Jerome’s Prologue to Esther

St Jerome has little to say in this prologue about his actual work, except that the “common edition,” presumably the or an Old Latin version, of the Book of Esther was a mess, and he resorted to the Hebrew text of his day. In this respect, his translation is a valuable version representing a literal translation of a Hebrew text found in Palestine in the late fourth century. He unfortunately doesn’t describe in this letter the messy situation of the additions to Esther found in the Septuagint version, which he included en masse at the end of his version, with short notes indicating where they belonged in his translation. These additions can be found in various editions of the apocrypha, but they’re best read in the version in the NRSV, which is a full translation of the Septuagint text, not just of the additions, and includes them all in their places, not in a bunch at the end. Anyhow, enjoy!

UPDATE: Thanks once again to the very much appreciated help of Michael Gilleland of Laudator Temporis Acti, I’ve fixed a sentence (now the second one in the first paragraph) that gave me trouble.

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



The Book of Esther stands corrupted by various translators. Which (book) I, lifting up from the archives of the Hebrews, have translated more accurately word for word. The common edition drags the book by knotted ropes of words hither and yon, adding to it things which may have been said or heard at any time. This is as is usual with instruction by schools, when a subject has been taken up, to figure out from the words which someone could have used, which one either suffered injury, or which one caused injury (to the text).

And you, O Paula and Eustochium, since you have both studied to enter the libraries of the Hebrews and also have approved of the battles of the interpreters, holding the Hebrew Book of Esther, look through each word of our translation, so you may be able to understand me also to have augmented nothing by adding, but rather with faithful witness to have translated, just as it is found in the Hebrew, the Hebrew history into the Latin language. We are not affected by the praises of men, nor are we afraid of (their) slanders. For to be pleasing to God we do not inwardly fear those caring for the minas of men, “for God has scattered the bones of those desiring to be pleasing to men” (Ps 52.6), and according to the Apostle, those like this are “not able to be servants of Christ” (Gal 1.10).


5 thoughts on “Jerome’s Prologue to Esther”

  1. When you say “so you may be able to understand me also to augmented nothing by adding”, do you mean “so you may be able to understand me also to HAVE augmented nothing by adding”…?

  2. It is unclear from Jerome’s critique of the ‘common edition’, whether he intended criticism only of the apocryphal ‘additions’ which he appended to his own translation. “…adding…things which may have been said or heard” is thus not particularly helpful for us today, since he does not identify specifically to what he is referring. Did he include the ‘apocryphal’ sections under duress or out of an uncertainty regarding their admissibility?

    1. Yes, Edward, Jerome’s reference is as uncertain as the obscure language of this little preface itself. I confess that this preface gave me the most trouble in my translation project, as Jerome is so allusive here. Paula and Eustochium may have understood his meaning quite readily, but we are left in the dark. The Greek version includes additions over the Hebrew, but those pluses are integral to that version and would have been familiar to the vast majority of Christian readers. His inclusion of them as separate appendices can thus be seen, as you say, to be included under duress simply due to their familiarity (and likely attempting to avoid widespread criticism for removing parts of familiar biblical texts), yet included separately because Jerome doubted their originality. While they may be an integral part of the Greek version, they are certainly not a part of the Hebrew. Jerome took then-contemporary Hebrew versions of any book to represent older versions of the contents of each book, somewhat rightly, but also somewhat uncritically. The mere fact of preservation in Hebrew doesn’t equate to an older form of the text. This is particularly the case in Jeremiah. Jerome shows a marked ambivalence towards the so-called apocryphal additions and books, but leans toward inclusion when pressed because of their familiarity. His original project was not to replace the Bible of the Church which the Septuagint was, but to accurately represent the Hebrew Bible for the sake of apologetics. There also exists the possibility that the additions to Esther are not from the hand of Jerome at all, but are appendices compiled from an older Latin version. This deserves more investigation. Thank you for your thought-provoking comment.

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