Targum Sheni

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TARGUM SHENI (Heb. תַּרְגּוּם שֵׁנִי; lit. "Second Translation"), a collection of homilies in Aramaic on the Book of Esther (*Scroll of Esther). It is so extensive that despite its name it can hardly be regarded as a translation. Only about 75 of the verses have been translated literally, the remainder being an extensive midrashic paraphrase. The author makes free use of the aggadot, adapting them and embellishing them with his own additions. Hai Gaon writes: "Here in Babylon there are several Targums of Esther which differ from one another. One has many additions and Midrashim, and the other none" (L. Ginzberg (ed.), Ginzei Schechter (1929), 86). The former refers to the Targum Sheni, while the latter to the Targum Rishon. Rashi (to Deut. 3:4) and the Arukh of Asher b. Jehiel both quote it.

Outstanding among the stories interwoven into the Targum Sheni is the variegated description of Solomon's throne (1:2). Mention is made, in incorrect chronological order, of Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Shishak, and Antiochus, all of whom wanted to sit upon this splendid throne but did not succeed and were punished. In the end Cyrus, king of Persia, "as a reward for occupying himself with the Temple succeeded in occupying it." This description is intended to call to mind the glorious past of the people of Israel, and there is substance for the view that its purpose was to provide a story for home reading on Purim, with the aim of strengthening Jewish national pride (G. Salzberger, Salomos Tempelbau und Thron (1912), 70f.). Some of these motifs are also found in the Koran (27:20–40), and it has been suggested that the author also made use of Arabic sources.


The following passages may be mentioned as examples of the homilies. Ahasuerus was one of ten kings who reigned or who were to reign over the world (cf. pdre 11). There were four kings who reigned over the whole world: Solomon and Ahab of Israel, and Nebuchadnezzar and Ahasuerus among the gentiles (1:1). There are eulogies of Solomon: all kings feared him, and every type of demon was in his power. Solomon's throne is described: in front of it stood 12 golden lions and 12 golden eagles, and it had six steps of gold. On the first step crouched a golden ox together with a golden lion, on the second a golden wolf together with a golden sheep, and so on with each step. Above the throne stood a golden candelabrum, from one side of which protruded seven arms upon which were depicted the seven patriarchs – Adam, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job – and the other side depicted seven pious men – Kehat, Amram, Moses, Aaron, Eldad, Medad, and Hur (1:2). The Targum Sheni contains the most detailed description of the Queen of Sheba found in aggadic literature (cf. W. Herz, Gesammelte Abhandlungen, pp. 413–55), and also has aggadot on the destruction of the Temple.

Ahasuerus demanded that Vashti appear naked wearing only her crown. Vashti refused to comply as she was a king's daughter and moreover her consent would endanger his life because the other kings would kill him (1:11–12). Ahasuerus regretted killing Vashti and ordered those who had counseled it to be executed (2:1). The genealogy of Mordecai is given (2:5). Mordecai concealed Esther from the king's officials, and when this became known to the king, he issued an order that whoever hid Esther was to be put to death (2:8). The reason the virgins were assembled a second time was that the ministers advised the king that if he wanted to know Esther's birthplace he must make her jealous through other women (2:19). Haman's descent is from Eliphaz, the firstborn of Esau (3:1). The accusations made by Haman against the Jews are quoted at great length (3:8). They include interesting details of the manner in which the Jews celebrate the Sabbath and festivals: e.g., on Shavuot, Jews ascend to the roofs of their synagogues and throw down apples, and when these are picked up, they say: "Just as these are gathered so may our children be gathered from among the gentiles"; on Sukkot they "go into gardens and orchards … ruthlessly tear the branches, rejoice, make a circuit crying 'Save, O Lord' [hoshanah] and dance like goats." The work says that on the Sabbath and festivals the Jews read their books and translated their prophets, which proves that at the time the Targum Sheni was compiled it was customary to read the Targum of the prophets.

In 4:1 Ahasuerus tells the people that Haman offered him 600,000 shekels for the sixty myriads who left Egypt, and that he accepted this in agreement to slay the Jews. In 4:13 Mordecai's call to Esther to entreat God's mercy gives a large number of examples from Jewish history that God is stronger than Israel's oppressors. In 5:1 Esther's prayer is given, and in 5:14 it is told how Zeresh proposed that Mordecai should be hanged, because Abraham was saved from fire, Isaac from the sword, Moses and the Israelites from water, and Daniel from the lions. In 6:1 the cry of the Israelites reached Heaven, and even the angels were alarmed, saying that the end of the world had come. The attribute of mercy intervened with God on Israel's behalf, whereupon God yielded and immediately sent the angels appointed over confusion and panic to alarm Ahasuerus in a dream. In 6:9 it is related that when the king heard Haman's proposal of what should be done to the man faithful to the king, the suspicion arose in his mind that Haman wanted to take his life. In 6:11 there is a long dialogue between Haman and Mordecai. Haman admits to Mordecai that "your sackcloth and ashes have been more powerful than the 10,000 talents of silver I promised to bring to the king's treasury." When Mordecai mounted the horse, 12,000 chosen youths, each holding a cup and goblet of gold in their hands, called by order of the king: "Thus shall be done to the man…." In 6:13 Haman is told by the wise men and by Zeresh that Mordecai is a descendant of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and that just as their calumniators were destroyed, so would Haman be. In 7:10 the trees meet in council, and all refuse to have Haman hanging from them, but finally the cedar agrees.

The author of the Targum Sheni knew the Targum of Onkelos, the Targum of Jonathan to the prophets, and the aggadot of the Talmud and the Midrash, which he quotes. Targum Sheni has a number of points in common with the Midrash Panim Aḥerim, version 2 (Buber's ed. 1886), and with the Midrash Abba Guryon (ibid.). The author of the Targum Sheni was fond of long speeches and also integrated into the Targum extensive prayers with biblical verses and with examples from the past. A poetic tone is also noticeable in his words (cf. 3:2; 4:1, 17; 5:1; 6:11; 7:9; 8:18), and the work's poetic character is also testified to by the alphabetic acrostic (1:2; 5:1, 7, 10). The language of the Targum is close to Western Aramaic, and contains many Greek words. D. Heller distinguished in it several narrative motifs (see mgwj, 70 (1926), 485).


The date of the work cannot be determined exactly. The view of S. Gelbhaus (see bibl.) that it belongs to the amoraic period, in the fourth century, is disproved by the fact that it contains later material. P. Cassel (see bibl.) dates it in the sixth century and explains its mention of Edom to be the rule of Justinian (527–565). However, this view of Edom can also apply to other periods. A basis for dating was also found among the accusations made by Haman: "They come to the synagogue … and curse our king and our ministers." This statement is regarded as an allusion to the suspicion that Jews combine a curse with the prayer said in the synagogue for the welfare of the kingdom. Since this prayer is thought to have been composed in the eighth century it is conjectured that the Targum Sheni postdates that century. L. Munk (see bibl.) puts its date still later, in the 11th century, but he gives no proof. It seems that the most acceptable view is that which places its composition at the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century, a view that is strengthened by its relationship to the Pirkei de-R. Eliezer. Regarding its relationship to the Targum Rishon, there are features common to both Targums, but there are also many differences, and there are many aggadot in the Targum Rishon not included in the Targum Sheni. The view of P. Churgin (see bibl.) may be accepted that they are two independent compositions.


text publications: L. Munk (1876); P. Cassel (1885); M. David (1898); Patshegen ha-Ketav (with Heb. transl.) (1837). about the book: Aaron b. Mordecai, Meẓaḥ Aharon (1815); A. Posner, Das Targum Rischon zum Buche Ester (1846); J. Reiss. in: mgwj, 25 (1876), 400ff.; 30 (1881), 473ff.; S. Gelbhaus, Das Targum Scheni zum Buche Esther (1893); B. Edelstein, Az Eszter Midrások (1900); G. Salzberger, Salomos Tempelbau und Thron (1912), 70ff.; E. Cohn, in: Maybaum-Festschrift (1914), 173–8; A. Sulzbach, Targum Scheni zum Buch Esther (Ger. tr.) (1920); B. Heller, in: mgwj, 70 (1926), 485–7 (recension of the preceding work by A. Sulzbach); Ginzberg, Legends, 6 (1928), 450ff.; P. Churgin, Targum Ketuvim (1945), 214–35.

[Yehuda Komlosh]