The Talmud in Migila specifies that no translation (Targum) for the Ktuvim was written since although Rabbi Yonatan Ben Uziel wanted to, he was told not to do so:

עוד ביקש לגלות תרגום של כתובים יצתה בת קול ואמרה לו דייך מאי טעמא משום דאית ביה קץ משיח

So, when was the translation for Psalms written, and by whom? Is there any reason to believe that Aramaic translations were available prior to the destruction of the second temple?

4 Answers 4


The general scholarly answer is, "We don't really know." On linguistic grounds (i.e. an analysis of its language of Late Literary Jewish Aramaic) it is usually considered a "late" targum, i.e. having been composed between the fourth and sixth centuries CE, and some even push it as late as the seventh to ninth centuries CE. We certainly know nothing of the author, and it is actually likely composed of combinations of various sources. The question of which targums were known prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, on the other hand, is a question which has received much scholarly attention. Again, there is no clear consensus but certainly targums to the Torah were known and used — we know this not only from descriptions in the Talmud but also from the Aramaic fragments found at Qumran.

A good place to start would be Martin McNamara's Targum and New Testament: Collected Essays, particularly chapter 11: "The Targums in Second Temple Judaism"; Flescher and Chilton's The Targums: A Critical Introduction; and Legrand and Joosten's edited anthology The Targums in the Light of the Traditions of the Second Temple Period. On Psalms specifically, check out: Moshe Bernstein's essay A Jewish Reading of Psalms: Observations on the Aramaic Targum, the critical edition and translation of the Psalms Targum by David Stec for the Aramaic Bible Project (volume 16), and Edward Cook's introduction to his online translation of the Psalms Targum.

  • The fact that the targums to the Torah are early is indeed known, hence the question about Psalms. Can you add some specifics regarding what is known about the dating? Feb 1, 2016 at 9:07

Ther are 3 opinions brought down about targum kesuvim:

1.Tosfos in megilla 21b writes on the Mishna which says ובמגילה אפילו עשרה קורין ועשרה מתרגמין - the megila(which is part of kesuvim) was Read out loud with its translation into aramaic. This indicates in the time of the Mishna there was a targum of Kesuvim.Tos writes: בכתובים ודאי יש תרגום אבל לא עשאו יהונתן אלא מימי התנאים נעשה In kesuvim of course there is a targum. while Yehonasan ben Uzziel didn't write it it must have been done by one of the Tanaim. The Rashba also agrees with tosfos

2.Targum kesuvim is written written by Rav Yosef the Amora as stated In sefer Yuchasin of Rav Abraham ben Samuel Zacuto written year רס״ד,Letter ג under "Gamliel."

3.Rashi in megilla 21b hold that no Tanna or Amora made a Targum on Kesuvim.אין תרגום בכתובים משום דאית ביה קץ משיח this is because of the revelation of the end of days that is hidden in the scripture which must not be revealed. So it must be a much later translation according to Rashi.


There are 2 'famous' Targums. One (the one you're referring to in the question) is known as Targum Yonasan. This is a bit of a 'loose' translation, oftentimes giving explanations in addition to simply translating the words. The Gemara is referring to that Targum, which G-D wanted to remain hidden.

Another Targum (and this is arguably the more famous one, as it's the version that appears on the side of most Chumashim) is known as Targum Onkelos, or more commonly simply Targum. Targum Onkelos is (for the most part) simply a translation of the words into Aramaic, so it can cover the entire Tanach without fear of it revealing 'hidden meanings'.

The Targum on Psalms was likely written by Onkelos together with the rest of his Targum on Tanach. While the Second Temple was standing for the first 35 years of his life, it was not likely that Onkelos wrote his translation while the Temple was still standing.

Additionally, a few lines later in that Gemara (Megilla 3a), it writes that the Aramaic translation was given at Sinai as well, but it was forgotten and then 'reintroduced' by Onkelos. So there likely was a translation prior to the destruction of the Second Temple (before it was forgotten), although I don't know how far back it was that it was forgotten.

  • The Targum on Psalms was likely written by Onkelos Why is this likely? || ` by Onkelos together with the rest of his Targum on Tanach` Why do you assume that Onkelos wrote a commntary on the whole Tanakh?
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 30, 2016 at 15:23
  • it writes that the Aramaic translation was given at Sinai The Gemara does not say that.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 30, 2016 at 15:24
  • @mevaqesh - Well, not directly. The Torah was translated into 70 languages. However these translations weren't necessarily given at Sinai, and the Aramaic translation (I'm assuming it was one of the 70 languages) was for sure not Onkelos. :P
    – ezra
    Oct 20, 2017 at 1:44

Hebrew Psalms differs from Hebrew Pentateuch. Even vocalization differs! My assumption is that Psalms were translated from Egyptian into Aramaic first. Later, about the second Temple-era Psalms were translated into Hebrew. By the way, Jesus quoted Aramaic Psalms (22:2) in Matthew 27:46 אלהי אלהי למא שבקתני It may mean that there existed Aramaic Psalms already in Jesus' times, at least.

  • 1
    How do we know Jesus quoted in Aramaic? Isn't Matthew written in Greek?
    – Double AA
    Jul 28, 2016 at 17:24
  • 1
    Consider editing some sources.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 28, 2016 at 18:31
  • 1
    @DoubleAA - They know because in the Greek there's Aramaic transliterated into Greek letters. Thought I'd say that. But we wouldn't ever trust a Christian source to determine if there was an Aramaic Targum of the Psalms; this quotation from Jesus doesn't even prove that at all.
    – ezra
    Oct 20, 2017 at 1:45
  • Why would you assume they were translated from Egyptian? That doesn't even make sense. David (who for sure spoke Hebrew) wrote the Psalms what would he be doing speaking Egyptian!? Like, what the heck?
    – ezra
    Oct 20, 2017 at 1:46

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