(written by: Yohan Abeynaike, General Secretary FOCUS Sri Lanka)
After a few generations in exile, the Jewish leaders faced a serious problem. Hebrew was being replaced by Aramaic as the common language of the people. With the change of language and context the leaders wondered how to communicate the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures to the next generation in a manner that was easily understood. This was the beginnings of the Targum.
Initially, the Targum consisted of a simple paraphrase of the Scriptures in Aramaic. Later, it started to include explanations and expansions of the text so that the listeners could clearly see the relevance of the Scriptures in their context. In December, members of FOCUS Sri Lanka, decided to try their hand in writing a Targum using Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). We began by dividing the song by phrases and then developed each phrase more broadly in the explanation to achieve different aims. Here are a few examples of the aims we sought to achieve:
1. Understanding the conflicting thoughts and feelings of Mary and seeing her through modern eyes. (Lk 1:48-49)
“I cannot believe it! Thousands of Jewish women throughout history have wanted to be in this position. In the years to come people from everywhere will read and hear about my story. They will play my part in dramas and movies, they will preach sermons about me, they will sing songs about me. So many would wish they were me… but who am I? I am nothing…
…But, I am scared sometimes. I don’t know what the future holds for me. What will my relatives say about the pregnancy? What will the neighbours say? Will they mock me, ignore me or stone me?”
2. Applying the implications of a text broadly. (Lk 1:51)
God laughs at the boastful claims of the knowledge producers in our society. Can the scientist uncover all the mysteries of life? Can the economist satisfy all the people’s needs? Can the lawyer make a society more moral? Isn’t the claim that ‘all truth is relative’ – an absolute claim in itself? Why are they puffed up? Don’t they know that human knowledge will always be limited? It is only God who knows all things.
3. Using phrases and situations familiar to people today. (Lk 1:52)
All that is hidden will be exposed. He is the divine Wikileaks. The dark web will be lit up. The hate speech and tweets will be silenced.
The full text of our Targum for the Sri Lankan context can be found here.
The whole process was creative and fun. More importantly, it helped us to see and apply the text in fresher ways. Why not try it?
Yohan Abeynaike, yohan(at)focus.lk