The Targum Psalm 82, or What is a Targum?

Some of my posts are inspired by research I do while engaged in online discussion. This is one such post. In discussing Psalm 82 and its theology, an anti-mormon poster referred to the Targum translation of Psalm 82:

Targum -Psalm 82
1.
A hymn composed by Asaph. God, his presence abides in the assembly of the righteous who are strong in Torah; he will give judgment in the midst of the righteous judges.
2. How long, O wicked, will you judge falsely, and lift up the faces of the wicked forever?
3. Judge the poor and the orphan; acquit the needy and the poor.
4. Save the poor and needy, from the hands of the wicked deliver them.
5. They do not know how to do good, and they do not understand the Torah, they walk in darkness; because of this, the pillars of the earth’s foundations shake.
6. I said, “You are reckoned as angels, and all of you are like angels of the height.”
7. But truly you will die like the sons of men; and like one of the leaders you will fall.
8. Arise, O Lord, judge all the inhabitants of the earth; for you will possess all the Gentiles.

I’d like to explain what the Targum is. After the Babylonian exile (approx.586-537 BC) the Jews very slowly but surely forgot their ancestral Hebrew language and began to speak Aramaic, a closely related Semitic language. This change in language was complete by the time of Jesus, who spoke Aramaic.

At this point, Hebrew remained only as the language of liturgy, or public worship, and was only known by specially trained readers. In order that the masses might understand the scriptures, they began to translate them from Hebrew into Aramaic. These Aramaic translations are what we call Targum. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (here), under the heading Targum:

As regards the method of translation all Targums in common strive to avoid as much as possible anthropomorphic and anthropopathic terms, as well as other apparently undignified expressions concerning, and descriptive of God.

Anthropomorphisms are descriptions of God which describe God as having the form or behavior of a human being. In other words, Targums are not always faithful translations of the original Hebrew, they reflect concious alterations in the name of late post-exilic Jewish orthodoxy. This is especially true of passages like Psalm 82 which describe God in decidely non-Monotheistic terms.

To my knowledge, the earliest known Targums date only to the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia says that the Targum of Onkelos dates to probably the 2nd century, and maybe the 1st century, AD. The same encyclopedia dates the Targum of Jonathan to the 1st century AD. All other known Targums are later, in some cases much later.

An organization called NTCS (The Newsletter for Targumic and Cognate Studies) hosts Targum translations of the Hebrew bible.  Their English translation of the Psalms is done by Edward M. Cook. One of the “Notes on Translation” found on the website says the following:

Text not represented in some way in the Hebrew original is signaled by italics. The absence of italics should not be construed to mean that the targum translates literally.

That being said, observe which parts of Psalm 82 in this Targum (which exactly matches the translation provided by Old Shepard) are in italics, which I will put in red:

Targum-Psalm 82
1. A hymn composed by Asaph. God, his presence abides in the assembly of the righteous who are strong in Torah; he will give judgment in the midst of the righteous judges.
2. How long, O wicked, will you judge falsely, and lift up the faces of the wicked forever?
3. Judge the poor and the orphan; acquit the needy and the poor.
4. Save the poor and needy, from the hands of the wicked deliver them.
5. They do not know how to do good, and they do not understand the Torah, they walk in darkness; because of this, the pillars of the earth’s foundations shake.
6. I said, “You are reckoned as angels, and all of you arelike angels of the height.”
7. But trulyyou will die like the sons of men; and like one of the leaders you will fall.
8. Arise, O Lord, judge all the inhabitants of the earth; for you will possess all the Gentiles.

Now, observe this NIV translation(which is a better translation, but still not perfect). Pay close attention to how the red parts differ in verses 1 and 6:

NIV-Psalm 82
A psalm of Asaph.
1 God presides in the great assembly; he gives judgment among the “gods“:
2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed.
4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
5 “They know nothing, they understand nothing. They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 “I said, ‘You are “gods“; you are all sons of the Most High.’
7 But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.”
8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance

We can have confidence that this is a better translation. The LXX (Septuagint), a Greek translation of the Hebrew done centuries before these Targums, reads:

[1]GOD standeth in the assembly of gods and in the midst He
judgeth gods.
[2] How long will you judge unjustly; and respect the persons of sinners?
[3] Do justice to the fatherless and the afflicted; Justify the lowly and the needy.
[4] Rescue the needy and deliver the afflicted out of the sinner’s hand.
[5] They did not know; nor did they understand. They walked on in darkness. All the foundations
of the land shall be shaken.
[6] I said you are gods; and all sons of the Most High:
[7] but you shall die like men; and fall like one of the chiefs.
[8] Arise, 0 God, judge the land Thyself: for Thou shalt inherit all the nations.

This translation of the LXX was taken from the work of Charles Thomson.

We can also be confident that this translation is better because it is the one that Jesus uses in John 10:

34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?

Therefore, the Targum translations are an interesting bit of history, but are not reliable translations of the Hebrew originals. Scholars who study Psalm 82 do not ever use the Targums. We are better left using the Masoretic Text, the LXX, and the Vulgate.





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2 comments on “The Targum Psalm 82, or What is a Targum?

  1. Walter Moss says:

    Thanks for the info, I study from E-sword software, and quite often I run across an comentator refering to the Targum. Being ignorant about the subject, I did a search on Google, and found your site. Knowledge is power, look at what the bible says about power: ”The kingdom of God is not in word but in power” 1Cor 4:20. You have empowered me through the spirit of truth wich is the holy ghost who comes to teach us all things Jhn 14:26. Now I know that the Targum is not a reliable source for scripture, Thank you ! Keep spreading the spirit of truth brother.

  2. Keith says:

    The Psalmist uses a quote “[6] I said you are gods; and all sons of the Most High”. Do we know what document he is quoting? Where was the original statement recorded? It almost sounds like Jesus is quoting an apocryphal book. I know both He and his half brother James did so.

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