I’ve been doing some work on how the Jewish Targums give us a glimpse at the variety of messianic interpretations were available during the second temple period. Targum Jonathan (not to be confused with Targum Pseudo-Jonathan) is an Aramaic rendering of the prophetic material from the Hebrew Bible. Most scholars date Jonathan close to the writing of the Onkelos Targum. Some of the internal evidence in the targum itself presupposes a date prior to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
I want to focus on three passages in particular. To begin, I will lay out what our modern translations do with Jer. 23:5:
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”
However, the Tg. Jonathan interprets the Branch figure as “the righteous Messiah.” Interesting.
Moving on. Jeremiah 30:8-9 likewise envisions the restoration of Israel:
“It shall come about on that day,” declares the LORD of hosts, “that I will break his yoke from off their neck and will tear off their bonds; and strangers will no longer make them their slaves. But they shall serve the LORD their God and David their king, whom I will raise up for them.”
Tg. Jonathan reworks the last sentence to say that they will “serve [Yahweh] their God and obey the Messiah, son of David, their king.” Most interesting indeed.
My final text comes from Jer. 33:15 (which sounds very similar to 23:5):
“In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.”
Again Tg. Jonathan reworks this passage messianically. It reads “I will cause to spring up for David the righteous Messiah.” Fascinating.
What conclusions might I reasonably draw from such data? It seems that the figure known as ‘the Branch’ was understood as the promised Messiah. It also seems apparent that this messianic figure was to come from the line of David and is actually called the “son of David” in one occurrence. As a lineal descendant from King David’s line, this logically suggests that the expectation for the Messiah, at least according to the targumist, would be found in a human figure who will reign as king. Or to state it from a different angle, the targumist does not expect the Messiah to be the person of Israel’s God, in the strictest sense of the word. No, the targumist seems to long for a human descendant from David who will rule as king.