Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Reflections of Readers: Note on a Latin Term in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Reflections of Readers: Note on a Latin Term in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan

Article excerpt

It is well known that the various targumim to the Bible not only translate the original but also insert midrashic and other rabbinic interpretations. So often is this the case that eisegesis tells us about the times and attitudes of the interpreter more than it reveals new insights into the actual meaning of the text. One example can be found in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan to the story of Joseph being sold in Egypt. This Aramaic translation, also known as the Targum Yerushalmi, was often mistakenly attributed to Jonathan ben Uzziel, author of the Aramaic translation of the Prophets. It is not clear who the real author was or exactly when this work was composed.

The Bible recounts the sale of Joseph to Potiphar in a straightforward and simple way: And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh and chief steward, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who brought him down there (Gen. 39:1). Targum Pseudo-Jonathan adds some midrashic embellishments:

   Joseph was brought down to Egypt and Potiphar bought him because he
   saw how handsome he was and wished to have homosexual intercourse
   with him. But immediately it was decreed on him [Potiphar] that his
   testicles dried up and were hidden. And he [Potiphar] was the chief
   officer of Pharaoh, chief of the sapokleturia, an Egyptian man; he
   bought Joseph from the Arabs who brought him down there [to Egypt].

The key to understanding this passage is knowing the meaning of the unusual term sapokleturia. This term is used occasionally in rabbinic literature to denote an executioner (see TB Shabbat 108a, Lam. Rabbah 2:3), sometimes in a garbled form (as in Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 48: sinkletorei). …

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