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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Onkelos the Proselyte

(אונקלוס הגר ), son of Kalonymus (בר קלונימוס ), is the supposed author of the celebrated Chaldee paraphrase of the Pentateuch called Targum Onkelos. We possess no certain data as to the time when he lived, but he is generally believed to have been a contemporary of Christ, or certainly of the apostles. Some assign A.D. 40 as the year of his birth; others make it earlier. He is reputed to have been a scholar of Gamaliel (q.v.); but, unless Onkelos was a contemporary of Christ, he must have been the disciple of Gamaliel II (q.v.), and not of the grandfather of the eminent rabbi, generally called in distinction Gamaliel I, who was the teacher of the apostle Paul (Acts 22:3; comp. on this point Gratz, Gesch. der Juden, 4:152). In the Tosiftha (Mikvaoth, vi; Kelim, 3:2; Chigigah, 3:1) Onkelos is spoken of as the disciple of Gamaliel II. This learned Jew was also the teacher of Aquila, and there are some students who confound Onkelos with Aquila, also a Jewish proselyte, who flourished about the close of the 1st century, and translated the Old Testament into Greek. But more of this below. Onkelos it appears clearly was a proselyte. His love for his newly adopted Jewish faith was. so intense, we are told by Jewish writers, "that, after dividing his paternal inheritance with his brothers, he threw his portion into (מי המלח ) the Dead Sea (Tosiftha Denai, 6:9), and when Gamaliel, his teacher in the new faith, died, Onkelos, out of reverence for him, burned at his funeral costly garments and furniture to the amount of seventy Tyrian mince =about twenty-one pounds sterling (Tosiftha- Sabbath, ch. viii; Semachoth, ch. viii; Aboda Sara, 11 a).

The Babylonian Talmud says that he was nephew of the emperor Titus (קלוניקוס בר אחתיה דטיטוס אונקלוס בר ); and that before his conversion to Judaism he successively conjured up from the other World the ghosts of his uncle Titus, Balaam. and Christ, to inquire of them which nation is the happiest in the next world. Titus, whom he called up first, told him that the Jews were the happiest, but warned him against embracing their faith, because of the great difficulty in fulfilling all its multitudinous commandments, and advised him to persecute them, for every one who oppresses Israel shall become a chief (Lament. 1:5). Balaam, whom he brought up next, also told him that the Jews were the most distinguished in the other world, and yet admonished him "neither to seek their peace nor their prosperity all his days forever" (Deuteronomy 23:6); while Christ, whom he called up last, and who also declared that the Jews were the first in the next world, counseled him to seek their good and not their evil, for he who touches them touches the apple of his eyes (Gittin, 56 a, 57 b). Onkelos's conversion to Judaism, however, was no easy thing. For as soon as it was known that "Onkelos, son of Kalonycos, or. Kalonvmos, had become a proselyte, the emperor [either Domitian, Nerva, Trajan, or Hadrian, as Titus. was dead] sent a Roman cohort to capture him and bring him before the imperial tribunal; but he converted the soldiers. The emperor then sent another cohort, charging them not to speak to him. As they caught him and were marching him off; he simply remarked [בעלמא מלתא, without its appearing religious or controversial], the פיפיורא carries the fire before the ניפיורא, the ניפיורא before the דוכסא =-dux, the dux before הגמונא = ἡγεμών, the ἡγεμών before the קומא = κόμης ', but who carries the fire before the κόμης ? The soldiers replied, Nobody. Now, said Onkelos, the Holy One, blessed be he, carries the fire before Israel, as it is written, The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them in the way, and by night in a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21); and he also converted them. Whereupon the emperor sent a third cohort, charging them very strictly to hold no converse with him whatever. As they captured him, and were leading him away, he looked at the Mezuza (q.v.), and, putting his hand on it, asked the soldiers what it was. They not being able to say, inquired of him what it was; whereupon he said, It is the custom of this world for a human king to sit inside his palace and for servants to guard him outside; whereas the Holy One, blessed be he, his servants are inside, and he keeps guard outside, as it is written, The Lord watches thy going out and coming in from this time forth and for evermore (Psalms 121:8); and Onkelos also converted this cohort, whereupon the emperor sent no more" (A boda Sara, 11 a).

The first distinct intimation that Onkelos is the author or compiler of the Chaldee paraphrase which goes by his name is contained in the following passage: R. Jeremiah, and according to others, R. Chija bar-Abba, said: The Targum of the Pentateuch was made by Onkelos, the Proselyte, from the mouth of R. Eliezer and R. Joshua" (Megilla, 3 a). We are also informed here that Onkelos's paraphrase embodied the orally transmitted Chaldee version of the text which the people generally had forgotten. Being, therefore, the floating national Targum, as well as the compilation of Onkelos, the paraphrase is alternately quoted as we paraphrase (כדמתרגמינן ),our Targums (תרגום דדן, Kiddushin, 49 a), the Targum has it (כתרגומו ), the Targum (תרגום ),and as the Targum Onkelos (אונקלוס תרגום ). Thus the Targum is distinctly quoted as the paraphrase of Onkelos (תרגום אונקלוס ) in Pirke Rabbi Eliezer (cap. 38, 28 a, ed. Lemherg, 185,8), a Midrash on the principal events recorded in the Pentateuch, which is ascribed to Eliezer b.-Hyrcanus, but which is not of a later date than the 9th century, (See MIDRASH); by Ibn-Koreish, who flourished A.D. 870-900, (See IBN-KOREISH); by Menachem b.-Saruk (born about 910, died about 970), who, in his lexicon entitled מחברת מנחם, says that (פתר אנקלוס ) Onkelos explains ותשב באיתן קשתו (Genesis 49:29) by בתוקפא רוחצניה ושוי (p. 23, s.v. איתן, ed. Filipowski. 1854); and by Dunash Ibn-Librat (born about 920, died about 980), in his polemical work against Menachem b.-Saruk's Hebrew Lexicon, who cites, with great approbation, Onkelos's rendering of וידגו לרב (Genesis 48:16, וכנוני ימא יסגון יהיטב היטב פירש אונקלוס המתורגמן באומרו, ed. Filipowski. 1855, p. 57, s.v. וידגו; comp. also ibid. p. 61). Those writers alternately quote the Targum by the name of Onkelos, and simply as the Targum (תרגום; comp. Menachem, p. 144, s.v. פחד; p. 143, s.v. פנק ) and as it is paraphrased (תרגומו,- comp. ibid. p. 19, s.v. אזל ). The same is the case with Rashi (born in 1010, died in 1105), who, though he distinctly quotes the' Targum of Onkelos (תרגום אונקלוס ) no less than seventeen times in his Comment. on Genesis alone (comp. Comment. on Genesis 6:6; Genesis 14:7; Genesis 18:23; Genesis 20:13; Genesis 22:2; Genesis 24:21; Genesis 33:12; Genesis 36:4; Genesis 43:18; Genesis 49:9-11; Genesis 49:17; Genesis 49:24; Genesis 49:27), yet still more frequently cites it simply as the Targum has it (כתרגומו, comp. Comment on Genesis 11:6; Genesis 12:17; Genesis 13:11; Genesis 14:6; Genesis 14:14; Genesis 14:17; Genesis 15:2; Genesis 15:11; Genesis 16:14;Genesis 19:15; Genesis 19:18; Genesis 20:17; Genesis 22:3; Genesis 24:64; al.), because everybody knew and believed that it was the Targum of Onkelos. That class of critics, however, who identify Onkelos with Aquila either ascribe to him both the Chaldee and Greek versions, or maintain that the former was made known by some unknown person or persons after the model of the latter, and therefore obtained the name Targum Onkelos, which means nothing else than Aquila Targum, or a Targum done in the manner of Aquila. The second is the more general view, and is defended by the following arguments:

1. The Jerusalem Talmud (Megilla, 1:9) relates: "R. Chija bar-Abba said, Akilas the Proselyte made a version under the auspices of R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, and they praised him."

2. This version, which is distinctly quoted by the name of the Targum of Akilas, the Proselyte (תירגם עקילס הגר ), is Greek, and agrees for the most part with the fragments preserved of Aquila's translation.

3. The description given of עקילס Aquila is almost the same as that given of אונקלוס : he is a heathen by birth, a native of Pontus, a relative of the emperor Hadrian (Midrash Tanchuma Parsha, משפטים ), or, as Epiphanius calls him, πενθερίδες of the emperor (De Pond. et. Aiens. sec. 12); became a convert to Judaism and a disciple and friend of R. Gamaliel II, Eliezer, R. Joshua, and R. Akiba (Jerome in Iesaiam, 7:14; Jerusalem Kidlushin, 1:1), and made a version under the auspices of these heads of the Jewish community, which they greatly praised (Jerusalem Megilla, 1:2; Jerusalem Kiddushin, 1:2); and,

4. It is submitted that, unless the identity of Onkelos and Akilas be accepted, we must believe that two men were living simultaneously, of remarkably similar names, both relatives of the reigning emperor, both converts to Judaism, both disciples of R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, and that both translated the Bible under the auspices and with the approbation of these rabbins. These are the principal reasons which Levi, Frankel, Gritz, Geiger, Jost, Deutsch, and others adduce for the identification of the two names, and for taking Targum Onkelos to denote a Targum made after the manner of Akilas of Aquila, the Greek translator.

The style of the translation of the Pentateuch makes it almost certain that it was written in the first years of the Christian aera; another evidence, aside from the characteristics of the language, is its simplicity: it if literal, and not overloaded with the legendary explanations so common in subsequent Chaldaic paraphrases. It may be remarked, however, that there are some critics of post-biblical literature who pronounce this translation of Scripture ascribed to Onkelos, in its present shape at least, as late as the 3d and 4th centuries, and attribute the authorship to the Babylonian school. Jahn (Hebrew Antiquities) argues that the style does not authorize a later date than the 2d or 3d century. The Christian fathers Origen and Jerome do not mention this Targum, and therefore also some have preferred to give it a later origin; but this want of allusion on the part of these fathers may be accounted for by the circumstance that Origen did not know Chaldee, and that Jerome only learned it late in life. The Targum is said to be composed of the verbal teachings of Hillel, Shammai, and Gamaliel the elder. It is more likely, however, that the author availed himself of the paraphrases, either written or verbal, existing in the synagogues at his time, and that he combined and corrected them. The history of the origin and growth of Aramaic versions in general will be treated under (See TARGUM).

In idiom Onkelos closely resembles Ezra and Daniel. The translation itself is executed in accordance with a sober and clear though not a slavish exegesis, and keeps closely to the text in most instances. In some cases, however, where the meaning is not clear, it expands into a brief explanation or paraphrase, uniting the latter sometimes with Haggadistic by-work, chosen with tact and taste, so as to please the people and not offend the dignity of the subject. Not unfrequently it differs entirely from the original, as far, e.g., as anthropomorphisms and anthropopathies anything, in fact, which might seem derogatory to the Deity are concerned. Further may be noticed a repugnance to bring the Divine Being into too close contact, as it were, with man, by the interposition of a kind of spiritual barrier (the "Word," "Shechinah," "Glory" ) when a conversation, or the like, is reported between God and man. Its use lies partly in a linguistic, partly in a theological direction; but little has been done for its study as yet. The Targum has been inserted in all the polyglots.

The punctuation adopted in these works is very defective. Buxtorf the elder labored to correct it. but did not succeed completely. There are besides numerous other editions of it. The Jews, who esteem it highly, published it repeatedly either with or without the Hebrew text. The oldest edition known is that of Bologna (1482, and the Hebrew text and commentaries by Sal. Jarchi). One of the most recent and best is that of Heinemann (Berlin, 1831-35, 3 pts. 8vo). It contains also the Hebrew text of the Pentateuch, the commentaries of Sol. Jarchi, and Mendel's German version; but thus far no really critical edition has been prepared and published, notwithstanding the numerous MSS. of it extant in almost all the larger libraries of Europe. There are quite a number of translations of the Targum; noteworthy is that of Alphonse de Zamora in the polyglots of Alcala, Antwerp, Paris, and London, and at the end of the Vulgate of Venice (1609, fol.), and of that of Antwerp (1616, fol.), and also published separately (Antwerp, 1539, 8vo); that of Paul Fagius, Paraphrasis Onkeli Chaldaica, ex Chaldaeo in Latinum fidelissime versa (Strasb. 1546, fol.); that of Bernardin Baldi's MS. in the Albani library. Onkelos On the Pentateuch has been translated into English by Etheridge (Lond. 1862, 2 vols. 12mo). Useful glosses and commentaries have been written by Berlin, entitled מיני תרגימא (Breslau, 1827; Wilna, 1836); by Luzzatto,. entitled אהב גר (Vienna, 1830); and by BenZion, called עוטה אור (Wilna, 1843). The MS. copies of Onkelos's Targum are very numerous; De Rossi possessed fifty-eight, and Wolf gives a long list of them in his Bibliotheca Hebraea, vol. 2. According to Richard Simon, the copies vary greatly from each other, especially in regard to the punctuation. See De Rossi, Dizionareio storico degli autori Ebrei, and his Meor .Encrjim, iii, cap. xlv, p. 233 b, sq. (Vienina, .1829); Simon, Histoire critique du -Vieux Testament, lib. ii, ch. xviii; Eichhorns, Einleitung ins Alte Testament (2d ed.), 1:168 sq.; Wolf, Bibliotheca Hebrcea, ii, lib. vi, ch. ii; Landau, Rub. - trasne. deutsch. Worterb. 1:11-16, 36-39; Schonfelder. Onkelos und Peschitho (Munich,1869,8vo); Zunz, Die Gottesdienstlichen Vortrage der Juden, p. 61 sq.; Anger, De Onkeloso (Leipsic, 1846); Gratz, Geschichte der Juden, 4:124 sq., 508 sq.; Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, 2:61 sq., 551 sq., 609; Jost, Geschichte des Judenthums. 2:52 sq.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Onkelos the Proselyte'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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