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]

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BEGINNING OF THE PROLOGUE OF SAINT JEROME THE PRESBYTER ON THE PENTATEUCH

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.

But that I may have dared, the effort of Origen provoked me, who mixed the translation of Theodotion to the ancient edition, with asterisk and obelus, that is, star and spit, a work distinguishing everything, while he either makes to shine those things which were previously lacking, or he slays and pierces through everything superfluous. And especially by the authority of the Evangelists and the Apostles, in which we read many things from the Old Testament which are not found in our books, as it is (with): “Out of Egypt I have called My Son,” and “For He shall be called a Nazarene,” and “They will look on Him Whom they have pierced,” and “Rivers of living waters shall flow from his belly,” and “Things which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has arisen in the heart of man, which God has prepared for those loving Him,” and many others which are desiring a proper context (or “book” [Jerome uses a Greek word here: συνταγμα]).

Therefore let us ask them where these are written, and when they are unable to say, we may produce them from the Hebrew books. The first witness is in Hosea, the second in Isaiah, the third in Zechariah, the fourth in Proverbs, the fifth is also in Isaiah, of which many are ignorant, the follies of apocrypha being followed, preferring Iberian dirges to authentic books.

The cause of the error is not for me to explain. The Jews say it was done wisely in deliberation, so Ptolemy, the worshipper of one god, might not yet discover a double divinity with the Hebrews; he made them (do so) chiefly for this reason, because he was seen to fall into the dogma of Plato. Accordingly, wherever anything sacred in Scripture is witnessed of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, they are either translated otherwise, or they have passed over all in silence, so they might both satisfy the king, and might not divulge the secret of the Faith.

And I don’t know who was the first author to construct with his lying the seventy cells in Alexandria, into which were divided those who wrote, with Aristeas the champion [another Greek word: υπερασπιστης] of the same Ptolemy, and many after the time of Josephus having reported no such thing, but rather (for them) to have gathered in groups, writing in one basilica, (and) not to have prophesied.

For it is one thing to be a seer, another to be an interpreter. In that one the Spirit predicts things to come; in this one by his learning and abundance of words he translates those things he has understood. Unless Tullius (Cicero) is understood to have translated, by inspiration of the spirit of rhetoric, the Economics of Xenophon, the Protagoras of Plato, and the For Ctesiphon by Demosthenes. Or the Holy Spirit wove together the witnesses of these books one way through the Seventy interpreters and another way through the Apostles, so that what they passed over in silence, what was written by these was invented [? - obscure].

Therefore, what? We condemn the ancients? By no means! But after those earlier in the House of God, we work at what we can. They are interpreted before the coming of Christ and what they didn’t know, they translated in ambiguous (or “uncertain”) sentences. We write after His Passion and Resurrection, not so much prophecy as history. For in the one are told what things were heard, in the other what were seen. What we understand better, we also translate better.

Hear, therefore, O rival; listen, O detractor! I do not condemn, I do not censure the Seventy, but I confidently prefer the Apostles to all of them. Christ speaks to me through their mouth, who I read were placed before the prophets among the Spiritual gifts, among which interpreters hold almost the last place. Why are you tortured by spite? Why do you incite ignorant souls against me? If anywhere in the translation I have been seen by you to err, ask the Hebrews. Consult the teachers of the many different cities. What theirs have of Christ, yours do not have. It is another matter if they have afterward removed the testimonies used by the Apostles against them, and the Latin copies are more correct than the Greek, (and) the Greek than the Hebrew! Truth is against these enviers.

Now I pray you, dearest Desiderius, so that in such a great work which you have made me undertake and take up a beginning from Genesis, you might help in (your) prayers, how I might, by the same Spirit by Whom the books were written, be able to translate them into Latin words.

END OF THE PROLOGUE

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13 Responses to Jerome’s Prologue to Genesis

  1. Eric L. Bandurski says:

    Thank you, Kevin, for making available the translations of Jerome’s prologues.

    I’m beginning to study Latin (at age 63) with the Oxford series of Balme and Morwood. I’m finally gaining some momentum and deriving double pleasure from beginning to understand the Latin of the Vulgate and also reading it from an incunabulum. The prologues preceding each book have intrigued me because they shed light on Jerome’s own thoughts, but until I found your website I had not been able to get help in their translation.

    Again, thank you.

    — Eric

  2. You’re very welcome, Eric! The prologues really are a fascinating insight into the work of an ancient translator, aren’t they? St Jerome’s great dedication and associated proverbial irascibility come through loud and clear, much to his credit, I think. I’m glad to help!

    I’d also recommend A Primer of Ecclesiastical Latin by John F. Collins (The Catholic University of America Press, 1985), and the Dictonary of Ecclesiastical Latin by Leo F. Stelten (Hendricksen Publishers, 1995). As post-Classical, Late Antique Latin is essentially “Ecclesiastical Latin,” both of these are useful in helping to learn the evolution of meaning in various words, and the particularities or peculiarities of usage unanticipated in Classical grammars and lexicons, like the amazing Lewis & Short, which typically doesn’t cover patristic usage in sufficient detail. I found those two volumes, especially the Dictionary, to be essential for the translation of the prologues. Ideally, there should be something like Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon for Ecclesiastical Latin based upon usage in Migne’s Patrologia Latina, as Lampe’s is based upon the Patrologia Graecae. Perhaps someone will take on such a task in the (hopefully immediate!) future.

    Enjoy your studies! I find great joy in reading and translating these ancient voices, as it seems you are, too!

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  4. Constantine Chamorovsky says:

    Dear Kevin, I greatly appreciate your website. At present I am collecting information for an article on Eusebian Canons for Russian Wikipedia, and your site is really helpful.

    Among other things, I am trying to find some explanation for the absence of Mark-Luke-John and Mark-John lists in the canons. In doing so I came upon an article by Carl Nordenfalk, who explains it on the basis of sacrality of the number 10. Below is a long excerpt from Nordenfalk’s paper. If you are interested, I can send you the entire pdf.

    ((I made a mess of a comment at Jerome

  5. Constantine Chamorovsky says:

    Dear Kevin, I greatly appreciate your website. At present I am collecting information on Eusebian Canons, and your site is really helpful.

    Among other things, I am trying to find some explanation for the absence of Mark-Luke-John and Mark-John lists in the canons. In doing so I came upon an article by Carl Nordenfalk, who explains it on the basis of sacrality of the number 10. Below is an excerpt from Nordenfalk’s paper. If you are interested, I can send you the entire pdf.

    Carl Nordenfalk, “Canon Tables of Papyrus” (Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 36. (1982), pp. 29-38.), p. 29:

    “The hidden reason for his limiting the Canones to ten must have been the particular significance attached in ancient numerology to that figure. … Since Pythagoras, the numbers “four” and “ten” had been considered to be mutually connected by mathematical laws. Eusebius himself refers to it in his Oration in Praise of Constantine, delivered in 335 at the occasion of the Emperor’s Tricennalia: “. . . the number four produces the number ten. For the aggregate of one, and two, and three, and four, is ten.” Later in the same speech he elaborates further: “. . . the number ten, which contains the end of all numbers, and terminates them in itself, may truly be called a full and perfect number, as comprehending every species and every measure of numbers, proportions, concords, and harmonies.”

    The restriction of the Canon Tables to ten thus made them particularly well suited to be a “harmony” of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ.”

    Then, Nordenfalk objects to the suggestion that Eusebius simply did not find any parallels between and only between Mark-Luke-John or Mark-John. According to Nordenfalk, Eusebius could, but did not want to separate parallel pericopes for these Gospel combinatios. From layman’s point of view, it seems to me that delimitation of sections could be, to some large extent, not the work of Eusebius but of Ammonius (as suggests, for example, Robert Waltz in his Online Encyclopaedia: http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/Divisions.html). Thus, Eusebius might be simply using what sections he already had without splitting them further to separate more parallel pericopes.

    If you have any time and interest I would greatly appreciate your opinion on this subject.

    Thank you,

    Constantine

    P.S. I tried to post this comment at the Jerome

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  7. Just a typo: Prologue on the Pentateuch, first page, 7th block paragraph, 4th line: tranlated instead of translated. I’m sure you would want to know.

  8. Thank you very much, Willis. I’ve corrected it above and on the web page.

  9. hester says:

    I’m looking for a passage by Jerome–I know this is very difficult to isolate–that might come from his Genesis commentary–It pertains to why Adam ate the apple: Jerome explains, “Ne constristaretur delicias suas.” Have you ever come across this in your great research?
    Thanks,
    MTH

  10. MTH, I searched the Patrologia Latina database to no avail.

    The correct phrase should be ne contristaretur delicias suas, “he might not diminish his delights.” I see that this shows up in John Donne’s sermons, along with ne contristaremur delicias nostras, “we might not diminish our delights.”

    I would hazard a guess that there was a collection of pseudo-Hieronymian writings being bandied about in the England of John Donne’s day, and that this snippet would be found in one of those.

  11. aaron says:

    hi,
    i would like to cite the prologues in the English translation for an academic paper, do you have a way of citing your work? or know of one?
    many thanks.

    • Hi Aaron. Typically, you would use a note (whether in parentheses or footnote): “Jerome, Prologue to Kings, lines 12-15″ (using the rough line numbers in the translation), and then in the bibliography, this:

      Jerome, “Vulgate Prologues.” Translated by Kevin Edgecomb. Online: “http://www.bombaxo.com/blog/?page_id=2183″. Accessed February 22, 2012.

      That should do it!

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