We're all familiar with Onkelos as a convert and a translator. According to Wikipedia,

he was a prominent Roman nobleman, the son of a man named Callinicus and the sister of Titus, the Roman emperor. According to the midrash Tanhuma, he was a nephew of Hadrian, and not Titus.

This is ahistorical, as the article continues:

Neither of these assertions are historical — Hadrian's sister, his only sibling, had a daughter, and the only child of either of Titus' siblings to survive to adulthood was also a girl, later known as Saint Flavia Domitilla.

Are there any historical references to the figure of Onkelos and his place in Roman society before his conversion?

  • 1
    Nephew may mean something broader than "sibling's child" in context. – Double AA Jan 21 at 21:42
  • According to the Seder HaDoros HaKotzair, p.61 - it mentions on one line in brackets that he was the nephew of אדריאנוס קיסר - Hadrian the Roman Emperor. – Dov Jan 21 at 21:46
  • "he was a prominent Roman nobleman, the son of a man named Callinicus and the sister of Titus, the Roman emperor" should that be "brother"? – rosends Jan 21 at 21:49
  • Although the famous Gemara in Gittin 56b sefaria.org/Gittin.56b.18?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en points to him being like the other view you raised that he was Onkelos son of Kalonikos, the son of Titus’s sister – Dov Jan 21 at 21:54
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    It's safe to assume that he was expunged from all royal records after his conversion. It was only due to the direct intervention of his uncle that he wasn't killed altogether. – Schmerel Jan 21 at 22:15

Who Was Onkelos?

Scholars have dated Onkelos to the late fourth century. The talmudic rabbis placed it about 130 C.E. The word Targum means “translation,” Onkelos' transaction. It is an Aramaic translation of the Torah. No one knows the author. The rabbis asked, "Who wrote our Targum?" They answered that it was Onkelos, a student of Rabbis Joshua and Eliezer.1 The rabbis felt, as you write, that he was the nephew of Caesar Titus. When he converted Titus sent Roman soldiers to arrest him with no success. However, the Vilna Gaon notes that a similar story exists for the author of Aquilas (in Greek, or Akelos in Hebrew). However, it is possible that the Babylonian rabbis were referring to the same person, Akelos is Onkelos in the Babylonian version. The Babylonian dialect adds the letter nun, an “n,” Akelos turned into Onkelos. It is also possible that he was Babylonian but there is little evidence for this.

1 See Babylonian tractate Megillah 3a

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