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What are the Aramaic Targums?

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The Aramaic Targums are the 'official' translations of the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, into Aramaic, by Jews, and are approved for use in Judaism. Some have acquired authoritative status. The Aramaic Targums are not a single translation of the Hebrew Bible, but rather were individual translations of books or groups of books, that arose over time, according to need.

After the Babylonian exile, use of Hebrew started to decline amongst Jews, and Aramaic became more widespread. It was during this time that the Aramaic Targums started to arise. In fact, their origin goes back to Nehemiah's time, when Nehemiah read the Torah or Law publicly, but translated the Hebrew into Aramaic, to make sure that everyone understood what was being read from the Law.

And so, in this lesson we provide an introduction to the Aramaic Targums. Although they have a Jewish background, they are immensely useful for Bible students of all backgrounds. As we will see in later lessons, there are many reasons for studying the Targums. They provide a unique and useful insight into the debates that Jesus had with the Pharisees and scribes, and deserve to be better understood and used in Bible study today.

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Gary MacDougallIn relation to pronunciation, after a massive amount of research I have come to the same conclusion as Ewan, re the 4 vowels-ee, a, u, e. That pronunciation flows very smoothly in psalms when David uses YHWH and he uses YHWH a lot!
Andrew Ter-GrigoryanShlama Where can one find a print copy of the Targumim? Or at least a digital copy?
konwaykDuring the time of Josephus, Aramaic form "YA" (Yodh Alap) was used. Not Hebrew "YH" in YHWH. For Example, MarYA in Peshitta Tanakh and Peshitta NT. When Bar Kokhba revived Hebrew during Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135 AD), "YH" was used instead of "YA." So the name started changing from Aramaic "YA" to "YH." So Yosephus" (Josephus) in Aramaic will become "Yehosephus" (Josephus) in Hebrew. For Example, Yehoseph Ben Yehoseph is one of the people mentioned in Bar Kokhba letters. Another example is Yochanan became "Yehochanan" and "Yonathan" became "Yehonathan" when Bar Kokhba revived Hebrew. Yehonathan Ben Beaya (Bar Beayan in Aramaic) is one of the people who worked with Bar Kokhba. You will see Yehonathan and Yehoseph in the below link.
YochananShalom! I would Like to know what Peshitta Bible you recommend for English readers? I am reading Aent for the NT but what about the OT? Thank You, Shalom!
Brian PlummerI think Josephus (Latin pronunciation of Joseph) was wrong that YHWH has four vowels in its pronunciation. I speak Hebrew & what he said doesn't make any sense. YHWH supposedly means "He shall be (become)" & that Hebrew word is pronounced yihyeh. The "y" is sometimes rendered as a "w" when a Hebrew name comes from a Hebrew word. So, if we transfer those vowels into the four letters of the Divine Name, God's Name would be pronounced: YIHWEH. - The vowels can change when you take only two or three letters away from the four letter Divine Name. That's why for the word halleluyah (Praise Yah), the first part of the Name YIH became YAH. The name Yoel (Joel) means "Yo is God." The "w" letter turned into its "o" vowel sound (I.e. Y W became YO). Three letters of the Divine Name became YeHO at the beginning of names such as Yehoshaphat, etc. If you kept the original vowels, then try pronouncing that name: YiHWshaphat. It's difficult. Hence the "w" sound became an "o." Then you will have to change the "i" vowel between the YH letters into an "e."
Ewan MacLeodFeel free to leave comments or questions on this introductory lesson about the Aramaic Targums!
DuaneHi Sir Ewan, I really need your help comprehensively about the real name of GOD. I know you have great background also in hebrew, I know about YHWH or YHVH, jehovah's witnesses force to proclaim that is it Jehovah. I know it is not, but what is the correct name of GOD according to original hebrew text, what is pronunciation and what is grammatically possible? I hope you can give me a long discussion and explanation on this, thank you!
Ewan MacLeodHi Yochanan, For the Aramaic New Testament, I like Andrew Roth's AENT too, and refer to it often. For the Aramaic Old Testament, there are several choices. The Lamsa Bible is Lamsa's translation of both the Old and New Testaments, and is commonly available. Rev. David Bauscher also produces an interlinear of the Peshitta Old Testament, which is excellent. I tend to read the Peshitta Tanakh directly, through Accordance, which has a morphological analysis of the text of both the Peshitta Old and New Testament.
Ewan MacLeodHi Duane, The pronunciation of "Jehovah" for YHWH is impossible, for several reasons. First, there is no "J" sound in Hebrew or Aramaic, so obviously if there is no J sound, then it cannot be pronounced Jehovah. The "J" sound was added to English at a much later date, from the French language (where the "J" sound is common) when the Normans invaded England. Latin in the first century also did not have a J sound. Second, Josephus tells us that the sound of YHWH has four vowels. But "Jehovah" does not have four vowels - it only has three (e, o and a). Therefore, historically, Jehovah could not be the pronunciation of YHWH's name. It is well documented that traditionally, Jews substituted the word Adonai when they saw YHWH in the Hebrew text. Centuries later, when the Massoretes added vowel points to the Hebrew text, they added the vowel points of Adonai, so that readers would be reminded to pronounce Adonai instead of YHWH. Seeing the vowel points of Adonai, and putting a J at the start, made people (wrongly) think that YHWH was pronounced Jehovah.
konwaykI believe Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh contains the originals of books like 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Ezekiel, Daniel, Nahum, Haggai, Zachariah, Malachi, Bar Sirach, 1 Maccabees, Judith, and possibly Book of Jonah (due to his preaching at Nineveh). Although I believe Aramaic Peshitta Tanakh contains the originals of 2 Maccabees, 3 Maccabees, and 4 Maccabees, still I disregard them due to the presence of Pharisee Doctrine which interferes with Auraytha (Aramaic word for Torah).
Ewan MacLeodHi Andrew, There are a few printed versions of the Targums on Amazon or in Jewish bookshops, and they are available electronically either at the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon (CAL), or in Accordance or BibleWorks software.
Ewan MacLeodAlthough we do not know for certain what the correct pronunciation of YHWH is, all Hebrew names which end in iah or jah such as Jeremiah, Elijah, Berechiah, etc., all have the "Yah" part of Yahweh's name. These Hebrew names also have a longer form ending in Yahu, which reveals more of Yahweh's name, such as Eliyahu, Netanyahu, and so on. So it is likely that Yahweh's name was an extension of this, from Yahu to Yahu-weh. Josephus says that the name has four vowels, and if you say it correctly, Yahuweh does have four vowels, ee, a (from Yah), u (from hu) and e (from we). It is interesting and unique that YHWH has four constants AND four vowels.