The Targum Onqelos to Deuteronomy
(The Aramaic Bible)
Translated, with Apparatus, and Notes
By Bernard Grossfeld
Michael Glazier Books (1999), 126 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 12, 2010
See my reviews of the Michael Glazier books on Genesis and Exodus for an explanation of Targum Onqelos, also spelt Onkelos, and the purpose and limited role of the Michael Glazier series, which offers scholars an English translation of the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew. The Aramaic translations was composed during the first millennium for Jews who could no longer understand the biblical Hebrew. As noted in these reviews, the translators made many changes in their translations. One of the alterations was the clarification of some, but not all biblical metaphors and other figures of speech.
For example, a synecdoche is one of the many beautiful resources used by the Bible to state its intent in vibrant picturesque language. A synecdoche is a figure of speech by which a part (such as a palm or a sail or a brain) represents the whole (a hand or a ship or a smart person), or a whole (such as the earth) represents a part (a specific land), or a general concept (such as injustice) stands in for a specific notion (false), or a specific item (such as stone) for a general item (a weight). Examples are found in Deuteronomy 25:12 and 13 and 16, where the Onkelos translation explains "palm" as "hand" and "stone" as "weight" and "injustice" as "falsely."
Some unusual and picturesque biblical metaphors also appear in chapter 23. The Bible calls "interest" a "bite" because the lender seeks a bite, a piece, of the borrower's money. A male prostitute is pejoratively named a "dog" because ancient dogs were undomesticated, messy, and disgusting wild beasts. The Onkelos translator explains "bite" as "interest," but since he does not explain every figure of speech and since the precise intent of "dog" is unclear, with some commentators understanding that it should be taken literally, he leaves "dog" unchanged.