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.