I have received the desired letters of my Desiderius, who in a foretelling of things to happen has obtained with Daniel a certain name 1, beseeching that I might hand over to our hearers a translation of the Pentateuch in the Latin tongue from the Hebrew language. Certainly a dangerous work, open to the barkings of detractors, who accuse me of insult to the Seventy to coin a new interpretation for the old ones, thus approving ability like wine.2 As has very often been testified by me, I, for my part, am able to offer in the Tabernacle of God, without the riches of one being damaged by the poverties of others.

But that I may have dared, the effort of Origen provoked me, who mixed the translation of Theodotion to the ancient edition, with asterisk and obelus, that is, star and skewer, a work distinguishing everything, while he either makes to shine those things which were previously lacking, or he slays and pierces through everything superfluous.3 And especially by the authority of the Evangelists and the Apostles, in which we read many things from the Old Testament which are not found in our books, as it is with: “Out of Egypt I have called My Son,” 4 and “For He shall be called a Nazarene,” 5 and “They will look on Him Whom they have pierced,” 6 and “Rivers of living waters shall flow from his belly,” 7 and “Things which no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor has arisen in the heart of man, which God has prepared for those loving Him,” 8 and many others which are desiring a proper context.9

Therefore let us ask them where these are written, and when they are unable to say, we may produce them from the Hebrew books. The first witness is in Hosea,10 the second in Isaiah,11 the third in Zechariah,12 the fourth in Proverbs,13 the fifth is also in Isaiah,14 of which many are ignorant, the follies of apocrypha being followed, preferring Iberian15 dirges to authentic books.

The cause of the error is not for me to explain. The Jews say it was done wisely in deliberation, so Ptolemy, the worshipper of one god, might not yet discover a double divinity with the Hebrews; he made them do so chiefly for this reason, because he was seen to fall into the dogma of Plato.16 Accordingly, wherever anything sacred in Scripture is witnessed of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, they are either translated otherwise, or they have passed over all in silence, so they might both satisfy the king, and might not divulge the secret of the Faith.

And I don’t know who was the first author to construct with his lying the seventy cells in Alexandria, into which divided were those who wrote, with Aristeas the champion17 of the same Ptolemy, and many after the time of Josephus having reported no such thing, but rather for them to have gathered in groups, writing in one basilica, and not to have prophesied.

For it is one thing to be a seer, another to be an interpreter. In that one the Spirit predicts things to come; in this one by his learning and abundance of words he translates those things he has understood. Unless Tullius18 is understood to have translated, by inspiration of the spirit of rhetoric, the Economics of Xenophon, the Protagoras of Plato, and the For Ctesiphon by Demosthenes. Or the Holy Spirit wove together the witnesses of these books one way through the Seventy interpreters and another way through the Apostles, so that what they passed over in silence, what was written by these was invented.

Therefore, what? We condemn the ancients? By no means! But after the studies of those earlier in the House of God, we work at what we can. They were interpreted before the coming of Christ and what they didn’t know, they translated in ambiguous19 sentences. We write after His Passion and Resurrection, not so much prophecy as history. For in the one are told what things were heard, in the other what were seen. What we understand better, we also translate better.

Hear, therefore, O rival; listen, O detractor! I do not condemn, I do not rebuke the Seventy, but I confidently prefer the Apostles to all of them. Christ speaks to me through their mouth, who I read were placed before the prophets among the Spiritual gifts, among which interpreters hold almost the last place.20 Why are you tortured by spite? Why do you incite the souls of the ignorant against me? If anywhere in the translation I have been seen by you to err, ask the Hebrews. Consult the teachers of the many different cities. What they have of Christ, your books do not have. It is another matter if afterward the testimonies approved by the Apostles against them were removed, and the Latin copies are more correct than the Greek, and the Greek than the Hebrew! Truth is against these enviers.

Now I pray you, dearest Desiderius, so that in such a great work which you have made me undertake and take up a beginning from Genesis, you might help in your prayers, how I might, by the same Spirit by Whom the books were written, be able to translate them into the Latin language.


1 See Vulgate Daniel 9.23: quia vir desideriorum es tu, “for you are a man of desires”
2 i.e., “older is better”
3 Origen, in his Hexapla, marked lines which were in the Hebrew version available to him but not in the Septuagint with an asterisk and including in those passages the versions from the translation of Theodotion. Those passages in the Septuagint which were not in the Hebrew were marked with an obelus ÷ The ending of each such passage was indicated by the metobelus, a mark like our colon symbol :
4 Matthew 2.15
5 Matthew 2.23
6 John 19.37
7 John 7.38
8 1 Corinthians 2.9
9 Greek here: συνταγμα
10 Hosea 11.1
11 Isaiah 11.1
12 Zechariah 12.10
13 Proverbs 18.4
14 Isaiah 64.4
15 Iberia = Spain
16 Apparently referring to Graeco-Roman philosophical monotheism of Middle and Neo-Platonism. See Grant, Gods.
17Greek here: υπερασπιστης.. For the extended fictional version of the translation of the Septuagint that Jerome is referring to, see the Letter of Aristeas (OTP 2.7-34)
18 Marcus Tullius Cicero
19 Or “uncertain”
20 1 Corinthians 12.28

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

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