Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis
(The Aramaic Bible, Volume 1A)
By Martin McNamara
Michael Glazier, 1992, 271 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - July 22, 2010
The word Targum means translation or explanation. The Targums are Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible. There are three complete Targums to the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses. These three Targums were composed by different translators with different agendas during the first millennium for Jews who no longer understood biblical Hebrew. There are also fragments of other Targums. The Michael Glazier series of nineteen books offers scholars who know little Aramaic an English translation of the Targums. This is the first book in the series.
The Targum translators did not always translate literally. They made many changes in their writings for over a dozen reasons. These included alterations to clarify Scripture, to offer readers a more elevated portrayal of Israelite ancestors, to remove some but not all portrayals of God having human features and performing human-like actions, and to clarify some, but not all biblical metaphors and other figures of speech.
The Neofiti Targum, one of the three, was housed in the Vatican for many centuries and only rediscovered in the 1960s. Scholars differ when in the first millennium the Targum was composed. The name Neofiti 1 is the way the Vatican catalogued the Targum.
The translation contains many additions that the translator apparently felt that his audience should know. For example, while the Pentateuch does not mention the messiah and life after death, the translator interprets some biblical verses to speak on these subjects.
Some examples of Neofiti additions are:
Verse 1, "From the beginning, the word of the Lord created and perfected the heavens and the earth with wisdom."
In 3:1, the serpent was "shrewder" than all other beasts.
In 3:5, since nothing can be like God, the translator changes the serpent's words to "you will be like angels before the Lord" (not like God, as Scripture states).
In 3:19, he adds information about the afterlife, "But from the dust you are to rise again to give an account and a reckoning of all that you have done."
In 4:8, he gives a rather long imaginative discussion between the brothers Cain and Able, an argument that provoked Cain to murder his brother.