What are the Targums?

by Matt Slick

The Targums are the group of various Aramaic versions of the Old Testament that contained both paraphrase and interpretation. Basically, Targum means "translation or interpretation." The word does not occur in the Old Testament as a noun, but it occurs as a verb in Ezra 4:7.1

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew with just a few verses in Aramaic, which is closely related to Hebrew. Those portions of the Old Testament in Aramaic are as follows:

"(1) two words in Gen. 31:47 used by Laban, whereas Jacob expressed the same idea in Hebrew; (2) one verse in Jer. 10:11 representing the testimony that the house of Israel was to make to the nations; (3) two portions in Ezra (4:8–6:18; 7:12–26), being principally correspondence between the enemies of the Jews and the Persian King Darius, and a letter from Artaxerxes to Ezra; (4) the central portion of Daniel (2:4b–7:28). The language is called “Aramaic” (improperly translated “Syriac” in the AV) in Ezra. 4:7 and Dan. 2:4."2

The Targum is the Aramaic translation of the entire Old Testament except for Ezra, Nehemiah, and Daniel.3

The earliest Targums were discovered along with the Dead Sea Scrolls.

"An Aramaic Targum of Job containing fragmentary portions of Job 17–39 was discovered in Cave 11 (11QtgJob). In Cave 4 two small fragments of an Aramaic Targum to Lev. 16:12–15; 18–21 and another fragment of Job came to light."4

Where did Aramaic come from in the Old Testament?

Hebrew was the language of the Jews about seven centuries before Christ.  During the Babylonian captivity, which occurred around the sixth century BC, Aramaic gradually replaced Hebrew as the common language among the Israelites because Aramaic was the language of the Babylonians.

"Despite this uncertainty with regard to dating, the Targums have been drawn on extensively in recent New Testament studies to illuminate themes, exegetical traditions, and particular linguistic features."5




  • 1. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised. Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988.
  • 2. ibid.
  • 3. Wood, D. R. W., and I. Howard Marshall. New Bible Dictionary. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
  • 4. Bromiley, Geoffrey W., ed. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  • 5. Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.