In Onkelus, "פון" indicates the subjunctive mood. For example, in Vayetze 31:27, Lavan seems to be telling Yaakov, "Why did you conceal yourself to flee? And you robbed me! And you didn't tell me; and I sent you with celebration, songs, drum, and lyre." Onkelus translates "ואשלחך / and I sent you" as "ושלחתך פון / and I would have sent you". See more on this.

I'm having trouble understanding Onkelus to Sh'mos 3:20. There, God is telling Moshe that Pharaoh won't allow the Jews out, not because he's mighty (according to Onkelus's translation), and then: "ושלחתי את ידי", seemingly "and I will be putting forth My hand" and smiting Egypt with wonders, etc. — but Onkelus translates that quoted phrase as "ואשלח פון ית מחת גברתי / and I would be putting forth my mighty blow". God isn't speaking in a hypothetical: he's saying Pharaoh won't let them out. How do we understand the use of "פון" here?

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    Interestingly, Mechon Mamre's version of Onkelos omits the word "פון". – Fred Jan 3 '16 at 5:39
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    @Fred, that is interesting. Before posting this, I had happened to look in chumashim from three different publishers, and all had had "פון". – msh210 Jan 3 '16 at 14:27
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    @Fred, I saw last night that the popular chumash (whose name escapes me at the moment) that includes Onkelus edited by R. Kafih lacks "פון" here also. It's unsurprising then that Mechon Mamre's version does, too. Likely that's more accurate; thus, a reasonable answer below can be "You have an inaccurate version". – msh210 Jan 4 '16 at 20:55

In the simplest approach, Onkelos says it is revealed before HaShem that the King of Egypt will, in the future, act this way. But it hasn't happened yet in actuality. The language of Onkelos appears to be emphasizing a point that there is still some degree of choice by Pharaoh. In other words, if it actually comes to pass, then I would do this.

And this is also the emphasis from Shemot 8:11 and 8:28. In the early plagues, Pharaoh had no choice. But in a later stage, he was given the opportunity to repent and he refused. And this caused the judgement of Mitzrayim.

Rambam actually discusses this in Hilchot Teshuvah, chapter 6, halacha 3 specifically in regard to Pharaoh.

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    Considering the importance so often accorded to Onkelos, I like this answer. It implies that Onkelos's Peshat is necessary to fully understand the Pasuk. +1. – Seth J Jan 4 '16 at 22:02
  • @SethJ, perhaps it gives a better appreciation for the practice by many each week of saying 'Twice Mikra and once Targum'. For those who can't understand the Onkelos, they can fulfill with Rashi. But Rashi refers to Onkelos a great deal. I recently saw that part of Rabbi Akiva's traveling to Rome was to deliver Targum Onkelos to the Jewish community in Syracuse. – Yaacov Deane Jan 4 '16 at 22:51

According to the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon Project (main website located at http://cal1.cn.huc.edu), the Aramaic word פון found here in this verse was a later editorial insertion, which means that the word appeared above or below (or in the margin of) this verse among the traditional transcriptions of this Targum. In fact, according to the same source, there is no nuance of “the subjective mood” in the Targum Neofiti, the Pseudo-Jonathan, nor in the Samaritan Pentateuch.

Why then did some later editors insert the word פון into this Targum? The following is my own translation of Exodus 3:19-20 from the Aramaic of this Targum. The word in grey would be the translation of the פון as intended by the Jewish editors who inserted this word in order to bring out the full meaning.

Ex 3:19-20
19 And it is revealed before me (lit., was uncovered before me) that the King of the Egyptians will not let you go not even from before his strong army. 20 notwithstanding I will send the stroke of my might, and I will strike the Egyptians with my miracle (lit., my sacrifice [of the Passover]) to perform among them, and thus after this he will cast you away.

Verse 19 starts out with the Aramaic phrase “וּקדָמַי גְלֵי,” which means that the LORD is making the inviolate decree that Pharaoh is not going to budge -- the literal idea here is that there “was disclosed (or revealed) before the LORD” in predictive prophecy to Moses that Pharaoh was going to remain intransigent until the bitter end. Because of this inviolate decree of this predictive prophecy, verse 20 includes the editorial word פון, which tips the reader to understand notwithstanding, which lends to the idea that while Pharaoh will be forced to release the Israelites, it will not be as a result of his desire to release them. In other words, Pharaoh will not change his mind notwithstanding that the Passover miracle is going to occur, which will devastate the Egyptians.

Along this same line of thought, in their Commentary of the Old Testament - online, the 19th Century Hebraists Karl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delizsch make the very same observation concerning the Biblical Hebrew of the Masoretic Text.

וְלֹא בְיָד חֲזָקָה, “not even by means of a strong hand;” “except through great power” is not the true rendering, for וְלֹא does not mean ἐὰν μὴ, nisi. What follows,—viz., the statement that God would so smite the Egyptians with miracles that Pharaoh would, after all, let Israel go (v. 20),—is not really at variance with this, the only admissible rendering of the words. For the meaning is, that Pharaoh would not be willing to let Israel depart even when he should be smitten by the strong hand of God; but that he would be compelled to do so against his will, would be forced to do so by the plagues that were about to fall upon Egypt. Thus even after the ninth plague it is still stated (Ex. 10:27), that “Pharaoh would (אבה) not let them go;” and when he had given permission, in consequence of the last plague, and in fact had driven them out (Ex. 12:31), he speedily repented, and pursued them with his army to bring them back again (Ex. 14:5ff.); from which it is clearly to be seen that the strong hand of God had not broken his will, and yet Israel was brought out by the same strong hand of Jehovah.

In summary, the Jewish scholars who translated Targum Onqelos into Aramaic used the nuance of פון to convey nuance in the Masoretic Text that Pharaoh was so intransigent that, notwithstanding divine power of the Passover miracle to the contrary, he was going to remain in his inveterate obstinacy until the bitter end.

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