Vir Trilinguis: A Study in the Biblical Exegesis of Saint Jerome (review)
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Reviewed by
Denis Brown. Vir Trilinguis: A Study in the Biblical Exegesis of Saint Jerome. Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1992. Pp. 229. $32.50.

Without mentioning any details of Jerome's life, Brown introduces him as the "most important exegete of biblical literature in the fourth century" (p. 11). This [End Page 83] work describes and analyzes the most important elements in Jerome's exegetical principles and practice. To set it in context, an introductory chapter sketches the background in both Judaism and Christianity for Jerome's scholarship regarding the Bible. Only three pages are devoted to Jewish exegesis, so readers should be encouraged to supplement this inadequate treatment. Moving from Philo to Clement and Origen in a few paragraphs, Brown mentions Didymus the Blind but shows no awareness of the Toura papyri, so his brief comments on Jerome's Commentary to Zechariah should be completed by referring to Louis Doutreleau, Didyme l'Aveugle sur Zacharie (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1962).

"Jerome—Bibliophile and Textual Critic" studies what Jerome says about his interest in books, his use of notarii (stenographers) and librarii (copyists), their faults and the reasons for manuscripts becoming corrupt. He wrote caustically about errors entering a text because of an accidental confusion of letters or an intentional adaptation by the copyist. Brown lists eight passages in which Jerome explicitly mentioned variant readings in manuscripts, with a discussion of each.

"Jerome and the Hebraica Veritas" begins with a review of Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible so that Jerome's use of the Septuagint and later versions can be appreciated. "Jerome continued to use both the LXX and the Hebrew text throughout his career, but gave primacy of importance to the Hebrew text . . . " (pp. 61-62). The discussion of Jerome's attitude concerning the canon of the Old Testament does not include reference to Roger Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985). The level of Jerome's knowledge of Hebrew (considerable) and Aramaic (minimal) is evaluated in several ways, including examples of faulty etymology from Liber Interpretations Hebraicorum Nominum. In two of the ten examples Brown errs in his evaluation of Jerome's work (bamoth might mean "in death" if one took ba- to be a preposition; Raguhel indeed transcribed Ra'ul in Greek where ayin is rendered at times by gamma).

"Jerome as a Translator" could be consulted with profit by all who recognize Jerome as the patron of translators, the first Latin writer to approach the subject of translation in a modern manner.

The next chapters discuss Jerome's approach to the literal and spiritual senses of the Scriptures. A brief discussion of the schools of Alexandria and Antioch regarding the senses of the biblical text lays the ground for appreciating Jerome's work. He described his task as "to explain what has been said by others and to make clear in plain language what has been written obscurely" (Epistle 57:9). The term "according to the letter" and similar phrases are used by Jerome to denote passages which he believed could be understood without recourse to the spiritual sense. His references to biblical history and interest in the topography of biblical lands receive some attention. The next chapter reviews Alexandrian influence on Jerome in the work of Clement and Origen and shows the influence of Antiochene typology. In many passages interpreting the prophets, Jerome followed an exposition of the historical sense with a "spiritual understanding" that applied the theme to Christ, to the Church or to her opponents. Brown concludes that Jerome was "an eclectic exegete and not a blind follower of either of the two main exegetical schools" (p. 165). [End Page 84]

Although Brown declares in his Introduction that Jerome's indebtedness to, and use of, specific Jewish exegetical traditions "is beyond the scope of this work," he has a chapter on "Jerome, Jews and Judaism." He shows Jerome's anti-Jewish bias, but notes some occasions when he is benign towards Jews. Jerome's discussions of Jewish "sects," leaders and institutions (both in biblical times and in his own day) are presented and followed by a list of texts about Jewish Christians. Brown concludes...