While the Nash Papyrus and Masoretic Text were the oldest copies of Hebrew Scripture entering the last century, there were older copies in other languages. The Old Testament had been translated into other languages over the millennia. The Targums are Aramaic translations (really paraphrases, like the Living Bible) of the Old Testament. Tradition for this dates back over 400 years before Christ. When the Jews came back from the Captivity in Babylon, the average person knew Aramaic and no longer spoke Hebrew.
“ …and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.”
Nehemiah 8: 7 – 8
Did You Know?
Christ actually quoted from the Targums on a couple of occasions. In context, the Lord is quoting from Isaiah 58: 6 and 61: 1… But, He is really using the Aramaic Targum here, more so than what would become the Masoretic Text or was the Septuagint. The text in bold is the Aramaic Targum of Isaiah 61: 1.
“So Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him.”
Luke 4: 16 – 20
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?”
Isaiah 58: 6
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”
Isaiah 61: 1, 2a
Before you get nervous and say “Uh Oh”, remember that the Targums are paraphrases. They are not meant to be a word for word rendering of Holy Writ. The same way that it is perfectly fine for you to give the gist of what a verse is trying to say or to use the Living Bible, so too was it perfectly fine for the Lord to use the Targum.
Most of the Targums date to around the 8th Century AD. However, we have an edition dating back to 150 AD called the Onqelos Targum (pictured). This is named for a Jewish proselyte who translated the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic – the language of the day.
What’s the Point?
When you compare the Targums with the Masoretic Text and other documents serving as basis for Bible today, they relay virtually the same account!