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25. All my prefaces to the books of the Old Testament, some specimens of which I subjoin, are witnesses for me on this point; and it is needless to state the matter otherwise than it is stated in them. I will begin therefore with Genesis. The Prologue is as follows:
I have received letters so long and eagerly desired from my dear Desiderius31373137 In the original there is a play upon words—Desiderit desideratas. who, as if the future had been foreseen, shares his name with Daniel,31383138 That is, Man of desires, Dan. ix. 23, Margin. entreating me to put our friends in possession of a translation of the Pentateuch from Hebrew into Latin. The work is certainly hazardous and it is exposed to the31393139 Lit. barkings. attacks of my calumniators, who maintain that it is through contempt of the Seventy that I have set to work to forge a new version to take the place of the old. They thus test ability as they do wine; whereas I have again and again declared that I dutifully offer, in the Tabernacle of God what I can, and have pointed out that the great gifts which one man brings are not marred by the inferior gifts of another. But I was stimulated to undertake the task by the zeal of Origen, who blended with the old edition Theodotion’s translation and used throughout the work as distinguishing marks the asterisk * and the obelus †, that is the star and the spit, the first of which makes what had previously been defective to beam with light, while the other transfixes and slaughters all that was superfluous. But I was encouraged above all by the authoritative publications of the Evangelists and Apostles, in which we read much taken from the Old Testament which is not found in our manuscripts. For example, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my Son’ (Matt. ii. 15): ‘For he shall be called a Nazarene’ (Ibid. 23): and ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’ (John xix. 37): and ‘Rivers of living water shall flow out of his belly’ (John vii. 38): and ‘Things which eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. ii. 9), and many other passages which lack their proper context. Let us ask our opponents then where these things are written, and when they are unable to tell, let us produce them from the Hebrew. The first passage is in Hosea, (xi. 1), the second in Isaiah (xi. 1), the third in Zechariah (xii. 10), the fourth in Proverbs (xviii. 4), the fifth also in Isaiah (lxiv. 4). Being ignorant of all this many follow the ravings of the Apocrypha, and prefer to the inspired books the melancholy trash which comes to us from Spain.31403140 The passage is explained by Jerome’s own words in the commentary on Is. lxiv. “Certain silly women in Spain, and especially in Lusitania, have been deceived into accepting as truth the marvels of Basilides and Balsaneus’ treasury, and even of Barbelo and Leusiboras.” Jerome goes on to add that Irenæus in explaining the origin of many heresies pointed out that the Gnostics deceived many noble women of the parts of Gaul about the Rhone, and afterwards those of Spain, framing a system partly of myths partly of immorality, and calling their folly by the name of philosophy. See also, Ep. Jer. Letter 120 to Hedibia, and Com. on Amos cf. III. It is not for me to explain the causes of the error. The Jews say it was deliberately and wisely done to prevent31413141 That is Ptolemy commonly known as the son of Lagus, but the reputed son of Philip of Macedon by Arsinoë Philip’s concubine. He reigned over Egypt from b.c. 323–285. He was a great patron of learning, and, according to traditions current among the fathers, wishing to adorn his Alexandrian library with the writings of all nations, he requested the Jews of Jerusalem to furnish him with a Greek version of their Scriptures, and thus originated the Septuagint. Ptolemy who was a monotheist from thinking the Hebrews acknowledged two deities. And that which chiefly influenced them in thus acting was the fact that the king appeared to be falling into Platonism. In a word, wherever Scripture evidenced some sacred truth respecting Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, they either translated the passage differently, or passed it over altogether in silence, so that they might both satisfy the king, and not divulge the secrets of the faith. I do not know whose false imagination led him to invent the story of the31423142 Irenæus, Justin Martyr, Epiphanius, and Augustine among the Latins, adhere to the inspiration of the translators which Jerome here rejects. seventy cells at Alexandria, in which, though separated from each other, the translators were said to have written the same words. Aristeas,31433143 Aristeas was an officer of Ptolemy Philadelphus, son and successor of Ptolemy Lagus. The so-called letter of Aristeas to his brother Philocrates is still extant in Hody’s De Bibliorum Textibus Originalbus, etc. (Oxon. 1705), and separately in a small volume published at Oxford 1692. the champion of that same Ptolemy, and Josephus, long after, relate nothing of the kind; their account is that the Seventy assembled in one basilica consulted together, and did not prophesy. For it is one thing to be a prophet, another to be a translator. The former through the Spirit, foretells things to come; the latter must use his learning and facility in speech to translate what he understands. It can hardly be that we must suppose Tully was inspired with oratorical spirit when he translated Xenophon’s Œconomics, Plato’s Protagoras, and the oration of Demosthenes in defence of Ctesiphon. Otherwise the Holy Spirit must have quoted the same books in one sense through the Seventy Translators, in another through the Apostles, so that, whereas they said nothing of a given matter, these falsely affirm that it was so written. What then? Are we condemning our predecessors? By no means; but following the zealous labours of those who have preceded us we contribute such work as lies in our power in the name of the Lord. They translated before the Advent of Christ, and expressed in ambiguous terms that which they knew not. We after His Passion and Resurrection write not prophecy so much as history. For one style is suitable to what we hear, another to what we see. The better we understand a subject, the better we describe it. Hearken then, my rival: listen, my calumniator; I do not condemn, I do not censure the Seventy, but I am bold enough to prefer the Apostles to them all. It is the Apostle through whose mouth I hear the voice of Christ, and I read that in the classification of spiritual gifts they are placed before prophets (1 Cor. xii. 28; Eph. iv. 11), while interpreters occupy almost the lowest place. Why are you tormented with jealousy? Why do you inflame the minds of the ignorant against me? Wherever in translation I seem to you to go wrong, ask the Hebrews, consult their teachers in different towns. The words which exist in their Scriptures concerning Christ your copies do not contain. The case is different if they have31443144 Reading reprobaverunt. rejected passages which were afterward used against them by the Apostles, and the Latin texts are more correct than the Greek, the Greek than the Hebrew.
[Chapters 26 to 32 are taken up with the quotation, almost in full, of the Preface to the Vulgate translation of the books of the Old Testament. It is unnecessary to give them here. They have all the same design as the Preface to Genesis already given, namely to meet the objections of those who represented the work as a reproach to the LXX which was then supposed to have almost the authority of inspiration. The same arguments, illustrations, and even words, are reiterated. Readers who may desire to go more fully into Jerome’s statements will find these Prefaces translated at length in his works, Vol. VI of this Series.]
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