The text of Jerome’s letter of dedication to Paula and Eustochium of his translation from the Hebrew of 1 Samuel – 2 Kings presented here is from the Biblia Sacra Vulgata (Robert Weber, ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1984) 364-66. I collated the translations of W. H. Freemantle (see Michael Marlowe’s note 2) and Kevin Edgecomb, to which I am indebted, but the translation I present is my own. My goal throughout has been to bring Jerome’s wit back to life, however imperfectly, through a close translation of his words, with transliterated Hebrew and Greek, Greek in Greek script, and the Wortlaut of the Latin names of biblical books accurately preserved. For an introductory discussion, go here; for Jerome’s grasp of Hebrew, go here.
That there are twenty-two letters among the Hebrews, the languages of the Syrians [Syriac] and the Chaldees [Aramaic] also attest, which for the most part correspond to Hebrew; the twenty-two elements have the same sound, but are different in script. The Samaritans also write the Pentateuch of Moses with the same number of letters, differing only in shape and ornamentation. And it is certain that Esdras the scribe, and doctor of law, after the capture of Jerusalem, and the restoration of the temple under Zorobabel, procured other letters [a different script, the Aramaic, as opposed to the paleo-Hebrew] which we now use, for up to that time the Samaritan and Hebrew characters were the same [paleo-Hebrew]. In the book of Numbers, moreover, under the census of the Levites and priests [3:39], the same total is presented mystically. And we find the four-lettered name of the Lord [the Tetragrammaton] in certain Greek scrolls written to this day in the ancient characters. The thirty-sixth Psalm , moreover, the one hundred and tenth , the one hundred and eleventh , the one hundred and eighteenth , and the one hundred and forty-fourth , although they are written in different meters, are all composed according to an alphabet of the same number of letters. And the lamentations of Hieremias and his prayer [Lam 1-2, 3-4], the proverbs of Salomon also, toward the end, from the place where we read "A strong woman who can find?" [31:10-31] count out according to the same number of letters or sections. Furthermore, five among them are double letters, Caph, Mem, Nun, Phe, Sade, for at the beginning and in the middle of words they are written one way, and at the end another. Whence it happens that, by most, five of the books are counted as double, [1-2] Samuhel, Malachim [1-2 Kings], Dabreiamim [1-2 Chronicles], Ezras [Ezra-Nehemiah], and Hieremias with Cinoth, i.e., his lamentations [Lamentations]. As, then, there are twenty-two elements by means of which we write in Hebrew all we say, and the human voice is comprehended within their points of departure, so we count twenty-two books, by which, as by letters and exordia, the still tender, lactating infancy of a righteous man is tutored in the doctrine of God.
Primus apud eos liber vocatur Bresith, quem nos Genesim dicimus; secundus Hellesmoth, qui Exodus appellatur; tertius Vaiecra, id est Leviticus; quartus Vaiedabber, quem Numeros vocamus; quintus Addabarim, qui Deuteronomium praenotatur. Hii sunt quinque libri Mosi, quos proprie Thorath, id est Legem appellant.
The first book among them is called Bresith, as we say Genesis; the second, Hellesmoth, which bears the name Exodus; the third, Vaiecra, that is, Leviticus; the fourth, Vaiedabber, which we call Numeri; the fifth, Addabarim, which is titled Deuteronomion. These are the five books of Moses, which they call, properly, Thorath, that is, 'law.'
Secundum Prophetarum ordinem faciunt, et incipiunt ab Iesu filio Nave, qui apud eos Iosue Bennum dicitur. Deinde subtexunt Sopthim, id est Iudicum librum; et in eundem conpingunt Ruth, quia in diebus Iudicum facta narratur historia. Tertius sequitur Samuhel, quem nos Regnorum primum et secundum dicimus. Quartus Malachim, id est Regum, qui tertio et quarto Regnorum volumine continetur; meliusque multo est Malachim, id est Regum, quam Malachoth, id est Regnorum dicere, non enim multarum gentium regna describit, sed unius israhelitici populi qui tribubus duodecim continetur. Quintus est Esaias, sextus Hieremias, septimus Hiezecihel, octavus liber duodecim Prophetarum, qui apud illos vocatur Thareasra.
A second class is composed of prophets, and they begin with Jesus son of Nave [Joshua], which among them is called Josue Bennum. Next they subjoin Sophtim, that is, the book of Iudici [Judges]; and to the same book they join Ruth, because the history narrated occurred in the days of the judges. Then follows Samuhel; as we say, first and second Kingdoms. The fourth is Malachim, that is, Kings, which is contained in the third and fourth books of Kingdoms. Far better to say Malachim, that is Kings, than Ma[m]lachoth, that is Kingdoms, for it does not describe the kingdoms of many nations, but that of one people, the people of Israel, which is comprised of twelve tribes; the fifth is Esaias [Isaiah]; the sixth, Hieremias [Jeremiah]; the seventh, Hiezecihel [Ezekiel]; and the eighth is the book of the Twelve Prophets, which is called among those Thareasra.
Tertius ordo αγιογραφα possidet, et primus liber incipit ab Iob, secundus a David, quem quinque incisionibus et uno Psalmorum volumine conprehendunt. Tertius est Salomon, tres libros habens: Proverbia, quae illi Parabolas, id est Masaloth appellant, et Ecclesiastes, id est Accoeleth, et Canticum canticorum, quem titulo Sirassirim praenotant. Sextus est Danihel, septimus Dabreiamin, id est Verba dierum, quod significantius χρονικον totius divinae historiae possumus appellare, qui liber apud nos Paralipomenon primus et secundus scribitur; octavus Ezras, qui et ipse similiter apud Graecos et Latinos in duos libros divisus est, nonus Hester.
A third class contains αγιογραφα [holy writings], and the first book begins with Iob [Job]; the second is of David, whose writings they divide into five sections and comprise in one volume Psalmorum [(the book) of Psalms]. The third is Salomon, having three books: Proverbia, which they call Parables, that is, Masaloth; Ecclesiastes, that is, Accoeleth; and Canticum canticorum [Song of Songs], which they denote by the title Sirassirim. The sixth is Danihel; the seventh, Dabreiamin, that is, Words of Days, which we may more accurately call a χρονικον [chronicle] of the whole of divine history, the book that among us is described as First and Second Paralipomenon [a Greek loanword meaning “Supplements”]. The eighth is Ezras [Ezra-Nehemiah], which itself is likewise divided among Greeks and Latins into two books; the ninth is Hester.
Atque ita fiunt pariter veteris legis libri viginti duo, id est Mosi quinque, prophetarum octo, agiograforum novem. Quamquam nonnulli Ruth et Cinoth inter agiografa scriptitent et libros hos in suo putent numero supputandos, ac per hoc esse priscae legis libros viginti quattuor, quos sub numero viginti quattuor seniorum apocalypsis Iohannis inducit adorantes Agnum et coronas suas prostratis vultibus offerentes, stantibus coram quattuor animalibus oculatis retro et ante, id est et in praeteritum et in futurum, et indefessa voce clamantibus: «Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus Dominus Deus omnipotens, qui erat et qui est et qui futurus est».
And so twenty-two books make up the old law; that is, five of Moses, eight of prophets, nine of hagiographa. Though some ascribe Ruth and Cinoth [Lam] to the hagiographa, and count these books in their computed number; thus there would be twenty-four books of ancient law. And these the apocalypse of John introduces under the number of the twenty-four elders, who adore the Lamb and offer their crowns with prostrated visage, while in their presence stand the four living creatures with eyes before and behind, that is, looking to the past and the future, and with unwearied voice cry out, "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come" [Rev 4:4-10; 8].
Hic prologus Scripturarum quasi galeatum principium omnibus libris, quos de hebraeo vertimus in latinum, convenire potest, ut scire valeamus, quicquid extra hos est, inter apocrifa seponendum. Igitur Sapientia, quae vulgo Salomonis inscribitur, et Iesu filii Sirach liber et Iudith et Tobias et Pastor non sunt in canone. Macchabeorum primum librum hebraicum repperi, secundus graecus est, quod et ex ipsa φρασιν probari potest.
This prologue to the scriptures may serve as a helmeted introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, that we may be assured of knowing that whatever is outside them is to be set aside among the apocrypha [a Greek loanword and technical term for writings without dogmatic authority]. Thus Sapientia, which is commonly ascribed to Salomon, and the book of Jesus son of Sirach, and Iudith and Tobias, and Pastor [The Shepherd of Hermes] are not in the canon. The first book of Macchabei I find is Hebrew, the second is Greek, which can be proven from their φρασις [phraseology].
Quae cum ita se habeant, obsecro te lector, ne laborem meum reprehensionem aestimes antiquorum. In tabernaculum Dei offert unusquisque quod potest: alii aurum et argentum et lapides pretiosos, alii byssum et purpuram, coccum offerunt et hyacinthum; nobiscum bene agetur, si obtulerimus pelles et caprarum pilos. Et tamen Apostolus contemptibiliora nostra magis necessaria iudicat. Unde et tota illa tabernaculi pulchritudo et per singulas species Ecclesiae praesentis futuraeque distinctio pellibus tegitur et ciliciis, ardoremque solis et iniuriam imbrium ea quae viliora sunt prohibent. Lege ergo primum Samuhel et Malachim meum; meum, inquam, meum: quicquid enim crebrius vertendo et emendando sollicitius et didicimus et tenemus, nostrum est. Et cum intellexeris quod antea nesciebas, vel interpretem me aestimato, si gratus es, vel παραφραστην, si ingratus, quamquam mihi omnino conscius non sim mutasse me quippiam de hebraica veritate. Certe si incredulus es, lege graecos codices et latinos et confer cum his opusculis, et ubicumque inter se videris discrepare, interroga quemlibet Hebraeorum cui magis accomodare debeas fidem, et si nostra firmaverit, puto quod eum non aestimes coniectorem, ut in eodem loco mecum similiter divinarit.
Although these things thus obtain, I adjure you, reader, not to consider my work reproof of the ancients [who translated afore]. In God's tabernacle each one offers what he can, some gold and silver and precious stones, others byssus [fine cloth] and purple, scarlet and blue; for us it goes well if we offer hides and skins of goats [Ex 25:1-7]. And yet the apostle judges our more contemptible things greatly necessary [1 Cor 12:22]. Whence all that beauty of the tabernacle, in its several species, the distinctiveness of church present and future [of the old and new dispensations], is protected with hides and hair; the baser things keep away the heat of sun and damage of rain [Ex 26:7-14; Isa 4:5-6]. Read first, therefore, my Samuhel and Malachim — mine, I say, mine, for whatever we, translating repeatedly and correctly carefully, have understood and hold, is ours. And when you understand something of which you were ignorant afore, consider me a translator if you are grateful, a παραφραστης [paraphraser] if you are ungrateful, though I am not conscious of having changed anything at all of the Hebrew truth. To be sure, if you are incredulous, read the Greek and Latin manuscripts and compare them with these meager efforts, and wherever you see a discrepancy among them, ask whatever Hebrew you please, to whom you owe the assignment of greater faith, and if he confirms our efforts, I suppose you will not think him a soothsayer because he divined similarly to me in the same passage.
Sed et vos famulas Christi rogo, quae Domini discumbentis pretiosissimo fidei myro unguitis caput, quae nequaquam Salvatorem quaeritis in sepulchro, quibus iam ad Patrem Christus ascendit, ut contra latrantes canes, qui adversum me rabido ore desaeviunt et circumeunt civitatem atque in eo se doctos arbitrantur, si aliis detrahant, orationum vestrarum clypeos opponatis. Ego sciens humilitatem meam, illius semper sententiae recordabor: «Custodiam vias meas, ut non delinquam in lingua mea; posui ori meo custodiam, cum consisteret peccator adversum me; obmutui et humiliatus sum, et silui a bonis».
But I ask you, handmaidens of Christ, who anoint the head of the reclining Lord with the most precious myrrh of faith, who never seek the Savior in the tomb, since Christ has now ascended to the Father, that you, against the barking dogs who rage against me with rabid mouth and go around the city and to that end judge themselves learned when they disparage others, oppose the shields of your prayers. I, knowing my humiliation, will always remember this judgment: “I will guard my ways, so I will not offend with my tongue; I have placed a guard on my mouth, while the sinner stands against me; I was mute, and humbled, and silent from [saying] good things” [Ps 39:2-3 (38 in the numbering among Greeks and Latins); Jerome cites his liber Psalmorum iuxta Septuaginta emendatus, not his liber Psalmorum iuxta Hebraicum translatus].