The great bible scholar St Jerome spoke Latin and Greek and Hebrew. In the 4th Century it was exceptional for a Christian to study Hebrew, almost unheard of.
Fluent Hebrew gave St Jerome access to the original bible texts that was unique for the time.
Not until centuries later, with the Renaissance, did scholars start taking an interest in Hebrew. Like other great bible scholars, most notably Martin Luther, Jerome translated from Hebrew to his vernacular and as a Roman that was Latin.
Jerome’s bible became known as the vulgate, it was the “bible of the people.” For centuries it was the Bible Latin Christianity read from.
Today, we have access to several centuries of research, Hebrew to Latin dictionaries and grammars, and linguistic studies has entered a new era as we have software specifically designed for students of the bible that provide grammatical analysis and philological analysis. Contemporary students, translators of the bible are privileged to have access to these resources.
What is so admirable about Jerome is that he acquired his Hebrew and completed the translations without this body of knowledge or the technology. He had access to Jewish scholars; yes, scholars because even in the Jewish community Hebrew was not generally spoken. It was for scholars; it was a language of learning and he paid for their services as teachers.
Fr Michael Kelly interviews Fr. Dominik Markl SJ a bible scholar with a deep admiration for what St Jerome accomplished.
Michael Kelly, SJ is the publisher of the English language edition of the 171-year-old Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, published in English since 2017 is also available in Italian, French, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, Korean and Simplified Chinese.
Anchored by Robert Barber and produced by Binu Alex for La Civiltà Cattolica