The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship

By Adkin, Neil | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2008 | Go to article overview

The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship


Adkin, Neil, The Catholic Historical Review


The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship. By Megan Hale Williams. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 2006. Pp. xu, 315. $45.00.)

Jerome himself tells us that while he lived as a monk in the desert he took up the study of Hebrew to take his mind off its obsession with sex (Epist. 125.12.1). Williams, on the other hand, attempts to understand the saint's Hebrew scholarship "with the analytical tools of recent cultural historyincluding the work of Bourdieu, Foucault, and Roger Chartier" (so the blurb). She hereby comes to the conclusion that Jerome was the first to merge the monastic and scholastic life-styles. It may perhaps be felt that the "fundamental contradictions" between the two are somewhat overstated. After all, the same epistle 125 breezily prescribes both bookish and unbookish avocations for the monk: texantur et lina capiendis piscibus, scribantur libri, ut et manus operetur cibos et anima lectione saturetur (11.4). Williams has nonetheless produced a very fine study.

The Introduction rightly devotes considerable attention to the "crucial" issue of Jerome's education. Here we are, however, told apropos of the grammaticus that "the texts studied did not include prose authors" (p. 7). What then about Rufinus, who tells us that when Jerome himself set up as a grammaticus in his monastery at Bethlehem he historicos auctores ... exponebat (Apol. adv. Hier. 2.11)? On the same page Jerome's own grammaticus, the great Aelius Donatus, is transmogrified by conflation with Aelius Theon into a second-century composer of Greek progymnasmata. On page 16 the form declamatiunculus would make any grammaticus wince.

Williams's translations are her "own" (p. xi). It must unfortunately be said that on occasion they give cause for cavil. The point may be illustrated by reference to one passage that (p. 103) "will remain important for much that is to come." Here sic ... ut is not "in order that," but "in such a way that"; itti is not "and . …

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