logo e scritta



The Patriarch and the Other in the Targums

Mod.: R.P. Craig Morrison, O.Carm.

The point of departure for this thesis was the observation that the identification of the biblical patriarchs with the Jews in late antiquity was so pronounced in the Targums that it was no longer possible to draw a distinction between these two groups (a mechanism called ‘targumization’). However, some of the biblical personages both foreigners and ‘the bad sons of the good fathers’ (Cain, Ishmael, the sons of Keturah, and Esau) are presented as if they were the non-Jews who were the contemporaries of the communities that created the targumic literature (‘gentilization’). By modifying the accounts of the interactions between the biblical personages, the ancient Jewish writers developed their own self-definition over against its counterpart – the ‘Other’. They strove to create a binary opposition between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ by creating dyads: holy/common, clean/unclean, whole/blemished, circumcised/uncircumcised, just/wicked and so forth. The targumic pairings do not coincide with those present already in the Hebrew Bible, rather they are adjusted to meet the new historical situation and its requirements. The analysis of the differences between the Hebrew Bible and its targumic interpretation not only helps us to understand how the communities that created the Targums perceived other ethnic and religious groups, but it also explains how they defined their own identity among the Gentiles by redefining and updating the status of the patriarchs in their world. This study is not concerned with the identity of Jewish society from the late antiquity in its entirety. It aims only at exploring the views of those who shaped targumic literature.

The methodological approach applied in the thesis consists in juxtaposing of the Hebrew and the Aramaic texts of Genesis in order to discover the differences between them and then to study in depth those that are pertinent to the subject matter. The Masoretic Text has been chosen as a primary point of reference regarding the Hebrew Text of the Bible. The most important Aramaic sources are Targum Neofiti and Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. Targum Onkelos is rarely quoted in this study, owing to the scant additional material it contains. The Cairo Genizah and the Fragment Targums are referred to if they preserve better readings or contain a detail not included in other Targums.

The material is organized in two lengthy and three shorter chapters. Cultic issues, an essential question for Israel’s self-definition, and the position of the Gentiles in the Jewish world, are analyzed in the first part. The second part of the dissertation is concerned with moral issues. The framers of the Targums developed an image of the Jews as righteous, while the Gentiles became morally inferior. The next two sections deal with the questions of the inheritance of the land and domination over the ‘Other’ as an outcome of God’s blessings over Israel. The last chapter reports the various attitudes the meturgemanim expressed towards foreigners.