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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

Translations

Ancient translations of the Torah into Greek, Aramaic, and Latin are governed by the original texts in ways that reworkings are not. Nevertheless, these translations were often interpretive; they solved interpretive problems, took sides in theological and legal controversies, and expanded narrative and legal material, while purporting merely to convey the meaning of the texts they translate. That this phenomenon was originally connected to the linguistic and cultural difficulties facing those who returned from Babylonia to reconstruct the Temple is suggested by Neh. 8.1–8 :

All the people gathered together…They asked Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the Torah of Moses…Ezra the priest brought the Torah before the assembly, men, women, and all who could hear with understanding…He read aloud from…dawn until midday facing the men, women, and the interpreters, and…all the people were attentive to the book of Torah…Ezra the scribe opened the book before the eyes of the entire people…When he opened it all of the people stood. Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God and the entire people answered: “Amen, Amen” while raising their hands, bowing down, and prostrating themselves before the LORD with their faces upon the ground…Those interpreting the Torah…read aloud from the book of the Torah of God, explaining,applying insight, and making the reading comprehensible (author's translation).

Evidently, the audience could not understand the text without some help, and translators (later called meturgemanim) continued to provide such help in rabbinic times. The Rabbis dated the earliest Targumim (plural of “Targum,” Aramaic “translation”) to the time of Ezra (b. Meg. 3 a and b. Ned. 37b) and, in even the earliest rabbinic sources, refer to the public reading of Targum alongside the recitation of the weekly Torah portion. Thus, for example, the halakhot associated with reading and translating are discussed in the Mishnah (Meg. 4:4 ): “The reader of Torah is not to read less than three verses. He is to read to the meturgeman not more than one verse at a time, or in a reading from the Prophets [i.e., haftarah] not more than three.” It was the responsibility of the meturgeman (translator) not only to translate the text, but to render it comprehensible. The Aramaic Targumim (e.g., Targum Onkelos, Targum Neofiti, Fragmentary Targum, and Targum Pseudo‐Jonathan) often supplement and gloss biblical narratives, and they take special pains to avoid any suggestion of inappropriate anthropomorphism. For example, in Exod. ch 33 , Moses asks God to see His Presence ( 33.18 ). Here is the NJPS translation of God's response (Exod. ch 33.19–23 ):

And He answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD, and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show. But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” And the LORD said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand (kapi) until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.”

Here kapi is translated “My hand.” For the Targumim, however, such a translation would have been problematic, because it suggested that God is embodied and anthropomorphic. Accordingly, the Targumim wanted to emphasize that kapi is used metaphorically to mean “my instrument.” They differ, however, in their views about the instrument used. Thus Targum Onkelos writes, “I will shield you with My Memra,” understanding Memra (Aramaic for “word” or “utterance”) to be a mediating power through which God communicates with human beings. In other Targum traditions (Targum Neofiti, Pseudo‐Jonathan, and the Fragmentary Targum) kapi is translated as “the group of angels who stand and minister before Me.”

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