Targumic and Midrashic (or Talmudic) parallels 3

“Oh my gosh! Is that a…woman?!”

There has long been debate about which rabbinic text is dependent upon which. It is very rare that we know certainly the date of the texts or when one is clearly citing or building its own interpretation upon that of another text. This is certainly true of TgRuth. I am just re-reading Derek Beattie’s, “Towards Dating the Targum of Ruth,” in Word in Season, (Sheffield, England Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications JSOT Pr), 1986. On page 216 he has this phenomenal little quote regarding parallels that is worth sharing.

As I recall from schoolboy geometry, the essence of parallels lies in their never meeting and, certainly, Tg. Ruth never seems to actually make contact with any of its many parallels in talmud and midrash.

True, this is a bit apples and oranges, but it is worth reminding ourselves that two thoughtful and learned people when confronted with the same biblical text may well come to very similar interpretations. One need not be dependent or in response to the other.

The example in question is Ruth 3:8 and the interpretation of הָאִישׁ וַיִּלָּפֵת. TgRuth renders it גברא ורתת ואיתרכיך בישׂריה כליפתא מן רתיתא, “the man was startled, and he trembled, and his flesh became soft like a turnip from fear.” The Talmudic text is b San. 19b. “What is the meaning of וַיִּלָּפֵת? Rab said: His flesh became [as hard] as turnip heads.” Rashi makes it explicit for us by saying “his member became hard.” BUT nonetheless, we are told, he resisted his desires. (Don’t want to mislead you as to the point of the story and its interpretation!)

Beattie points out that while both share their reading of the Hebrew as being derived from לפת, “turnip” (instead of “trembling”), but they go in different directions. The Targumist likes his turnips boiled (“his flesh was soft like a turnip”) while Rab’s turnip is raw and hard. So there you go. They start at the same place and have similar readings and yet they are different. Are they dependent or reacting one to another? I think not. They are simply reading the Hebrew in the same way and there are only so many exegetical conclusions they can arrive at from that starting point.


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3 thoughts on “Targumic and Midrashic (or Talmudic) parallels

  • Tim Seiger

    My Wife is a graduate of the Honors College.I met you several years ago at the Honors College Reunion that my wife Kim helped organize. I am intrigued by your post here and was wondering why no translation I am aware of includes the reference to the turnips. Is what you have noted a targum of midrash and not part of the actual text? If part of the Hebrew text why in your opinion do so many translations ignore the reference? Just curious. Thanks.

    • Christian Brady Post author

      Hi Tim! It is good to hear from you. I do remember meeting you both. Now, to your question.

      The Hebrew that was understood as “turnip” in the rabbinic commentaries (I will use that generic term for shorthand) is only found 3 times in all of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, if memory serves. In other words, it was not common and so exactly what was meant was not clear to the rabbis. They understood the gist, Boaz became startled or frightened. The first Hebrew verb in this section (וַיֶּחֱרַד) means “to shake, tremble.” The verb in question וַיִּלָּפֵת means “to turn over,” thus the modern translations: “the man was startled, and turned over” (NRSV). The noun לפת means “turnip,” thus the rabbinic interpretation.

      What I posted from the Targum is indeed an interpretation and not part of the Hebrew text. If you look at my translation (on the site here) you will see that portions are in italics (additions to the Hebrew text) while the Aramaic that represents the actual Hebrew is represented by plain type. For this verse it reads:

      8 In the middle of the night the man was startled, and he trembled, and his flesh became soft like turnip from fear. He looked and lo! a woman lying at his feet. His desire grew strong, but he did not approach her, just as did Joseph the Righteous who refused to approach the Egyptian woman, the wife of his master; just as Paltiel bar Laish the Pious did, who placed a sword between himself and Michal daughter of Saul, wife of David, whom he refused to approach.

      (I just realized the block quote feature of this theme makes the entire text italics. That is not helpful…)

      Targum is sui generis a unique kind of translation where every Hebrew word is represented with an Aramaic equivalent, word-for-word, but then additional material is added as glosses and interpretations. So it is not like an English paraphrase, where you often cannot find the Hebrew that lies behind the English, but it is not literal either.

      Does that help to clarify?