The Vulgate


The Vulgate is a late 4th-century Latin version of the Bible, and largely the result of the labours of St Jerome, who was commissioned by Pope Damasus I in 382 to make a revision of the old Latin translations. By the 13th century this revision had come to be called the versio vulgata, that is, the so-called commonly used translation, and ultimately it became the definitive and officially promulgated Latin version of the Bible in the Roman Catholic Church.

St. Jerome

Jerome did not embark on the work with the intention of creating a new version of the whole Bible, but the changing nature of his program can be tracked in his voluminous correspondence. He had been commissioned by Pope Damasus in 382 to revise the Old Latin text of the four Gospels from the best Greek texts, and by the time of Damasus’ death in 384 he had thoroughly completed this task, together with a more cursory revision from the Greek Septuagint of the Old Latin text of the Psalms. How much of the rest of the New Testament he then revised is difficult to judge today, but little of his work survived in the Vulgate text.

In 385 Jerome was forced out of Rome, and eventually settled in Bethlehem, where he produced a new version of the Psalms, translated from the Hexaplar revision of the Septuagint. He also appears to have undertaken further new translations of other Septuagint books into Latin; but these are not found in the Vulgate text. But from 390 to 405, Jerome translated anew all 39 books in the Hebrew Bible, including a further, third, version of the Psalms, which survives in a very few Vulgate manuscripts. This new translation of the Psalms was labelled by him as Iuxta Hebraeos or ‘close to the Hebrews’, ‘immediately following the Hebrews’, but it was not ultimately used in the Vulgate. The translations of the other 38 books were used, however, and so the Vulgate is usually credited to have been the first translation of the Old Testament into Latin directly from the Hebrew Tanakh, rather than the Greek Septuagint.

Jerome’s extensive use of exegetical material written in Greek, on the other hand, as well as his use of the Aquiline and Theodotiontic texts of the Hexapla, along with the somewhat paraphrastic style in which he translated makes it difficult to determine exactly how direct the conversion of Hebrew to Latin was.

In his prologues, Jerome described those books or portions of books in the Septuagint that were not found in the Hebrew as being non-canonical: he called them apocrypha, but they are found in all complete manuscripts and editions of the Vulgate.

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  1. Pingback: Divisions Of The Bible | ricklee's poetry plus

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