Jerome’s Prologue to Tobias

[This is the first of St Jerome’s Vulgate prologues for one of the apocrypha that I’ve done. It’s very interesting, if one pays attention to his reasoning in this prologue, it being actually a letter which accompanied his translation of Tobias to the Bishops Cromatius and Heliodorus. St Jerome is often considered or claimed to be vehemently opposed to the apocrypha, especially in antapocryphal Protestant circles. But we find in this letter that this is only half of the picture. While the apocrypha were not included in the Hebrew Bible, and St Jerome respects the Hebrew studies on this matter, he explcitly states here that the decisions of Christian bishops are more important. Something like this has been the response to critics of the “apocrypha,” “deuterocanonicals,” or whatever you want to call them, throughout the ages: they are included in the canon because that has been, is, and always will be the practice of the Church. It’s good to see this from St Jerome, and we’ll see a similar thing in his Prologue to Judith, coming up next. Enjoy!

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



Jerome to the Bishops in the Lord Cromatius and Heliodorus, health!

I do not cease to wonder at the constancy of your demanding. For you demand that I bring a book written in Chaldean words into Latin writing, indeed the book of Tobias, which the Hebrews exclude from the catalogue of Divine Scriptures, being mindful of those things which they have titled Hagiographa. I have done enough for your desire, yet not by my study. For the studies of the Hebrews rebuke us and find fault with us, to translate this for the ears of Latins contrary to their canon. But it is better to be judging the opinion of the Pharisees to displease and to be subject to the commands of bishops. I have persisted as I have been able, and because the language of the Chaldeans is close to Hebrew speech, finding a speaker very skilled in both languages, I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words, this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin words. I will be paid the price of this work by your prayers, when, by your grace, I will have learned what you request to have been completed by me was worthy.



  1. If I understand the process correctly, Jerome employed a “Chaldean” – Hebrew speaker who translated Tobias into Hebrew, orally, and then Jerome dictated his Hebrew to Latin translation to a hired scribe. Did I get that right?

  2. Yes. Chaldean is Aramaic. But yes, he describes it as a three man affair: The Aramaic and Hebrew scholar read the book written in Aramaic and translated it on the fly into Hebrew, which Jerome understood and translated on the fly into Latin, which the hired scribe wrote down. Quite a day that would have been!

  3. Definitely, Mike! It’s ridiculous that something that’s already done is just sitting around collecting mold somewhere while so many people could benefit from it right now this very minute, especially in the current climate where all things gnostic have become so popular. I’d still be happy to help.

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