Jerome is well known as one of the greatest Church Fathers who studied Hebrew and biblical exegesis under his Jewish teachers in Bethlehem and translated the Old Testament from the original Hebrew text into Latin. This image of Jerome, however, can easily change when we examine the history of research related to him.
Gustave Bardy suggested that while Jerome claimed that his Jewish teachers had taught him their exegesis, he, in fact, had plagiarized it from Greek predecessors such as Origen and Eusebius. Jerome, who mastered Greek while living in Syria and Asia Minor, spent a lot of time reading the works of Origen and Eusebius and translated some of them into Latin. According to Bardy, Jerome learned Jewish interpretations of the Bible from their works but pretended to have learned them from his Jewish teachers in order to boast about his knowledge of Hebrew. Moreover, Pierre Nautin considered Jerome’s linguistic competence in Hebrew to be quite low. According to Nautin, Jerome knew so little Hebrew that he had no choice but to depend on his Greek predecessors. Nautin was generally sceptical about Jerome’s statements. For instance, he concluded that Jerome’s correspondence with Pope Damasus I was a complete fiction created to lend authority to his own remarks. In addition, Nautin believed that the Latin Bible which Jerome claimed to have translated from the original Hebrew text was no more than a second-hand translation from the Hexaplaric (recension of the) LXX.
On the other hand, especially from the viewpoint of the Jewish studies, Jay Braverman and Benjamin Kedar-Kopfstein noted that Jerome was deeply indebted to his Jewish teachers for his exegesis. Further, contrary to Nautin’s view, they estimated Jerome’s competence in Hebrew to be high. Kedar-Kopfstein, for instance, indicated that some interpretations of rabbinic literature and medieval Jewish exegetes were reflected in the passages of the Vulgate, which Jerome seemed to have mistranslated. In other words, it was not Jerome’s low competence in Hebrew but his rather close relationship with Jewish teachers of the time that made passages different in the Vulgate from what they were in the Masoretic text. Furthermore, scholars of Biblical studies, such as Edmund F. Sutcliffe and James Barr, tried to restore the ancient pronunciations of Hebrew words as they were before the Masoretic text by using Jerome’s Latin transliteration. They obviously could not have conducted their research without being convinced of Jerome’s competence in Hebrew.
Following the history of research on Jerome, we are confronted by two questions. First, were all of Jerome’s exegeses plagiarized from his Greek predecessors? Second, what was Jerome’s competence in Hebrew? To answer these questions we first need to consider Jerome’s understanding of Old Testament quotations in the New Testament (hereafter Quot.). When passages of the Old Testament are quoted in the New Testament, the wordings of some differ from those of the LXX which was the Old Testament for Christians in antiquity. Regarding these passages, Jerome claimed that their sources were not the LXX but the original Hebrew text. According to him, whenever the Evangelists and Paul quoted any passages of the Old Testament, they always chose the Hebrew text and translated it into Greek. If this assertion is correct and is based on an accurate knowledge of Hebrew, Jerome’s originality of exegesis and his competence in Hebrew is likely to be confirmed. Accordingly, we will analyse seven texts of Jerome (See section II), especially his Ep. 57, or Liber de optimo genere interpretandi, written c.395. In these texts, Jerome provides examples which indicate that the source of the Quot. was not the LXX but the Hebrew text.
Teppei Kato. ‘Jerome’s Understanding of Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament‘, in Vigiliae Christianae 67, pp. 289-292. Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2013.