Jerome’s translation of scripture took over 40 years. He only actually translated the Gospels and the Old Testament. Some of his translations were really revisions of earlier Latin translations, while others were fresh from the Hebrew. To help straighten this out, we make this chart.

The dates here given represent those in the timeline of F. Cavallera, S. Jérôme, sa vie et son ouvore, 1.2 (Louvain, “Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniense”, 1922) pp. 153-165.

Under the dates column: two dates give a span of writing, one date gives completion only.


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 The Psalter 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 Vulgate) Hebrew text Bethlehem
c. 393 The 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-Ruth and Esther 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

An Understanding of common literary device combines with the knowledge 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. And so Gribmont’s explanation is not difficult to accept, and seems to agree much better with the facts – that Jerome had begun by simply revising the existing Latin versions, and only after several years did he move to make a fresh translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. All of these efforts met with hostility along the way – not what you would expect for someone on a mission straight from the Pope. In fact, claiming to be on a mission from the Pope might just have helped him gain a modicum of acceptance from a hostile crowd… 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

Also consulted was this webpage:

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