This week I received the newly published Sources chrétiennes (no. 592) volume containing the Préfaces aux livres de la Bible
by Jerome, edited under the directorship of Aline Canellis
. Along with all of the Jerome's biblical prefaces—in both Latin and French—this volume contains a 200-page introduction surveying the context of Jerome's translation work. To give you an idea of the types of things she treats, here is a list of the major headings in the introduction.
Le contexte de l'entreprise hiéronymienne (pp. 53–76)
L'entreprise de Jérôme (pp. 77–201)
--Révisions et retour à l'Hebraica veritas
--La méthode de traduction de Jérôme (pp. 157–64)
--Le genre des préfaces et les lecteurs visés (pp. 165–201)
Du travail de Jérôme à la Vulgate (pp. 201–25)
La présente édition (pp. 226–47)
The last major part of the section titled "Révisions et retour à l'Hebraica veritas
" deals with Jerome's views on the biblical canon, a subject of interest for me. Most of Canellis' treatment of Jerome's views on the canon are standard and unobjectionable, and she provides a helpful overview with good French bibliography.
But this post concerns a fairly minor point upon which I want to register disagreement: whether Jerome's Prefaces to Tobit and Judith refer to these books as apocrypha
or as agiographa
Canellis argues first that Jerome has two definitions for the term apocrypha
(pp. 134–39). Sometimes he uses the word in a negative sense to refer to heretical books, and sometimes he uses it in a neutral sense to refer to useful books that are not in the canon. This latter sense appears—according to Canellis—in the Prologus Galeatus and in the Prefaces to Tobit and Judith.
I don't think so. I fully agree that Jerome often uses the term apocrypha
in a negative sense to refer to heretical books. I would also argue (and have argued
) that this meaning for the term apocrypha
was very common in Jerome's day, the normal meaning. In fact, it is this usual definition of the term apocrypha
that colors the way I interpret its appearance in the Prologus Galeatus. It seems to me that in that preface, Jerome could not be relying on some obscure neutral definition of the word, but rather he assumed the nearly universal negative definition, and that was the point: the books that were sometimes added to the Christian Old Testament beyond the Jewish canon were apocrypha
, in the negative sense. It's a strong statement, polemical, pejorative, basically rhetorical, because Jerome didn't really regard these books—Tobit and Judith and Maccabees and Sirach and Wisdom of Solomon—as dangerous or heretical, but he was offering an exaggerated negative view of these books in order to make the point that they do not belong in the canon. I've developed these ideas further here
As for the examples from Jerome's Prefaces to Tobit and Judith, I do not believe these examples are valid because the manuscript evidence strongly supports the reading agiographa
in both prefaces over against apocrypha
. I've posted
on this issue before, and I've published an article
on it. Both of the major editions of the Vulgate—the Roman edition and the Stuttgart edition—print the word 'agiographa' in the text, though Migne's edition from the mid-nineteenth century printed the word apcrypha
. You can read about Migne in that post I mentioned.
Canellis prefers the reading apcrypha
in these prefaces for two main reasons (pp. 139–41). (1) Jerome elsewhere uses the term agiographa
only in reference to the third section of the Jewish canon, i.e., as the Latin equivalent for the Ketuvim or Writings (see, e.g., the Prologus Galeatus). Why would he use the same word in a different sense in the same sort of context (= discussions of scriptural canon)? (2) One can easily imagine a scribe confusing the Greek letters ΓΙ and Π, and thereby writing ΑΓΙΟΓΡΑΦΑ instead of ΑΠΟΚΡΥΦΑ. I'm not sure I really understand this argument. Is Canellis assuming that the Vorlage
that created confusion for the Latin scribe had the Greek word in Greek characters in Jerome's Latin preface? I don't know. The preface to Tobit as it appears in Codex Amiatinus (ca. 700) does not use Greek characters (see here
), nor does it in the Stuttgart edition of the Vulgate. On the other hand, the Stuttgart Vulgate does use Greek letters for this word in the Prologus Galeatus, as does Amiatinus (here
), though neither of them use Greek letters for apocrypha
in the Prologus Galeatus.
But she's right that if the word Agiographa
appears in the prefaces to Tobit and Judith—as attested in nearly all manuscripts—then Jerome must have been using the word in a sense different from the one he used in the Prologus Galeatus, since we cannot think that Jerome meant that Tobit and Judith featured in the Jewish Ketuvim. But she seems to not remember that she has already proposed that Jerome uses the term apocrypha
in two different senses. As far as I can see, either Jerome uses the term apocrypha
in two different sense or he uses the term agiographa
in two different senses, so we can't score points either way on Jerome's consistent terminology. But I think it more likely that Jerome varied in his meaning for the term agiographa
simply because this word was much less common, without an established definition. Canellis points out that Jerome doesn't use the word outside his biblical prefaces, and I have pointed out before that Jerome is the first one to use the term in Latin, and it is slow to catch on.
Moreover, I would think that a scribe would be more likely to change the rare word agiographa
to the much more common apocrypha
, whether in Greek or in Latin.
So I still think it makes more sense to agree with the manuscripts and major editions of the Vulgate and retain the reading Agiographa
rather than Apocrypha
in Jerome's Prefaces to Tobit and Judith.