[b-hebrew] Is the Massoretic text distant from the Latin Vulgate

schmuel at nyc.rr.com schmuel at nyc.rr.com
Mon Jul 20 19:26:35 EDT 2009

Hi Folks,

> I forgot to mention this source: http://www.jstor.org/pss/1584340
> which calls into question whether Jerome actually even ever knew Hebrew.
> James Christian

Stefan Rebenich plays a few ends of the questions of Jerome, a bit
strangely. Without JSTOR you can get a bunch of stuff out of his book,
part available in Google or more in a Questia trial or subscription.
And Rebenich clearly acknowledges that Jerome studies Hebrew with
Jewish scholars for his translation work. He really only questions his
verbal fluency, which is not uncommon even today for translators
(Likely the last age where translation scholars were uniformly truly
highly-skilled in the source languages were the Reformation scholars,
including the Christian Hebraist movement, especially from about 1550
to 1650.  Today we are in the new age of tepid and deficient computer
lexicon scholarship and publish-or-perish and everyone is too busy and
diffuse to truly have strong daily and scholarship comraderie and
learning in the classic and semitic languages on a daily fluency

Rebenich is only trying to make the case that Jerome played up his
trilingual skills, which is more nuance than substance, since Jerome
clearly translated carefully the full Hebrew OT text and studied the
Hebrew OT with Jewish scholars and was the leading Christian Hebraist
of his day.  (One interesting point in Rebenich that I would like to
pursue further is a notation about Jerome having earlier Syriac
background.  I had been under the impression that his Syriac was
considered weaker than his Hebrew, yet if he did have some actual
life-background in the language that may change a few perspectives.)

Jerome - Stefan Rebenich

There are many direct quotes where Jerome's Hebrew scholarship is
clear in his writing, so I find this whole question rather a bit odd.

In addition Augustine was the leader of the Greek church folks who
were upset with Jerome for being so Hebrew-oriented, and it was rather
a well-known and difficult feud.

Correspondence of Augustine and Jerome concerning the Latin
Translation of the Bible
"in the later version, translating from the Hebrew itself, I have
expressed what I understood it to mean, being careful to preserve
rather the exact sense than the order of the words." - Jerome

The Vulgate and Jerome's history is actually a powerful testament to
the antiquity of the Masoretic Text (along with corollary evidences
such as the Great Isaiah Scroll proving that the Masoretes were
faithful copyists and would not tamper with the text for doctrinal
reasons).  And although Jerome is often attacked some for his NT work
and its rcc heritage and his not using the better Lucian (Byzantine
NT) texts, his Tanach work was quite straightforward, solid and
substantial, done one to two decades later, living in Israel, using
the library in Caesarea and studying with the Jews. In fact, Jerome
virtually single-handedly rescued the church as a whole from the
confusions and deficiencies in the wild and woolly Greek OT texts. My
thanks to Jerome.

Why scholars go through hoops to miss the obvious is the puzzle.  As
for sections where the Vulgate and the Hebrew Masoretic Text agree,
you could take essentially every single major discrepancy between the
Masoretic Text and the Greek text, such as the huge differences in
Jeremiah and Esther, or the tamperings in the Greek text where NT
verses were introduced in Psalm 14.  Or issues like the Genesis
numbers. And you will find the Masoretic Text and the Latin Vulgate of
Jerome from Hebrew agree, the various competing Greek texts being out
in the cold.  Only by reading scholars, who often have their own
agendas and confusions, and not actually looking at the texts and
reading Jerome's own writings (such as very direct condemnations of
the Greek OT text in specific verses where he explains the Hebrew
superiority, which would be a nice addendum to this post but you will
have to settle for the Jonah discussion for now in the Augustine
contretemps) can this be missed.  Or where Jerome writes specific
books such as one with the Hebrew questions on Genesis.

It is true that solid writings on these issues in scholarship are hard
to find, with facts often muddled by the author's opinion.  I was able
to quickly find (at work, time limited, Jones Beach free outdoor
believers concert tonight next) an example on one book of the OT.

The witness of the Vulgate, Peshitta and Septuagint to the text of
Zephaniah (1909)
Sidney Zandstra

"Jerome's faithfulness to the Hebrew "

"Pertinent illustrations might be multiplied almost indefinitely, but
enough have been given to indicate Jerome's general habit of
translation and to show how wide are the limits within which the
equation, Vulgate equals Massoretic Text, may with entire safety be
to obtain."

And I contend that in general, book by book, you will find the
equation "Vulgate equals Masoretic Text" to be rather accurate.  With
a few nuances, such as acknowledging that Jerome did translate some
Apocrypha from Greek and he had translated the Greek Psalter before he
translated from the Hebrew.

Steven Avery
Queens, NY

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