“Read the divine scriptures constantly; never, indeed, let the sacred volume be out of your hand. Learn what you have to teach. “Hold fast the faithful word as you have been taught that you may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. Continue thou in the things that thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;” and “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope and faith that are in you.” Do not let your deeds belie your words; lest when you speak in church someone may mentally reply “Why do you not practise what you profess? Here is a lover of dainties turned censor! his stomach is full and he reads us a homily on fasting. As well might a robber accuse others of covetousness.” In a priest of Christ mouth mind, and hand should be at one.”
One thing I like to do when studying a new subject is make diagrams and charts. I made my own verb charts when I was learning Hebrew, because that way I knew I was making sense of it myself.
I just stumbled across a timeline of Vulgate translation that I made when I was working through the Old Testament Vulgate Reader. Here it is: Vulgate Translation TImeline. I mostly based it off of Catherine Brown Tkacz’s article, “Labor Tam Utilis: The Creation of the Vulgate.” If there I anything I’ve noticed about studies on the Vulgate, it is that there seems to be an absolute paucity of them.
Feel free to use it for whatever you want. I appreciate any comments or corrections. In the next few days I will make a section of this site for these handouts.
When translating the start of the Vulgate I came across this verse:
Dixit quoque Deus: Fiat firmamentum in medio aquarum: et dividat aquas ab aquis.
The Latin here is very simple and can be rendered: “And God also said: Let there be a firmament in the middle of the waters: and may it divide waters from waters.”
The word firmamentum, famously rendered in the KJV as “firmament,” is translated from the Hebrew word רָקִיעַ (rāqîaʿ). In English it is rendered as “vault” (NIV) or “dome” (NRSV, NAB) in contemporary translations. What is going on here?
When ancient Israel wrote of the “dome” separating the lower waters from the upper waters, it seems they took it quite seriously. And there is some sense to it, especially for a culture that hasn’t flown airplanes above the clouds. Why else would the sky be blue like the waters below? Why else would water come from the sky?
In classical Latin, “firmamentum” referred to a support or prop (often architectural) or the main point of an argument. So it seems to me that Jerome expanded the meaning of the word. Since Greco-Roman cosmology did not involve a dome, he had to adapt a Latin word to fit this Hebrew concept.
Jerome, a contemporary of Augustine, was one of the last Latin-writing Church Fathers to get a classical education. He spent much of his career as an ascetic teacher and biblical scholar emphasizing how he left pagan culture behind. He advised patrons to only have their children read Christian thinkers, even as the literary forms and linguistic styles he wrote in were undeniably of pagan Rome. So (it seems to me) he is uniquely positioned on the cusp of medieval Latin. He wrote as a scholar of the pagan classics, but in translating the bulk of the Vulgate he created the turns of phrase that would infuse the Western medieval church’s liturgy and theology. This use of firmamentum might just be one example of such a turn of phrase.
What do you think? To what extent did Jerome shape the course of medieval Latin in his creative translation effort?
EDIT: For the curious, Scribalishness has a great post explaining the dome and Genesis 1’s cosmology.
Greetings! I’ve been away for a few days ringing in the new year. In the meantime I’ve got some exciting links for y’all, especially from the December 2013 Biblical Studies carnival. Also check out the Septuagint Soirée.
One great blog I’ve recently discovered is that of Jacob Cerone, a grad student studying the Septuagint. See his post on the literary complexity of Jonah 1:4c, the phrase where “the ship thought it would break up,” linked to on his best of 2013 post.
I had always wondered what the “Nestle/Aland” on Greek New Testaments referred to. Now I know.
A new website with scans of ancient and medieval manuscripts of the Book of Ben Sira. Even if you don’t know Hebrew, these are cool to look at!
Finally, BLT has a post on abusive theologians. How do we make sense of great thinkers who were mean, sexist, petty, or otherwise not so holy?
In my class on the History of Systematic Theology, my classmates and I were shocked to learn from our professor (not from any of our books) that Paul Tillich had extramarital affairs, including sexual contacts with his students which certainly today would be considered sexual harassment at best, abusive at worst. It generated an important discussion about the extent to which we could rely on the intellectual work of a theologian whose life showed such serious failings in his ability to “walk the talk,” on the one hand; and the extent to which all of us are sinners, and thus all theologians are sinners, so why do we expect anything different, on the other.
This is a perfect reflection as I begin my winter quarter study of Jerome’s translation of the Old Testament into the Vulgate. It’s not a secret that Jerome was irascible, short-tempered, satirical, sarcastic, and just plain uncharitable to any who criticized him. Including Augustine. More to come later.