Isaiah Targum Open this page in a new tab

The Targums were initially a spoken translation of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. Paraphrases, explanations, and examples were often added such that it could resemble a sermon (wikipedia). Such translations became necessary because by the 1st century BCE, many listeners did not speak or understand Hebrew. They spoke Aramaic. Although writing down of the targums was initially prohibited, they eventually did appear in written form (wikipedia). Isaiah and all the Hebrew Prophets (Nevi'im) are contained within a single collection known as Targum Jonathan. Flesher and Chilton (2011:169) note that the date and character of each Targum within the collection needs to be assessed individually.

Flesher and Chilton (2011:169-170) discussed the history of targumic development and dates of composition.
Because the Targumim were composed during the rabbinic period and in conversation with the interpretations found in rabbinic documents, it is natural to suppose that rabbinic tradition might be a reliable guide in investigating the history of targumic development. But when the Babylonian Talmud addresses the rabbinic relationship to the Targums, it does so in a way that is manifestly ahistorical. At Megillah 3a, the Bavli [Babylonian Talmud} ascribes the entire corpus of Targum Jonathan to Jonathan ben Uzziel , a disciple of Hillel, who was a famous contemporary of Jesus. There are compelling reasons not to accept that attribution at face value, because rabbinic texts tend to identify people as rabbis for ideological reasons. Naming an authority for an opinion might give it weight, or it might suggest that it was a purely individual judgment which should be superseded by others. The principal point of an attribution was that an opinion should be considered, not that it should be accepted; issues of historical accuracy and careful chronology were not in play.

In this light, the passage in b. Meg. 3a intimates both that Jonathan rendered the Targum for noble reasons and that he exceeded his authority by what he said. The actions attributed to him evoke a sense of the controversy surrounding the formal production of a Targum of the Prophets:

A. Rabbi Jerimiah — or some say Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba — also said:
B. The Targum of the Pentateuch was composed by Onkelos the Proselyte under the guidance of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Joshua.
C. The Targum of the Prophets was composed by Jonathan ben Uzziel under the guidance of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi,
D. and the land of Israel quaked over an area of four hundred parasangs [~1400 km.], and a bat qol [voice of God] came forth and cried: Who is this that has revealed my secrets to men?
E. Jonathan ben Uzziel arose and said, I have revealed your secrets to mankind. But it is known to you that I have not done this for my own honor or the honor of my father's house, but for your honor—that divisions might not increase in Israel.
F. He also sought to reveal the Writings by a Targum, but a bat qol [voice of God] came forth and said: Enough! For this reason—that the end of the Messiah is told in it.'
Line A intimates that the memory even of the person who attributed the Targum Jonathan was uncertain. Whether it was Jeremiah or Hiyya, the fact remains that it was only in the fourth century CE that it was "remembered" that Jonathan had composed the Targum in the first century.

But anachronism is something this haggadah concerning Jonathan delights in. The biblical prophets named cannot have been actual contemporaries of Jonathan, who lived centuries after the prophets named. Indeed, because Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are taken within rabbinic discussion to have been active near the time of the restoration of the temple (around 515 BCE), the chronology of the statement is as outlandish in moving backward to those prophets as it is in moving forward to the time of Rabbis Jeremiah and Hiyya.
Flesher and Chilton (2011:169-172) suggest that the tradition in Megillah 3a is better taken as an index of targumic ideology than as a historical reference. However, on the matter of date of composition, they opine that we should take his name [Jonathan] as standing for a contribution during the first century [CE]. Flesher and Chilton (2011:169-172) also add that other passages in the Talmud indicate that Jonathan was not considered to be the sole author of the Targum. All told, Chilton (1987:xxix) estimates that Targum Jonathan was composed from the 1st century CE into the Amoraic period (200-500 CE).

Flesher and Chilton (2011:173-175) specifically discussed Targum Isaiah
The Isaiah Targum has been subjected to more study than any of the Targumim to the Prophets (both Former and Latter); it shows signs of a nationalistic eschatology which was current just after the destruction of the temple in 70 CE as well as of the more settled perspective of the rabbis in Babylon some three centuries later. That finding of critical exegesis comports well with periods of the two rabbis identified in Talmud, Jonathan ben Uzziel from the period of the Tannaitic period and Joseph bar Hiyya from the period of the Amoraim. Targum Jonathan as a whole results from these two major periods of collecting and editing traditions of rendering the Prophets — namely, the Tannaitic and the Amoraic [200-500 CE].

... Bruce Chilton took up a method of comparative analysis which was designed to substantiate or to qualify the work of linguists. The exegeses incorporated in the Isaiah Targum were compared systematically with departures from the Hebrew text evidenced in the Septuagint, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the scrolls of Qumran, the New Testament, and the rabbinic writings discussed in chapter 4. The conclusion was that targumic traditions were incorporated within an exegetical framework, a version—perhaps incomplete—of Isaiah in Aramaic composed by a meturgeman (identified in the Babylonian Talmud as Jonathan ben Uzziel) who flourished between 70 and 135 CE. That work was completed by another meturgeman, identified in the Talmud as Rabbi Joseph bar Hiyya of Pumbeditha, who died in 333 CE. Throughout the process, the communal nature of the interpretative work of the meturgeman was acknowledged; insofar as individuals were involved, they spoke with the voices of synagogues and of schools. The production of the Isaiah Targum through the stages of two exegetical frameworks, one Tannaitic and one Amoraic, has been widely accepted and applied with adjustments to the understanding of Targum Jonathan as a whole. Although the geographical aspect of these frameworks has not featured as prominently as the chronological in critical discussion, it should also be noted that the Tannaitic framework comes from Israel/Palestine while the Amoraic one comes from Babylonia.