Tg. Neofiti Gen. 1:1 9

In a comment to my earlier post regarding the abuse of TgNeof with respect to Gen. 1:1 and the Trinity Matthew Lanser offered the following comment (in part):

Secondly (and more to the issue at hand) Shepherd1 quotes Gen 1:1 in TgNeof yet he translates the text as follows, “In the beginning, with wisdom, the Son of YHWH created the heavens and the earth” (51). His support for this view is founded on 1) that Prov. 30:4 “reveals that the one who established all the ends of the earth has a Son [sic]” (51). Secondly, that ברא, ought to be understood as “the son” rather than “he created.” In his opinion this is possible for, in Aramaic, ברא may be rendered as בר “son” with א standing in as the definite article. He furthers his support by providing the word following דייי, which is שכלל. This, he translates as “he created.”

So, is Shepherd’s analysis misguided, spot on or somewhere in the mix?

I do not have the article but I have ordered it via ILL so when I get that I will offer a more complete commentary if it is warranted. From what Matthew provides us I can say that Shepherd’s translation and apparent justification for it is completely misguided. The text is question is:

‏ מלקדמין בחכמה ברא {ד}ייי שכלל ית שמיא וית ארעא׃

(A reminder that I do not have TgNeof to hand but I am using the text in Accordance and I will offer their translation by  Dr. Eldon Clem as well, since it is reliable.) Clem offers this translation,

From the beginning, with wisdom, the Lord created and finished the heavens and the earth.

And the following note

I am reading “‏מלקדמין בחכמה ברא ייי ושכלל‎” here with McNamara (Targum Neofiti 1: Genesis, The Aramaic Bible, Vol. 1A [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992], 52).

The relevant portion being that McNamara reads a waw before the second verb שכלל, “to complete.” Now to return to Shepherd’s argument (as presented by Matthew Lanser). Shepherd’s translation is “In the beginning, with wisdom, the Son of YHWH created the heavens and the earth.” Thisis the same reading that Driscoll in the video says was given to him by Gerry Breshears. Unfortanately as Michael presents the argument it is a translation based upon prior theological convictions rather than sound linguistics.

In the first instance Shepherd is (apparently) taking a Christian reading of Prov. 30:4 and allowing that to influence his subsequent decision to render ברא not as the 3MS of the verb to create, but rather as the definite Aramaic noun “son.” I can understand that the presence of a second verb would lead one to ask if perhaps the presence of the first verb, seemingly let unrendered into Aramaic, is significant, but I think that it is rather the other way around.

The presence of the second verb is significant and indicates the targumist’s desire to clarify the function of the first verse, it is titular, stating that the Lord (notice the ambiguity of the Hebrew אלוהים is removed) was responsible for both the creation and completion of the heavens and the earth. Of course, what is significant is that the targumist also adds, under the influence of Prov. 3:19, that it is “with wisdom” that the Lord did these things. While it is true that the targumim tend to provide a single word-for-word translation, it is not uncommon to find “double translations,” that is one Hebrew term being translated twice, to clarify the text or to provide additional meaning.

Shepherd’s (and Driscoll/Breshear’s) translation seems very misguided since it is, in fact, guided by something other than proper principles of translation.2

  1. Shepherd, Michael B. “Targums, the New Testament, and Biblical Theology of the Messiah.” JETS. 51:1 (2008), 45-58. []
  2. I do need to get my hands on a good text, other than Accordance that is, of TgNeof. It is possible that there are some variants out there, but I trust Dr. McNamara’s scholarship and his translation. []

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9 thoughts on “Tg. Neofiti Gen. 1:1

  • Chris Brady Post author

    Thank you for prompting the discussion Matthew. No, I don’t think this is an hendiadys, rather I think it is an addition that expands and (in this case) completes the thought.

    And in fact, now that I think more about it, further problems arise with Shepherd’s translation because שכלל is “to finish, or complete” not “to create.” This is not an adequate equivalent to ברא, which, by the way, TgOnk also renders simply with ברא.

    The more I consider it the more problems I find with Shepherd’s translation. But I look forward to the article.

  • David Everson

    I’ve read Shepherd’s article and I believe he has some basic targumic misunderstandings which were more commonplace 30 years ago (e.g. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan is a NOT a Palestinian Targum [Shepherd p. 53]). His broad conclusion that “Perhaps the NT authors were influenced in some way by targumic renderings” is immensely problematic. Kaufman, Cook, and others have linguistically shown that the targums are considerably later than Macho, Vermes, and others have believed.

    When looking at targumic midrashic traditions of the Pentateuch, the PTs are reflective of Palestinian Midrash (i.e. works that were assembled long after the NT). In addition to Palestinian Midrash, TPsJ is reflective of late Jewish midrashic traditions (i.e. post-Mohammad) which take on a more apocalyptic and pseudepigraphic feel. To point to such late midrashic traditions and say that they preceded the NT and may have influenced NT authors is sheer speculation. If one seeks to use the targums in this manner, traditions that clearly pre-date the NT (or are contemporary to it) should be employed.

  • Jeremy Kapp

    Can anyone here tell me where I can get a digital copy of Targum Neofiti? I would love to begin studying it myself.



  • qohelethspupil

    מלקדמין בחכמה ברא דייי שכלל ית שמיא וית ארעא.
    I would have one observation, have you considered the Aramaic use of ד as a genitive marker? And in the same targum, in vrs. 7, we read, וברא ייי ית רקיעא -with no use of ד before ייי, and other places, (v3) ואמר ממרא דייי, the ד appears. I know די in Aramaic is more than just a definite marker, it would be interesting to see what the ד is actually doing in this text. To me it seems to function as a genitive marker and shows the lord as the possessor. What do you think…

  • Jonathan

    What would you do with this article published in 1997 then? On page 53, Coloe argues that wisdom is present and so is MMR, which is an indication of God’s self-revelation. Since God is invisible, he must disclose himself and cannot be “found” without his self-disclosure. Colossians 1 would argue that Jesus is that self-disclosure, as would the early church fathers.