All Jerome’s Writings Jerome’s letters only Jerome’s translations of Scripture and prefaces only Jerome’s writings excluding letters and translations of Scripture

Jerome’s translation of Scripture took over 40 years. He translated the Gospels and the Old Testament, but not Acts, the New Testament epistles, or Revelation. His translations of the Gospels were revisions of the old Latin versions. He began revising the old Latin of the Old Testament in a similar fashion, but eventually decided to start over and make fresh translations straight from the Hebrew. His revision of the old Latin Psalter based on the Greek was so popular in Gaul that it was eventually made the standard Latin text, rather than Jerome’s later translation from the Hebrew. Hence it is known as the Gallican Psalter.

The dates here given represent those in the timeline of F. Cavallera, S. Jérôme, sa vie et son oeuvre, 1.2 (Louvain, “Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense”, 1922) pp. 153-65.

Date Books Translated (with prefaces) Basis of Jerome’s translation Place of writing
382-384 The Four Gospels Revision of the Old Latin Rome
382-384 Psalms (this translation now lost) Revision of the Psalter used at Rome based on LXX Rome
386 Psalms (Gallican Psalter – in Vulgate)
The Old Latin, LXX (consulting the Hexapla) Bethlehem
c.387 Job (not in Vulgate) The Old Latin, LXX (consulting the Hexapla) Bethlehem
c.387 Chronicles (not in Vulgate) The Old Latin, LXX (consulting the Hexapla) Bethlehem
c.387 Books of Solomon (not in Vulgate) The Old Latin, LXX (consulting the Hexapla) Bethlehem
c. 392 Samuel and Kings Hebrew text Bethlehem
c. 392 Psalms (not in traditional Vulgate) Hebrew text Bethlehem
c. 393 Isaiah
The Twelve Prophets
Hebrew text Bethlehem
c. 394 Job Hebrew text Bethlehem
c. 396 Ezra and Nehemiah Hebrew text Bethlehem
c. 396 Chronicles Hebrew text Bethlehem
autumn 398 Books of Solomon Hebrew text Bethlehem
from 398 to 406 Pentateuch

Hebrew text Bethlehem
From 405 – 406, Jerome was revising his entire translation
c. 407 Tobit and Judith Aramaic text Bethlehem

It is questionable to what extant Jerome was “commissioned” by Pope Damasus (d. 384) to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible. In his preface to his revision of the gospels (384), Jerome dedicates his work to Damasus (who was nearing death or already dead), and gives Damasus credit for entrusting Jerome with the task of providing a new translation of the Scriptures. Jean Gribomont gives a more nuanced understanding of Jerome’s “commissioning”:

Often, Jerome’s Bible is conceived of as an official edition, promulgated by Damasus and adopted by the Roman Church, or in fact by the entire Catholic West. This is an anachronism, however, since the Vulgate was born book by book, dedicated each time to a different friend. The name of Damasus figures effectively at the beginning of the revision of the Gospels, the initiative for which is generously attributed to him. In reality, his influence at most should be limited to having approved the project of his young friend, or perhaps having expressed the desire for the production of a better version, in which case this profession of humility before a person of rank in the attribution to Damasus would be nothing more than a commonplace literary device. 1

Not only do we know that such a dedication would have been a common literary device, but there is also evidence that Jerome was prone to exaggeration. In his Famous Men, he claims to have completed a translation of the entire Old Testament, though he was nowhere near completion.2 See the notes on letters 18a, 18b, 19, 20, 35, and 36 for other questionable letters addressed to and from Damasus. So Gribmont’s explanation is not difficult to accept, and seems to agree with what we see in Jerome’s practice – that he began by revising the existing Latin versions of select books, based on the Greek. It was only after several years that he decided to make a fresh translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew, and even re-translated some books he had revised based on the Greek. All of these efforts met with hostility along the way – not what you would expect for someone commissioned by the Pope. On the other hand, claiming to be on a mission from the famous, recently deceased bishop may have helped him gain acceptance for his controversial project. Perhaps this suggests another reason he dedicated his translation to Damasus.

1 Gribmont, “The Translations of Jerome and Rufinus,” in Patrology, ed. Angelo Di Berardino, trans. Placid Solari (Westminister, MD: Christian Classics 1986), p. 220

2 Kelly, Jerome, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson 1998), p. 89

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