There are twenty-two letters among the Hebrews, as is also witnessed by the language of the Syrians and Chaldeans, which is for the most part similar to the Hebrew; for these twenty-two elements also have the same sound, but different characters. The Samaritans still write the Pentateuch of Moses in the same number of letters, only they differ in shapes and points.1 And Ezra, the scribe and doctor of the Law, after the capture of Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple under Zerubbabel, is certain to have invented2 other letters, which we now use, when up to that time the characters of the Samaritans and the Hebrews were the same. In the book of Numbers this same total is also mystically shown by the census of the Levites and the priests.3 And we find in certain Greek scrolls to this day the four-lettered Name of God written in the ancient letters. But also the thirty-sixth Psalm,4 and the one hundred tenth,5 and the one hundred eleventh,6 and the one hundred eighteenth,7 and the one hundred forty-fourth,8 although written in different meter, are nevertheless woven with an alphabet of the same number. And in the Lamentations of Jeremiah,9 and his prayer, also at the end of the Proverbs of Solomon from that place in which he says “Who can find a strong woman?”10 are counted the same alphabet or sections.11 Furthermore, five of the letters among them are double: chaph, mem, nun, phe, sade. For they write with these one way at the beginning and in the middle of words, another at the end. From which also five are considered double books by most: Samuel, Malachim,12 Dabreiamin,13 Ezra,14 Jeremiah with Cinoth,15 that is, his Lamentantions. Therefore, just as there are twenty-two elements, by which we write in Hebrew all that we say, and the human voice is comprised of16 their beginnings, 21thus twenty-two scrolls are counted, by which letters and writings a just man is instructed in the doctrine of God, as though in tender infancy and still nursing.17

The first book is called among them Bresith,18 which we call Genesis; the second, Hellesmoth,19 which is named Exodus; the third, Vaiecra,20 that is Leviticus; the fourth Vaiedabber,21 which we call Numbers; the fifth, Addebarim,22 which is designated Deuteronomy. These are the five books of Moses, which they appropropriately call Thorat,23 that is, the Law.

The second order is made of the Prophets, and begins with Jesus son of Nave, which is called among them Joshua benNum.24 Then they append Sopthim,25 that is the book of Judges; and they attach Ruth to the same, because the history narrated happened in the days of the Judges. Samuel follows third, which we call First and Second Kingdoms. Fourth is Malachim,26 that is Kings, which book contains Third and Fourth Kingdoms; and it is much better to say Malachim, that is Kings, rather than Malachoth,27 that is Kingdoms, for it does not describe the kingdoms of many nations, but only that of the Israelite people which contains twelve tribes. Fifth is Isaiah, sixth Jeremiah, seventh Ezekiel, eighth the book of the Twelve Prophets, which is called Thareasra28 among them.

The third order holds the Hagiographa,29 and begins with Job, the first book, the second from David, which in five sections also comprise one scroll of the Psalms. The third is Solomon, having three books: Proverbs, which they call Parables, that is Masaloth,30 and Ecclesiastes, that is Accoeleth,31 and The Song of Songs, which they denote with the title Sirassirim.32 Sixth is Daniel, seventh Dabreiamin,33 that is Words of the Days, which we may call more clearly a chronicle34 of all of Divine history, which book is written among us as First and Second Paralipomenon; eighth is Ezra, which is also in the same manner among Greeks and Latins divided into two books; ninth is Esther.

And thus there are likewise twenty-two books in the Old Law, that is, five of Moses, eight of the Prophets, nine of the Hagiographa. Although some may write Ruth and Cinoth among the Hagiographa, and think of counting these books among their number, and then by this to have twenty-four books of the Old Law, which the Apoclypse of John introduces under the number of twenty-four elders worshipping the Lamb and offering their crowns, prostrated on their faces,35 and crying out with unwearying voice: “Holy, holy, holy Lord God almighty, Who was and Who is, and Who will be.” 36

This prologue to the Scriptures may be appropriate as a helmeted introduction to all the books which we turn from Hebrew into Latin, so we may be able to know whatever is outside of these is to be set apart among the apocrypha. Therefore, Wisdom, which is commonly ascribed to Solomon, and the book of Jesus son of Sirach, and Judith and Tobias, and The Shepherd are not in the canon. I have found the First Book of the Maccabees is Hebrew, the Second is Greek, which may also be proven by their styles.37

While these things may be so, I implore you, reader, that you might not consider my work a rebuke of the ancients. Each one offers to the Tabernacle of God what he is able. Some offer gold and silver and precious stones; others, linen and purple, scarlet and blue. It will go well with us, if we offer the skins and hair of goats.38 For the Apostle still judges our more contemptible parts more necessary.39 From which both the whole of the beauty of the Tabernacle and each individual kind, a distinction of the present and future Church, is covered with skins and goat-hair coverings,40 and the heat of the sun and the harmful rain are kept off by those things which are of lesser value. Therefore, first read my Samuel and Malachim; mine, I say, mine. For whatever we have learned and know by often translating and carefully correcting is ours. And when you understand what you did not know before, either consider me a translator, if you are grateful, or a paraphraser,41 if ungrateful, although I am truly not at all aware of anything of the Hebrew to have been changed by me. Certainly, if you are incredulous, read the Greek and Latin books and compare them with these little works, and wherever you will see among them to differ, ask any one of the Hebrews, in whom you might place better faith, and if he confirms ours, I think that you will not consider him a diviner, as he has similarly divined in the very same place with me.

But I also ask you, handmaidens of Christ, who have anointed the head of the reclining Lord with the most precious myrrh of faith,42 who have in no way sought the Savior in the tomb,43 for whom Christ has now ascended to the Father, that you might oppose the shields of your prayers against the barking dogs which rage against me with rabid mouth and go around the city,44 and in it they are considered educated if slandering others. I, knowing my humility, will always remember these sentences: “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 humiliated, and silent because of good things.”45


1 or “endings” apicibus
2 or “found” repperisse
3 Numbers 3.39
4 Psalm 37 MT
5 Psalm 111 MT
6 Psalm 112 MT
7 Psalm 119 MT
8 Psalm 145 MT
9 Lamentations 1-4
10 Proverbs 31.10-31
11 Jerome is referring here to the alphabetic acrostics found in the various cited passages above. Each line or group of lines in the Hebrew begins with the successive letters of the entire Hebrew alphabet. See also “Acrostic,” ABD 1.58-60.
12 1-2 Kings
13 1-2 Chronicles
14 Ezra-Nehemiah
15 קִינוֹת, but nowadays referred to as אֵיכָה after the first word of the book.
16 Or “understood by” conprehenditur
17 Jerome here compares an adult learning the Scriptures to an infant learning the alphabet.
18 בְּרֵשִׁית, the first word of the book of Genesis in Hebrew, “In the beginning….”
19 ‏אֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת, apparently the first words of the book of Exodus in Jerome’s Hebrew text, “These are the names.”
Our modern MT reads וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת“And these are the names.”
20 וַיִּקְרָא, the first word of Leviticus, “And he called”
21 וַיְדַבֵּר, the first word of Numbers, “And he spoke.” Nowadays, it is referred to as בְּמִדְבַּר “In the desert of [Sinai]” orבַּמִּדְבַּר “In the desert”
22 הַדְּבַרִים the second word in Deuteronomy “The words,” nowadays referred to as דְּבַרִים “Words.”
23 תּוֹרַת is the construct form, as found in תּוֹרַת משֶׁה “Law of Moses,” while תּוֹרָה is the more familiar nominal form, “Law.”
24 יוֹשׁוּעַ בִּן־נוּן
25 שׁוֹפְטִים
26 מְלַכִים
27 מְלַכוֹת actually means “queens;” מַמְלַכוֹת is “kingdoms.”
28 תְּרֵי־עֲשְׂרֵי is Aramaic for “twelve”
29 Greek here: αγιογραφα
30 מְשָׁלוֹת nowadays referred to asמִשְׁלֵי the first word of Proverbs “The proverbs of [Solomon]” or a slight variant מַשְׁלֵי
31הַקּוֹהֶלֶת nowadays referred to by the second word of the book קוֹהֶלֶת
32 שִׁיר־הַשִּׁירִים
33 דִּבְרֵי־הַיַּמִים
34 Greek here: χρονικον
35 Revelation 4.4, 10
36 Revelation 4.8
37 Greek here: φρασιν
38 Exodus 25.2-7; 35.5-9
39 1 Corinthians 12.22
40 Exodus 26.7-14; 36.14-19
41 Greek here: παραφραστην
42 Matthew 26.7; Mark 14.2
43 John 20.15-17
44 Psalm 58.7, 15 LXX
45 Psalm 38.2-3 LXX

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

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