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The Memra'

Since this chapter regards a very Jewish subject, we've chosen to use Jesus' Jewish name, Y'shua, throughout.


Targums are very old Aramaic translations of the Hebrew bible. They were authoritative, and spoken aloud in the synagogues along with the Hebrew of the Torah and Haftarah readings. Public readings of the Scriptures in ancient synagogues were accompanied by a translation into Aramaic because that was the spoken language of most Jews in Israel and Babylonia during the Talmudic era. The normal practice was that after each verse was read from the sacred Torah scroll, an official translator known as the Turgeman, or Meturgeman, would then recite orally an Aramaic rendering.

Targums were utilized in the synagogues before, during, and after the times of Y'shua— being necessary because many of the Jewish people of that day could not understand Hebrew. That's still true today. Because of their assimilation and world-wide dispersion, the vast majority of modern Jews cannot read, nor speak, nor understand the Hebrew language. Today, no doubt the most important, and the most influential translations of the Scriptures are no longer in Aramaic, but in English. The Targum of Onkelos is commonly included along with a traditional Torah scroll in synagogues, but its teachings have pretty much fallen by the wayside and for the most part, ignored.

As useful and necessary as the Targums at one time were for the Jews of Y'shua's day, their teachings today often contradict the religious beliefs of many modern Jews. In point of fact the religious beliefs of modern Judaism, and that of the Judaism of two thousand years ago, contradict each other in a very important area. That area is none other than the identity, and the nature, of God's word— the Memra' of the Aramaic Targums.

The Memra'               

The most common Hebrew expression for "word" is davar, which can mean: word, thing, matter, or affair. Davar implies content and reality in one's words. Since God is somehow "untouchable" it is necessary to provide a viable link between Yhvh and His earthly creation. One of the important links regarded in ancient rabbinical thought was "The Word", called memra' in Aramaic (from the Hebrew and Aramaic root, 'mr which means: to say— the root used throughout Genesis 1 when God "said" and the material world came into reality and existence). The memra' concept— that of a Divine Mediator between the unapproachable God and the creature Man— occurs hundreds of times in the Aramaic Targums.

God's word has been of utmost importance ever since the first day of creation week. It is the primary way that God, the untouchable Being, implements His will. It is also how He communicates and interacts with human beings, and how He reveals Himself in a way they can understand. On the one hand, God has done this somewhat through writings. But there is much more to God's word than just ink and letters. Those materials merely constitute an inert, man-made record. On many occasions, when God's words actually came from his heart and from His mouth, it effected much more power and impetus than that of a mere page of historical information.

Why did God even bother to speak during creation? Why didn't The Creator just do His work silently without utterance or sound? To whom, or for whom, was He speaking when He said; "Let there be light." It is clear there is a creative, dynamic force in The Almighty's voice, a power and energy in His words, a tangible release of Divine life. His word is an extension of His nature, a movement of His will— alive, powerful, and effective— not just letters, syllables, and sounds. There is vigor and activity in God's words extending far beyond the applications of thought and communication.

According to the Targums, which were at one time accepted as sacred Jewish beliefs, God's word is an entity; actually God himself. The Memra' is to be worshipped, served, obeyed, spoken to, and prayed to, as God. The Jewish apostle John (who's Hebrew name was Johanan), no doubt schooled in the Targums several years before he met Y'shua, opened his gospel with these words:

John 1:1-3…In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (NIV)

Modern Judaism accuses Johanan of borrowing his ideology from Greek philosophy. However, John 1:1-3 was a very Jewish belief back in Johanan's day, and nothing said in that verse would have raised a single objection from any of his peers and contemporaries because that passage reflects 100% Targum teachings that were commonly dispensed in the synagogues of his day.

The Targums taught that God's word, the Memra', reigns supreme upon The Almighty's throne.

T. Deuteronomy 4:7…For what people so great, to whom the Lord is so high in the Name of the Word of the Lord? But the custom of (other) nations is to carry their gods upon their shoulders, that they may seem to be nigh them; but they cannot hear with their ears, (be they nigh or) be they afar off; but the Word of the Lord sits upon His throne high and lifted up, and hears our prayer what time we pray before Him and make our petitions. (Targum Jonathan)

According to the Targums, Jacob, an important progenitor of the people of Israel, worshipped the Memra' as his God.

T. Genesis 28:20-21…And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, "If the Word of Yhvh will be my support, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace; then shall the Word of Yhvh be my God. (Targum Onkelos)

God's Word: A Sentient Being                    

Whenever the Targum orators came to passages where Yhvh is anthropomorphic (visible to humans) or where two or more Yhvhs are indicated by the text, the Turgemen often substituted "The Word of the Lord" for one of the Yhvhs.

For example in Gen. 19:23-24 the Tanakh has:

As the sun rose upon the earth and Lot entered Zoar, Yhvh rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire from Yhvh out of heaven. (WHV)

The Hebrew grammar here indicates that one Yhvh rained fire from another Yhvh who was up in heaven. The Targum substitutes "The Word of Yhvh" for the first of the two Yhvhs as follows:

T. And the Word of Yhvh caused to descend upon the peoples of Sodom and Gomorrah, brimstone and fire from the Yhvh in heaven. (Targum Jonathan)

Targumists paraphrased the text of Exodus 20:1 by substituting "the Word of Yhvh" in place of Yhvh.

T. And the Word of the Lord spoke all the excellency of these words saying (Jerusalem Targum)

It was, according to another Targum, the Word of Yhvh whom Abraham trusted in:

T. Genesis 15:6...And Abraham trusted in the Word of Yhvh, and He counted it to him for righteousness. (Targum Onkelos)

Moreover Abraham prayed in the name of the Word of Yhvh:

T. Genesis 22:14...And Abraham worshipped and prayed in the name of the Word of Yhvh, and said, "You are Yhvh who does see, but You cannot be seen." (Jerusalem Targum)

Although Abraham prayed in the name of the Word of Yhvh, his prayer was meant for the other one, the the untouchable Yhvh who cannot be seen. So the first Yhvh, the Memra', acted as a mediator between Abraham and the True God.

The Memra' has a significant role in Abraham's covenant.

T. Genesis 17:7...And I will establish my covenant between My Word and between you (Targum Onkelos)

T. Exodus 12:42... Night second; when the Word of the Lord was revealed unto Abraham between the divided parts; when Abraham was a son of a hundred years, and Sarah was a daughter of ninety years, (Targum Jerusalem)

According to another Targum, The Word of Yhvh created Man not only in the image of God, but also in the likeness of God's word.

T. Genesis 1:27...And the Word of the Lord created man in His likeness, in the likeness of the presence of the Lord He created him, the male and his yoke-fellow He created them. (Jerusalem Targum)

The Memra' conversed with Moses and commissioned him to lead Israel to freedom.

T. Exodus 3:14...And the Word of Yhvh said to Moses: "I am He who said unto the world 'Be!' and it was: and who in the future shall say to it 'Be!' and it shall be." And He said: "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'I Am' has sent me to you." (Jerusalem Targum)

A partial Targum also expresses that the Word of Yhvh was the Creator.

T. Exodus 12:42...The first night, when the Word of Yhvh was revealed to the world in order to create it, the world was desolate and void, and darkness spread over the face of the abyss and the Word of the Lord was bright and illuminating and He called it the first night. (Fragmentary Targum)

The Memra' as Creator can also be seen in the Tanakh.

Psalm 33:6...By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, by the breath of His mouth, all their host. (1985 JPS Tanakh)

Noah's covenant was between the Memra' and all mankind.

T. Genesis 9:17...And Yhvh said to Noah, "This is the token of the covenant which I have established between My Word and between all flesh that is upon the earth. (Targum Onkelos)

The Memra' is Israel's savior.

T. Isaiah 45:17, 25...But Israel shall be saved by the Word of Yhvh with an everlasting salvation. By the Word of Yhvh shall all the seed of Israel be justified. (Targum Jonathan)

T. Hosea 1:7...But I will have mercy upon the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Word of Yhvh, their God. (Targum Jonathan)

According to the New Testament, Y'shua is a human manifestation of the Memra'. Somehow (and who can really understand this?) the Memra' became a Jewish human being who, though coming from God, and must be spoken to as God, and prayed to as God, and worshipped as God, and served as God, is itself subject to the real God.

John 1:14...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (NKJ)

John 6:38...For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. (NIV)

1John 1:1-3...That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word Of Life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Y'shua the Messiah. (WHV)

Related References

Answering Jewish Objections To Jesus
by Michael L. Brown
Volume 1 ISBN 0-8010-6063-X
Volume 2 ISBN 0-8010-6334-5
Volume 3 ISBN 0-8010-6423-6


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