words of (human) motion

Targumim (or: Targums) are translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. They were translated and used when Jewish congregations increasingly could not understand the biblical Hebrew anymore. Targum Onqelos (also: Onkelos) is the name of the Aramaic translation of the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) probably composed in Israel/Palestine in the 1st or 2nd century CE and later edited in Babylon in the 4th or 5th century, making it reflect Jewish Babylonian Aramaic. It is the most famous Aramaic translation and was widely used throughout the Jewish communities.

In many, but not all, cases the translation of Targum Onqelos avoids anthropomorphisms (attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions) as they relate in the original Hebrew text to God.

The Hebrew of Genesis 20:3 and 31:24 as well as Numbers 22:9 that is translated in English as “God came to . . .” is translated in Targum Onqelos as “the word came from before God to ….”

Other occurrences of Hebrew terms that are translated in English as words of motion and are circumvented in Targum Onqelos include:

  • Exodus 19:9: “I am going to come to you” becomes “I am going to manifest myself to you”
  • Exodus 20:24: “I will come to you and bless you” becomes “I will send my blessings to you and I will bless you.”
  • Deuteronomy 33:2: “The Lord came from Sinai” becomes “The Lord manifested himself from Sinai”
  • Exodus 12:12 and 12:23: “pass through the land of Egypt” becomes “manifest (myself) in the land of Egypt”
  • Exodus 11:4: “I will go out through Egypt” becomes “I will manifest myself in the midst of Egypt”
  • Exodus 3:18: “has met with us” becomes “has manifested himself to us”
  • Numbers 23:3: “the Lord will come to meet me” becomes “the word from before the Lord shall be proclaimed before me”

(Source: Schochet 1966, p. 29ff.)