Rabbinic Traditions in Jerome’s Translation of the Book of Numbers

By Kraus, Matthew | Journal of Biblical Literature, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Rabbinic Traditions in Jerome’s Translation of the Book of Numbers


Kraus, Matthew, Journal of Biblical Literature


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Jerome of Stridon (348-420 CE), who spent the bulk of his final years in Bethlehem, has long interested scholars of the history of Judaism because of his numerous references to Jews, Judaism, and Jewish traditions in his literary corpus. The most significant contribution in recent years has been Hillel Newman's doctoral dissertation from Hebrew University on Jerome and the Jews, in which he gathered and analyzed every explicit reference to Jews, the Hebrews, my Jewish teacher, and the like.1 These attributions to Jewish informants include teachings that appear in rabbinic literature. He did not directly read rabbinic texts but had access to oral traditions preserved in the targums, Midrash, and Talmud.2 Newman further notes that discovering and analyzing the influences not explicitly assigned to Jewish sources remain a desideratum.3 Many such influences have yet to be discovered in Jerome's translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Latin, the socalled Vulgate, which Jerome describes as the version "according to the Hebrews" (iuxta Hebraeos) based on the Hebrew truth (Hebraica veritas).4 This study, in addition to recovering rabbinic traditions in Vulgate book of Numbers, establishes definitive criteria for verifying its Jewish exegetical sources.

I.Jerome and Jewish Exegetical Sources

Previous attempts to mine the Vulgate for rabbinic traditions have been sporadic and have lacked methodological precision.5 Such studies assume that a "free" rendition of the Hebrew with a midrashic parallel constitutes direct rabbinic influence. The source of an exegetical rendering, however, could be one of Jerome's many Vorlagen-the Hebrew itself, the Septuagint, the Old Latin translation of the Septuagint, or the Greek recensions of Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion-or Christian, classical, or nonrabbinic Jewish literature.6 The isolated comparison of the Latin target text with the Hebrew source text in Vulgate research stems from an early trend in translation studies to focus on the character and possibility of a translation.7 These studies read the Vulgate more as an interpretation of the Hebrew language than as biblical commentary. Recent work in translation studies, however, has brought attention to translators as cultural mediators who, in the linguistic process of producing the target text from the source text, apply their historically situated background as interpretive tools.8 For our purposes, this means entertaining the possibility that Jerome could use his Jewish knowledge and informants along with his Vorlagen as he engaged in biblical exegesis through the medium of biblical translation.9 Just as he includes rabbinic traditions when recounting various exegeses in his commentaries, so too does he weigh rabbinic traditions when translating.10 According to Adam Kamesar, Jerome outlines this method of "recentiores-rabbinic philology" in the Quaestionum Hebraicarum liber in Genesim, a kind of preparatory work for his version "according to the Hebrews."11 Whether he applies such an approach to his translation has rarely been comprehensively investigated.

Two recent studies comparing Vulgate Genesis to the Quaestiones and one study on Vulgate Deuteronomy have begun to address this lacuna.12 In the Quaestiones, Jerome cites the textual versions of the Hebrew, LXX, Symmachus, Aquila, and Theodotion. Since he almost always provides a Latin translation of these versions (with or without the Hebrew and Greek), we can securely identify which option also appears in the Vulgate. According to C. T. R. Hayward, the Vulgate and Quaestiones agree ninety-nine times and disagree approximately eighty times, including twenty-four occasions where the Vulgate follows the LXX, even when Jerome shares concerns about the LXX.13 Friedrich Avemarie and Sebastian Weigert agree that the recentiores-rabbinic philology of the Quaestiones influences the Vulgate, but not all of the time.14 Despite such parallels between the Vulgate and Quaestiones, Hayward ultimately claims that the numerous differences between them, the omission of well-known textual cruxes, and the philological irrelevance of some Jewish traditions cited in the Quaestones all problematize Kamesar's contention that Jerome wrote the Quaestones to defend his new philological system for translating the Bible from Hebrew to Latin. …

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