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How do you say in Aramaic "Bereshith Bara"?

A computerized tool quickly links each word in the Torah with the corresponding words in the various translations of the Torah into Aramaic

This is how the comparison produced by the new computerized tool looks like. From top to bottom: the original verse from the Torah - in this example, of course, the first verse in Genesis; And the same verse in the Onclus translation (TO), in the Neophyte manuscript translation 1 (TN) and in the Pseudo-Jonathan translation (TPJ). The two bottom lines are the translation of the verse from two "fragment translations" - translations that include only certain sections of the Torah. A quick look is enough to notice that the five translations are very similar in the second part of the verse ("the heavens and the earth") and, on the other hand, are very diverse in the first part.
This is how the comparison produced by the new computerized tool looks like. From top to bottom: the original verse from the Torah - in this example, of course, the first verse in Genesis; And the same verse in the Onclus translation (TO), in the Neophyte manuscript translation 1 (TN) and in the Pseudo-Jonathan translation (TPJ). The two bottom lines are the translation of the verse from two "fragment translations" - translations that include only certain sections of the Torah. A quick look is enough to notice that the five translations are very similar in the second part of the verse ("the heavens and the earth") and, on the other hand, are very diverse in the first part.

Over the ages, several different Jewish translations of the Torah into Aramaic have been made. How did the translators choose to translate a certain word or form from the biblical source into the Aramaic language? There is great interest in questions of this type, both from the linguistic side and, above all, from the side of Bible study. A new computerized tool, created by Dr. Lior Gottlieb from the Bible Department and the School of Basic Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University, is now available to researchers and helps them answer such questions quickly and in a more extensive and in-depth manner than ever before.

The study, called the "Equivalent Project", which won a research grant from the National Science Foundation, was designed to identify which word in each Aramaic translation comes against each word in the text of the Masora. Such an attempt involves obvious difficulties, both because translation is not a simple word-for-word exchange and because different languages ​​are characterized by a different order of words in a sentence; But the great similarity between Hebrew and Aramaic, sister Semitic languages, simplifies the task.

The Jewish translations of the Torah into Aramaic (as opposed to, for example, the Samaritan translation) include three complete translations as well as several partial translations. The three complete translations are:

  • Onkalos translation, which was used by Babylonian Jews, although its language reflects the surroundings of the 1st century AD in the Land of Israel.
  • Translation of Neophyte manuscript 1, discovered by chance in the Vatican library in the middle of the 20th century. This manuscript is from the 16th century, but the wording reflects a translation made in Israel around the 4th century AD.
  • "Pseudo-Jonathan" translation. This translation has long been attributed to Yonatan ben Uziel, a student of the elder Hillel, but in fact it is much later. Until recently it was believed to have been written in the Land of Israel in the 4th or 5th century; or in the 8th century; But according to recent research by Dr. Gottlieb, this translation was actually made in Italy in the 12th century.
This is how the comparison produced by the new computerized tool looks like. From top to bottom: the original verse from the Torah - in this example, of course, the first verse in Genesis; And the same verse in the Onclus translation (TO), in the Neophyte manuscript translation 1 (TN) and in the Pseudo-Jonathan translation (TPJ). The two bottom lines are the translation of the verse from two "fragment translations" - translations that include only certain sections of the Torah. A quick look is enough to notice that the five translations are very similar in the second part of the verse ("the heavens and the earth") and, on the other hand, are very diverse in the first part.

To one extent or another, every translation is necessarily an interpretation; But the dimension of interpretation in these three translations is much more prominent than what is accepted today. To prove this, it is enough to compare their length (the number of words in them) to the length of the original text of the Torah in Hebrew: Targum Onclus, Manuscript 1 Neophyte and "Pseudo-Jonathan" are longer than the Torah in Hebrew by about 9 percent, 24 percent and 41 percent respectively.

Word for word

The computerized tool created by Dr. Gottlieb makes it possible to present each verse in the Torah and below it its various translations, as described in the illustration and while presenting a digital link between equivalent words in the corresponding texts; Highlighting a word will display its equivalent words in the other versions. The tool also makes it possible to search for all the places where a certain word appears (in the original or in the translation), and not just words, but also linguistic forms in general - for example, any word derived from a certain root (such as: ra'ah) or belonging to a certain building (such as: nefil). Researchers who wish to follow the choices of the various translators on any issue, or check how a certain word was translated in all its occurrences in the Torah - can do so with the click of a button.

The tool, called Targums WordMap, provides for the first time a comprehensive "thesaurus" of every Hebrew word (and form) and its Aramaic counterparts in all the different translations of the entire Torah. Therefore, it makes it possible to base studies on data from the entire Torah, instead of being satisfied with partial data, such as a single joint.

The ready-made tool is now available as part of a larger commercial Bible study software called Accordance Bible. Dr. Gottlieb hopes that in the future he will be able to make available to the general public, free of charge, a version that includes the main capabilities of the tool.

And what's next? "The next step in the research is a tool similar to 'prophets' and 'scriptures'," says Dr. Gottlieb. "The 'prophets' and 'scriptures' have fewer translations, so it seems that the work will be easier. But in fact, not only is the text itself longer, but there are translations in the 'written' books that tend to expand to the point of amazement. In some parts, the Aramaic text is five times longer than the Hebrew. After I complete this phase of the project, with the help of the grant we received from the National Science Foundation, I intend to continue with Bible translations in other languages ​​as well."

Life itself:

Beyond his working hours in research and teaching, Dr. Gottlieb enjoys going back to his roots and working the soil in his home garden in Moshav Mezkeret Batia. "When I weed or thresh or pick, I can't help but hear the voices of our ancestors in this land, who thanked God with the words: ויביא֖נו אל-המָּ֣ום הְַ֑ה וִיִתְנ-ל֙נו֙ אַה֣רֶז הַּ֔אַת אַרֶטֶרֶז הַֹּּ֔אַרְז זבּ֥ת חל֖ב וְדָֽש".

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