Circumcision in the Hebrew Bible and Targums: Theology, Rhetoric, and the Handling of Metaphor -- By: Jason S. Derouchie

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 14:2 (NA 2004)
Article: Circumcision in the Hebrew Bible and Targums: Theology, Rhetoric, and the Handling of Metaphor
Author: Jason S. Derouchie


Circumcision in the Hebrew Bible and Targums: Theology, Rhetoric, and the Handling of Metaphor

Jason S. Derouchie

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

In the Hebrew Bible, circumcision terminology is often used figuratively for anything that is opposed to Israel’s God. Because Israel alone among all the peoples of the ancient world amputated the foreskin during the rite, prophetic rhetoric could characterize any hostility to the Lord with “foreskin” language. In rendering the Hebrew, the official targums were quick to substitute nonliteral, more concrete equivalents for the metaphorical circumcision terminology. Consequently, while the targums generally capture the voice and perspective of their parent text, they at times miss the full theological substance and cutting rhetorical jab contained therein.

Key Words: circumcision, uncircumcised, foreskin, sign, metaphor, lips, ear, heart, fruit, translation technique, targum, Targum Ongelos, Targum Jonathan, Targum Nebiʾim, Genesis 17

Introduction

The following study will provide a theological survey of the “circumcision” word group in the Hebrew Bible and will examine how Targum Onqelos on the Pentateuch (Tg. Ong.) and Targum Jonathan on the Prophets (=Tragum Nebiʾim) render the circumcision terminology. After categorizing the various texts and noting lexical characteristics, I will

Author’s note: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Region of the SBL, Grand Rapids, MI, February 21, 2003. The author expresses appreciation to the numerous colleagues who responded thoughtfully and offered many helpful comments. The author also thanks Drs. Russell Fuller and Daniel I. Block of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY), who read drafts of this paper and contributed useful feedback. Some of the substance of the present draft reflects these profitable discussions.

focus on the instances where the notion of circumcision represented in the Hebrew lemma points to something more or other than the physical reality—that is, where circumcision language is used metaphorically.1 I will evaluate whether literal (i.e., natural and obvious) or nonliteral equivalents were used in translation and whether the targum translators were justified in their renderings of the Hebrew text.2

Scholars generally agree that ...

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