Philo in Early Christian Literature: A Survey

By David T. Runia | Go to book overview

Chapter Fifteen
Philo in other Latin authors

1. Jerome

Of the great 4th century Church fathers who wrote in Latin, Jerome had by far the most contact with the East. This is hardly surprising given the course of his life and career. Born at Stridon, near the border of Pannonia and Dalmaţia, in 347,1 he was well trained in classical literature and rhetoric at Rome. The decisive step of receiving baptism was taken early, but this did not mean a clean break with his previous studies. The dilemma that the relation between Christianity and classical culture posed for him is illustrated by his well-known account of a dream, in which he is hauled before the divine tribunal and accused of being more a Ciceronian than a Christian.2 Above all it was the flourishing movement of ascetic monastisicm that captured the enthusiasm of the young priest. In 385 he made the decision to move to the East. While en route he spent a few weeks in Alexandria, where he gained acquaintance with the person and learning of Didymus. In 386 he settled down at Bethlehem, where with the assistance of wealthy patronesses he established a monastic community in which he resided until his death in 420. Here he focussed his considerable energy on his scholarly studies, which had as their goal the translation and exegesis of scripture. The circumstances were favourable. His location in Palestine enabled him to establish contacts with Rabbis who could assist him with the knowledge of Hebrew which he needed for the translation of the Old Testament.3 But even more important was his access to the treasures of

1 There is considerable controversy on whether Jerome was born in 331 or 347, with strong arguments in favour of both views (we opt for the latter because it rhymes better with the fact that one became adult early in the Roman world, as witnessed in the careers of Ambrose and Augustine). There have been a number of solid introductory accounts on Jerome published recently: for details of his life and career see Nautin (1986), for his scholarship and writings J. Gribomont in Quasten (1950–86) 4.212–246, for his relation to classical culture Hagendahl-Waszink (1989), for his biography and an evaluation of his complex personality Kelly (1975).

2Ep. 22.30; on the dream and its interpretation Kelly (1975) 41–45, Courcelle (1969) 124125.

3 A detailed treatment of Jerome’s relation to Judaism on the lines of De Lange’s study on

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