Thursday, June 24, 2010

St. Jerome on the Deuterocanon

Catholic Bibles, as you probably know, are larger than Protestant Bibles. Or more specifically, we Catholics have the following books, which Protestants don't: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach (a.k.a. Ecclesiasticus), Baruch, and 1st and 2nd Maccabees. In addition to that, we have longer versions of Esther and Daniel. And finally, we have the Letter of Jeremiah. It's a copy of a letter written by Jeremiah. It used to be placed as the last chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, and is now the last chapter of the book of Baruch.

These Books, and parts of Books, which the Orthodox and Coptics have as well, are referred to as the Old Testament Deuterocanon (or usually, just "the Deuterocanon") by us, and as "the Apocrypha" by Protestants who reject them. The Protestant Old Testament is patterned off of the Hebrew versions of the Old Testament, while the Catholic, Orthodox, and Coptic Old Testaments are modelled off of the Greek versions.

If you've ever discussed the reasons for their rejection with someone knowledgable enough to have a reason, there tend to be two common points brought up:

(1) the Jews don't consider these books canonical (by which, they mean modern Jews), and

(2) Jerome rejected them.


The first point is pretty weak. The Jews up to the latter half of the first century A.D., past the time of Christ, had no settled canon. And the Church has fulfilled the mantle of Israel, as the Old Testament repeatedly prophesied. While the Jews still have a particular role in God's plan of salvation, that role doesn't include setting the canon for Christian Bibles.

The second point takes various forms. Sometimes, they'll cut right to Jerome, while othertimes, the argument will be presented as if the speaker knows of someone prominent Church Father besides Jerome who felt this way. Occassionally, you'll even hear that "the early Church" rejected these books, but that's just untrue. In fact, if you read what Jerome actually says on the subject, you'll quickly realize that he acknowledged his own view as (a) the minority view, (b) opposed to the Church's view, and (c) possibly wrong, even sinfully so. The best evidence for this comes in his book Against Rufinus.

Here's the context. St. Jerome translated the Vulgate for the pope, at his request. And Jerome submitted to the pope's authority, including the entire Deuterocanon along with the rest of Scripture. But in his prefaces for some of the books, he noted criticisms that either he, or Jewish friends of his, had against the Greek versions (since by this time the Jews exclusively used the Hebrew version, and rejected the Deuterocanon). For these prefaces, amongst other things, Rufinus attacked him, and Jerome responded.

Jerome gets to his explaination of Daniel, and makes it clear that while he doesn't like that the Catholic version is based on a heretic's translation, he's willing to submit to the "judgment of the churches":
I also told the reader that the version read in the Christian churches was not that of the Septuagint translators but that of Theodotion. It is true, I said that the Septuagint version was in this book very different from the original, and that it was condemned by the right judgment of the churches of Christ; but the fault was not mine who only stated the fact, but that of those who read the version. We have four versions to choose from: those of Aquila, Symmachus, the Seventy, and Theodotion. The churches choose to read Daniel in the version of Theodotion. What sin have I committed in following the judgment of the churches? But when I repeat what the Jews say against the Story of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Children, and the fables of Bel and the Dragon, which are not contained in the Hebrew Bible, the man who makes this a charge against me proves himself to be a fool and a slanderer; for I explained not what I thought but what they commonly say against us. I did not reply to their opinion in the Preface, because I was studying brevity, and feared that I should seem to he writing not a Preface but a book. I said therefore, "As to which this is not the time to enter into discussion." [...] Still, I wonder that a man should read the version of Theodotion the heretic and judaizer, and should scorn that of a Christian, simple and sinful though he may be.

Nota bene: the important thing, in the end, wasn't whether the Jews used that version (they didn't), or whether Jerome's individual reasoning and experience lead him to that conclusion (it didn't), or even what the standard Greek Septuagint said, but what the Church said. Understand that point, and the entire Deuterocanonical debate is settled. The Church closed the canon long before the Reformation, and no individual Christian (whether Jerome or Luther) has the authority to overrule Her Holy Spirit-protected judgment.

10 comments:

  1. I'd heard that there is some evidence that Jesus Himself used the Septuagint. On a simple search, most of the results that I'd come across were people seeking to refute this theory, and I didn't find any convincing evidence to support the theory that Jesus used Greek. Is there any good evidence to back up either side?

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  2. Here's the thing, Joe. Jerome's comment in 402AD in Against Rufinus, Book II was written 5 years before Jerome wrote his commentary on Daniel. And in the prologue and closing comments of his commentary he makes clear that the longer reading of Daniel is not accepted as canonical.

    "For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew. And in this connection I am surprised to be told that certain fault-finders complain that I have on my own initiative truncated the book. After all, both Origen, Eusebius and Apollinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece acknowledge that, as I have said, these visions are not found amongst the Hebrews, and that therefore they are not obliged to answer to Porphyry for these portions which exhibit no authority as Holy Scripture."

    He further argues that the two trees pun in the Greek could not have been made in the Hebrew. "But if anyone can show that the derivation of the ideas of cleaving and severing from the names of the two trees in question is valid in Hebrew, then we may accept this scripture also as canonical."

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  3. Cara,

    Both that passage you quoted, and the passage I quoted above show the same three things: (1) the Jewish Hebrew canon at the time of Jerome included the shorter version of Daniel; (2) the Christian canon at the time of Jerome included the longer version of Daniel; and (3) Jerome translated the longer version of Daniel, in submission to the Church, while remaining personally skeptical.

    (1) The passage I cited noted that his Jewish contemporaries criticized those passages.  The passage you cited noted that they weren't in the Hebrew version of Daniel.

    (2) Your claim that your quote shows that “the longer reading of Daniel is not accepted as canonical” is just not true.  In fact, it shows the opposite.  While Jerome explains that he didn't accept it as such, he admits that “in this connection I am surprised to be told that certain fault-finders complain that I have on my own initiative truncated the book.”  In other words, other Christians saw him using the shorter version of Daniel, and accused him of truncating the Book.  So Jerome is telling us that these other Christians were using the longer version of Daniel.

    Your quote, in isolation, wouldn't tell us whether Jerome or those “certain fault-finders” were the commonly-accepted view amongst Christians.  But the passage I cited did clarify that.  When Jerome says he's deferring to “the judgment of the churches” in translating the longer version of Daniel, he's admitting that theirs is the accepted canon, not his.

    (3) In submitting to the judgment of the churches, Jerome translated the Vulgate, which included the longer version of Daniel, as well.  The passage you quoted references this as well, in the first sentence.

    In the above post, I said that Jerome himself acknowledged his view as “(a) the minority view, (b) opposed to the Church's view, and (c) possibly wrong, even sinfully so.” Your quote seems to support, rather than refute, this proposition.

    Of course, this raises a broader issues for Christians: do we believe that God revealed His canon through the Church?  Or that God revealed His canon through Jerome, even though Jerome waffled on the question, submitting to the Church, while remaining doubtful?

    God bless,

    Joe

    P.S. I answered Kerath's question here, but forgot to respond to the comment itself to signal that.

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  4. Thanks Joe, but this ignores the context of Jerome's response to Rufinus. In Rufinus' Apology he argues that Jerome (A) does not believe Daniel to be a prophet, (B) Susanna is not true, and (C) the Song of the Children is not true history.

    Jerome responds to this attack as you quoted in Against Rufinus.

    In this context we see that Jerome is not referencing Hebrew vs. Greek, but rather which Greek translation: the LXX or the Theodotian. Jerome argues the LXX is different from the original and that the Theodotian version is best... agreeing with the churches. Jerome agrees with the churches because the churches at the time held to a shorter version of Daniel and that the last chapters of Daniel were not accurate.

    The point is that the churches of that time did not hold the longer version, but rather the shorter version, when Jerome is understood in context to the attack by Rufinus. It's not that Jerome holds a minority opinion that he concedes to the magisterium but rather he agrees with the churches who hold to a similar version of Daniel as he does.

    Make sense?

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  5. Cara,

    Your last comment appears to be based upon a mistaken belief that the Theodotian version was a short version of Daniel, like the modern Jewish or Protestant version of the Book.  That is incorrect.

    The Theodotian version of Daniel is one of the two “long versions” of Daniel (the LXX is the other).  It includes both the story of Susanna and the Hymn of the Three Children.  You can find both of them, in the original Greek here  (Susanna; Daniel 3, comparing the LXX, Theodotian, TNKH, and Vulgate side-by-side).

    By the time Jerome gets to translating Daniel for the Latin Vulgate, he's skeptical about the authenticity of the parts not found in the shorter version.  But he goes ahead and translates them anyways, using the long Theodotian version because of the “judgment of the churches,” since it was the widely-accepted translation.

    Rufinus' argument, as you correctly note, was that Jerome should have used the LXX version, instead (out of a belief that the LXX was a divinely-inspired translation).  But Jerome's answer for not using the LXX also answers why he didn't use the shorter Hebrew version.

    As I said in the original post: “the important thing, in the end, wasn't whether the Jews used that version (they didn't), or whether Jerome's individual reasoning and experience lead him to that conclusion (it didn't), or even what the standard Greek Septuagint said, but what the Church said.”

    God bless,

    Joe

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  6. Thanks Joe. But didn't the Theodotian version use asterisks to highlight the apocryphal sections? Jerome notes that Origen, Eusebius and Apollinarius agree. So couldn't it be argued that the "judgment of the churches" was for the Theodotian version but acknowledging that the apocryphal parts were not divinely inspired. That Jerome felt in good company agreeing with the churches because they understood the difference between the inspired text and the apocryphal text?

    As evidence to this I go back to my quote from Jerome's commentary on Daniel. It's clear (to me) that he does not mince words against what he believes to be the apocryphal texts sometimes attributed to the book of Daniel. If this is the case, one is left with a couple options:

    1) Jerome changed his mind from 402 to 407 on the canonical nature of the separated texts in Daniel. In 402 he believed them to be canonical and in 407 he did not.
    2) Jerome was consistent. He rejected the apocryphal components in Daniel in 402 and in 407 and claimed the churches did the same.

    The first would point out that the "judgment of the churches" held that the entirety of Daniel contained in the Vulgate (Theodotian's version, re-ordered) was canonical.

    The second would argue that the "judgment of the churches" was consistent with Jerome's belief that certain parts of Daniel were apocryphal.

    How can we know which one? Jerome tells us in that quote I shared from his commentary on Daniel... "For this same reason when I was translating Daniel many years ago, I noted these visions with a critical symbol, showing that they were not included in the Hebrew."

    From this I conclude that Jerome believed in 402 (when he said he agreed with the "judgement of the churches") that certain parts of Daniel were apocryphal. And not only him, but also "Origen, Eusebius and Apollinarius, and other outstanding churchmen and teachers of Greece". And he kept this position all throughout, even in 407 when he confirmed this perspective.

    The bottom line here is that not only did Jerome hold the Deuterocanon (as evidenced here by the additions to Daniel) to be apocryphal, he claims that the "judgment of the churches" at the time was also consistent with this perspective.

    It's my hunch that Catholics try to minimize Jerome's perspective here as unique, novel, isolated. But when read in context, it appears that he was not alone in thinking this. That he may very well have found that the majority of churches held the deuterocanonical texts to be apocryphal. That it was only the "unlearned" (to use Jerome's term) that believed otherwise.

    -Cara

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  7. Also, could you clarify what you meant here: "But Jerome's answer for not using the LXX also answers why he didn't use the shorter Hebrew version."

    It seems reasonable that Jerome answered why the LXX was wrong, but I cannot find where this covers the shorter Hebrew version. If anything, because of the agreeing with the obeli and asterisks, he was arguing that these separated sections were not canonical.

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  8. Cara,

    I think you’re still making a few important mistakes. First, you view the only two options as:

    “1) Jerome changed his mind from 402 to 407 on the canonical nature of the separated texts in Daniel. In 402 he believed them to be canonical and in 407 he did not.

    2) Jerome was consistent. He rejected the apocryphal components in Daniel in 402 and in 407 and claimed the churches did the same.”

    # 2 appears to be premised off of the mistaken idea that the Theodotian version used asterisks to highlight the apocryphal sections. Of course, even if the parts not found in the Hebrew were marked off, it wouldn't prove that those parts were considered uninspired. Most Catholic Bibles demarcate the parts of Daniel not found in the Hebrew today. That doesn't mean we're rejecting (or even questioning) their canonicity.

    So I would say that neither of the options that you lay out is likely. Rather, the best supported option is that Jerome doubted the canonicity of the Deuterocanonical components in Daniel, but deferred to “the judgment of the churches” in translating them anyways. His decision to demarcate the parts he was skeptical of met with denunciations, as he noted in 407.

    And it’s not the case, as you suggest in your last comment, that “Origen, Eusebius and Apollinarius” rejected the canonicity of these parts of Daniel, either. Nor does Jerome claim that.

    Rather, he claims that Origen, Eusebius and Apollinarius all had pointed out that these sections weren’t in the Hebrew, a fact that nobody disagrees on today. In fact, as William Heaford Daubney notes in Three Additions to Daniel, “Origen deems Susanna part of the genuine Daniel, cut out by the Jews, as he suggests in his Epistle to Africanus,” believing that Jewish censors removed the parts that reflected poorly on their leadership.

    Jerome never claims that the “judgment of the churches” is consistent with his skepticism of the longer version. Instead, he defers to the “judgment of the churches” in choosing the (long) Theodotian version over the (long) LXX version. The (short) Masoretic Text and other Hebrew versions weren’t even on the table.

    So I think you’re mistaken about the Theodotian version (as I showed with my links) and misreading what Jerome is saying about Fathers like Origen. And I think that you should revisit your conclusions as a result.

    God bless,

    Joe

    P.S. If Jerome was speaking on behalf of the broader Church, where do we see this widespread rejection of the longer parts of Daniel?

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  9. Jerome didn't think the LXX was wrong. He (personally) thought it was the best translation, but deferred to the Church.

    I'm saying that had he instead thought that the Masoretic Text (or any other version) was the best, he would have deferred to the Church as well.

    Joe

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  10. It is possible that Jerome merely acknowledged these parts were not available in the Hebrew manuscripts available to him, but Jerome also indicates that these marks indicate additions or previous errors.

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