Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why translate that Pharaoh did not *chakim* Yosef?

Summary: I disagree with the idea that Tg Yonasan is channeling Kli Yakar and saying that Pharaoh did not learn from Yosef's history. Rather, חכים simply means 'recognize' in Aramaic.

Post: Consider the following explanation of Targum Yonasan, from Em LaMikra:
"And a new king arose over Egypt who knew not Yosef:

And it is written in Targum Yonasan ben Uziel: who did not chakim Yosef and did not go in his [previous] laws.

And this requires explanation, what is his intent in 'who did not chakim Yosef'? And it is seems good to explain this based on what the Kli Yakar wrote:
Who did not know Yosef: for he did not know what happened to Yosef. For his brothers endeavored with all strength to destroy him and to nullify his dreams, and all their plots they plotted did not succeed, for the Will of God was with Yosef, to make him great, and the word of our God stands forever. So did Pharaoh say 'lest they increase' against the Will of God, Yisbarach, who said 'so shall they increase', and thought plans upon them, and was not successful, just as Yosef's brothers were not successful.
See there.

And based on this, it is possible to say that this is the meaning of 'and he did not chakim Yosef', that he did not make himself wise {learn} from the history of Yosef, that the word of the Lord stands forever, and that man does not prevail by might."

An interesting explanation of this Targum Yonasan, but I think it is pretty unlikely.

Often, when Targum Yonasan offers two explanations covering the same ground, the first is a simple, more literal explanation, while the second is a more midrashic explanation. This is the case in this instance as well. In translating אשר לא ידע את יוסף, Tg Yonatan first explains 'who did not chakim Yosef', and then explains, on that same phrase, 'and did not go in his [previous] laws'.

The second explanation is midrashic. It is drawn from Sotah 11a:
Now there arose a new king etc.17  Rab and Samuel [differ in their interpretation]; one said that he was really new, while the other said that his decrees were made new. He who said that he was really new did so because it is written 'new'; and he who said that his decrees were made new did so because it is not stated that [the former king] died and he reigned [in his stead].
Who knew not Joseph — he was like one who did not know [Joseph] at all.
or alternatively, it is a reference to the (perhaps slightly more midrashic than standard) explanation found in Targum Onkelos:

א,ח וַיָּקָם מֶלֶךְ-חָדָשׁ, עַל-מִצְרָיִם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יָדַע, אֶת-יוֹסֵף.וְקָם מַלְכָּא חֲדַתָּא, עַל מִצְרָיִם, דְּלָא מְקַיֵּים, גְּזֵירַת יוֹסֵף.

The first explanation should be a more literal one, not something so creative and expansive as found in the Kli Yakar.

Indeed, unless this was intended as remez or derash, translating חכים as becoming wise seems like a mistranslation. Rather, חכם is a knowledge word, just like ידע. And it is an Aramaic cognate of the Hebrew word. But when you have cognates, they don't always carry the precise shade of meaning they have in the parallel languages. (Compare French maison, 'house', with its English cognate, mansion.) So חכים is a knowledge word in Aramaic. But here is what it means:

See meaning #2, 'to recognize, to know, to remember.' And we can even see from Targum Yerushalmi on Vayeshev (a variant of Pseudo-Yonatan) the word חכם in this sense, on 37:33, translating ויכירה.

As such, there is no need to go to such lengths.

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