Document: Translation of Job according to the Hebrew
Date: 394
Latin Text: R. Weber and B. Gryson, eds., Biblia sacra: iuxta Vulgatam versionem (Stuttgart 1994). [text provided by Douay-Rheims Bible Online]
English Translation (Preface Only): Translated by K.P. Edgecomb (see below.)
Notes: This was eventually incorporated into the Vulgate.

Jerome’s Preface to his Translation of Job*

I am forced, through each of the books of Divine Scripture, to respond to the slander of adversaries who accuse my translation of rebuking the Seventy translators, as though among the Greeks Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion had not also translated either word for word, or meaning for meaning, or by mixing both together, also a kind of translation of equal proportion, and also Origen had divided all the scrolls of the Old Instrument with obeli and asterisks which, either added by him or taken from Theodotion, he added to the ancient translation, proving what was added to have been lacking. Therefore my detractors should learn to accept in full what they have accepted in part, or to erase my translation along with their asterisks. For it should not be, that those who they accepted to have omitted many things may not be acknowledged to have certainly erred in some things, especially in Job, in which if you will have removed those things which are added under the asterisks, the greater part will be cut off. And this is only among the Greeks. Otherwise, among the Latins, before their translation which we recently edited under asterisks and obeli, almost seven hundred or eight hundred (lines) were obliterated, so that the book, shortened and cut up and eaten away, shows its deformity publicly to readers.

And this translation follows no translator of the ancients, but will rather convey from the language itself, Hebrew and Arabic and sometimes Syrian, now words, now meanings, now both together. For even among the Hebrews the whole book is considered oblique and slippery and what in Greek the rhetors call figuratively arranged,1 and while one thing is said, it does another, as if you would hold tightly an eel or a little murena fish, when you press harder, then the sooner it escapes. I remember I paid not a little money toward understanding of this scroll, for an instructor from Lydda who among the Hebrews was thought to have first rank, with whose teaching I know not whether I accomplished anything; this one thing I know: for me not to have been able to translate anything that I didn’t understand before.

Therefore, from the beginning to the words of Job, among the Hebrews the speech is prose. Next, from the words of Job in which he says, “May the day perish in which I was born, and the night in which it was said: A man is conceived,”2 to that place, where it is written before the end of the scroll: “Therefore I accuse myself and make repentance in dust and ashes,”3 the verses are in hexameter, running in dactyl and spondee and, according to the idiom of the language, also accepting numerous other (poetic) feet not of the same (number of) syllables, but of the same intervals. Sometimes also, by breaking the law of (poetic metrical) numbers,4 the rhythm itself is found sweet and ringing, which is understood better by prosodists than by a simple reader.5 And from the verse mentioned above to the end of the book, the small section that remains continues with prose speech. If that seems unbelievable to anyone, namely that among the Hebrews there are meters, and either the Psalter or the Lamentation of Jermiah or almost all the songs of the Scriptures are to be understood in the manner of our Flaccus and the Greek Pindar and Alkaios and Sappho, let him read Philo, Josephus, Origen, and Eusebius of Caesarea, and by their testimony he will prove me to speak the truth.

For which reason, let my dogs therefore hear me to have labored at this scroll, not as rebuking the ancient translation, but rather so those things in it which are either obscure or missing or certainly corrupted by the error of scribes may be made more clear by our translation, who for our part have both learned the Hebrew language, and also in Latin, almost from our cradle we were worn out6 among grammarians and rhetors and philosophers. But if among the Greeks, after the edition of the Seventy, with the Gospel of Christ shining, the Jew Aquila, and Symmachus and Theodotion, judaizing heretics, are accepted, who have hidden many mysteries of the Savior by sly translation, and yet are found in the Hexapla7 among the churches and are explained by men of the Church, how much more should I, a Christian of Christian parents and bearing the standard of the cross on my forehead, whose study8 was to recover the missing, to correct the corrupted, and to open the sacraments of the Church with pure and faithful language, not be rejected by either disdainful or by malicious readers? Let whoever will to keep the old books, either written on purple skins with gold and silver, or in uncial letters, as they commonly say, more loads of writing rather than books, while they leave to me and mine to have poor little leaves and not such beautiful books as correct ones. Both editions, the Seventy according to the Greeks and mine according to the Hebrews, was translated into Latin by my labor. May each one choose what he will, and prove himself studious rather than malevolent.


1 Greek here: εσχηματισμενος, a term used to describe rhetorically complex figurative language.
2 Job 3.3
3 Job 42.6
4 The terms used here refer particularly to metrical poetry, with which most moderns are no longer familiar. “Hexameter” is poetry arranged in lines of twelve syllables, six short and six long in different combinations. “Dactyl” is a long syllable followed by two short syllables, and “spondee” is two long syllables. “Feet” refers to this kind of patterned pairing represented by dactyl and spondee. “Interval” refers to the difference between long and short vowels.
5 cf. Horace, Carmina, 4.2.11
6 Obscure here: detriti sumus
7 Greek here: εξαπλοις
8 Or “effort” studium

*We thank Kevin Edgecomb for permission to publish his translation on our page.

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Updated 2/17/2014, by MS

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