The Aramaic Targums
Ed Cook, Ph.D.

English Translation of Targums
Eldon Clem, Ph.D.

Introducing the Targum

The word “targum” refers to translations of the Bible into Jewish Aramaic. In the post-exilic period, Aramaic began to be widely spoken in the Jewish community alongside the native language, Hebrew. Eventually Aramaic replaced Hebrew for most purposes, and the Bible itself required translation into the more widely familiar vernacular language. Thus the Targum was born. The Mishnah, the codified form of Jewish oral tradition, set down detailed rules for the turgeman, the reciter of Targum, to follow in the synagogue service.

The earliest known targums are texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, most notably the Job Targum from Cave 11, although these documents were probably not used in worship. The Targums that were used in rabbinic Judaism are the following:

Targum Onkelos: Ascribed by tradition to the proselyte Onkelos, this translation, which covers the Torah or Pentateuch, is considered to be the oldest and it is the most widely used of all the Jewish targums. It most likely originated in Palestine in the first few centuries CE, but was transmitted and edited in the East, among the Jews of Babylonia. In the Babylonian Talmud it is referred to as “our Targum.”

Targum Jonathan: As with Onkelos, some traditions ascribe this targum to Jonathan ben Uzziel, a pupil of Hillel, and, like Onkelos, it probably originated in Palestine in the early centuries CE. Targum Jonathan contains renderings of the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve Minor Prophets).

The Palestinian Targums: While Onkelos and Jonathan were used mainly in the East, a distinctively Palestinian targum, covering the Torah only, was composed and used in the West. The two complete versions of the Palestinian targum that survive are Targum Neofiti, a complete codex that was only discovered in 1956 in the Vatican Library; and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, which is extant in only one manuscript from the British Museum. (This Targum is known as “Pseudo-Jonathan,” because a common abbreviation for it in the medieval period — TY, for Targum Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem Targum — was incorrectly read as “Targum Yonatan.”) Incomplete versions of the Palestinian Targum survive, known as the Fragment-Targum and other fragmentary witnesses have been discovered in the Cairo Geniza.

Targums to the Writings: The latest of the rabbinic targums are those to the Writings, the third division of the Hebrew Bible. Judging by the dialect of Aramaic, they were composed at different times and places. The Targum of Job, Targum of Psalms, and Targum of Chronicles are all similar in language to the Pseudo-Jonathan Targum. The Targums to the Five Megilloth (Festival Scrolls) — Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations, and Qoheleth (Ecclesiastes) — all contain long interpretive additions. The Targum of Proverbs may be the latest of all; parts of it were copied from the translation of Proverbs found in the Syriac Peshitta. There are no targums of Ezra, Nehemiah, or Daniel.

Language of the Targums

Targums Onkelos and Jonathan are written in a standard literary Aramaic that would have been widely understood throughout the Middle East, while the Palestinian Targum was written in the Jewish vernacular of the Holy Land. The later Targums, i.e., Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the Targums to the Writings, were written in Late Jewish Literary Aramaic, which contains elements from several different dialects.

The Importance of the Targums

The targums are important to biblical scholars for several reasons. They are a witness to the Hebrew Bible text as it existed in the first few centuries CE, and references to them are frequent in the apparatus of the Biblia Hebraica. Since it was characteristic of their method sometimes to add interpretive or folkloric material to the translation or paraphrase, many of the targums preserve valuable information about Jewish theology, practice, and interpretation of Scripture from the early centuries of the Christian era. For linguists, the targums serve as an important source for the Aramaic dialects.

Development of the Targum Modules

The Targum Modules used by Accordance Software are built upon files provided by the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project. These files were thoroughly checked and revised, and original glossaries were composed based on the latest findings of Aramaic lexicography. All the files in the module are fully tagged, making this the most sophisticated digital Targum edition provided with full grammatical and lexical tagging. The following modules are available:

  • TARG-T: Contains both Targum Onkelos and Targum Jonathan, fully pointed, based on manuscripts provided to the CAL by Bar Ilan University, checked against the standard edition of Alexander Sperber. TARG-T also contains the following Targums to the Writings: Targum Psalms (based on P. Lagarde’s Hagiographa Chaldaice, Targum Job (based on the edition published by D. Stec), Targum Proverbs (based on Lagarde), Targum Ruth (based on the edition of Derek Beattie), and Targum Qohelet (Ecclesiastes), based on Ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale 110, checked against the edition of P. Knobel, Targum Song of Songs from the text published by A. Sperber, the First Targum to Esther from the Paris 110 MS., Targum Lamentations from Sperber’s text, and the Targum to Chronicles according to Codex Vaticanus Urbinati Ebr. 1, originally published by R. Le Déaut.
  • TARG2-T: Contains the full text, completely tagged, of Targum Neofiti, based on a fresh collation of the MS, carried out at the CAL project.
  • TARG3-T: Contains the full text, completely tagged, of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, based on the only surviving MS, British Museum Add. 27031.
  • The TARGF-T module contains Targum fragments of the Torah
  • The TARGG-T module contains Targum manuscripts of the Torah from the Cairo Geniza.

Translations of Targums Onqelos and Neofiti (Eldon Clem, translator)

It is very exciting to see OakTree Software make the Targumim available to scholars and laypeople alike. The former will be able to do research unparalleled in the history of the study of the Targumim, and the latter will have access to materials that formerly were open only to those who had specialized training in the Targumim. It is my desire that the TARG-E translations might be of service to both groups. Because my intention was to make the Aramaic text clear for the reader who has easy access to the original Aramaic text in Accordance, I have made this translation as literal as possible. Sometimes it is a little awkward in English, but by design I did not provide a literary translation. This translation is intended to be read alongside the original Aramaic, both to aid the reader in making sense of the original text, on the one hand, but also to be a stand-alone for someone who knows no Aramaic at all, but needs to know exactly what the Targum is saying. Thus I have had the challenge of being accurate without being overly literal (and risk distorting the text in another way).

The TARG-E modules currently (October 2020) comprise:

Targums English (TARG-E)

Translation of Targum Onkelos and Jonathan by Dr. Eldon Clem 

Translation of Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, and Proverbs by Dr. Jerome Lund 

Translation of Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes (Qohelet), Esther Rishon, Ezekiel, and 1-2 Chronicles by Dr. Christopher Dost 

Translation of Psalms courtesy of Dr. Edward M. Cook, The Catholic University of America 

Translation of Ruth and Lamentations courtesy of Dr. Christian M. M. Brady, Penn State University

Targum Neofiti, Esther Sheni English (TARG2-E)

Translation of Targum Neofiti by Dr. Eldon Clem

Translation of Esther Sheni by Dr. Christopher Dost

Targum Ps. Jonathan English (TARG3-E)

Translation of Targum Pseudo-Jonathan by Dr. Eldon Clem

Fragmentary Targumim English (TARGF-E)

Translation Fragmentary Targumim by Dr. Eldon Clem

Targum Cairo Geniza English (TARGG-E)

Translation of the Genizah Targum Fragment by Dr. Eldon Clem


The Targum modules made available through Accordance, as noted above, are the most sophisticated electronic Targum texts with full grammatical and lexical tagging. For this reason, they have become the most crucial tools available for those who wish to study these important texts that shed light on the Hebrew Bible, early Judaism, and the dawn of Christian belief.

Click here to order the TARG-T and TARG-E modules or the Targum add-on bundle.

Article Author: Ed Cook (2013)
Article Updated: October 2020