Sunday, May 26, 2013

Covenanting with the Word

Targum specialists will point out that many of the Targums avoid any anthropomorphisms that are there in the Hebrew texts. Thus, while the Hebrew text might talk of God having hands or feet or other attributes that humans do, the Targum will phrase it so that these are missing. This extends to interpersonal relations, such as covenants. Two strategies that the Targums use are substituting the expressions "the word of God" and "the presence of God" for "God".

This usage, which was present in the first century, has an influence on Christianity through the Gospel of John.

Some passages that illustrate this tendency, which leads to what appears in John, come from the accounts in Genesis:
And the Lord said: This is the sign of the covenant which I bring between my Word and between you and between every living soul with you forever and ever (Genesis 9:12 Targum Onkelos)
And I will set up my covenant between my Word, and between you and between your sons after you (Genesis 17:7 Targum Onkelos).
 One can see how such paraphrases feed into the Christian notions that the Word was God and that the covenants that Abraham made were with the Word, which the Christians interpreted as Jesus. For Aramaic speaking Jews of the land of Israel, the Christian interpretation would have corresponded with what they learned in the synagogue. The only question was whether they viewed Jesus as the Word of God or not.