how not to read targum neofiti

Again, I shake my head, but stay with me on this one: Mark Driscoll has successfully butchered Neofiti.

Apparently, as a part of an indoctrination informative series of mini-sermons on ‘What Christians Should Believe,’ pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle attempted to expound on Targum Neofiti. In particular, he attempted to use Neofiti as part of an apologetic defense for evidence of the Christian concept of the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

Watch the video here first:

I’m not sure where to begin, but please allow me to make a few friendly correctives.

First, one would think that a basic seminary training would have taught Pastor Mark some elementary Hebrew. אלה’ם (“Elohim“) is plural in form, but can be plural or singular in meaning, depending upon whether it is used in reference to the central figure of the Hebrew Bible, YHWH (God). (See Mark Smith’s Early History of God for more info.) If (“Elohim“) does preserve an early plurality, it is from Canaan’s polytheistic past, and not due to any notion of a Trinity, which was a theological construct hypothesized in the first few centuries of Christianity to deal with the Arian-Nicene controversy. The inscription discovered at Kuntillet ‘Ajrud, which offers an 8th century blessing reading “may you be blessed by YHWH of Samaria and his Asherah” (Cf. William Dever’s book, Did God Have a Wife?, or watch the NOVA special here), provides evidence that Israelites all the way down into the 8th Century (that is, long past David and Solomon) and well beyond still worshiped other gods besides YHWH. (Cf. the first 2 of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:3-6, and just about every prophet’s complaint about the ongoing problem of the polytheistic worship.)

Another elementary seminary lesson teaches that רוח אלה’ם (“ruah Elohim” or “spirit of God”) and the simple אלה’ם (“Elohim” or “God”) are interchangeable references to the same person depending on the author. A freshman level understanding of Wellhausen’s Documentary Hypothesis (and its descendants) reveals that some authors of the Bible favored a distant God who used messengers (like angels) or referred to God as the “spirit of God” when referring to him making personal appearances, while other authors viewed God in a more anthropomorphic sense, and referred to God simply as YHWH or “God.” Trinitarian apologists have looked to the OT for Trinitarian “evidence” for millennia, and pointing to Genesis 1 for evidence of the Trinity is easily refuted.

Another tactic used by Trinitarian apologists is claiming that the ‘us’ in Gen 1:26 (“let us create man in our image) can only be explained by the Trinity. This view is either ignorant or dismissive of the more widely accepted scholarly interpretation of this verse as employing the “royal we,” that is, God speaking to his royal court of angels, etc. (think book of Job). Of course, this too may also be a holdover from Israel’s polytheistic past (as persistently criticized by Hebrew prophets), where the story dates to a time of polytheism, and was so ingrained in the oral tradition and the minds of Israelites, that they preserved the polytheistic form of the verb and its derivative pronouns, and yet understood it as a singular. To claim that this passage can only refer to the Trinity is either simple ignorance or an unwillingness to consider any explanation other than what Driscoll has already decided. Making up one’s mind regarding what to believe and then scouring the text for evidence is called eisegesis, and is a common tactic among fundamentalists.

A side-by-side comparison of the Hebrew Bible, Targums Onkelos, Neofiti, and Pseudo-Jonathan, and the NIV (English).

A side-by-side comparison of the Hebrew Bible, Targums Onkelos (Aramaic and English), Neofiti, and Pseudo-Jonathan, and the NIV (English). translation of Genesis 1:1. The red arrow points to the word בחכמה “b’hakmah” (Aramaic: “in/with wisdom”) in Neofiti’s Aramaic translation of Gen 1:1.

Perhaps the most egregious of Driscoll’s exegetical errors comes when he attempts to invoke the Aramaic Targums to defend his argument that there is explicit evidence for the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.

First, Driscoll claims that Neofiti was written 200 years before Christ, and not 200 CE, which is the scholarly consensus. Neofiti was written long after Jesus had come and gone. This may be a simple mistake during note taking on Driscoll’s part, but it becomes a huge problem when Driscoll attempts to use this misinformation to turn Neofiti into a prophecy, rather than what it is: an attempt to reconcile two contradicting passages.

Second, and perhaps the most blatant of Driscoll’s errors is his complete misreading of Neofiti’s translation of Genesis 1:1. Anyone who has studied Aramaic targums knows that there is no such thing as translation without interpretation. Neofiti tends to interpret as it translates, which adds language to the original Hebrew text, but was considered permissible since those listening to a targum read aloud were most likely doing so because they couldn’t understand Hebrew. Thus, the targums would interpret and explain while they translated. The practice is not unlike writing a commentary on a passage that integrates the interpretation into the text itself.

With regard to Neofiti’s treatment of Genesis 1:1, the text was concerned with explaining away a problematic contradiction within the Hebrew Bible. (See the critique made by Dr. Christian Brady, Dean and Aramaic targum scholar at Penn State here, and Scott Bailey’s treatment of Driscoll’s errors here.) Dr. Brady points out that Driscoll completely misreads Neofiti’s translation of Gen. 1:1, and mistakes the Aramaic words ‏ מלקדמין בחכמה ברא {ד}ייי (“At the beginning, with wisdom, God created…”) with “at the beginning, by the firstborn, God created.” This is not even close! In fact, Dr. Brady and I are hard-pressed to find any possible way the Aramaic word בחכמה “b’hakmah” (meaning “in/with wisdom”, similar to the Hebrew חכמה “hokmah” – see the red arrow in the graphic above) can be misread to derive at “firstborn.” Driscoll simply misreads (if he read it at all) the Aramaic and invents something that fits his theological argument.

So what then is Targum Neofiti doing here by adding this word בחכמה “b’hakmah” (“in/with wisdom”)? Answer: it is attempting to harmonize the claim in Genesis 1:1 that says בראשית ברא אלהים את השמים ואת הארץ (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”) with Proverbs 8:22, where in a tribute to wisdom, the Bible claims that God created wisdom first, before the rest of creation (“The LORD created me [wisdom, cf. Prov. 8:22] at the beginning of His course, as the first of His works of old”). Targum Neofiti is attempting to reconcile the natural question of precisely what was actually created first: wisdom (Prov. 8), or the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1)? The answer offered by the authors of Neofiti was quite clever: God created the heavens and the earth in/with wisdom. The authors of Neofiti simply added the Aramaic word בחכמה (“in/with wisdom”), to their translation of the Hebrew text of Gen 1:1, which they felt solved their problem of which came first. God created the heavens and the earth “with wisdom.” Problem solved. The translators added to the Hebrew text, which was actually very common at the time. This practice of adding to the text and harmonizing passages while translating explains why there are so many textual variants of the Hebrew Bible, and is we love to study the targums: they teach about the diversity of thought at the time.

Unfortunately, in the end, Driscoll’s so-called mis-“reading” of Targum Neofiti is a mere fabrication – a complete misreading of the text, which he uses as evidence for something that isn’t there (evidence of the Trinity in the OT). It’s almost as egregious of a fabricated defense of the Trinity as the Johannine Comma, in which a medieval publisher (Erasmus) intentionally inserted text (under pressure from others) in 1 John 5:7-8 in an attempt to provide some explicit Biblical evidence for the Trinity (because there was/is none).

And that is how not to use the targums. How do you mislead your congregation into believing something that you believe, but that the Bible doesn’t mention? You just make something up.

As I said before, “I shake my head.”

It’s actually embarrassing that this video is still up there on the web. The entire sermon is built upon a fabrication of evidence. How long until he pulls it or offers an apology?


47 Responses

  1. Thanks for keeping semonizers accountable to the data! I honestly know nothing about the targum neofiti, but the same argument that Driscoll makes here can be made fairly from John 1:1. Which is not to say that “the trinity is in Genesis,” but rather that author of that gospel interpreted Genesis 1:1-3 as trinitarian. God, spirit and word together create.

    I feel like your statement, “notion of a Trinity, which was a theological construct hypothesized in the first few centuries of Christianity to deal with the Arian-Nicene controversy” is an oversimplification (in any case, it goes far beyond your argument!). It’s not as if the notion was invented out ex nihilo. There is a great deal of NT evidence for Jesus being “what God is” (See Gordon Fee’s Pauline Christology, for many examples), which is the foundation of trinitarian thinking.

    Finally, I am really curious about what Bershears actually said to Mark!

  2. agreed. somehow, i thing pastor mark didn’t accurately regurgitate what dr. bershears said to him.
    i think it is evident that john sees jesus as divine, whereas the synoptics stop short of that. the fact is (imho) that there was some controversy. how does a monotheistic faith, where many jews didn’t even believe in angels/demons (those associating with the sadducees), allow for a divine jesus praying to a separate being (the father) in heaven. and even the earliest councils didn’t know what to do with the holy spirit. they spent their time arguing about the same substance of jesus and god, and then affirmed the hs too almost as an afterthought. my point is that there was some hammering out to be done, and it took a couple of hundred years. obviously, trinitarians went scouring the scriptures looking for ‘evidence’, and some even invented some evidence, but i can’t help but wonder if the early christians had not assumed that the pentateuch, for instance, had been written by moses, and instead knew what we know (that there were several authors and redactors involved), if they would have identified the hs as different than god, and would have understood that these are just two different author’s (or camp’s) way of referring to the singular god?

    the point is, gen 1:1 does not speak to the trinity, and driscoll butchered neofiti. (and i agree, i don’t think bershears told him this. methinks he may have been too busy looking at himself on his iphone and copied the notes incorrectly ;-)

  3. […] watch the video and read Robert’s blog post deconstructing […]

  4. […] Williams has drawn attention to a post by Robert Cargill in which Cargill dismantles Mark Driscoll’s use of Targum Neofiti in a sermon here. I […]

  5. Thanks for doing this Bob. Your link to Proverbs is absolutely correct. Actually, I wonder if he has read Proverbs 8. So few Evangelicals have.

  6. i don’t know. i think there’s a lot he hasn’t read. he’s too busy denouncing bell and mclaren and trying to figure out what to do with don miller, and hasn’t spent time reading.

    he can abuse the scriptures, and i’ll counter. but when he defiles the targums…. well, that’s another story. ;-)

  7. […] has recently discovered Mark Driscoll, and he isn’t impressed! His most recent post, “how not to read the targums,” critiques Driscoll’s misinformation, particularly his misreading of Targum Neofiti […]

  8. […] most everyone in the blogosphere knows, Bob Cargill, gave Mark Driscoll one heck of a beat-down over Driscoll’s mangled mess of a discussion of Targum Neofiti.  This was a good, ‘ole […]

  9. However, in all fairness, Targum Neofiti does read ברא דייי שכלל, “the son of Y. completed (the heavens, etc.).” The brackets around ד are a scholarly addition. Probably a Christian interpolation, but it should be noted.

  10. the three ticks (”’) are the aramaic representation of the divine name, as it is throughout. the dalet appears to have been added later to reconcile the double verbs. the peal pf 3ms verb b-r-‘ (create) is preserved, but the shaph perf 3ms of k-l-l (to finish, complete) is added to the hebrew original, as is b-H-k-m-h (in/with wisdom). the result is something to the effect of “in/at the beginning of that which DIVINE NAME created, he completed the heavens and the earth,” or something to that effect. the verb b-r-‘ is not the word for ‘son of’ (like bar-jonah), but is aramaic equivalent of the hebrew verb bara’ (b-r-y or b-r-‘) preserved from the hebrew of gen 1:1. the presence of the second added verb sh-k-l-l (to complete) is what most likely caused later editors confusion, and to add the dalet before the divine name and turn it from a simple subject to a perhaps modifier of b-r-‘.

  11. The three “ticks” are the letter yodh, written 3 times. What the extant MS of Neofiti says is “by wisdom the son of the Lord completed, etc.” The daleth cannot be taken as a complementizer, or it would mean “by wisdom he created what the Lord finished,” which makes no sense. The daleth, then, must indicate the genitive. No doubt this reading is a product of a Christianizing redaction, and the original read (as in the Fragment Targum) “by wisdom ברא ייי the heavens, etc.” My point is simply that in one redaction of the Palestinian targum there is a (secondary) reference to “the son.”

    I prepared, tagged, and glossed the Accordance targum modules of which you post a screenshot, so I know what I’m talking about.

  12. agreed 3 ticks = yods
    understood that you tagged the accordance modules. and/but i believe you tagged the accordance tagging correctly (imho), which defines br’ as ‘created’ (not as ‘son-of’). (pic)
    no doubt that the dalet is a later addition.
    and if i understand you correctly, you conclude that the dalet is the product of later xn editors reading br’ as ‘son-of’ rather than ‘created’ and attempting to edit the text to demonstrate xn viewpoint?

    i appreciate your work on the accordance module. thanx for the clarification. (and glad you enjoyed the biblioblogging session :) -bc

  13. dr. cook,

    the other problem with rendering br’ as ‘the son’ (d-”’) is we’d then have a pesky S-V-O formula rather than a proper Heb/Aram V-S-O sentence.

    it is more likely that the targum’s authors added the second verb k-l-l to perhaps emphasize the beginning and completion of the creation process (i.e., ‘he began creating and completed’ or ‘he created and completed’ the heavens and the earth).

    of course, we’d have to explain the missing waw before k-l-l, which might be explained by the 3 yods running into a waw, resulting in the accidental(?) deletion of a waw(???)

    this seems (to me at least) more likely than:
    1) eliminating the verb ‘br” altogether from gen 1:1
    2) adding another person to the creation process (even after adding b’hakmah and thereby reconciling prov 8)
    3) writing in an unlikely S-V-O formula

    i do agree with you, however, that later xns most likely added the dalet perhaps in an attempt to interject a ‘son’ into the text (however improper the resulting grammar would have been).

    thanx again. -bc

  14. Dr. Cargill,
    I appreciate the thoroughness of your correction to Driscoll’s teaching.
    What is the difference between the indoctrinating that Driscoll was doing for his church (and whoever else) and what you are doing in your reply? Are not what you indoctrinating as well? I do not mean to say either of you is right or wrong in your actions; I just wonder why there is ever any need to accuse someone of indoctrinating their listeners. Is that not what all teaching is, indoctrination?

    Thanks for any help.

  15. dr. eldridge,

    thanx for your comment and question.

    i’d say the chief difference is that driscoll is attempting to use (intentionally or accidentally) a mis-translation and gross mis-dating of a text in an attempt to substantiate a faith claim about the nature of god (specifically, that god is triune, and that this tri-unity is present in genesis 1:1). he is attempting to use scholarship to prove a faith claim he holds to be true. however, in order to do so, he must manipulate or falsify the data (i.e., make it say something it does not).

    the difference is that i’m not making a faith claim. i’m just correcting his mistakes with the evidence. and i’m while i’m certainly hoping to convince people of the facts of this claim, i don’t make absolute claims regarding issues of faith. i’d never claim what we ‘know for certain’ about god. i err on the side of humility and the limits of my education. we don’t ‘know’ for certain anything about god. we know what ancient folks said about god, and what the early church believed about god, but that is evidence that we use to make our own decisions about belief in god. too often, preachers (not just fundamentalists, but liberals on the other end) make absolute claims about god. scholars, rather, know that there is data on both sides, and that our job is to present the data and allow our students to make an informed decision, not tell them ‘what to believe’ (as the title of driscoll’s video states). if their faith is not their own, it will fail them.

    you and i both know that as scholars, we must be honest with the facts, regardless of where they lead. it would not be proper for scholars to make a faith claim and then go manipulating evidence to support it (as driscoll has done, either deliberately or unknowingly). rather, if we want to speak of the concept of the trinity, we should state something closer to the following:

    ‘there does not appear to be any evidence of a trinity in the jewish scriptures. certainly, jews do not see, nor did they intend to convey any notion of a trinity (they – moderns and ancients – don’t believe it). many early church apologists attempted to claim that the hebrew bible predicted a trinity, but these verses merely mentioned god in some places and the spirit of god in others. today, we understand source and redaction criticism, and these different ‘names for god’ ( god vs. spirit of god) are the result of different authors or schools with different views of god (distant vs. anthropomorphic), but back then, they believed that moses wrote the pentateuch, etc. so some of them figured that perhaps the ‘spirit of god’ and ‘god’ were the same thing. now, it’s safe to say that no self respecting monotheistic jew would see the ‘spirit of god’ as different from ‘god,’ but the again, there was a debate over whether or not god had angels (like the pharisees believed according to acts and josephus), or not (like the sadducees believed). (this of course led to a later xn debate over whether or not the holy spirit was equal to or lesser than god.) we know also that the text spoke of messiahs, but they were not necessarily divine. kings of israel and judah (including a foreign king, cyrus) were ‘anointed’ and called messiahs. likewise, high priests were anointed, giving rise to the dual messianic expectation we find in the dead sea scrolls. so when jesus came on the scene, early christians had a problem: they were jewish, and therefore monotheistic, and yet there were claims that jesus was divine. as jesus’ divinity was challenged, xn theologians needed to argue on the one hand that jesus was fully divine (against the adoptionists) and at the same time fully human (against the gnostics and docetists). this attempt to argue in opposite directions at the same time caused many of them to begin to debate the fully-human, fully-divine nature of jesus. of course, because scripture was often considered prophecy, apologists attempted to root their trinitarian claims in the hebrew bible, which would lend their claims more authority, and did so with varying success. the debate over the trinity raged for a couple of hundred years, until the earliest councils decided against the arians and developed the nicene creed, which formalized the beginnings of a ‘trinity.’
    (or something close to that, don’t quote me, that was off the cuff and may have typos ;-)

    as scholars, we can debate the existence of god. there is evidence and good arguments on both sides. we can argue the nature of god/trinity. there is evidence on multiple sides. but it does the faith and those of us xn scholars who are attempting to approach the text and the archaeological data responsibly when someone untrained in a particular field passes on poor, or worse yet, false data in order to substantiate a faith claim. (thoughts of false teachings and mill stones come to mind.) i have lamented this and addressed it specifically in the case of a group that was using false claims about the discovery of noah’s ark just to trick potential converts into believing in jesus (see here). it does a disservice to students, members of a church community, and the public to attempt to use phony ‘evidence’ to support a claim.

    as a scholar, i hope to treat the evidence consistently and fairly. likewise, as a xn, i hope to speak truthfully about what we know, and what we don’t know, and how faith causes us to accept things that fall in between and sometimes accept things that simply don’t compute scientifically.

    that’s a long version, but i believe it’s far more responsible as one in authority (pastor or professor) to be honest about what we as scholars and individuals don’t know than to manipulate data in an effort to make it fit what we’ve predetermined we want to believe.

    the important thing is to foster and encourage the debate, not tell people what to think. i made a critique of mark driscoll (as did others before me). dr. cook made a good point about early xn editing to the text. scholars disagree and debate as professionals, and those who read the exchanges learn from the conversation. that’s all i ever want to promote in scholarship: have the conversation. be open to new ideas and dissenting opinions, and be humble enough to have your views challenged by others. the trick is to encourage the conversation and reach a consensus, not tell people what to think.

    thanx again for your question.


  16. Bob,

    I couldn’t get past 2:02 in the video — it was too painful. I thought I’d avoid commenting because everything I wanted to say was of the *really* “geeky” sort, but then you made the statement about SVO word order…

    SVO is *not* improper word order in Hebrew or Aramaic. Moreover, it isn’t just SVO here, if we take ברא דייי as a subject, it’s PP-PP-S-V-O order and that makes a huge difference.

    This kind of word order exists even in VSO languages if the language allows non-basic word order for pragmatic reasons. This order, in fact, it not untypical: the first two PPs would be Topics (establishing time, place, means, etc.), the Subject would be focused, and the rest (V, O), bears no special pragmatics. And this is precisely what you might expect of a (presumably Christian) editor who is taking advantage of what the addition of a little ד does to the clause: “In the beginning, by/with wisdom THE SON (= focus) completed …” It becomes a contrastive assertion that contributes to Christian apologetics.

  17. Further to your comments above: Right. I don’t doubt that the Xn reading is secondary, as I mentioned. My sole point is that Driscoll didn’t make it up out of whole cloth, that there is something there to discuss. I don’t agree with his take; on the other hand, targumic study has proved to be a fruitful area for Jewish-Christian dialogue. I’d like to see more of that.

    Keep up the good work.

  18. dr. holmstedt,

    much thanx for your input (and for your blog :).

    i’concede that S-V-O is not an improper word order, (especially the later we go), but i’d maintain that V-S-O certainly is standard. there are, of course, several verses that don’t follow the standard V-S-O word order (even outside of poetry). however, in this passage, i still lean toward maintaining the verb-subject order preserved in the original text being translated. gen 1:1 is (after the temporal qualifier bereshit) still essentially a V-S-O(-O) (created-god-heavens-earth). methinks the author of the targum preserved this order, maintaining the verb br’, and harmonizing prov 8 by adding b’hakmah before it. perhaps the author was also harmonizing another passage (any candidates?) when adding the second verb k-l-l. (btw – is there any mss evidence that suggests that k-l-l was added with the dalet, to ‘fix’ the fact that later authors were attempting to read br’ as ‘son’ rather than the original ‘created’, which would have eliminated any verb in the opening sentence??). that is, if the verb br’ is forced by redactors to becomes ‘son’, you lose the original V-S order and the verse would require a (new) verb.

    it is also worth noting that in the onkelos version of the text being harmonized into this text, (that is, prov 8:22), while the original hebrew reads: יהוה קנני ראשית (YHWH created/established/brought forth me first…) (and yes, i note the S-V-O word order of the poetic prov 8 ;-), the aramaic onkelos renders this (harmonizing with gen 1:1?) with the verb br’: ייי בראני בריש בריותיה (THE LORD created me first with his creation…). note that somehow in the onkelos, br’ replaces the hebrew qnh. is this perhaps a harmonization in the other direction? (yes, i realize this is onkelos, not neofti, but onkelos apparently identifies the relationship between the two passages here as well, but resolves it in proverbs by replacing qnh and employing the same verb of creation in gen 1:1, br’). the point is that there is a definite identification of the ‘creation’ process being identified with the verb br’ in both passages, which gets deleted entirely if br’ becomes ‘son’ in neofiti gen 1:1.

    (btw, i love this discussion. this is what blogs should be for. so thanx for the input. and no need to apologize for being “*really* geeky” around here, for our name is legion ;-).

    thanx again, bc

  19. Caution: the Targum of Proverbs is not part of Onkelos; it is much later, written in a different dialect, and is greatly influenced by the Syriac translation. It is doubtful that there is any connection between the two. (In fact, in Prov. 8;22 the Targum and Syriac are almost identical.) Also, in Aramaic, QNY doesn’t mean create, but only “acquire,” etc. Hence BRY is the only readily available word in Aramaic for “create.”

  20. good points.
    i see that your accordance module column lists onkelos, jonathan, and the writings. thanx for correcting that.
    re: qny – i used the translations of created/established/brought attempting to represent various english translations. and agreed on the br’/bry.

  21. Dr Cargill,

    A minor point on your last comment, Onqelos doesn’t translate Proverbs, the Accordance TARG-T module includes Onqelos for the Pentateuch, Jonathon for the prophets, and the targums of the writings. According to the CAL, קנה is only used with the meaning ‘to acquire’ in Aramaic, so I think ברא here in Pr 8:22 would merely be the appropriate Aramaic translation.

    As for SVO vs VSO word order, it is really irrelevant here IMHO because we are dealing with a targum which is not a fresh composition, but a translation of the Hebrew, and even the most expansive targum maintains the original word order of the Hebrew text as far as possible.

    I would guess from its presence in the fragment targums that at some point in the Palestinian tradition שכלל was added along with ברא, which is interesting in itself. This allowed a subsequent hand to re-interpret ברא יהוה as a construct phrase which is made explicit by the edition of the dalet ברא דייי, the reading that is preserved in Neofiti. Note that Neofiti also seems to have an erased ו before שכלל, so somebody felt the tension.

    Pete Bekins

  22. Whoops, I was a few seconds too late. At least what I said agreed with Ed :).


  23. thanx peter. i was writing an aramaic colleague last night and stated that it always makes me a bit tense when established scholars take issue with what i write. even if i’m sure about an approach to a particular issue, it keeps one humble (and makes one a better scholar) to engage in exchange (and receive correction) with/from professionals. (and might i add, real scholars in their own name ;-) i really appreciate established scholars when they engage younger scholars, especially in public and on blogs. as opposed to what i’ve experienced over the past three years, it’s a positive example of professional exchange online.


  24. peter,

    thanx for your comments. so there does appear to be an erasure before שכלל? do you have a photograph? that would definitely fit with a later xn attempt to redact the originally transcribed text (add the dalet, erase the waw).

    thanx. bc

  25. Dr Cargill,

    I wish I had a photo. I would have checked the library today, but both my boys are on x-mas break, which makes library trips more difficult.

    The CAL text reads as follows:

    מלקדמין \בחכמה ברא דייי ׳בחוכמתא ברא ייי״2״׳ שכלל׳ושכלל״2״׳ ית שמיא וית ארעא׃

    The CAL sigla mean that Neofiti as written is this:

    מלקדמין בחכמה ברא דייי שכלל ית שמיא וית ארעא׃

    With two variants:

    …מלקדמין בחוכמתא ברא ייי


    …ושכלל ית…

    I am not sure if the first is in the margin or supralinear, etc., but I gather that the second reflects an erasure from, oddly enough, John Sailhammer’s Intro to Old Testament Theology p222 n61 (which I found through Google books):

    “It is clear from the photographs of the manuscript that the ‘waw’ had been erased by a second hand…”

    He goes on to note that the erased ו appears to have been an insertion in the first place, based on the cramped spacing between the words. I am not sure if this is his own judgement or that of the editor of the critical edition, so take it with a grain of salt for now. It seems from the CAL sigla, however, that the ו is indeed being treated as an insertion while the ד is not.

    Incidentally, in Sailhammer’s main text discussing “The interpretive nature of the early versions” he states:

    “The earliest Targum of Genesis 1 (Neofiti I) read the Genesis 1 account of Creation (Ge 1:1) in light of the ‘Sophia-theology’ in Proverbs 8 as well as the “Son of Man” vision in Daniel 7. Neofiti I renders Genesis 1:1, ‘In the beginning, with Wisdom, the Son of God created the heavens and earth.'”

    It seems quite likely to me that Sailhammer is either Driscoll or Driscoll’s source’s source for this idea, though some misunderstanding has occurred in the transmission.

    Note that another option is that ממרא was originally before דייי as in vs 3, 4, 6, etc. which would also be interesting in relation to John 1.


  26. pete,

    thanx for this. based upon your and dr. cook’s comments, there is evidence that later xn redactors attempted to interject a ‘son of god’ into the text. but this was done after the targum was written, and long after jesus had come and gone. perhaps ironically, this is what driscoll is attempting to do to the hebrew bible – interject a son (or entire trinity) into the hebrew scriptures. and we have evidence of a long history of this very thing (trying to interject a trinity into the bible). in that sense, what driscoll did is no different from what some xns have been attempting to do for 200 years – attempting to use ‘editorial’ means to make the text say something it originally did not. in many ways, the entire new testament is composed as an attempt to find jesus (and predictions of him) in israel’s history. same at qumran. etc.

    we should call it ‘johannine comma’ syndrome or something like that. but for some reason, why does the concept of the trinity attract such a large share of it???

    thanx again! -bc

  27. Bob,

    To be clear, I wasn’t making any claim about the early form of the Targum — you are most likely correct in what you say. I was only suggesting that the re-analysis and addition of the ד was a later editor that may have been (probably was) editing from a Christian perspective

    (And it would have been really nice if Pete would have had the photograph — come one, Pete! Take the boys to the library with you.)

    I second what both Ed and Pete wrote on all points, and would just add that while Pete’s correct about the translation-word order issues with the Targums, the fact that the resulting PP-PP-SVO order may easily mapped to a Topic-Topic-Focus pragmatic structure only makes the change easier to do (and easier to process, for both the editor and the ostensible audience).

    All pretty interesting, and now you (or Pete) have probably identified the source behind Driscoll’s sermon.

    On the whole, after writing this it strikes me how nutty it is that some preacher’s bad sermon can get us to take time off from research (or grading) to criticize it.

  28. robert,

    thanx again for the clarification and comments.

    to your last point, i couldn’t agree more. in fact, i hesitated a day (which is an eternity in the blogosphere) before posting my critiques of driscoll for that very reason. (i have my own personal issues with preachers who appeal to (and encourage) the macho man xnty and the resulting continued subjugation of women in a xn setting, but that’s another battle). still, taking the time to critique someone, especially publicly, often lends some importance to what someone is/was saying. i was told in grad school that a negative review of your book is not the worst thing, but not getting reviewed is, because it meant that no one was threatened enough by your work to write a critique. so, i hesitated to critique driscoll, because after all, he generally avoids scholarship and usually limits himself to imparting a neo-fundamentalism upon his church goers. critiquing him just gives him exposure, and some of them just live for the criticism.

    still, as one who is dedicated to combating sensational claims made about the bible (and because it was the targums), i felt some correction was in order.

    i do like how this actually turned into a fairly healthy discussion about the text. now who’s gonna write this article? ;-)

    thanx again, bc

  29. Should I be bitter that your post got so much more attention than mine on the same subject? Probably. ;-) Thanks for bringing this to a wider audience Bob! I have a feeling we will be discussing this more anon.

  30. OK, since Holmstedt wasn’t satisfied I made it to the library this morning and checked the photocopy of Neofiti. The ו is definitely erased, and I completely disagree with Sailhammer that there is not enough space between ייי and שכלל for it to have been original (I think he may have been assuming the three yods ייי occur in a line as conventionally transcribed rather than the triangular arrangement of the abbreviation).

    Diaz-Macho in the editio princeps suggests that מימרה has been omitted from before דייי, and this seems most likely to me. The omission of מימרה may have been inadvertent or may reflect the contemporary view that it was no longer necessary to employ מימרה as often (Grossfeld 2000).

    The ד was not omitted, and consequently, the ו before שכלל no longer makes sense and was erased. Commentators are rather unanimous that the erasure was an obvious late Christian change which allowed the reading “the son of YHWH completed…”


  31. pete,

    so in your judgment, we have an attempt by later xns to force the trinity (or at least a ‘son of god’) back into the hebrew bible. i would agree with this.
    the erasure of the waw makes sense (don’t need it if you’re modifying/deleting the verb br’).
    it just goes to show the magnitude of the debate over the trinity, and the lengths to which many early xns would go to root/prove a trinity in the hebrew bible.

    thanx for your work on this!!


  32. Pete,

    Excellent work. I knew with a kick in the pants you’d get the job done. Someday you might not live so close to the library and you’ll dream about getting there so easily …

  33. What amazes me is that serious people are taking driscoll seriously.

  34. Hey all. Mark Driscoll may be mixing his sources, rather than being completely delusional. There is a tradition in midrash rabbah which rashi and ramban also quote that unpacks בראשית to “for the sake of the Torah” which is called ראשית דרכו in Pr. 8.22 and “for the sake of Israel,” who are called ראשית תבואתו in Jer. 3.2. This is related to the idea that Abraham and Israel were the firstborn and heirs of all creation. I have no idea where Mark Driscoll might have come across this tidbit, or how he has so woefully misunderstood it, but the idea does exist. I actually think that Paul even refers to it.

    I have to admit, the first time I saw the א’ and the ה’ switched around in Genesis 2:4 so it says “These are the origins of the heavens and the earth, in Abraham in the day that the LORD God created them,” my mind was a little bit blown. Did the rabbis believe Abraham was pre-existent, or are Hebrews and Colossians talking about something else?

    Just a thought.

  35. P.S. SVO happens all the time in the language of chazal (both Aramaic and Hebrew), which is contemporary to neofiti, and is already starting to disintegrate in Biblical Aramaic (the default word order in the Imperial Aramaic in Ezra is actually SOV, under the influence of Akkadian). Even in Classical Hebrew, word order is relatively free in clauses without some kind of energetic waw.

  36. P.P.S. (Sorry! I keep having thoughts!)
    I’m not entirely sure that the echoes of Canaanite polytheism in the OT have nothing to with the development of nascent Trinitarian ideas in the NT. The two passages to which Jesus refers most when asked about his identity (Ps.110 & Dn.7) are full of images and ideas which are well known from the cult and mythology of Ugarit.

    I’m not saying the Amorites worshiped the triune God or anything, but I do think there is a direct, linear connection between the vestiges of polytheism in the OT and the beginnings of trinitarian thought in the NT. Already in Ugarit, Baal is beginning to show multiple manifestations of himself. By the 3rd century BCE, the Babylonian priest Berosus was able to say that all the gods were simply manifestations of the one Marduk (a Babylonian parallel to Baal). I have no doubt that Trinitarian thought is born out of West Semitic polytheism run through the filter Israelite Monotheism.

    In that sense, it is not totally incorrect to say that the use of the plural for “God” in the OT indicates the Trinity, it’s just got it backward: Trinitarian language exists because of language and ideas about the plurality of God which are preserved in the Israelite religion. Baal the son of El takes up the rule of heaven and earth after he defeats and binds the forces of evil. Not terribly difficult to see what’s going on here.

    P.P.P.S and why doesn’t anyone ever mention that Adonay, the later Jewish substitute for the name of God, is also plural(“My Lords”). If they were as monotheistic as all that, one would think they could have managed to pick a singular circumlocution for the name of God.

    Ok, I’ll try not to have any more thoughts. I only found this page cause I was trying to find Neofiti online somewhere since CAL is down. Who hacks the CAL servers with malware anyway? Maybe Driscoll is trying to bury the evidence. HA!


  37. Can you please ‘tee off’ on Driscoll on a more regular basis?

  38. I’m entering a little late here, and I’m not even sure I’m qualified to even write alongside you guys (still finishing my ThD up in Toronto).

    Back to the Hebrew of Gen 1:1, isn’t it possible that ראשׁית can carry the nuance of “firstborn”? I ask because in some of its poetic usages throughout the Hebrew Bible it can be put in parallel with with בכור (Gen 49:3; Ps 78:51; 105:36). This might at least give a reason for understanding Genesis 1:1 as referring to the firstborn of God, with a translation something like “With/by the firstborn God created the heavens and the earth.” This might be explanation of how John 1:1 (conflating Ps 33 with Gen 1) or Colossians’ identification of Jesus as the “firstborn of all creation” came about.

    It might also be the impetus behind the reference in Proverbs 30:4 to the name of a son who was with God during creation, “Who established all ends of the earth? What is his name? and what his son’s name?” So the very idea of a son of God present at creation is not entirely new with Christianity, it could exist within the nuances of the very first word of the Scriptures.

    If you all agree that Neofiti conflates together Proverbs 8:22 with Genesis 1:1, it doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch to also think Prov 30:4 could also be conflated with it, giving a reason for the presence of the ד in Neofiti.

  39. andy,

    medieval rabbinic scholars attempted to do the same thing christians were doing with neofiti by attempting to interpret bereshit personally (they too wanted the torah to be active in creation, similar to how the christians wanted jesus there and active).


  40. Dr. Cargill,

    I just found this post of yours while searching for Neofiti on Google. The picture you posted of the side-by-side comparisons of text seemed to be a photo capture of a web page with all the different texts available for viewing. I have been searching for an edition of Neofiti for quite some time unsuccessfully. Is there any way for me to access that site? Also do you know of any Hebrew text editions available? Any help with this would be most appreciated.

  41. Accordance software is available at
    Purchase the Targums module and you’re set. (Oh, and buy a Mac ;-).

  42. By means of the first in prominence God created the heavens and the earth this is in the MT

  43. […] article was actually the product of a discussion that resulted from an particular Seattle-based pastor’s failed attempt to invoke the targums as an apologetic for the doctrine of the […]

  44. I really cant tell what you believe. Gen 1:26 if interpreted as God talking to His angels, it would be heretical. The bible doesnt teach that angels are equal to God, they are created beings. A third of the angels fell for a reason.

  45. Why does it matter what I believe? The post is about Driscoll. Facts are facts regardless of who believes them or what people believe about other things.

  46. Sure, i get that. I was looking for answers and i have no problem taking your word for it on the translation. Although i would love to have seen the transaction between Driscoll and his source on the matter. But your sidestepping my point that your interpretation of gen126 is highly unbiblical, its parallel with how satan wanted to usurp Gods throne. Like i said in the other comment, im confused in that youre seemingly immersed in scripture but your intention seems to be tearing down biblical truth as opposed to strengthening peoples faith or spreading the Gospel.

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