One source usually referenced is תרגום יונתן / Targum Yonatan (Jonathan).
Missionaries will say that the Targum is a translation of parts of the bible (in this case נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im / Prophets) into Aramaic.
This is incorrect. A Targum / תרגום paraphrases and expands on the biblical text -- it is more interpretative and explanation than translation -- more midrash (homily and allegory) than p'shat (literal meaning). This fact becomes important as we discuss the misuse of this Targum by missionaries.
Once again we have missionaries presenting allegory as if it were literal.
The misleading quote missionaries use is "Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong: as the house of Israel looked to him through many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men" and then they comment "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Thus the missionary is presenting this quote from the Targum as ‘proof’ that the ancient Rabbis believed that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 was the messiah.
It certainly seems that way given that the word "messiah" is used in the missionary quote, but again one must read the Targum itself and read it IN CONTEXT to understand that:
Missionaries presenting the single quote mislead their followers into thinking that "The early targums by Jonathan ben Uzziel show that he clearly believed in a suffering Messiah."
Also, the Targum never speaks of the messiah as a suffering messiah.
There is no concept of a suffering messiah in Judaism.
The Targum speaks of an EXALTED messiah.
Many missionaries equate the word "messiah" only with Jesus, as if he were the only messiah to ever live.
מָשִׁיחַ (moshiach / messiah) is the Hebrew word which is used thirty nine times in the T'nach to describe various people. They are all normal human beings. Aaron, Moses' brother, was a messiah. Kings David and Solomon were messiahs. They were all humans born of human mothers and fathers. When Jews speak of "the" messiah they refer to a king promised in the T'nach (bible) who will also be human and a descendant of King Solomon and the tribe of Judah.
Thus when the word "messiah" is used in the T'nach (bible) or in various Jewish sources one must first ask "which messiah is being spoken about?" In the Targum it does appear to be "the" messiah (moshiach ben David) -- as an exalted messiah, not a suffering messiah. Targum Yonathan speaks of an exalted messiah and a suffering Israel. Pay attention to the use of singular versus plural in the Targum.
To summarize: the Targum Yonatan is not a translation from Hebrew into Aramaic of Isaiah (and the other prophets). It is a midrashic, interpretive work. In Isaiah 53 the Targum sometimes refers to the suffering servant as the Jewish people (Isaiah 52:14, 53:2, 53:6, 53:8, etc.) and sometimes the nations (Isaiah 53:3, 53:4, 53:7, 53:9, etc.) and at times the exalted messiah (Isaiah 52:13, 52:15, 53:4, 53:12, etc.).
The missionary quote from the Targum also includes the phrase "who was bruised for our sins" -- but that is not actually in the Targum -- the missionaries added it.
The Targum is an interpretive rehashing in Aramaic of נְבִיאִים / Nevi'im aka Prophets. It speaks of Israel as suffering and the messiah as exalted and triumphant. Not exactly what the apologists say is it?
Comparing a translation of the Targum of Isaiah 53 with the Hebrew (or an English translation) and it is clear that the Targum is not translation at all. Below is the Artscroll Stone Edition translation of Isaiah 53 compared to an English translation of the Targum.
52:13 Behold, My servant will succeed; he will be exalted and become high and exceedingly lofty.
52:13. Behold my servant Messiah shall prosper; he shall be high, and increase, and be exceeding strong:
52:14 Just as multitudes were astonished over you (saying) "His appearance is too marred to be a man's, and his visage to be human,
52:14. the house of Israel looked to him during many days, because their countenance was darkened among the peoples, and their complexion beyond the sons of men,
52:15 so will the many nations exclaim about him, and kings will shut their mouths (in amazement) for they will see that which had never been told to them, and will perceive things they had never heard.
52:15. so will he scatter many peoples; kings will be silent towards him, and put their hands upon their mouth, because they have seen that which was not told them, and they have observed that which they had not heard.
53:1 Who would believe what we have heard! For whom has the arm of HaShem been revealed?
53:1. Who believed this our glad tidings, that the strength of the mighty arm of the L-rd is upon him.
53:2 Formerly he grew like a sapling or like the root from arid ground; he had neither form nor grandeur; we saw him, but without such visage that we could desire him.
53:2. The righteous will grow up before him like blooming shoots, and like a tree which sends forth its roots to streams of water will they increase - a holy generation in the land that was in need of him; his countenance no profane countenance, and the terror at him not the terror at an ordinary man; his complexion shall be a holy complexion, and all who see him will look wistfully upon him.
53:3 He was despised and isolated from men, a man of pains and accustomed to illness. As one from whom we would hide our faces; he was despise nad we had no regard for him.
53:3. Then he will become despised, and will cut off the glory of all the kingdoms; they will be prostrate and mourning, like a man of pains and like one destined for sicknesses; and as though the presence of the spirit had been withdrawn from us, they will be despised, and esteemed not.
53:4 But in truth it was our ills that he bore, and our pains that he carried -- but we had regarded him diseased, stricken by G-d and afflicted!
53:4. Then he shall pray for on behalf of our transgressions, and our iniquities shall be pardoned for his sake, although we were accounted stricken, smitten from before the L-rd, and afflicted.
53:5 He was pained because of our rebellious sins and oppressed through our iniquities; the chastisement upon him was for our benefit, and through his wounds we were healed.
53:5. But he will build up the Holy Place, which has been polluted for our sins, and delivered to the enemy for our iniquities; and by his teaching shall his peace be multiplied and by our devotion to his words, our transgressions will be forgiven us.
53:6 We have all strayed like sheep each of us turning his own way and HaShem inflicted upon him the iniquity of us all.
53:6. All we like sheep had been scattered, we had each wandered off on his own way; but it was the L-rd's good pleasure to forgive the sins of all of us for his sake.
53:7 He was persecuted and afflicted but did not open his mouth; like a sheep being led to the slaughter or a ewe that is silent before her shearers, he did not open his mouth.
53:7. He prayed, and he was answered, and ere even he had opened his mouth he was accepted; the mighty of the peoples he will deliver up like a sheep to the slaughter and like a lamb dumb before her shearers; there shall be none before him opening his mouth or saying a word.
53:8 Now that he has been released from captivity and judgment who could have imagined such a generation? For he had been removed from the land of the living, an affliction upon them that was my people's sin.
53:8. Out of chastisements and punishment he will bring our captives near; the wondrous things done to us in his days who shall be able to tell? For he will cause the dominion of the Gentiles to pass away from the land of Israel and transfer to them the sins which my people have committed.
53:9 He submitted himself to his grave like wicked men; and the wealthy (submitted) to his executions for committing no crime and with no deceit in his mouth.
53:9. He will deliver the wicked into the grave, and those that are rich in possessions into the death of utter destruction, in order that those who commit sin may not be established, nor speak deceits with their mouth.
53:10 HaShem desired to oppress him and He afflicted him; if his soul would acknowledge guilt he would see offspring and live long days and the desire or HaShem would succeed in his hand.
53:10. But it is the L-rd's good pleasure to try and to purify the remnant of his people, so as to cleanse their souls from sin; these shall look on the Kingdom of their messiah, their sons and their daughters shall be multiplied, they shall prolong their days, and those who perform the Law of the L-rd shall prosper in his good pleasure.
53:11 He would see (the purpose) and be satisfied with his soul's distress. With his knowledge My servant will vindicate the Righteous One to multitudes; it is their iniquities that he will carry.
53:11. From the subjection of the nation he will deliver their souls, they shall look upon the punishment of those that hate them, and be satisfied with the spoil of their kings; by his wisdom he will hold the guiltless free from guilt, in order to bring many into subjection to the law; and for their sins he will intercede.
53:12 Therefore, I will assign him a portion from the multitudes and he will divide the mighty as spoils -- in return for having poured out his soul for death and being counted among the wicked, for he bore the sin of the multitudes, and prayed for the wicked.
53:12. Then will I divide for him the spoil of many peoples, and the possessions of strong cities shall he divide as prey, because he delivered up his soul to death, and made the rebellious subject to the Law: he shall intercede for many sins, and the rebellious for his sake shall be forgiven.
The missionary ploy in referencing Jewish sources is to say that there are Jews who "see" the messiah in Isaiah 53. That is the wrong question -- throughout the ages many Jewish sources have applied the servant in Isaiah to many Jews including Moses, King David (who was a messiah), and the messiah himself using allegory and homily. The issue for a missionary should be: can Isaiah 53 possible fit Jesus? Not too long ago I wrote a blog post entitled "Can Isaiah 53 be about Jesus?" The answer to that question is "no" and I recommend reading that blog post for more details.
The mere fact that the Targum mentions the messiah does not "prove" the missionary assertion that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah -- indeed the Targum rejects that claim. The Targum teaches that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the nation of Israel (the Jewish people), as Judaism teaches. The mentions of the messiah in the Targum speak of the triumphant, exalted messiah who will eventually redeem Israel and the world.
The Targum does not support the missionary claim that the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 is the messiah.
There is nothing in the Targum that even remotely is connected with the Christian theology about a Messiah who dies for the sins of the world. The missionaries misuse the Targum by selectively quoting it to leave their followers with an erroneous conclusion.
Sophiee Saguy has been countering false missionary claims about Judaism and the T'nach (Jewish bible) for nearly twenty years. You may find her on FaceBook and at the Messiah Truth forum.