Jerome’s Prologue to Jeremiah

A couple of notes on this prologue by St Jerome to Jeremiah are in order. He mentions that Jeremiah “lamented the ruins of his city in fourfold alphabet,” civitatis suae ruinas quadruplici plaxit alfabeto. This is a reference to the acrostic first four chapters of Lamentations, in which each verse begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet, thus “in a fourfold alphabet.” Another perhaps puzzling reference just after that is to his presenting the book “in the measure of the meter and in verses.” This refers to his breaking the verses into separate lines based upon metrical measurements, probably according to the Hebrew, and written with separation of verses and words. Basically think of the way that poetry is printed today, in short lines that take no notice of the width of the page, and that’s what he’s describing. If I find a picture of one of the early Vulgate manuscripts reflecting this, I’ll post it. St Jerome also mentions a confusion of the order of the visions in Jeremiah as known among the Greeks and Latins. This refers to the very different (and probably original) arrangment of the prophecies as found in the Septuagint and is supported by a Dead Sea Scroll fragment, so we know that there were Hebrew manuscripts with this order, which Jerome did not. Anyhow, in the meantime, enjoy yet another prologue. There aren’t many left now! Once I’ve done all of them, I’ll go back through to edit them and then post them all on a single page, with notes and such.

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

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BEGINNING OF THE PROLOGUE OF JEROME TO THE BOOK OF THE PROPHET JEREMIAH

The Prophet Jeremiah, for whom this prologue is written, was seen among the Hebrews to be certainly more rustic in style than Isaiah and Hosea and certain other prophets, but equal in meanings, which the same Spirit obviously prophesied. Furthermore, his simplicity of speech happened from the place in which he was born. For he was from Anathoth, which is up to today a village three miles distant from Jerusalem, a priest from priests and sanctified in his mother’s womb, dedicating with her virginity a man of the Gospel to the Church of Christ. This boy began to prophesy the captivity of the city and Judea both not only by the Spirit, but also with eyes of flesh. The Assyrians had already transferred the ten tribes of Israel, and now colonies of gentiles had taken possession of their lands. For this reason he prophesied only in Judah and Benjamin, and he lamented the ruins of his city in a fourfold alphabet, which we have presented in the measure of the meter and in verses. Besides this, the order of visions, which is entirely confused among the Greeks and Latins, we have corrected to the original truth. And the Book of Baruch, his scribe, which is neither read nor found among the Hebrews, we have omitted, standing ready, because of these things, for all the curses from the jealous, to whom it is necessary for me to respond through a separate short work. And I suffer because you think this. Otherwise, for the benefit of the wicked, it was more proper to set a limit for their rage by my silence, rather than any new things written to provoke daily the insanity of the envious.

END OF THE PROLOGUE

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6 Responses to Jerome’s Prologue to Jeremiah

  1. Seth says:

    Kevin,
    I am a postgrad working in OT Interpretive History and am currently translating several chapters out of Jerome’s commentary on Jeremiah from the CCSL for my dissertation. Do you know of an entire translated copy of this work in English?
    Any help would be much appreciated.
    Sincerely,
    Seth Tarrer

  2. Rob Flammang says:

    Surely it should be “his virginity”, and not hers? The virginity of Jeremiah, along with that of John, Paul, and the Lord was often mentioned by the fathers.

    • Rob, thank you for your comment, and the reminder about Jeremiah’s virginity. While this is certainly a Patristic theme, I don’t think it’s in play here. It seems rather at that point that the mother’s dedication of both her virginity and her son is in view: dedicating/giving away both to God and the Church. It’s harder to understand that phrase sensibly if it were “his virginity.” Who would the man be that Jeremiah dedicates?

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  4. Darlene says:

    Kevin,

    I am doing studying on Jeremiah for myself. I have been researching of the age of Jeremiah when he was called out. I have read one place where it states he was 20 but that would not explain in scripture where is states that he was just a boy, some say child. Do you know or can you tell me at what age was Jeremiah and where would I find this information.

    • Dear Darlene,
      According to Jeremiah 1.4-5, God had set Jeremiah apart as a prophet before he was even born! And while that is being told by God to Jeremiah at the point that he is a young man, there is no indication of the date, so we only know that he was likely a teenager. Sorry we can’t be more specific!

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