Monday, December 10, 2007

Jerome's Prologue to the Books of Solomon

Jerome completed his translation of the Books of Solomon over a three day period during the summer of 398.[1] He apologizes for not being able to fulfill the request of Bishops Cromatius and Heliodorus for commentaries on Hosea, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi, and he blames this on a recent illness. Instead of the commentaries, he offers a translation of the three books of Solomon. He would finally complete his commentaries on the requested books in 406,[2] which year marks the completion of Jerome’s commentaries on the Minor Prophets, and his turn toward the Major Prophets.[3]
The following preface is especially interesting for the comments on the deuterocanonical books of Ecclesiasticus (a.k.a Ben Sira, a.k.a Sirach), and Wisdom of Solomon, which temper somewhat the remarks made earlier in Jerome’s preface to the Books of Kings. In that preface, he gave no indication that Jewish books outside the Jewish canon should be used by the church, but termed all these outside books “apocrypha”, thus anticipating modern Protestant use of the term. In this preface, he allows for continued use in the church of at least some of these “apocrypha”, and he explicitly names here Judith, Tobit, the books of Maccabees (presumably just the first and second books of Maccabees), Sirach, and Wisdom of Solomon. (The modern Catholic canon includes all six of these books as deuterocanonicals, along with Baruch and the longer forms of Esther and Daniel.)
Jerome’s view articulated here parallels that of his bosom-buddy Rufinus (Commentary on the Apostles’ Creed 36–37), and that of the great Alexandrian bishop Athanasius (in his famed 39th Festal Letter). Of course, these latter two Fathers did consider canonical the LXX text form of the OT books, whereas Jerome definitely favors the Hebrew text.[4] This mediating view, though, contradicts that of Cyril of Jerusalem, who leaves no room for Christian use of the deuterocanonicals (in theory, though not in practice; Catechesis 4.33–36), and also that of Augustine of Hippo, who includes all the aforementioned books in his canon with equal authority (On Christian Doctrine 2.13).
Jerome to the bishops Cromatius and Heliodorus,
Let the epistle join those whom the priesthood joins; nay indeed, let not a page divide those whom the love of Christ binds together. You request commentaries on Hosea, Amos, Zechariah, and Malachi; I would have written them if I had been healthy. You send compensation for expenses, you sustain our stenographers and scribes, so that our ablest ingenuity may sweat for you. And behold from the side a crowded and diverse mob of requesters, as if either it would be fair for me to labor for others while you are hungry, or I would be liable to others more than you in the matter of giving and receiving. Therefore, though weakened by a long illness, lest I should be silent within this year and be mute among you, I have dedicated to your name a work of three days, viz. a translation of the three volumes of Solomon: Masloth, which the Hebrews call Parables, but the common edition calls Proverbs, Coeleth, which in Greek is Ecclesiastes, and in Latin we can say Speaker, and Sirassirim, which is rendered in our language as Song of Songs.
There is also the ever-virtuous book of Jesus son of Sirach, and another which is a pseudepigraph, inscribed Wisdom of Solomon. The first of these I have found also in Hebrew, not titled Ecclesiasticus as among the Latins, but Parables; to which were joined Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs, so that it equaled the resemblance of Solomon not only in the number of books, but also in the type of material. The second book is nowhere among the Hebrews, but even the very style smells of Greek eloquence; and several old writers affirm that it is from the Jew Philo. Therefore, just as the church reads Judith and Tobit and the books of the Maccabees, but does not receive them among the canonical scriptures, so also let it read these two volumes for the edification of the people, not for confirming the authority of ecclesiastical dogma.
If the edition of the seventy translators pleases anyone more, he has it from us previously emended; for we do not establish new things so that we might destroy the old. And also, when he reads most diligently, let him know that our things are better understood, which have not been corrupted by being poured into the third jar, but, having been entrusted to the purest jar straight from the wine-press, preserve their own flavor.
Explicit prologus.

[1] Jean Gribemont, “The Translations: Jerome and Rufinus,” in A. DiBerardino (ed.), Patrology, vol. 4 (Italian, 1978; ET Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1986), 195–254 (225). This is a continuation of the Patrology begun by Johannes Quasten.
[2] See Gribemont, p. 234.
[3] It is doubtful whether Jerome was familiar with this terminology. He always called the Minor Prophets “The Twelve” or similar (e.g. see his prefaces to the Twelve Prophets and to the Books of Kings). In fact, most Christian writers thought of these prophets as a group under the designation Book of the Twelve (see the canon lists cited by H.B. Swete in his An Introduction to the Old Testament in Greek2 [Cambridge: University Press, 1914], 203–14, or available online here). The term “Minor Prophets” is not recorded for another few years, by Jerome’s contemporary Augustine (City of God 18.29, available here), though it appears that Augustine is citing common usage.
[4] Though see his Apology against Rufinus 2.33, where he does defend his use of the LXX additions to Daniel. This is probably just a matter of politics in his heated rivalry with Rufinus. On the whole question of Jerome’s attitude toward the Hebrew text, see Adam Kamesar, Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Incipit prologus Iudith

St. Jerome translated the deuterocanonical Book of Judith, like Tobit, from Aramaic into Latin during the first decade of the fifth century. The following is my translation of Jerome’s preface to his version of Judith. It is based on the Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate (ed. R. Weber, 4th edition, 1994, p. 691).
Among the Hebrews the book of Judith is read among the Agiografa; whose authority is considered less suitable for the confirmation of those things that come into contention. Nevertheless, having been written in Chaldean speech, it is reckoned among the histories. But because the Nicene Synod is read to have reckoned this book in the number of holy Scriptures, I have assented to your request, nay, demand, and having set aside occupations by which I was being violently squeezed, I have given to this one a single night, translating sense for sense rather than word for word. I have eradicated the terrible variety of the many codices; only that which I could find in Chaldean words with complete comprehension did I express in Latin words.
Take up the widow Judith, an example of chastity, and with perpetual proclamations acclaim her in triumphal praise. For he has given her as a model not only to women, but also to men, and he, the rewarder of her chastity, has provided such power that she overcame the one not overcome by anyone, and conquered the unconquerable.
Explicit prologus

Incipit prologus Tobiae

St. Jerome (ca. 347-420 AD) translated the deuterocanonical Book of Tobit from Aramaic into Latin during the first decade of the fifth century. Here follows my English translation of Jerome's preface to his version of Tobit. It is based on the Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate (ed. R. Weber, 4th edition, 1994, p. 676).
Jerome to Cromatius and Heliodorus, bishops, greetings in the Lord.
I do not cease to marvel at the urgency of your demand. For you demand that I bring into Latin style a book composed in Chaldean speech, namely, the book of Tobit, which the Hebrews, excising [it] from the catalogue of divine Scriptures, transfer to those which they term Agiografa. I have satisfied your desire, but not with my own enthusiasm (studium). For Hebrew studies (Hebraeorum studia) accuse us and charge us with transferring them for Latin ears contrary to their own canon. But considering (iudicans) it better to displease the opinion (iudicium) of Pharisees and to be subject to the commands of bishops, I have done as well as I can, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker expert in both languages, I set aside (arripui, lit. “seized”) the labor of a single day and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, these things I related in Latin speech to the scribe that I had summoned.
I will consider your utterances (or “prayers”; orationes) the wages for this work, when I will have learned that I have completed in a manner pleasing to you what you saw fit to command.

Explicit prologus

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Calvin on the 70 Weeks

John Calvin (1509–1564) wrote his commentary on Daniel in 1561. It was quickly translated into English, with a second English translation by Thomas Myers published in 1853 in two volumes (Smith, n.p.). Below is a summary of Calvin’s interpretation of the seventy weeks of Daniel 9:24–27.
I should make clear that I am not a Calvin scholar. That will probably become clear by reading the postings.
The passage from Daniel in the Latin translation included with Calvin’s commentary runs thus:
(24) Septuaginta hebdomades finitae sunt super populum tuum, et super urbem tuam sanctam, ad claudendum scelus, et obsignandum peccatum, et expiandam iniquitatem, et adducendam justitiam aeternam, et obsignandam visionem, et prophetiam, et ungendum sanctum sanctorum. (25) Cognosces ergo et intelliges, ab exitu verbi de reditu, et de aedificanda Jerosolyma usque ad Christum ducem hebdomadas septem, et hebdomadas sexaginta duas, et reducetur, et re-aedificabitur platea, et murus, idque in angustia temporum. (26) Et post hebdomadas sexaginta duas excidetur Christus, et nihil erit, et urbem et sanctuarium perdet populus ducis venientis, et finis ejus cum inundatione erit, vel, in diluvio, et ad finem belli definitio desolationum. (27) Et roborabit foedus multis, hebdomade una : et dimidia hebdomade quiescere faciet sacrificium, et oblationem : et super extensionem abominationum obstupescet, et ad finem, et ad determinationem stillabit super stupentem.
This paragraph comes at the end of a chapter in which Daniel has prayed to God on behalf of his people, after having read the words of Jeremiah about the exile. The reference is to Jeremiah’s prophecy of the 70 years that Israel would be exiled from their own land by the Babylonians: “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jer. 25:11). The text says that Daniel, who himself was one of these exiles, had read this passage and discerned that the 70-year period was nearing completion (Dan. 9:2). He, therefore, called on God to forgive his people and restore them to their land. In response, God sent to Daniel an angel with a message about a 70-week period (9:24–27).
Calvin’s comments on this passage appear in the second volume of Myers’ translation, pp. 195–231. They occupy parts of four separate lectures, numbers 49–52. Calvin relies explicitly on St. Jerome's Commentary on Daniel, and he seems to access patristic interpretation largely through Jerome, who made it his habit to survey opinion, sometimes without even giving his own. Calvin also tries to interact with, and mostly refute, contemporary Jewish opinion, especially as represented by, to use Calvin’s expression, “that impure and obstinate Rabbi, Barbinel” (p. 206). Calvin mostly comments on the Latin, but does consult the Hebrew and even cites some Hebrew words in Hebrew characters (see especially the beginning of lecture 52, pp. 225–31). I don’t know anything about how proficient Calvin was at Hebrew, but Blacketer’s new book on Calvin’s OT exegesis should provide some help, especially page 11.
This post is the first in a series that will give the gist of what Calvin says about the 70 weeks. For now, I will cover the latter part of lecture 49, with references to the page numbers of the second volume of Myers’ translation. Of course, like most Christian interpreters throughout history, Calvin understands the 70 weeks to be a true prophecy about an actual chronological period that would follow the time of the prophet.
Calvin first encounters our passage at the middle of his 49th lecture, and spends his time here refuting Jewish opinion (pp. 195–202). He points to Lev. 25:8 to justify his taking these “weeks” as “weeks of years,” and admits that the Jews do likewise, counting a total of 490 years (pp. 196–97). Why does Daniel not say 490 years, but rather 70 weeks? He wanted to draw an analogy with Jeremiah’s prophecy. “The Prophet’s language must be interpreted as follows,--Sorrowful darkness has brooded over you for seventy years, but God will now follow up this period by one of favour of sevenfold duration, because by lightening your cares and moderating your sorrows, he will not cease to prove himself propitious to you even to the advent of Christ” (p. 200).
He says that the Jews view the 70 weeks as a period of God’s wrath, which is completely wrong, according to Calvin, since it is instead a period of consolation following upon the 70-year long exile. Calvin further alleges that the Jews count the 70 weeks from the destruction of the first temple to the destruction of the second temple. “The Jews again include the years which occurred from the ruin of the former Temple to the advent of Christ, and the final overthrow of their city” (p. 197). This is easy to refute, since, as Calvin says, this time period exceeds 600 years.
In my next post, I will look at lecture 50, where Calvin really begins to deal with the chronology of the 70 weeks.
Works Cited
Calvin, John, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, 1561, trans. Thomas Myers, 2 vols. (1853; reprint: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948).
Smith, Wilbur M., “Introduction,” in John Calvin, Commentaries on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, trans. Thomas Myers (reprint: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), vol. 1, n.p.
Blacketer, Raymond A., The School of God: Pedagogy and Rhetoric in Calvin's Interpretation of Deuteronomy, Studies in Early Modern Religious Reforms (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2006).
Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, trans. Gleason L. Archer, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958).

New Blog

I have created a new blog, as you can see. Hopefully I will start posting on it.