Jerome’s Prologue to Chronicles

This prologue gives us an interesting view into the history of St Jerome’s translation work, and some very important information about the Septuagint in the world of his day. It appears that in addition to Origen’s Hexaplaric text, and the other well-known Septuagintal texts, he had done a corrected Latin version of the Septuagint, which unfortunately is entirely lost to us. One of the interesting things in this prologue is the mention of Jerome separating “lines into members” (per versuum cola). That is, he has separated the members, the individual words, with spaces, which was then rarely done, but so common now that we don’t even notice it.

The name “Paralipomenon” means, “things left over.” The book was called this because it included things not mentioned in Kings. I can remember being fascinated as a child by the exotic mystery of that name, Paralipomenon, like incense, silk, and the Faith itself, being something from the ancient world, in contrast to the much more prosaic Chronicles, a boring, uninteresting name to be found at the top of the local paper, and more redolent of the supermarket and gas station. But enough about me! Enjoy the continuing saga of the feisty St Jerome!

[See also the final draft version of this translation, on this page]



If the version of the Seventy translators is pure and has remained as it was rendered by them into Greek, you have urged me on superfluously, my Cromatius, most holy and most learned of bishops, that I translated the Hebrew scrolls into Latin words. For what has formerly won the ears of men and strengthened the faith of those being born to the Church was indeed proper to be approved by our silence. Now, in fact, when different versions are held by a variety of regions, and this genuine and ancient translation is corrupted and violated, you have considered our opinion, either to judge which of the many is the true one, or to put together new work with old work, and shutting off to the Jews, as it is said, “a horn to pierce the eyes.” The region of Alexandria and Egypt praises in their Seventy the authority of Hesychius; the region from Constantinople to Antioch approves the version of Lucian the Martyr; in the middle, between these provinces, the people of Palestine read the books which, having been labored over by Origen, Eusebius and Pamphilius published. And all the world contends among them with this threefold variety. And Origen certainly not only put together the texts of four editions, writing the words in a single row so that one regularly differing may be compared to others agreeing among themselves, but what is more audacious, into the edition of the Seventy he mixed the edition of Theodotion, marking with asterisks those things which were missing, and placing virgules by those things which are seen to be superfulous. If, therefore, it was allowed to others not to hold what they once accepted, and after the seventy chambers, which are considered without a single author, individual chambers were opened, and thus is read in the churches what the Seventy did not know, why do my (fellow) Latins not accept me, who thus put together the new with the inviolate old edition so that I might make my work acceptable to the Hebrews and, what is greater than these, to the authors, the Apostles? I have recently written a book, “On the best kind of translating,” showing these things in the Gospel, and others similar to these, to be found in the books of the Hebrews: “Out of Egypt I called my son,” and “For he will be called a Nazarene,” and “They will look on him whom they have pierced,” and that of the Apostle, “Things which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and had not arisen in the heart of man, which God has prepared for those loving Him.” The Apostles and Evangelists were certainly acquainted with (the version of) the Seventy interpreters, but from where (were) they (supposed) to say these things which are not in the Seventy? Christ our God, author of both Testaments, says in the Gospel according to John, “He who believes in me, as Scripture has said, Rivers of living water will flow from his belly.” Certainly, whatever is witnessed by the Savior to be written, is written. Where is it written? The Seventy don’t have it; the Church ignores the apocrypha; thus the turning back to the Hebrew (books), from which the Lord spoke and and the disciples took forth texts. In peace I will say these things of the ancients, and I respond only to my detractors, who bite me with dogs’ teeth, slandering me in public, speaking at corners, the same (being) both accusers and defenders, when approving for others what they reprove me for, as though virtue and error were not in conflict, but change with the author. I have recalled another edition of the Seventy translators corrected from the Greek to have been distributed by us, and me not to need to be considered their enemy, which things I always explain in the gatherings of the brothers. And what is now Dabreiamin, that is, Words of the Days, I have translated. I have therefore made the foreignness of the meanings clearer, and have separated lines into members, so that the inextribcable spaces and forest of names, which are confused through the error of the scribes, are, as Hismenius says, “themselves singing to me and mine,” even if the ears of others are deaf.


The one book meme

1. One book that changed your life.
The Orthodox Church, Bishop Kallistos (Ware)

2. One book that you’ve read more than once:
The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Vladimir Lossky

3. One book you’d want on a desert island:
The Bible, with all the apocrypha

4. One book that made you laugh:
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke

5. One book that made you cry:
The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam, Bat Ye’or

6. One book that you wish had been written:
A Commentary on the Scriptures, Jesus of Nazareth
[Oops. I just noticed I had originally misread that as “One book that you wish you had written. That’s why I answered with Introducing the Apocrypha, David deSilva, because I’d actually been putting together almost an identical book when his came out!]

7. One book that you wish had never been written:
The Qur’an (see 5, above)

8. One book you’re currently reading:
Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church, Fr John Breck

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read:
Unseen Warfare, St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain

10. Now tag five people:
Mike Aquilina, Claude Mariottini, Fr John Whiteford, and the last two people on the web who haven’t yet done it, whoever they may be.

Jerome’s “Helmeted Introduction” to Kings

This is a translation of Jerome’s well-known “helmeted introduction” (galeatum principium) to Kings (that is 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings) which is usually considered the most useful of his Old Testament introductions. It’s certainly the longest. Along with the usual defense against critics, Jerome includes an interesting arrangement of what he considers the canonical books of the Old Testament, which are 22 in number, just like the Hebrew alphabet. He mentions the tripartite arrangement of books in the Hebrew Bible as current among the Jews of his day, the earliest unambiguous description of this arrangement, including the actual names of the books in each category.

I’ll revisit this one later and include some notes on the Hebrew words mentioned here and how the pronunciation, preserved perhaps imperfectly through the Latin manuscript tradition, differs from today’s typical Hebrew pronunciation. For now, though, I’m focusing on just getting all the prefaces translated in at least a first draft.


[See also the final draft version of this translation, on this page]



There are twenty-two letters among the Hebrews, as is also witnessed by the language of the Syrians and Chaldeans, which is for the most part similar to the Hebrew; for these twenty-two elements also have the same sound, but different characters. The Samaritans still write the Pentateuch of Moses in the same number of letters, only they differ in shapes and points (or “endings” apicibus). And Ezra, the scribe and doctor of the Law, after the capture of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel, is certain to have found (or “invented” repperisse) other letters, which we now use, when up to that time the characters of the Samaritans and the Hebrews were the same. In the book of Numbers this same total is also mystically shown by the census of the Levites and the priests. And we find in certain Greek scrolls to this day the four-lettered Name of God written in the ancient letters. But also the thirty-sixth Psalm, and the one hundred tenth, and the one hundred eleventh, and the one hundred eighteenth, and the one hundred forty-fourth, although written in different meter, are nevertheless woven with an alphabet of the same number. And in the Lamentations of Jeremiah, and his prayer, also at the end of the Proverbs of Solomon from that place in which he says “Who can find a strong woman?” are counted the same alphabet or sections. Furthermore, five of the letters among them are double: chaph, mem, nun, phe, sade. For they write with these one way at the beginning and in the middle of words, another at the end. From which also five are considered double books by most: Samuel, Malachim, Dabreiamin, Ezra, Jeremiah with Cinoth, that is, his Lamentantion. Therefore, just as there are twenty-two elements, by which we write in Hebrew all that we say, and the human voice is understood by their beginnings (or “parts” initiis), thus twenty-two scrolls are counted, by which letters and writings a just man is instructed in the doctrine of God, as though in tender infancy and still nursing.

Continue reading “Jerome’s “Helmeted Introduction” to Kings”

Jerome’s Prologue to Joshua

This one was tough because of some quite peculiar sentences, which I think I’ve pretty much figured out now. I don’t think there’s any English translation of this one around, certainly not one in my possession, so I didn’t have one as a “cheat sheet” when I got stuck, which is good for my Latin, but not for my schedule…. Many thanks especially to Michael Gilleland (of Laudator Temporis Acti fame!) for puzzling over a certain ambiguous scriptura with me!

UPDATE: I’ve changed a couple of sentences with Michael Gilleland’s input. Several formerly questionable renderings are now resolved. Huzzah!

[See also the final draft version of this translation, on this page]



Having finally finished with the Pentateuch of Moses, as though freed for a great advantage, we set (our) hand to Jesus son of Nave, who the Hebrews call Joshua ben Nun, that is, Joshua son of Nun, and to the book of Judges, which they call Sopthim, to Ruth also and Esther, which they extol by the same names. And I admonish the reader, that he, being careful with Scripture, might preserve the forest of Hebrew names and (their) separations divided into parts, so that our work and his effort might not be wasted. And that in the first place, which I often testify, let him know me not to coin the new in rebuke of the old, as though my friends are accused, but rather to offer, for my part, to men of my language, those things of ours which still delight, like the copies of the Hexapla for the Greeks, which require great expense and work, so they might have our edition, and anywhere the readings of the ancient scrolls are doubtful, comparing this this to them, they might find what they seek, especially when among the Latins there are as many versions as there are books, and everyone has, according to his own judgment, either added or subtracted whatever seemed right to him, and he indeed may not have been able to be certain what differed. From which may scorpion cease to rise against me with bow-like wound, and poisoned tongue desist from slandering a holy work, either accepting, if it has pleased, or condemning, if it has displeased, and remember these verses: “Your mouth has abounded in malice, and your tongue constructed deceits; sitting, you have spoken against your brother, and against the son of your mother imposed a scandal. These things you have done and I was quiet; you wrongly thought that I might be like you: I will accuse you and stand before your face” [Psalm 49.19-21]. For what advantage is it to the listener for us to sweat at work and to work at criticizing others, for Jews to lament that the opportunity has been taken away from them for falsely accusing and insulting Christians, and for men of the Church to despise, indeed to tear apart, that from which enemies are tortured. If only what is old in the interpretation pleases them, which things are also not displeasing to me, and they think of receiving nothing further, why are they reading or not reading those things which are either added or cut out by the asterisks and obeli? For what reason have the churches accepted the translation of Daniel by Theodotion? Why are Origen and Eusebius Pamphilou admired for having treated entire editions similarly? Or what foolishness was it, after they had spoken true things, to set forth things which are false? And from where in the New Testament are they able to prove the received testimonies, which are not supported in the books of the Old (Testament)? Thus, we say, I may be seen to be not altogether quiet to accusers.

Otherwise, after the falling asleep of Paula, whose life is an example of virtue, and these books, which I was not able to deny to Eustochium the virgin of Christ, we have decided “while spirit yet rules these limbs” to incline to the explanation of the Prophets, and to resume, in a kind of return home, a work long unfinished, especially when the admirable and holy man Pammachius demands the same in letters, and we, hurrying on to the homeland, need to pass by the deadly songs of the sirens with deaf ear.


Biblical Studies Carnival VIII Nominations

There’s only a week left now until the next thrilling installment of the Biblical Studies Carnival, to be hosted here at biblicalia. If folks have any nominations (I’ve gotten quite a number of them already, for which I’m grateful to all the senders), keep them coming, even if you think they might be duplicates. This one’s turning out to be quite big already. It seems the summer lull is over! People have been churning out intersting posts, and there have been a number of new blogs appearing in the last few weeks.

Tyler Williams of Codex, the uber-host for the carnival, or facilitator thereof, or its Man Friday, the Living Horus of the BS Carnival, or whatever title he prefers, has a very helpful post with links to the handy nomination form page, or if you prefer, an email address to which you may write directly. You can also just write directly to me. Using the nomination for or email is better than leaving a comment, because publicly readable comments spoil the surprise!

Jerome’s Prologue to Genesis

I’ve decided to translate next all the prologues contained in the Vulgate, which were written by Jerome except for the Prologue to Paul’s Letters, apparently. I have previously translated Jerome’s Prologue to the Gospels, which included a discussion of the Eusebian canon table system used in the Gospels, more on which is here, in the earliest of my web pages. This translation of the Prologue to the Pentateuch is just a first draft, of course. Once I’ve finished all the prologues, I’ll probably have a better grasp on some of the peculiarities of Jerome’s language and be able to fix some of these renderings which I wasn’t so sure of here. So, this isn’t written in stone, obviously, but I also beg the reader’s indulgence, now and in the future, for any peculiarities, particularly if you’re familiar with the Latin versions.

[See also the final draft version of this translation, on this page]



I have received the desired letters of my Desiderius, who in a foretelling of things to happen has obtained with Daniel a certain name [see Vulgate Daniel 9.23: quia vir desideriorum es tu, “for you are a man of desires”], beseeching that I might hand over to our hearers a translation of the Pentateuch in the Latin tongue from the Hebrew words. Certainly a dangerous work, open to the barkings of detractors, who accuse me of insult to the Seventy to prepare a new interpretation from the old ones, thus approving ability (or “genius”) like wine. As has very often been testified by me, I, for my part, am able to offer a portion in the Tabernacle of God, without the riches (or “abilities”) of one being damaged by the poverties of others.

Continue reading “Jerome’s Prologue to Genesis”

Leaps of unfaith

To be sure, this principle [of exegesis in service to the Church] appeared far more evident to the Church Fathers than it does to most exegetes today. The language of theology, like that of liturgy, is ever expanding and developing. New discoveries in the field of literary criticism, but also in the realms of archaeology and other historical disciplines, often seem to call into question findings of earlier generations. It must be admitted, however, that those discoveries have never yet offered “proof” that undermines key elements of Christian dogma. Sociological studies of life in first-century Palestine may lead some interpreters to describe Jesus as nothing more than an itinerant prophet; modern embryology may to some minds offer decisive evidence against the possibility of a virgin birth (“Where did the other twenty-three chromosomes come from?”); and comparisons of Paul’s letters with the various gospel accounts may lead some to the conclusion that Paul, and not Jesus, is the true founder of Christianity. Intellectual honesty, however, requires anyone to admit that the conclusions drawn on the basis of these kinds of scientific studies are subjective. They involve leaps of faith—or unfaith—insofar as the conclusions are not inherent in the discoveries themselves but are rational extrapolations based on those discoveries.

Fr John Breck. Scripture in Tradition: The Bible and its Interpretation in the Orthodox Church (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), p 40.

Fr Breck eloquently (and playfully!) presents a very important point, one that many involved in Biblical Studies need to take more to heart. There is much that one sees, some even here on this blog at times, on the issue of conflict between those who find a whole lot of historical and other value in the Bible and those who don’t, with varying degrees of shading in each camp. Of the two billion Christians in the world, the majority certainly lie in the former camp: three-quarters of that number belong to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and the other quarter to the Protestants, the vast majority of which are conservative in such matters. Their more traditional evaluations of the data are just as valid as those of the most extreme minimalists. In fact, because they are operating in an environment like that described by Fr Beck, one in which their exegesis is subsumed within a more meaningful context than that of individual scholarship and aiming for a bit more than that peculiar immortality via footnote, they are able to find a greater support diachronically for their own positions than any innovator is able to drum up. With such a multi-millennial support system, the balance in fact surely lies with the more traditional approaches and conclusions, regardless of the stridency and volume of its critics. I write here particularly of historical issues. Other issues, involving spiritual matters, simply cannot be addressed by such meager tools as a collection of paragraphs with the appropriate number of footnotes and the properly impressive bibliography. How many angels would soil their feet to dance on the head of any book by the Jesus Seminar? Maybe if it were the last one and they were simply making sure it made its way into the Lake of Fire….

Well, I’m not sure that I’m saying exactly what I want to convey, but the quote from Fr Beck was something that stuck with me all day. I just thought I’d share it here.


Once in a dream I saw the flowers
      That bud and bloom in Paradise;
      More fair they are than waking eyes
Have seen in all this world of ours.
And faint the perfume-bearing rose,
      And faint the lily on its stem,
And faint the perfect violet,
      Compared with them.

I heard the songs of Paradise:
      Each bird sat singing in his place;
      A tender song so full of grace
It soared like incense to the skies.
Each bird sat singing to his mate
      Soft cooing notes among the trees:
The nightingale herself were cold
      To such as these.

I saw the fourfold River flow,
      And deep it was, with golden sand;
      It flowed between a mossy land
With murmured music grave and low.
It hath refreshment for all thirst,
      For fainting spirits strength and rest;
Earth holds not such a draught as this
      From east to west.

The Tree of Life stood budding there,
      Abundant with its twelvefold fruits;
      Eternal sap sustains its roots,
Its shadowing branches fill the air.
Its leaves are healing for the world,
      Its fruit the hungry world can feed,
Sweeter than honey to the taste
      And balm indeed.

I saw the Gate called Beautiful;
      And looked, but scarce could look within;
      I saw the golden streets begin,
And outskirts of the glassy pool.
Oh harps, oh crowns of plenteous stars,
      Oh green palm branches many-leaved—
Eye hath not seen, nor ear hath heard,
      Nor heart conceived.

I hope to see these things again,
      But not as once in dreams by night;
      To see them with my very sight,
And touch and handle and attain:
To have all heaven beneath my feet
      For narrow way that once they trod;
To have my part with all the saints,
      And with my God.

Christina Rossetti, 28 February 1854

More on St John Damaskene

For further information on St John of Damascus, particularly regarding background to his chapter from his Fountain of Knowledge on Islam as a heresy, see especially Daniel J. Sahas, John of Damascus on Islam: The “Heresy of the Ishmaelites” (Brill, 1972). Sahas provides a great deal, pretty much everything we can piece together actually, about the life of St John of Damascus, his family (his grandfather was responsible for turning over Damascus to the Muslims, for which he was hated, and his father was a high-ranking mininster as well), his profession before he left Damascus to become a monk at St Sabbas near Jerusalem (he was πρωτοσυμβουλος to the Caliph, the highest ranking position in the Muslim empire after the Caliph himself), the reaction of the iconoclasts to his writing, and so on. He includes the Greek text from Migne’s Patrologia Graecae for the chapter on the Ishmaelites (I used this text after having corrected it according to the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae text taken from P. B. Kotter, Die Schriften des Johannes von Damaskos, vol. 4. Patristische Texte und Studien 22, Berlin: De Gruyter, 1981) and that of the Disputation of the Saracen and the Christian, traditionally attributed to St John, both with translations.

St John’s Fountain of Knowledge is a vast work in three parts: The Philosophical Chapters, in which he presents various aspects of the height of secular learning of his day; On Heresies, the first 80 chapters of which are taken verbatim from summaries of the heresies in the Panarion of St Epiphanius, and the last 23 by St John; and The Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which is essentially a catechetical manual, and is more than twice the length of the above two sections combined. The entire Fountain of Knowledge is available in a handy English translation in the Fathers of the Church series, fortunately much more affordable than the above-mentioned volume.

St John of Damascus on Islam

St John of Damascus is a very important witness to early Islam. He was born into a very privileged family in Damascus (his grandfather had been the administrator of the city at the time the Muslims took it) and he grew up and served in the court of the caliph. He was entirely familiar with Islam (a name it did not yet possess, apparently), and thus what he has to say about it, and the context in which he places it, is of great historical importance. For one thing, this is a single chapter in his work On Heresies, part of his larger work, The Fountain of Knowledge. Thus, during his lifetime, St John did not consider Islam to yet be a separate religion, but rather a Christian heresy. In any case, he mentions several suras of the Qur’an by name, and refers most interestingly to one which is no longer extant. St John, in this work, as characteristically, pulls no punches. Enjoy.


And there is also the up until now strong and people-deceiving superstition of the Ishmaelites, being the forerunner of Antichrist. And it is born from Ishmael, who was born from Hagar to Abraham, from which they are called Hagarenes and Ishmaelites. And they call them Saracens, as from Σαρρας κενοι (those empty of Sarah), because of what was said by Hagar to the angel: “Sarah has sent me away empty.” So then, these were idolaters and reverenced the morning star and Aphrodite, who they indeed named Khabar in their own language, which means great. Therefore, until the time of Heraclius, they were plainly idolaters. From that time and until now came up among them a false prophet called Mamed, who, having encountered the Old and New Testament, as it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, he put together his own heresy. And under the pretext of seeming pious, attracting (?) people, he reported that a book was sent down to him from heaven by God. Therefore some of the compositions written by him in a book, worthy of laughter, which he handed down to them as an object of reverence.

Continue reading “St John of Damascus on Islam”