In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Targum

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Essay Collections
  • Targum, Synagogue, and School
  • Development of the Aramaic Language
  • Aramaic Language, New Testament and the Targums
  • Modern Critical Editions and Manuscripts
  • Targumic Toseftot and Targum Citations in Pre-modern Sources
  • Piyyutim and Liturgical Poetry in Targums and the Synagogue
  • The Syriac Peshitta and the Targums
  • Targum Translations in General
  • French Translations
  • Spanish Translations
  • The Samaritan Targum
  • Aramaic Translations from Qumran: Job and Leviticus

Biblical Studies Targum
Martin McNamara, Paul V.M. Flesher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0187


Targums are Jewish Aramaic translations of books of the Hebrew Bible. The targumic genre combines literal renderings of the biblical text with additional material, ranging in size from a word to several paragraphs. The additions provide important insights into ancient Jewish biblical interpretation. Targums exist for all the books of the Hebrew Bible except Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah, which were partly written in Aramaic. Most Targums were composed between the 1st and 7th centuries CE, the Rabbinic period. Aramaic translations called Targums appear at Qumran, but they lack the typical style of the later Targums. The Samaritans also composed Targums. Under the Greek and Roman Empires, most east Mediterranean Jews adopted the Greek language, but Aramaic became the lingua franca of Jews in Palestine and Babylonia. Targums enabled Jews to understand the Hebrew Bible in their study and worship, where weekly Hebrew Bible readings were accompanied by Aramaic translation, probably provided by the written Targums we now posses. The Torah’s use in synagogue worship led to the composition of three Targumic versions. First, the mostly literal Targum Onqelos was composed during the 1st or 2nd century CE by Judeans and was later adopted and revised by Babylonian Jews. Second, the Palestinian Targum was written in Galilee by the early 3rd century CE, combining literal translation with much additional material. Targum Neofiti and the fragments of more than forty other versions (none exactly the same) indicate its widespread use. Third, some centuries later, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan brought together Onqelos’s translation, the Palestinian Targums’ additions, and an even larger amount of additional material of its own. Targum Jonathan of the Prophets was composed within the same movement that produced Targum Onqelos, being written in the same dialect and a similar style, while most of the Targums to the Writings books were composed later and shared the dialect of Pseudo-Jonathan. The Targums’ additional material provides a window into the exegetical and theological history of Judaism in the centuries following the Temple’s destruction. It reveals lively theological debate and ferment, in which their writers strove to determine how Judaism could continue its vibrancy and relevance despite the loss of its central institution of worship the Temple. Sometimes Targums follow interpretations found in rabbinic literature, sometimes they follow their own interests and exegeses, and sometimes they directly contradict rabbinic literature. Because Targums exegete Scripture, some scholars of early Christianity have plumbed these works to help them understand the early development of Bible interpretation within nascent Christianity. The character of this work has changed as new discoveries have reshaped our understanding and dating of different Targums. Indeed, Targum Studies has undergone radical change since the 1950s. Dozens of new texts have been discovered and published. Their analysis has significantly altered our understanding of both Targums and the language of Aramaic in which they are written. Palestinian Targums are case in point. In 1950, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan was considered the best Palestinian Targum available; today we know it does not even belong to that classification. The bibliography that follows provides a guide to this changing field.

General Overviews

There are many general introductions to the Targums, in books and articles. Given the new Targum texts published during the 20th century and the rapid development they propelled in the scholarship, many of these general works are out of date. The only current book-length introduction to the Targums is Flesher and Chilton 2011; it deals with topics from Targum origins and use in the synagogue to the Aramaic language, the place of Targums in Judaism, and the relationship of Jewish Targums and early Christianity. Philip Alexander worked more than anyone during the 1980s and 1990s to provide entry-level, article-length introductions to the Targums; Alexander 1988 and Alexander 1992 are listed below. McNamara 2011 also gives an overview in the light of modern research, with extensive bibliography to each of the topics treated. Introductions to each individual Targum can be found in the volumes of the Aramaic Bible series, although the older ones are going out-of-date. A. Diez Macho and R. Le Déaut were important 20th-century scholars of the Targums—Diez Macho is the discoverer of Targum Neofiti. Their introductions (Díez Macho 1982, Le Déaut 1966, and Le Déaut 2002) still contain many important and foundational observations, but are now rather out-of-date as a whole.

  • Alexander, P. S. “Jewish Aramaic Translations of Hebrew Scriptures.” In Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Edited by M. J. Mulder and H. Sysling, 217–254. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988.

    A well-conceived introduction to the Targums overall, striving to characterize the Targums as a genre as well as each individual Targum.

  • Alexander, Philip S. “Targum, Targumim.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. Edited by D. M. Freedman, 320–331. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    A recognized standard overview of most aspects of the Targums. A suitable introduction for beginners and advanced.

  • Díez Macho, Alejandro. El Targum: Introducción a las traduciones aramaicas de la Biblia. Textos y estudios Cardenal Cisneros 21. Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1982.

    A general introduction to the Targums; it treats: What is the Targum?; Targum and midrash; the Aramaic of the Targum; antiquity of the Targum; importance of the Targum; contribution of the Barcelona School to targumic studies; summary and conclusion.

  • Flesher, Paul V. M., and Bruce Chilton. The Targums: A Critical Introduction. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011.

    This is the only book-length introduction to the Targums and their study that takes into account the new Targum texts and the implications of their analysis to date. It introduces each Targum in its own context and in comparison to the others, deals with the dialects of Aramaic, and attempts to place them in the study of Late-Antique Judaism and early Christianity. It also contains a glossary and the most up-to-date bibliography (twenty-nine pages) currently available. Eminently suitable for beginners, advanced students, and researchers.

  • Le Déaut, Roger. Introduction a la littérature targumique. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1966.

    An earlier work on the subject by a leading specialist. Although originally designed as course readings, it served as a valuable reference work for several decades.

  • Le Déaut, Roger. “Targum.” In Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible. Vol. 13. Edited by L. Pirot, A. Robert, H. Cazelles, et al. Paris: Letouzey, 2002.

    Published posthumously, this work constitutes an in-depth study of key questions relating to Targum study, with examination and evaluation of expressed opinions on the subjects. It contains full references and an extensive bibliography. Useful for advanced students and researchers, although somewhat outdated. See cols. 1–344.

  • McNamara, Martin. “Targumim.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Books of the Bible. Vol. 2. Edited by M. D. Coogan, 341–356. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    A good introduction to the books and texts of the Targums, with relevant bibliography.

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