Tag Archives: Genesis 1

Poetry, Prose, and Redaction: Preliminary Conclusions on Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 1

I have been working steadily since my last blog post on Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to Genesis 1, and I feel confident enough to state a few preliminary conclusions about the poetics of the text.

1. Formally, the text of P-J to Genesis 1 is rhythmic prose. It shows many of the features of poetry, but lacks a real poetic structure, which was important for late antique Jewish Aramaic poetry.

2. Though the text is technically prose, many of the additions (e.g. those in verses 1-6, and even some of the longer additions, like those of verses 21 and 30) maintain or expand upon the rhythm of the original text, implying that at least one of the earlier authors of P-J saw Genesis 1 as poetry.

3. Several of the longer expansions (e.g. in verses 7, 16, and 26) are fully prosaic–they do not maintain any noticeable rhythm, meter, or parallelism. Interestingly, these additions all introduce material from later, rabbinic sources, and therefore belong to a later redactional layer. Thus, I posit that the later authors/redactors of P-J did not see Genesis 1 as poetry, since it does not have much of a poetic structure.

4. Therefore, we may see a progression in how the authors of P-J saw Genesis 1. Early on, because the text of the targum retained the rhythm of the Hebrew Text, P-J to Genesis 1 was a text to be performed in front of an audience, probably in a synagogue service. Later, though, the text became a prose object of religious study: shifting views of what constituted good Aramaic poetry meant that the later rabbis saw the text as prose, and P-J’s use as a study text for seers meant that rabbinic traditions were added to the text.

Bibliography:
Michael Maher, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan: Genesis (Aramaic Bible 1B; Collegeville, Minn.:: Liturgical Press, 1992).

A. S. Rodrigues Pereira, Studies in Aramaic Poetry (c. 100 B.C.E. – 600 C.E.): Selected Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan Poems (Studia Semitica Neerlandica; Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1997).

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