Targum Sheni

The Targum Sheni ("Second Targum") is an Aramaic translation (targum) and elaboration of the Book of Esther, that embellishes the Biblical account with considerable new apocryphal material, not on the face of it directly germane to the Esther story. Notable among these additions is an account of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon, which sees the King commanding a daunting army of animals, birds and demonic spirits as subjects and the Queen demanding from him the answer to three riddles, before she will pay homage.[1] The Jewish Encyclopedia characterises the story as a "genuine and exuberant midrash",[2] i.e. a free elaboration, of a kind not unusual in Rabbinic literature.

There are a number of notable parallels between the Targum Sheni account and the Qur'anic account of Solomon and the Queen in Sura 27 (and also some notable differences). The ascribed date of 800 by the Encyclopaedia Judaica is post-Islamic so it may have been influenced by the Qur'an. Some scholars believe that the Qur'anic account islamicises pre-existing Jewish and folkloric traditions, perhaps including sixth century Christian input, which were closer to those presented in the Targum Sheni.[3]

Nineteenth Century scholars had earlier placed the composition anywhere from the fourth to the eleventh century CE.

There is controversy among scholars about the date of the Targum Sheni. S. Gelbhaus placed its authorship in the [Amoraic] period, in the fourth century. P. Cassel dates it in the sixth century. L. Munk puts its date still later, in the 11th century. The Encyclopaedia Judaica argued for a dating of the late 7th or early 8th century. Much of the controversy centers on whether its similarities to the Qur'anic account supports an earlier or later dating, that is, which composition exerted influence on the other. Linguistic features of the (Galilean) Aramaic text, including its many Greek loan words, are one of the stronger arguments in support of an earlier dating.


  1. Jacob Lassner, Demonizing the Queen of Sheba: Boundaries of Gender and Culture in Postbiblical Judaism and Medieval Islam. University of Chicago Press, 1993, pp.14-17
  2. "Esther", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906
  3. cf Lassner, p. 227 n.2 and pp. 132 et seq

See also

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