Targums, The New Testament, and Biblical Theology of the Messiah
by Michael B. Shepherd in JETS 51/1 (March 2008) 45–58
Renewed interest in the relationship of the Targums to the NT was ignited by three events during the mid-twentieth century: Paul Kahle’s publication of fragments from the Cairo Geniza; the discovery of Targums at Qumran; and Alejandro Díez Macho’s discovery of Targum Neoﬁti. Parallel to these developments in biblical studies was the research on the supposed Aramaic substratum of the NT. Initially there was a great deal of excitement over the possible pre-Christian dating of the Palestinian Targums. But eventually the smoke cleared, and the last thirty years have now seen a substantial amount of reevaluation of the evidence.
Regardless of the dates of the extant Targums, it is universally recognized that targumic tradition goes back to a very early period and that the Targums display similar methods of exegesis to those of the NT. Of course, this does not mean that the NT authors were necessarily dependent upon the Targums, but there does seem to be what Martin McNamara has called “convergence of evidence” when the conceptual frameworks and readings of biblical texts are compared. Much work has been done on the shared thought world of the Targums and the NT.
But perhaps the more fruitful research problem is still that which can be tied down to speciﬁc texts. The Targumistsand NT authors were not textual critics seeking to establish original readings, but they were interpreters of Scripture, and it is in this regard that they both show remarkable insight into the Hebrew Bible.
The thesis here is that the Targums and the NT exegete Scripture messianically. That is, they both tend to “disambiguate” messianic texts. The Targums most often do this through the use of the title “the Messiah”The NT, on the other hand, is unique in its application of messianic texts to Jesus. These messianic readings are rooted in the text of the Hebrew Bible itself. The messianic link between the Targums and the NT is of special importance for biblical theology—a discipline that has historically been concerned among other things with the NT’s messianic use of Scripture.
The present article falls into three main sections. The ﬁrst section provides a brief discussion of the dating of the Targums in order to expose any otherwise unstated assumptions about directionality in their relationship to the NT. The second section examines the synagogue tradition common both to the Targums and the NT. The third and ﬁnal section works through speciﬁc examples of similar exegetical practice as applied to messianic texts. It is believed that this course of study deepens understanding not only of the Targums and the NT, but also of the composition of the Hebrew Bible.
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