The Targum Sheni, also known as the Second Targum of Esther, is an Aramaic translation (targum) and elaboration of the Book of Esther. Notably, the biblical account is embellished with a considerable amount of new apocryphal material in this book.

The text is sometimes referred to as the Second Targum of Esther to contrast it with another shorter targum on the Book of Esther: Targum Rishon, or the First Targum of Esther.[1] The relationship and similarities between the two have been an important focus of research by scholars.[2]

Differences from the Book of Esther

The Jewish Encyclopedia characterizes the story as a "genuine and exuberant midrash",[3] i.e. a free elaboration, of a kind not unusual in Rabbinic literature.

One notable addition to the story involves King Solomon holding a feast for the daunting army of animals, birds and demonic spirits he has as subjects. But the woodcock refuses to attend, on the grounds that Solomon is inferior to the Queen of Sheba. Solomon sends for the Queen, and houses her in a room made of glass, through which he reveals that she has a hairy foot. She demands from him the answer to three riddles before she will pay homage:[4]

Solomon solves the riddles, and the two exchange gifts. The riddles are noteworthy examples of Hebrew Riddles.[5]


History of scholarship and range of possible dates

The present consensus is that Targum Sheni dates somewhere between the late Byzantine period to the early Islamic period.[6] Historically, there has been considerable controversy as to the date of the Targum Sheni. Various 19th-century scholars variously dated it between the 4th to 11th centuries, such as Gelbhaus who placed it in the 4th century,[7] Cassel who placed it in the 6th, and Munk who placed it in the 11th.[8][9] The upper limit for the date given as the 11th century is because a figure from that time period, Rabbi Elʿazar, makes use of Targum Sheni.[10] In addition, there are fifteen manuscripts from the text known between the 12th and 15th centuries (known from Europe, especially Italy, and Yemen), the earliest dating to 1189.[11] Several evidences for the lower bounds on the dating of the text have also been suggested. Bernard Grossfeld places it in the early seventh century but prior to the rise of Islam on the basis of its description of Rome as being swept away in favor of the son of David,[12] although this reference is only a variant that appears in one of the manuscripts.[2] Flesher and Chilton observe that both Targum Sheni and Targum Rishon depend on the Babylonian Talmud and so are post-Talmudic.[2]

Recent views

Allegra Iafrate argued in 2015 for a date in the 10th century on the basis of a newfound dependence on the De Ceremoniis, a work which was composed in the middle of the 10th century in the Byzantine Empire, and Midrash Abba Gorion, composed in a similar place and time as De Ceremoniis.[13]

On the other hand, the entry on Targum Sheni in the Encyclopaedia Judaica argued for a dating of the late 7th or early 8th century. 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.[8] Kalimi prefers a pre-Islamic date as the text shows an understanding of Christian ideas and anti-Christian disputes, and knows of Greek words and Roman names, but shows no knowledge of Islamic or anti-Islamic notions.[14] Generally, more recent scholarship has favored a pre-Islamic date for the formation if not the final compilation of Targum Sheni.[11][15]

Targum Sheni and the Quran


Researchers in the field of Quranic studies have observed a number of notable parallels between the Targum Sheni account and the Qur'anic account of Solomon and the Queen in Surah 27:15–44.[16] According to Q 27:16–17, after Solomon took the throne after David, he was taught the "speech of birds" and had an army involving "jinn, humans, and birds". Likewise, Targum Sheni 1:3 asserts also asserts right after describing Solomon taking the throne that he had the obedience of "devils, demons, and ferocious beasts, evil spirits and accidents" and that all sorts of animals, fish, birds and so forth of their own will came to him to be slaughtered for him to eat. The Quranic account continues about Solomon: "Then he inspected the birds, and said, “Why do I not see the hoopoe? Or is he among the absentees? I will punish him most severely, or slay him, unless he gives me a valid excuse"" (vv. 20-21). Similarly, Targum Sheni proceeds soon after the previous quote: “At that time, the cock of the wood was missed among the fowls, and was not found. Then the king commanded in anger that he should appear before him, or else he would destroy him." Next, the Quran talks about how the fowl returned to Solomon and reported to him his finding of a kingdom named Sheba with a woman as its leader who has everything and has a mighty throne, but who also worships the sun instead of God (vv. 22-25). Likewise in Targum Sheni, the cock returns to Solomon and reports to him that he has found a kingdom with a woman as its leader, the "Queen of Saba", and that this kingdom has virtually endless resources and whose people worship the sea rather than God. Both accounts proceed by having the bird go to the kingdom again and sending a letter to the Queen of Saba, commanding her to submit to Solomon’s rule otherwise an army will be sent out to destroy her and her kingdom. Both accounts then proceed by stating that the Queen of Saba, not understanding what she ought to do, appealed to her council for advice. In the Qur’an the council tells her that it’s her decision but in Targum Sheni it also becomes her decision but because she does not trust her council. In both accounts, the Queen of Saba proceeds to send Solomon envoys of gifts. Both accounts proceed by saying that the Queen of Saba decides to proceed and go before Solomon, and she submits before him and ends up worshipping the one true God.[16]


The exact nature of the relationship is impacted by which of the two texts is earlier. While the Quran is well-placed in the early seventh century, dates for Targum Sheni range considerably and hypothesis involve both pre-Islamic and post-Islamic dates. Some scholars who view the Quran as earlier still believe that Targum Sheni incorporates pre-existing Jewish and folkloric traditions, perhaps including sixth-century Christian input, which were closer to those presented in the Targum Sheni.[17] The most recent opinion is that the Quran presupposes the narrative found in the Targum Sheni.[15]

Editions and translations



  1. ^ Damsma, Alinda (2014). "The Targums to Esther". European Judaism: A Journal for the New Europe. 47 (1): 127–136. ISSN 0014-3006. JSTOR 42751220.
  2. ^ a b c Flesher, Paul Virgil McCracken; Chilton, Bruce David (2011). The Targums: a critical introduction. Studies in the Aramaic interpretation of Scripture. Leiden: Brill. pp. 246–252. ISBN 978-90-04-21769-0.
  3. ^ "Esther", Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906
  4. ^ Lassner 1993, p. 14–17.
  5. ^ Christine Goldberg, Turandot's Sisters: A Study of the Folktale AT 851, Garland Folklore Library, 7 (New York: Garland, 1993), pp. 22-23.
  6. ^ Amitay, Ory (2010). From Alexander to Jesus. Hellenistic culture and society. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-520-26636-0.
  7. ^ Gelbhaus, Siegmund (1893). Das Targum Scheni zum Buche Esther. pp. 11–20.
  8. ^ a b Encyclopaedia Judaica, Targum Sheni
  9. ^ Iafrate 2015, p. 133–134, n. 76.
  10. ^ Iafrate 2015, p. 148.
  11. ^ a b Stinchcomb, Jillian (2021). "The Queen of Sheba in the Qurʾān and Late Antique Midrash". In Mortensen, Mette Bjerregaard; Dye, Guillaume; Oliver, Isaac W.; Tesei, Tommaso (eds.). The study of Islamic origins: new perspectives and contexts. Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- tension, transmission, tranformation. Berlin ; Boston: De Gruyter. pp. 85–96. ISBN 978-3-11-067543-6.
  12. ^ Grossfeld, Bernard (1991). The Two Targums of Esther. Liturgical Press. pp. 19–25.
  13. ^ Iafrate 2015, p. 133–134, 145–151.
  14. ^ Kalimi, Isaac (2023). The book of Esther between Judaism and Christianity: the biblical story, self-identification, and antisemitic interpretation. Cambridge New York (N.Y.): Cambridge University Press. p. 201. ISBN 978-1-009-26612-3.
  15. ^ a b Ghaffar, Zishan Ahmad (2019-11-04), Der Koran in seinem religions- und weltgeschichtlichen Kontext (in German), Brill Schöningh, pp. 75–109, esp. n. 8, ISBN 978-3-657-70432-3, retrieved 2024-03-25
  16. ^ a b Reynolds, Gabriel Said (2018). The Qur'an and the Bible: text and commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. pp. 583–589. ISBN 978-0-300-18132-6.
  17. ^ Lassner 1993, p. 132ff, 227 n. 2.


See also