JEROME (EUSEBIUS HIERONYMUS SOPHRONIUS):
Church father; next to Origen, who wrote in Greek, the most learned student of the Bible among the Latin ecclesiastical writers, and, previous to modern times, the only Christian scholar able to study the Hebrew Bible in the original. The dates of his birth and death are not definitely known; but he is generally assumed to have lived from 337 to 420. Born in Stridon, Dalmatia, he went as a youth to Rome, where he attended a school of grammar and rhetoric. He then traveled in Gaul and Italy, and in 373 went to Antioch, where he became the pupil of Apollinaris of Laodicea, the representative of the exegetical school of Antioch; subsequently, however, Jerome did not accept the purely historical exegesis of this school, but adopted more nearly the typic-allegoric method of Origen. From Antioch he went to Chalcis in the Syrian desert, where he led the strictly ascetic life of a hermit, in atonement for the sins of his youth. Here to facilitate his intercourse with the people, he was obliged to learn Syriac; and this language doubtless aided him later in his Hebrew studies ("Epistolæ," xvii. 2; yet comp. ib. lxxviii. and comm. on Jer. ii. 18). Here also he began with great labor to study Hebrew, with the aid of a baptized Jew (ib. cxxv. 12), and it may be he of whom he says (ib. xviii. 10) that he was regarded by Jewish scholars as a Chaldean and as a master of the interpretation of Scripture (ib. cxxv. 12). On a second visit to Antioch Jerome was ordained a priest. He then went to Constantinople, and thence to Rome, where he undertook literary work for Pope Damasus, beginning at the same time his own Biblical works (c. 383). He finally settled at Bethlehem in Palestine (c. 385), founding a monastery there which he directed down to his death. This outline of Jerome's life indicates that he was a master of Latin and Greek learning, and by studying furthermore Syriac and Hebrew united in his person the culture of the East and of the West.His Teachers.
It was in Bethlehem that he devoted himself most seriously to Hebrew studies. Here he had as teachers several Jews, one of whom taught him reading ("Hebræus autem qui nos in veteris instrumenti lectione erudivit"; comm. on Isa. xxii. 17); the peculiar pronunciation of Hebrew often found in Jerome's works was probably therefore derived from this Jew. Jerome was not satisfied to study with any one Jew, but applied to several, choosing always the most learned (preface to Hosea: "diceremque . . . quid ab Hebræorum magistris vix uno et altero acceperim"; "Epistolæ," lxxiii. 9 [i. 443]: "hæc ab eruditissimis gentis illius didicimus"). With similar words Jerome is always attempting to inspire confidence in his exegesis; but they must not be taken too literally, as he was wont to boast of his scholarship. However, he was doubtless in a position to obtain the opinions of several Jews; for he often refers to "quidam Hebræorum." He even traveled in the province of Palestine with his Jewish friends, in order to become better acquainted with the scenes of Biblical history (preface to "Paralipomena," i.); one of them was his guide (preface to Nahum).
Of only three of his teachers is anything definite known. One, whom he calls "Lyddæus," seems to have taught him only translation and exegesis, while the traditions ("midrash") were derived from another Jew. Lyddæus spoke Greek, with which Jerome was conversant (comm. on Ezek. ix. 3; on Dan. vi. 4). Lyddæus, in interpreting Ecclesiastes, once referred to a midrash which appeared to Jerome absurd (comm. on Eccl. iii. 1); Jerome thought him fluent, but not always sound; this teacher was therefore a haggadist. He was occasionally unwilling to explain the text (ib. v. 1). Jerome was frequently not satisfied with his teacher's exegesis, and disputed with him; and he often says that he merely read the Scriptures with him (comm. on Eccl. iv. 14, v. 3; "Onomastica Sacra," 90, 12).
Another teacher is called "Baranina," i.e., "Bar Ḥanina," of Tiberias. He acquainted Jerome with a mass of Hebrew traditions, some of which referred especially to his native place, Tiberias. He came at night only, and sometimes, being afraid to come himself, he sent a certain Nicodemus ("Epistolæ," lxxxiv. 3 [i. 520]).
A third teacher, who may be called "Chaldæus," taught Jerome Aramaic, which was necessary for the Old Testament passages and the books of the Apocrypha written in that language. This teacher of Aramaic was very prominent among the Jews, and Jerome, who had great difficulty in learning Aramaic, was very well satisfied with his instruction (prefaces to Tobit and Daniel). Jerome continued to study with Jews during the forty years that he lived in Palestine (comm. on Nahum ii. 1; "a quibus [Judæis] non modico tempore eruditus"). His enemies frequently took him to task for his intercourse with the Jews; but he answered: "How can loyalty to the Church be impaired merely because the reader is informed of the different ways in which a verse is interpreted by the Jews?" ("Contra Rufinum," ii. 476). This sentence characterizes the Jewish exegesis of that time. Jerome's real intention in studying the Hebrew text is shown in the following sentence: "Why should I not be permitted, . . . for the purpose of confuting the Jews, to use those copies of the Bible which they themselves admit to be genuine? Then when the Christians dispute with them, they shall have no excuse" (ib. book iii.; ed. Vallarsi, ii. 554).His Knowledge of Hebrew.
Jerome's knowledge of Hebrew is considerable only when compared with that of the other Church Fathers and of the general Christian public of his time. His knowledge was really very defective. Although he pretends to have complete command of Hebrew and proudly calls himself a "trilinguis" (being conversant with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew), he did not, in spite of all his hard work, attain to the proficiency of his simple Jewish teachers. But he did not commit those errors into which the Christians generally fell; as he himself says: "The Jews boast of their knowledge of the Law when they remember the several names which we generally pronounce in a corrupt way because they are barbaric and we do not know their etymology. And if we happen to make a mistake in the accent [the pronunciation of the word as affected by the vowels] and in the length of the syllables, lengthening short ones and shortening long ones, they laugh at our ignorance, especially as shown in aspiration and in some letters pronounced with a rasping of the throat" (comm. on Titus iii. 9). Jerome not only acquired the peculiar hissing pronunciation of the Jews, but he also—so he declares—corrupted his pronunciation of Latin thereby, and ruined his fine Latin style by Hebraisms (preface to book iii., comm. on Galatians; "Epistolæ," xxix. 7; ed. Vallarsi, i. 143). This statement of Jerome's is not to be taken very seriously, however. In his voluminous works Jerome transcribed in Latin letters a mass of Hebrew words, giving thereby more or less exact information on the pronunciation of Hebrew then current. But, although he studied with the Jews, his pronunciation of Hebrew can not therefore be unhesitatingly regarded as that of the Jews, because he was led by the course of his studies, by habit, and by ecclesiastical authority to follow the Septuagint in regard to proper names, and this version had long before this become Christian.
Jerome shared the belief of the Hebrews and of most of the Church Fathers that Hebrew was the parent of all the other languages ("Opera," vi. 730b). He sometimes distinguishes Hebrew from Aramaic (preface to Tobit), but sometimes appears to call both Syriac. In reference to Isa. xix. 18 (comm. ad loc.; comp. "Epistolæ," cviii.) he speaks also of the "Canaanitish" language, as being closely related to Hebrew and still spoken in five cities of Egypt, meaning thereby either Aramaic or Syriac. In explaining "yemim" (Gen. xxxvi. 24), he correctly states in regard to the Punic language that it was related to Hebrew ("Quæstiones Hebraicæ in Genesin"). His knowledge of Hebrew appears most clearly in his two important works, that on the Hebrew proper names and that on the situation of the places mentioned in the Bible; in his extensive commentaries on most of the books of the Old Testament; and especially in his chief work, the new Latin translation of the Bible from the Hebrew original (see Vulgate). Through these works he not only became an authority on the Bible during his lifetime, but he remained a leading teacher of Christianity in the following ages, because down to very recent times no one could go direct to the original text as he had done.
Jerome's importance was recognized by the Jewish authors of the Middle Ages, and he is frequently cited by David Ḳimḥi; also by Abu al-Walid ("Sefer ha-Shorashim," s.v. and ), Abraham ibn Ezra (on Gen. xxxvii. 35), Samuel b. Meïr (on Ex. xx. 13), Naḥmanides (on Gen. xli. 45), Joseph Albo (iii. 25), and the polemic Isaac Troki (in "Ḥizzuḳ Emunah"). Jerome is also important because he could consult works which have since disappeared, as, for example, Origen's "Hexapla" (he says that he had seen a copy of the Hebrew Ben Sira, but he seems not to have used it); he had Aramaic copies of the Apocryphal books Judith and Tobit; and the so-called Hebrew Gospel, which was written in Hebrew script in the Aramaic language, he translated into Greek and Latin ("Contra Pelagianos," iii. 2; "De Viris Illustribus," ch. ii.; comm. on Matt. xii. 13).Exegesis.
Jerome's exegesis is Jewish in spirit, reflecting the methods of the Palestinian haggadists. He expressly states, in certain cases, that he adopts the Jewish opinion, especially when he controverts Christian opponents and errors (comm. on Joel iv. 11: "nobis autem Hebræorum opinionem sequentibus"); he reproduces the Jewish exegesis both in letter (comm. on Amos v. 18-19) and in substance (παραφραστικῶς; comm. on Dan. ix. 24). Hence he presents Jewish exegesis from the purely Jewish point of view. Even the language of the Haggadah appears in his commentaries, e.g., where the explanation is given in the form of question and answer (comm. on Dan. ii. 12: quærunt Hebræi"); or when he says, in explaining, "This it is that is said" ("Hoc est quod dicitur"; comp. ); or when several opinions are cited on the same subject ("alii Judæorum"); or when a disputation is added thereto ("Epistola xix. ad Hedibiam," i. 55). He even uses technical phrases, such as "The wise men teach" ("Epistolæ," cxxi.) or "One may read" (comm. on Nahum. iii. 8). This kind of haggadic exegesis, which is merely intended to introduce a homiletic remark, leads Jerome to accuse the Jews unjustly of being arbitrary in their interpretation of the Bible text. But he did not believe that the Jews corrupted the text, as Christians frequently accused them of doing. While at Rome he obtained from a Jew a synagogue-roll ("Epistolæ," xxxvi. 1) because he considered the Hebrew text as the only correct one, as the "Hebraica veritas," which from this time on he regarded as authoritative in all exegetical disputes. Jerome hereby laid down the law for Bible exegesis. Of course he recognized also some of the faults of Jewish exegesis, as, for example, the forced combination of unconnected verses (comm. on Isa. xliv. 15: "stulta contentione"); he sometimes regards his teacher's interpretation to be arbitrary, and opposes to it his own (ib. xlix. 1). Contrary to the haggadic interpretation of the Jews, he correctly notices a difference between "Hananeel" (Jer. xxxi. 38; see comm. ad loc.) and "Hanameel" (ib. xxxii. 7). Jerome rarely employs simple historical exegesis, but, like all his contemporaries, wanders in the mazes of symbolic, allegoric, and even mystic exegesis. In his commentary on Joel i. 4 he adopts the Jewish interpretation, according to which the four kinds of locusts mean the four empires; Zech. iv. 2, in which the lamp means the Law, its flame the Messiah, and its seven branches the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, he interprets entirely mystically.Use of Noṭariḳon.
In his commentary on Eccl. i. 9 he even teaches the preexistence of all beings, including man. He frequently uses the NoṬariḳon, e.g., in reference to Zerubbabel (comm. on Hag. i. 1) or to Abishag ("Epistolæ," lii. [i. 210]).
Jerome's exegesis came in some respects like a revelation to the Christian world, and cleared up difficulties in reading the Bible; e.g., his explanation of the Hebrew alphabet ("Epistola xxx. ad Paulam," i. 144) or that of the ten names of God ("Epistola xxv. ad Marcellam," i. 128). It must always be remembered that in many portions of his allegorical exegesis Jerome is entirely in agreement with Hellenistic methods; for instance, in the explanation of the four colors in the sanctuary of the desert ("Epistola lxiv. ad Fabiolam," i. 364; comp. Philo, "De Monarchia," § 2; Josephus, "B. J." v. 4, § 4; idem, "Ant." iii. 7, § 7). Jerome's commentaries are of small value for Old Testament criticism, on account of the inclination to allegorize which leads him to a free treatment of the text, as well as on account of his polemics against Judaism (comp.
Jerome's works are especially important for Judaism because of the numerous Jewish traditions found in them, particularly in his work "Quæstiones Hebraicæ in Genesin." Jerome designates by the general name "tradition" all supplementary and edifying stories found in the Midrash and relating to the personages and events of the Bible; these stories may fitly be designated as historic haggadah. Here also Jerome affirms that he faithfully reproduces what the Jews have told him (comm. on Amos iv. 16: "hoc Hebræi autumant et sicut nobis ab ipsis traditum est, nostris fideliter exposuimus"). He designates the Jewish legend of Isaiah's martyrdom as an authentic tradition (comm. on Isa. lvii. 1: "apud cos certissima traditio"), while he doubts the story of Jeremiah's crucifixion because there is no reference to it in Scripture (comm. on Jer. xi. 18). Jerome often remarks that a certain story is not found in Scripture, but only in tradition (comm. on Isa. xxii. 15), and that these traditions originated with the "magistri," i.e., the Rabbis (comm. on Ezek. xlv. 10); that these "fables" are incorporated into the text on the strength of one word (comm. on Dan. vi. 4); and that many authors are cited to confirm this tradition. All these remarks exactly characterize the nature of the Haggadah. Jerome apparently likes these traditions, though they sometimes displease him, and then he contemptuously designates them as "fabulæ" or "Jewish fables," "ridiculous fables" (comm. on Ezek. xxv. 8), "ridiculous things" (on Eccl. iii. 1), or "cunning inventions" (on Zech. v. 7). Jerome's opinion of these traditions is immaterial at the present time. The important point is that he quotes them; for thereby the well-known traditions of the Midrash are obtained in Latin form, and in this form they are sometimes more concise and comprehensible—in any case they are more interesting. Moreover, many traditions that appear from the sources in which they are found to be of a late date are thus proved to be of earlier origin. Jerome also recounts traditions that are no longer found in canonical Jewish sources, as well as some that have been preserved in the Jewish and Christian Apocrypha. It is, furthermore, interesting to note that Jerome had read some of these traditions; hence they had been committed to writing in his time.
Although other Church Fathers quote Jewish traditions none equal Jerome in the number and faithfulness of their quotations. This Midrash treasure has unfortunately not yet been fully examined; scholars have only recently begun to investigate this field. Nor have Jerome's works been properly studied as yet in reference to the valuable material they contain on the political status of the Jews of Palestine, their social life, their organization, their religiousviews, their Messianic hopes, and their relations to Christians.
Jerome was no friend to the Jews, although he owed them much; he often rebukes them for their errors; reproaches them for being stiff-necked and inimical to the Christians; controverts their views in the strongest terms; curses and reviles them; takes pleasure in their misfortune; and even uses against them both the books that he has cunningly obtained from them and the knowledge he has derived therefrom. Thus Jews and Christians agree that he is eminent only for his scholarship, and not for his character. See Church Fathers.
- O. Zöckler, Hieronymus, Sein Leben und Sein Wirken, Gotha, 1865;
- A. Thierry, St. Jérôme, Paris, 1867, 1875;
- Grützmacher, Hieronymus, part i., Leipsic, 1901;
- Nowack, Die Bedeutung des Hieronymus für die A. T. Textkritik, 1875, pp. 6-10;
- S. Krauss, in Magyar Zsidó Szémle, 1890, vii., passim;
- idem, in J. Q. R. vi. 225-261;
- M. Rahmer, Die Hebräischen Traditionen in den Werken des Hieronymus, i., Breslau, 1861;
- ii., Berlin, 1898;
- idem, in Ben Chananja, vii.;
- idem, in Monatsschrift, 1865, 1866, 1867, 1868;
- idem, in Grätz Jubelschrift;
- Siegfried, Die Aussprache des Hebräischen bei Hieronymus, in Stade's Zeitschrift, iv. 34-82;
- Spanier, Exegetische Beiträge, zu Hieronymus, Bern, 1897;
- W. Bacher, Eine Angebliche Lücke im Hebräischen Wissen des Hieronymus, in Stade's Zeitschrift, xxii. 114-116.