Proverbs, the five Megilloth (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, Ecclesiastes), on Chronicles, and on the apocryphal pieces of Esther.

The Targums are of little help for purposes of text criticism. Their main claim upon scholars rests upon the fact that in them there are to be found hints at the internal and external life of the people at the time when they were composed. The text is in a very corrupt condition, as might indeed be expected, since no proper care was taken to secure the purity of the text when the Aramaic began to decline as the spoken tongue of the Jews. A translation of the Targums on the Pentateuch into English was made by Etheridge (London, 1862-65) . The Editio Princeps of Onkelos (q.v.) is that of Bologna (1482), of the Targum on the Former Prophets that of Leira (1494), and on the Latter Prophets that of Venice (1517-18). Targums on the Hagiographa appeared in the Rabbinic Bibles, but the Targum on Chronicles was not published until 1680. Recent editions of the Targum are: Pentateuch (Targum Onkelos) by A. Berliner (Berlin, 1884); Prophets (Prophets Chaldaice) by Lagarde (Leipzig, 1872); Hagiographa (Chaldaice) by the same (Leipzig, 1873).