Targums (Chal. targem, to translate), the general name given to the Chaldee, or more accurately Aramaic versions and paraphrases of the Hebrew Scriptures. On account of the many vicissitudes of the Jewish people in the course of their history, and more especially on account of their long captivity in the Babylonian empire, the knowledge of the ancient Hebrew language had gradually declined, and Aramaic had become the language of the people. Hence after the time of Ezra, whenever the Scriptures were read in public by the priest, an interpreter (meturgeman) translated them into the Aramaic. This translation it was forbidden to reduce to writing; but the rule was gradually violated, and by the end of the 2d century A. D. the practice of writing translations or "targums" had become fixed. The work of collecting and comparing the versions of individual translators, and reducing them to one, was probably accomplished about the end of the 3d century. The oldest and best of the targums is on the Pentateuch, usually called the "Targum of Onkelos," or " of Onkelos the proselyte." The existence of Onkelos, and his name, have been fruitful themes of discussion among Biblical scholars, but it is now pretty generally agreed that he had nothing whatever to do with the targum attributed to him.
Its language is Chaldee, very similar to that of the book of Daniel, and as faithful to the original as its destination as a version for the people would permit. A principal feature is its careful avoidance of all anthropomorphic expressions. Its final redaction probably took place about A. D. 300, and in Babylonia. The targum second in time and importance is that called the "Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel," or "Targum on the Prophets," embracing Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets. It probably originated in Palestine, and was completed in Babylon about the middle of the 4th century. There is no evidence that Jonathan ben Uzziel ever had anything to do with it, and it was undoubtedly the work of many hands. The third and fourth targums are essentially one work. The former, embracing the whole Pentateuch, is the later, and is called like the second the "Targum of Jonathan ben Uzziel;" but as he could not possibly have had any connection with it, it is often called the "Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan." The fourth, called "Targum of Jerusalem," a name originally common to both this and the third, embraces portions of each of the books of the Pentateuch. The "Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan " is an emended and completed edition of the "Targum of Jerusalem," the latter being itself a collection of emendations, amplifications, etc, to the Targum of Onkelos. They originated in Syria or Palestine in the latter half of the 7th century.
The fifth class of targums are on the Hagiographa, and are usually called "Targums of Joseph the Blind," who had undoubtedly been dead many centuries when they were written. They probably originated in Syria some time between the 9th and 12th centuries. They embrace : 1. Proverbs, Job, and Psalms. The targum of Proverbs is both faithful and complete; those of Job and the Psalms are mere collections of fragments. 2. Targums on the Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes. They appear to be all by one author, but their differences from the originals are so great that they can hardly be called versions. Their dialect is about equally related to East and West Aramaean. 3. Two targums on Esther. One of these, known as the second targum, is for the most part a collection of tales and legends. The sixth targum is on Chronicles, and appears to have been made in Palestine at a very late period. The seventh targum, according to the enumeration of Deutsch, is on Daniel, has been known only within the last 30 years, and exists so far as known only in a translation of a portion of it into Persian. It is not usually included in the list of targums. The eighth targum is on the apocryphal portions of Esther, and has no particular value.
Many fragments of lost targums are scattered in various works of Semitic literature. There is no edition of any of the targums which deserves to be called critical. Most of them are included in the large polyglot editions of the Bible, and a much improved edition of the " Targum of Onkelos" was published at Wilna in 1852. - For an extended discussion of the targums, condensing almost all the learning of the subject, see E. Deutsch's "Literary Remains" (New York, 1874).