Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Targum Neofiti, Ex. 16:15: a question

Targum Neofiti on Ex. 16:15 says, when translating the phrase "they did not know what it [the manna] was," the following: לא הון ידעין משה. It looks like "they did not know Moses." In 1969, Geza Vermes argued that this was a parallel to New Testament usage and sheds light on John 6:35ff. in which Jesus claims to "be" the "true bread from heaven," i.e. the "true manna." He argued that the further phrase הוא לחמא must be translated in Neofiti "he is the bread", not "it is the bread."

Geoffrey Cowling responded in 1975 by arguing that in the dialect of Neofiti the root ידע would not be used of personal direct objects, but rather חכם. Therefore the word משׁה must be a scribal error for מה הוא (as in Onkelos). Fair enough; Vermes's argument always seemed far-fetched to me. But I am not satisfied that somehow משׁה is an error for מה הוא; although the scribe of Neofiti can be sloppy, I can't imagine any ordinary mechanism of copyist error combining to make that change.

I am wondering if in fact משׁה is an abbreviation for מה שׁהוא. I know what you're thinking; מה שׁהוא is Hebrew, not Aramaic. True enough. But משׁהו does occur in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (Num 35:16); and Hebraisms are not rare in Targum Neofiti. The translation then would be an unremarkable "they did not know what it was."

Let me know what you think; I'm currently reviewing and making corrections as needed to my tags of Neofiti in the Targum module of Accordance. Should I leave משׁה as "Moses"? Or emend it to משׁהו?

References: Vermes, Post-Biblical Jewish Studies (1975), 139ff.; Cowling, Australian Journal of Biblical Archaeology (1975), 93ff.

(Post contains Hebrew; if it's not displaying properly, set your browser's language to Unicode (UTF-8).)

UPDATE: I have decided to go with the emendation and a textual note. Many thanks for the comments and emails.


Jim said...

I have Sperber's Targum Onkelos- At v. 15 Moshe is followed by the preposition- lamed (sorry, I can't type hebrew here- I don't know how). It seems that to have support your reading (emendation) would require waw, or else it is simply speculation with no basis in the text. To be sure, it makes sense! But, without some textual support I fear you will only be excoriated.

Anonymous said...

I like your suggestion. The lack of textual support would be more weighty if your conjecture were farther out. It makes a lot more sense than the alternatives.