Review: A Vulgate Old Testament Reader.

When learning ancient languages, I have gone back and forth between inductive and deductive approaches.  So first-year Greek was painful, because there was so much grammar drilling, but my four months of very inductive, surah-by-surah Arabic lessons left me with little ability to read an unfamiliar text.  When I was teaching myself Latin this summer with Wheelock’s Latin, I stopped halfway through the text to spend some time with Scott Goins’ useful reader in Vulgate Latin.

1-59333-215-7Goins bills this as a reader for intermediate Latin students in Vulgate Latin.  Because the Vulgate’s Latin is so simple, very little background is needed to start reading it, even if some nuances might by missed by the beginner.  Goins selects several of the most well-known Old Testament passages and includes them: hits such as the creation in Genesis, the Ten Commandments in Exodus, David’s fight with Goliath, ten different psalms, and the entire story of Jonah.  (You can view the table of contents on Google Books.)  I really liked the variety of the selections included, although he was a little light on Pentateuch readings.

Each selection has running vocabulary at the bottom of the page, but after three uses of any word he includes an asterisk next to subsequent uses to let the reader know they should memorize that word.  The last two readings had no glosses at all, forcing the student to rely on memory and the glossary in the back of the book.

Goins’ introduction includes a brief history of Jerome and the Vulgate, a guide to Latin pronunciation both classical and medieval, and a brief list of basic vocabulary to memorize. He also has a short bibliography of useful books for the student of Vulgar Latin.  Though adequate for intermediate students, his introduction and bibliography are based on survey texts and omit many of the more recent scholarship on Jerome (e.g. Tkacz’ article or Michael Graves’ scholarship).  A better place to go would be Stefan Rebenich’s recent introduction to Jerome, which includes excerpts from the several different types of writing he did.

The Vulgate is a tricky text for Latin students, because often they already know what it will say.  While that could be seen as a defect allowing students to be lazy, it enabled me to connect with the Latin more, because I was personally and spiritually interested in what I was reading.  Knowing the Latin of the Vulgate is also important to understand medieval theologians, who constantly quote and allude to the Vulgate.  More importantly, it was a nice break from Wheelock’s relentless grammar lessons because it let me get comfortable with reading long Latin passages.

Overall, this was a very useful book, especially alongside Smith’s volume which I recently reviewed.  I can only hope that Goins decides to produce an accompanying volume for the  Vulgate New Testament!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *