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Interlinear text of Hebrew Numbers 6.3–10 with Aramaic Targum Onkelos from the British Library.
Hebrew text (right) and Aramaic Onkelos (left) in a Hebrew Bible dating from 1299 held by the Bodleian Library

Targum Onkelos (or Onqelos), תרגום אונקלוס, is the Jewish Babylonian Aramaic targum ("translation") of the Torah. However, its early origins may have been Western, in Israel.



Its authorship is traditionally attributed to Onkelos, a famous convert to Judaism in Tannaic times (c. 35–120 CE).[1][2] According to a story in the Talmud, the content of Targum Onkelos was originally conveyed by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. However, it was later forgotten by the masses, and rerecorded by Onkelos.[3]

While the Aramaic translation of the Torah is traditionally attributed to Onkelus, the translation of the Torah to Greek was performed by Aquila of Sinope. Indeed, the same biographical stories that the Talmud Yerushalmi attributes to Aquila, the Babylonian Talmud attributes to Onkelus.[4] The overwhelming similarities between the biographies of Aquila and Onkelus has led many to conclude they are the same person. Zvi Hirsch Chajes identified the Aramaic "Targum Onkelus" as Aquila's Greek translation, translated once again to Aramaic. Others believe that the name "Onkelos" refers to Aquila (author of the Greek translation), and the Talmud erroneously applied the Aramaic translation to the same author.[4] A modern scholar has argued that the Aramaic translation must date to the late 4th-early 5th centuries, due to reusing language from other midrashim composed at that time, and thus could not have been composed by Aquila/Onkelus (who lived in the 2nd century).[4] Indeed, except for a single story (mentioned above) of Onkelus reinstating a forgotten translation, the Babylonian Talmud refers to the Torah's Aramaic translation as targum didan rather than Targum Onkelus.[4]

Ritual useEdit

In Talmudic times, readings from the Torah within the synagogues were rendered, verse-by-verse, into an Aramaic translation. To this day, the oldest surviving custom with respect to the Yemenite Jewish prayer-rite is the reading of the Torah and the Haftara with the Aramaic translation (in this case, Targum Onkelos for the Torah and Targum Jonathan ben 'Uzziel for the Haftarah).[5]

The Talmud states that "a person should complete his portions of scripture along with the community, reading the scripture twice and the targum once (Shnayim mikra ve-echad targum)."[6] This passage is taken by many to refer to Targum Onkelos. The directive to read Targum Onkelos on the weekly portion is codified in Jewish Law.[7]

Methodology of Targum OnkelosEdit

Onkelos' Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch (Five Books of Moses) is almost entirely a word-by-word, literal translation of the Hebrew Masoretic Text, with very little supplemental material in the form of aggadic paraphrase.[8] However, where there are found difficult biblical passages, Onkelos seeks to minimize ambiguities and obscurities. He sometimes employs non-literal aggadic interpretations or expansions in his translated text, usually in those places where the original Hebrew is marked either by a Hebrew idiom, a homonym, or a metaphor, and could not be readily understood otherwise.

The translator is unique in that he avoids any type of personification, or corporeality, with God, often replacing "human-like" characteristics representing God in the original Hebrew with words that convey a more remote and impersonal sense. For example, "my face" (Heb. panai) is replaced by "from before me" (Exodus 33:23),[9] while "beneath his feet" is replaced by "under his throne of glory" (Exodus 24:10), and "The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai" by "The Lord manifested himself upon Mount Sinai" (Exodus 19:20).[10] Samuel David Luzzatto suggests that the translation was originally meant for the "simple people". This view was strongly rebutted by Nathan Marcus Adler in his introduction to his commentary to Targum Onkelos Netinah La-Ger. He often updates the names of biblical nations, coinage and historical sites to the names known in his own post-biblical era.

In matters of Halakha, the targum entirely agrees with Rabbi Akiva's opinions. Some authors suggest that Akiva provided for a revised text of the essential base of Targum Onkelos.[11]

Some of the more salient changes made by Onkelos in his Aramaic translation for purposes of elucidation are as follows:

  • (Genesis 2:7) (Aramaic: הות באדם לְרוּחַ מְמַלְלָא, in Hebrew characters) [= "...and it became in man a speaking spirit"], instead of "...and man became a living soul."
  • (Genesis 3:5) (Aramaic: וּתְהוֹן כְּרַבְרְבִין, in Hebrew characters), [= "...and you shall be like potentates"[12]], instead of "...and you shall be like gods."
  • (Genesis 18:8) (Aramaic: וְהוּא מְשַׁמֵּשׁ עִלָּוֵיהוֹן תְּחוֹת אִילָנָא, in Hebrew characters), [= "...and he waited upon them under the tree, etc."], instead of "...and he stood by them under the tree, etc."
  • (Genesis 38:26) (Aramaic: וַאֲמַר זַכָּאָה, מִנִּי מְעַדְּיָא, in Hebrew characters), [= "...and he said, 'She is in the right. It is from me that she is pregnant', etc."], instead of "...and he said, 'She has been more righteous than I', etc."
  • (Exodus 1:8) (Aramaic: וְקָם מַלְכָּא חֲדַתָּא עַל מִצְרָיִם דְּלָא מְקַיּיֵם גְּזֵירַת יוֹסֵף, in Hebrew characters), [= "And there arose a new king in Egypt who did not fulfill Joseph’s decrees."], instead of "And there arose a new king in Egypt who knew not Joseph."
  • (Exodus 4:25) (Aramaic: וַאֲמַרַת בִּדְמָא דִּמְהוּלְתָּא הָדֵין אִתְיְהֵב חַתְנָא לַנָא, in Hebrew characters), [= "...and she said, 'By the blood of this circumcision the groomed infant has been given to us'." (i.e. the child was on the verge of dying until he was circumcised)],[13] instead of "…and she said, 'Surely a bloody husband are you to me'."
  • (Exodus 14:8) (Aramaic: וּבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל נָפְקִין בְּרֵישׁ גְּלֵי, in Hebrew characters), [= "...and the children of Israel went out openly."], instead of "...and the children of Israel went out with an high hand."
  • (Exodus 23:19) (Aramaic: לָא תֵיכְלוּן בְּשַׂר בַּחֲלַב, in Hebrew characters), [= "...Do not eat flesh with milk."], instead of "...You shall not seethe a kid [of the goats] in his mother's milk."
  • (Numbers 15:15) (Aramaic: קְהָלָא קְיָמָא חַד לְכוֹן וּלְגִיּוֹרַיָּא דְּיִתְגַּיְּירוּן, in Hebrew characters), [= "One ordinance shall be both for you of the congregation, and also for the proselytes that sojourn with you"], instead of "...and also for the stranger that sojourns with you."
  • (Numbers 12:1) (Aramaic: וּמַלֵּילַת מִרְיָם וְאַהֲרֹן בְּמֹשֶׁה עַל עֵיסַק אִתְּתָא שַׁפִּירְתָא דִּנְסֵיב אֲרֵי אִתְּתָא שַׁפִּירְתָא דִּנְסֵיב רַחֵיק, in Hebrew characters), [= "And Miriam and Aaron spoke out against Moses concerning the beautiful woman whom he took [in marriage], for the beautiful woman whom he had taken [in marriage] he had distanced (from himself)."], instead of "...spoke out against Moses concerning the Ethiopian woman whom he had married, etc."
  • (Deuteronomy 20:19) (Aramaic: אֲרֵי לָא כֶאֱנָשָׁא אִילָן חַקְלָא לְמֵיעַל מִן קֳדָמָךְ בִּצְיָרָא, in Hebrew characters), [= "...for a tree of the field is not like unto man to remove himself from you during a siege."], instead of "...for the tree of the field is man's life to employ them in the siege."


  • N. Adler, "Netinah La-Ger" (Heb.)
  • S. D. Luzzatto, "Oheiv Ha-Ger" (Heb.)
  • Maimonides, The Guide for the Perplexed (English) OCLC 1031721874
  • N. Samet, "The Distinction Between Holy and Profane in Targum Onkelos" (Heb.), Megadim 43 (2005), pp. 73-86.


  1. ^ Ben Maimon, M. (1956). Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by Michael Friedländer (2nd ed.). New York: Dover Publishers. p. 14 (part 1, ch. 2).
  2. ^ Epiphanius' Treatise on Weights and Measures - The Syriac Version (ed. James Elmer Dean), University of Chicago Press 1935, p. 30, who writes that Aquila (known also as Onkelos), who was a relation of Hadrian, had been made the overseer of Jerusalem's rebuilding in around 115 CE.
  3. ^ Talmud, Megillah 3a
  4. ^ a b c d The History and Dating of Onkelos
  5. ^ Yehuda Ratzaby, "Ancient Customs of the Yemenite-Jewish Community", in: Ascending the Palm Tree – An Anthology of the Yemenite Jewish Heritage, Rachel Yedid & Danny Bar-Maoz (ed.), E'ele BeTamar: Rehovot 2018, p. 60 OCLC 1041776317
  6. ^ Brachot 8a-b
  7. ^ Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Tefilla 13:25; Tur and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 285:1
  8. ^ Michael L. Klein, "Converse Translation: A Targumic Technique", in: Biblica (1976), vol. 57, no. 4, p. 515
  9. ^ Ben Maimon, M. (1956). Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by Michael Friedländer (2nd ed.). New York: Dover Publishers. p. 31 (part 1, ch. 21).
  10. ^ Ben Maimon, M. (1956). Guide for the Perplexed. Translated by Michael Friedländer (2nd ed.). New York: Dover Publishers. pp. 35–37 (part 1, chs. 27–28).
  11. ^   Singer, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "AKIBA BEN JOSEPH". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls., citing F. Rosenthal, Bet Talmud, ii. 280
  12. ^ The literal words used in the Hebrew text are: "and you shall be like elohim." The word elohim, however, is a Hebrew homonym, having multiple meanings. It can mean either God, angels, judges, potentates (in the sense of "rulers" or "princes"), nobles, and gods (in the lower case). In most English translations of Genesis 3:5 it is rendered as "gods" (in the lower case), and which, according to Onkelos, is a mistranslation and should be translated as "potentates."
  13. ^ In accordance with a teaching in the Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 3:9 [13a]): "Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: May God forbid! The angel [of death] did not seek to kill Moses, but rather the infant!" Still, the matter is disputed, some holding that it was Moses, Zipporah's bridegroom, whom the angel of death sought to kill for not performing the circumcision on one of their sons, as relayed in the Palestinian Aramaic Targum.

External linksEdit

  • English Translation of Targum Onkelos at the Newsletter for Targumic and Cognate Studies - English translations by John Wesley Etheridge
  • Mechon Mamre has the entire Aramaic text of Targum Onkelos with vowels according to Yemenite manuscripts. The Targum appears as digital text in two different user-friendly versions: (1) The Aramaic targum text with vowels can be viewed in its entirety on its own, either book-by-book or chapter by chapter. (2) The Aramaic targum can be viewed verse-by-verse parallel to the Hebrew text, within files that contain one weekly portion (parshat ha-shavua) at a time. The index to both versions is here; there is also an older version without vowels.
  • Sefaria has the entire Aramaic text of Targum Onkelos, with some of it translated into English, and each verse hyperlinked to various other texts