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‘Testament’ or ‘Covenant’? St Jerome’s Translation of Hebrews 7:22 Helen Ratner Dietz This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. Heb 7:22 The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary deem erroneous the use of the Latin word testamentum to translate the Greek word διαθήκη, diathēkē,1 which is what St Jerome (c. 340-420) did in translating Hebrews 7:22. In the Vulgate, Jerome renders that verse as “in tantum melioris testamenti sponsor factus est Iesus,” or, as the 1582 Rheims New Testament puts it, “By so much is Jesus made the suretie of a better testament.” Yet despite the contention of late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century lexicographers that the translation testamentum is erroneous, several of the Latin-English hand missals published for the laity before the Second Vatican Council continued to translate the words of consecration of the wine using the traditional formula: “For this is the chalice of my blood of the new and eternal testament [...].”2 Protestant churches likewise continued to use the traditional translation “testament” in their services.3 After Vatican II, the Eng1 “Testament,” The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, ed. John A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989, reprint 1998) vol. 17, p. 829. 2 A few examples: The Catholic Missal, trans. Charles J. Callan and John A. McHugh (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1934) 637; Saint Andrew Daily Missal with Vespers for Sundays and Feasts, ed. Gaspar Lefebvre (St Paul MN: E. M. Lohmann, 1953) 923; The Mass: The Holy Sacrifice With the Priest at the Altar, ed. John J. Wynne (New York: The Home Press, 1915) 18; I Pray the Mass: Sunday Missal, ed. Hugo H. Hoever (New York: Catholic Book Publishing, 1942) 47. Some, however, such as the Saint Joseph Daily Missal published in various editions by Catholic Book Publishing Co., gave the word “covenant” rather than “testament.” 3 E.g., The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church [Protestant Episcopal Church in Antiphon 16.1 (2012): 9-20 10 Helen Ratner Dietz lish translators of the reformed Missale Romanum of Paul VI (1970) broke with that tradition, giving us instead: “... this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant [...].” Despite the retention of the word testamentum in the Latin editio typica of the Roman Missal, the translators evidently shared the opinion of the scholars who disliked Jerome’s use of testamentum for diathēkē. The producers of the new, “formally equivalent” English-language Roman Missal approved by the Holy See in 2010 followed the lead of the original translators: “… for this is the chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant [...].” But did Jerome in fact err? Could it have been the modern lexicographers , and not Jerome, who failed to grasp the meaning of Hebrews 7:22? Certain Judaic practices of the Mishnah era suggest that Jerome was correct in translating diathēkē as testamentum. He must have known that the Greek word diathēkē denotes both a covenant and a will (as in a last deed and testament); and yet, when translating diathēkē into the Late Latin of his time, he chose the word testamentum, which by then failed to convey the idea of a covenant. If testamentum could not translate what one supposes to have been an Aramaic pun with the meanings of both “covenant” and “will,” then why did the knowledgeable Jerome choose the seemingly inappropriate word testamentum? Why did he not instead simply translate diathēkē with the obvious choice of the Latin word pactum, which, like diathēkē, can denote not only a will but also a covenant, and would thus nicely translate an Aramaic pun? Surely pactum translates both possible meanings of diathēkē, and surely testamentum does not. As a longtime resident of Bethlehem, where he settled in 386, Jerome was likely to have been aware, as most later translators might not have been, that the Jewish pre-betrothal contract, the kethab or ketubah (a writing or a document), was quite literally a last deed and testament of the husband to his wife. It...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-9933
Print ISSN
1543-9925
Pages
pp. 9-20
Launched on MUSE
2018-02-16
Open Access
No
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