Friday, December 7, 2012

Jerome and His Vulgate

A new article by Görge K. Hasselhoff examines Jerome's relationship with Jews, especially in his creation of the Vulgate. It appears in the journal Zeitschrift für Religions- und Geistesgeschichte, which is not one that I regularly peruse, but this one came to my attention because it was noted by Jim Davila.

The article is odd in a number of ways. First, there are sentences such as this:
The Christian Bible falls into two parts, namely the Old and the New Testament. (p. 211)
Ah, yes, I think I've heard of something like that. Or, Hasselhoff tells us that "already in the first century" something called the "New" Testament being created, which "combined the exegesis of the Bible (the 'Old' Testament) and the Jesus narrative" (p. 212). He says that this "New" Testament was "a kind of Midrash."

Second, there are some minor erroneous claims. The author says that Jerome settled in Bethlehem in 388. Actually, it was 386 (according to Fürst, 146; Rebenich, 41; and many others). Maybe that's simply a slip of the pen, though it's hard to tell from his narrative of Jerome's life. A couple of times Hasselhoff says that "Damasus asked Jerome to revise the Latin Bible" (210; cf. p. 215). But the only evidence for a papal commission is in Jerome's Preface to the Gospels, and it refers only to that particular translation. There is no evidence that Damasus asked Jerome to revise anything more than the Gospels. Hasselhoff seems to know about this lack of evidence, since the second time he makes the claim he cites the Preface to the Gospels and nothing further (p. 215 n. 29).

According to Hasselhoff, during Jerome's time as secretary to Damasus in Rome (382-385), he "revised the translations of the New Testament as well as the translations of several Old Testament books, including the Psalms" (215). Actually, only the Psalms. Scholars no longer accept the view--and haven't for many decades--that Jerome revised the New Testament beyond the Gospels; the Vulgate versions for these other books are strictly anonymous, though some scholars have made the case that they are to be attributed to Rufinus the Syrian. As for the Old Testament, the only book he revised during his Roman period was the Psalter.

Hasselhoff continues:
The translation of the Old Testament material, which is part of the Vulgate, is called "iuxta septuagintam" ("according to the Septuagint"). The revision of the rest of the Old Latin Translation was done in Bethlehem, and then not always according to the Greek tradition but sometimes according to the Hebrew tradition, because Jerome expected the Hebrew to be superior to the Greek since it was the first language of the Bible. He call it "Hebraica veritas". (215)
There are several problems with this passage. The only translation from the LXX that is part of the Vulgate is the Psalter. Jerome did translate some of books from the LXX, namely Job, Chronicles, and the Books of Solomon. But these translations are not extant (except for Job), much less are they a part of the Vulgate.  Moreover, he worked on all of these in Bethlehem, none at Rome. As I said earlier, of the Old Testament he did only the Psalter at Rome. Jerome may have revised more of the OT based on the LXX beyond the Psalter, Job, Chronicles, and Books of Solomon, as he himself claims, but we have neither the translation nor the prefaces to the translation to substantiate that claim. The Latin revision of the LXX that Jerome did work on is called the iuxta LXX, but it's not in the Vulgate (except for the Psalter). All of this is now common knowledge to Jerome scholars; a survey book like the one by Rebenich covers the ground well.

The last bit of the second sentence above is simply baffling. Does Hasselhoff not know that Jerome translated (or, at least, claimed to have translated) the entire Hebrew Bible from the hebraica veritas? How could he not know that? Maybe he's advocating a revisionist view such that Jerome translated only a portion from the Hebrew and worked mostly from the Greek, but that is not obvious, and he cites no one for these statements. Anyway, it is certainly misleading to say that he translated "sometimes according to the Hebrew tradition." In fact, he took 15 years (391-406) doing precisely that. That's what the Vulgate OT is--a translation from the Hebrew (except, again, for the Psalter). That's why it was revolutionary; that's why Jerome's contemporaries were so bothered by it.

I said Hasselhoff does not cite anything here. Actually, he gives a note to the term hebraica veritas, in which he claims that Christoph Markschies (175-76) "has shown that Jerome after his quarrels with Augustine and Rufinus more or less seems to have abandoned that particular term" (215 n. 30). No, Markschies did not claim that. And the evidence cannot support the contention. Jerome uses the term plenty in his latest biblical commentaries, for instance.

Later, Hasselhoff discusses Jerome's translations of Tobit and Judith (216-18). This is actually an area to which I have given quite a bit of thought, recently (see, e.g., here). I'll just point out a few bits where Hasselhoff disagrees with standard scholarship but does not seem to realize it (at least he cites nothing that suggests he does). He dates the translation of Judith to some years after the translation of Tobit, though the scholarly trend definitely favors dating them contemporaneously. Also, he dates the translation of Tobit (but not Judith) to very early in his career, before the translation of Daniel. Scholars typically date the Vulgate Tobit (and Judith) to around the turn of the fifth century (between 395-405).

Finally, and most surprisingly, Hasselhoff does not seem to have any familiarity with Jerome's position on the Old Testament canon (another issue to which I have devoted some attention; see here). The very last paragraph of the article is this:
A second meaning related to Hebraica veritas was the questioning of the canon of the Septuagint because it differed from the Hebrew versions. Jerome's response to that challenge was bipartite. On the one hand, he searched for Semitic versions of only Greek-transmitted writings, as I demonstrated with the translation of the Book of Tobit. But, on the other hand, we must make note of Jerome's cowardice in not following through on the consequences of his insight, for example, by not excluding the so-called apocrypha, i.e., the additions to the Septuagint. They remained a part of Jerome's Bible translation. (221)
In what way did they remain a part of Jerome's Bible translation? Well, certainly, the deuterocanonical books are in the Vulgate now, but we surely cannot attribute this to Jerome. Later editors of the Vulgate included these books, and often not Jerome's versions of them, because Jerome did not translate any of them except for Tobit and Judith (even these are often found in Vulgate manuscripts in their VL form). How this can go back to some decision by Jerome, or how we can ascribe it to Jerome's "cowardice," is beyond me. Jerome made quite clear in his Prologus Galeatus that he did not include the deuterocanonical books in the canon, and I think he makes it fairly clear in his Preface to Tobit and Preface to Judith that he did not consider these two books canonical (see, e.g., here). 

I hate that this post has been mostly negative, but I wanted to respond to some aspects of this article that made it odd, in my opinion. I will use some aspects of the article, especially his speculations about Jerome's Tobit on p. 217, which I found somewhat helpful and parallel to some of my own thoughts on the matter.


haligweorc said...

Actually, this post raises a useful question for me... I'm a generalist. My main research areas are split between New Testament and Medieval Liturgy. However, I do do a fair amount of reading and thinking with Jerome as he is a solid middle term that mediates Scripture and exegesis into the medieval period. When I need any sort of secondary material on him, I normally turn to Quasten's Patrology which is now a generation or so out of date. Is there anything you can point to that would provide a good recent overview of Jerome scholarship? Would the Rebenich volume you linked to be sufficient? After all, I'd hate to show up in a post like this some day... ;-)

Ed Gallagher said...

Thanks for stopping by and for your interest. The post is a bit harsh, isn't? But I did mention a positive bit at the end. Oh well.

The Rebenich volume would probably be the best entry point to study of Jerome for English readers, and for scholars it provides a nice overview of current discussion on all manner of issues on Jerome. The older biography by J.N.D. Kelly (Duckworth, 1975) would also be fine for most purposes.

The main problem I had with this article is that it evinces no awareness of some standard scholarly views on Jerome's Vulgate translation project--not the latest innovations, mind you, but views that have become standard over many decades--but somehow it wound up in a major journal.

By the way, I read your blog regularly. It keeps me up-to-date on the latest happenings with the Episcopalian liturgy, always fascinating, though always completely foreign to me.

haligweorc said...

(Just realized I'd never posted this comment from a few days ago!)

Ah--you didn't say anything he didn't deserve... It does make you question the peer-review process a bit, though!

You're in my feed-reader; you always write good stuff and I remain intrigued by low-church patristic scholars! (And we have a common friend in Pat Graham who I know well from my time at Emory.)

Ed Gallagher said...

Yes, I've gotten to know Pat Graham a little bit since he came to our campus earlier this year to deliver some lectures.

Actually, part of the reason I read your blog is because I feel like it can help me get in touch with the Fathers a bit more!