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The Targums of Job, Proverbs, Qohelet

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The Targums of Job, Proverbs, Qohelet

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The Targums of Job, Proverbs, Qohelet
By C. Mangan, J. F. Healey, and P. S. Knobel
Michael Glazier, 1991, 97, 65, and 60 pages
ISBN 0-8146-5490-8

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 28, 2010

This volume has the translations of three biblical books. My reviews of the two books Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis offers details about this 19 volume series presenting an English translation of the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible. This is volume 15. The Aramaic translators changed the biblical text frequently to insert their own views, including their ideas about theology, as is done for Qohelet. But the Job and Proverbs translations are disappointing.

Many people read the book of Job and are puzzled. Job looses all of his possessions and his entire family except for his wife, and he is stricken with a painful skin disease. He and his wife raise the age-old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" The book ends with God's response, but many think that the answer is obscure, others see God saying, "Have faith. I know what I am doing, even though you are incapable of understanding it."

The Aramaic translators changed the biblical text thousands of times to clarify it. This is an instance where it would have been helpful to read the translator's take of God's response. Unfortunately, it seems that he also could not understand God's speech, for he does not explain it.

The translation of Proverbs is similar. The original Hebrew contains a host of good ideas. It would have been nice to read new ideas added by the translator, but although the Aramaic translators frequently insert their own ideas, the translator of Proverbs is not helpful; his changes are inconsequential.

But this is not true of Qohelet. The biblical book bothered many readers by its apparent secular even seemingly hedonistic approach to life: all of life is vanity, so enjoy what you can while you can. The translator revises the book entirely. The writer is King Solomon who is a prophet. He warns his readers, among many other things, that life is worthless unless one "occupies himself with Torah in order to receive a complete reward in the world to come." A person is incapable of knowing all the good that "will be after him." There is no new thing "in this world," but there will be in the world to come, and the messiah will come.

When the Bible speaks of the king building houses, meaning homes, the translator has him build the Holy Temple and create school houses.

Besides the many good tidings, the translator inserts legends. Demons bring Solomon fragrant trees from India. A demon snatches him from his throne when he did wrong.

In short, the translator turned Qohelet in a righteous document, which he felt would educate his readers.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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