Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

Apocryphal Hebrew literature

It is not to be supposed that all the contents of the Old Testament were immediately accepted as sacred, or that they were ever all regarded as being on the same level.

The Torah, the Law delivered to Moses, held among the Apocryphal literature.Jews of the 4th century B.C.E. as it holds now, a pre-eminent position. The inclusion of other books in the Canon was gradual, and was effected only after centuries of debate.

2°century bce Hellenistic Jewish scribe, well-versed in Jewish law and custom, Ben Sira also known as Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira – 1860 woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

The Jews have always been, however, an intensely literary people, and the books ultimately accepted as canonical were only a selection from the literature in existence at the beginning of the Christian era. The rejected books receiving little attention have mostly either been altogether lost or have survived only in translations, as in the case of the Apocrypha. Hence from the composition of the latest canonical books to the redaction of the Mishna (see chapter 7) in the 2nd century C.E., the remains of Hebrew literature are very scanty. Of books of this period which are known to have existed in Hebrew or Aramaic up to the time of Jerome (and even later) we now possess most of the original Hebrew text of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) in a somewhat corrupt form, and fragments of an Aramaic text of a recension of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, both discovered within recent years. Besides definite works of this kind, there was also being formed during this period a large body of exegetical and legal material, for the most part orally transmitted, which only received its literary form much later.

A 1917 edition of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs.

As Hebrew became less familiar to the people, a system of translating the text of the Law into the Aramaic vernacular verse by verse, was adopted in the synagogue. The beginnings of it are supposed to be indicated in Neh. viii. 8. The translation was no doubt originally extemporary, and varied with the individual translators, but its form gradually became fixed and was ultimately written down. It was called Targum, from the Aramaic targem, to translate.

Targum

Hebrew text (right) and Aramaic Onkelos (left) in a Hebrew Bible dating from 1299 held by the Bodleian Library

The earliest to be thus edited was the Targum of Onkelos (Onqelōs), the proselyte, on the Law. It received its final form in Babylonia probably in the 3rd century C.E. The Samaritan Targum, of about the same date, clearly rests on the same tradition. Parallel to Onkelos was another Targum on the Law, generally called pseudo-Jonathan, which was edited in the 7th century in Palestine, and is based on the same system of interpretation but is fuller and closer to the original tradition. There is also a fragmentary Targum (Palestinian) the relation of which to the others is obscure. It may be only a series of disconnected glosses on Onkelos. For the other books, the recognized Targum on the Prophets is that ascribed to Jonathan ben Uzziel (4th century?), which originated in Palestine, but was edited in Babylonia, so that it has the same history and linguistic character as Onkelos.

Just as there is a Palestinian Targum on the Law parallel to the Babylonian Onkelos, so there is a Palestinian Targum (called Yerushalmi) on the Prophets parallel to that of Ben Uzziel, but of later date and incomplete.

The Law and the Prophets being alone used in the services of the synagogue, there was no authorized version of the rest of the Canon. There are, however, Targumim on the Psalms and Job, composed in the 5th century, on Proverbs, resembling the Peshiṭtā version, on the five Meghillōth, paraphrastic and agadic (see later) in character, and on Chronicles — all Palestinian. There is also a second Targum on Esther. There is none on Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah.

Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley

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Preceding

Hebrew Language #2 The name “Hebrew” and Speech of Canaan

Hebrew Language #3 Among Christian scholars

Hebrew Language #4 Hebrew Literature #1 Old Testament

 

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Related

  1. Why the Apocrypha is not Canonical Scripture
  2. Sacred Tradition and the Development of the Old Testament Canon

16 thoughts on “Hebrew Language #5 Hebrew Literature #2 Torah, Apocryphal literature and Targum

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