St. Jerome' Letter
7. That secular and church writers should have adopted this line need not surprise us when we consider that the translators of the Septuagint,1673 the evangelists, and the apostles, have done the same in dealing with the sacred writings. We read in Mark1674 of the Lord saying Talitha cumi and it is immediately added “which is interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise.” The evangelist may be charged with falsehood for having added the words “I say unto thee” for the Hebrew is only “Damsel arise.” To emphasize this and to give the impression of one calling and commanding he has added “I say unto thee.” Again in Matthew1675 when the thirty pieces of silver are returned by the traitor Judas and the potter’s field is purchased with them, it is written:—“Then was fulfilled that which was spoken of by Jeremy the prophet, saying, ‘And they took the thirty pieces of silver the price of him that was valued which1676 they of the children of Israel did value, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord appointed me.’” This passage is not found in Jeremiah at all but in Zechariah, in quite different words and an altogether different order. In fact the Vulgate renders it as follows:—“And I will say unto them, If it is good in your sight, give ye me a price or refuse it: So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Put them into the melting furnace and consider if it is tried as I have been tried by them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them into the house of the Lord.”1677 It is evident that the rendering of the Septuagint differs widely from the quotation of the evangelist. In the Hebrew also, though the sense is the same, the words are quite different and differently arranged. It says: “And I said unto them, If ye think good, give me my price; and, if not, forbear. So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter;1678 a goodly price that I was priced at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord.”1679 They may accuse the apostle of falsifying his version seeing that it agrees neither with the Hebrew nor with the translators of the Septuagint: and worse than this, they may say that he has mistaken the author’s name putting down Jeremiah when it should be Zechariah. Far be it from us to speak thus of a follower1680 of Christ, who made it his care to formulate dogmas rather than to hunt for words and syllables. To take another instance from Zechariah, the evangelist John quotes from the Hebrew, “They shall look on him whom they pierced,”1681 for which we read in the Septuagint, “And they shall look upon me because they have mocked me,” and in the Latin version, “And they shall look upon me for the things which they have mocked or insulted.” Here the evangelist, the Septuagint, and our own version1682 all differ; yet the divergence of language is atoned by oneness of spirit. In Matthew again we read of the Lord preaching flight to the apostles and confirming His counsel with a passage from Zechariah. “It is written,” he says, “I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.”1683 But in the Septuagint and in the Hebrew it reads differently, for it is not God who speaks, as the evangelist makes out, but the prophet who appeals to God the Father saying:—“Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” In this instance according to my judgment—and I have some careful critics with me—the evangelist is guilty of a fault in presuming to ascribe to God what are the words of the prophet. Again the same evangelist writes that at the warning of an angel Joseph took the young child and his mother and went into Egypt and remained there till the death of Herod; “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.”1684 The Latin manuscripts do not so give the passage, but in Hosea1685 the true Hebrew text has the following:—“When Israel was a child then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt.” Which the Septuagint renders thus:—“When Israel was a child then I loved him, and called his sons out of Egypt.” Are they1686 altogether to be rejected because they have given another turn to a passage which refers primarily to the mystery of Christ? Or should we not rather pardon the shortcomings of the translators on the score of their human frailty according to the saying of James, “In many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word the same is a perfect man and able also to bridle the whole body.”1687 Once more it is written in the pages of the same evangelist, “And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.”1688 Let these word fanciers and nice critics of all composition tell us where they have read the words; and if they cannot, let me tell them that they are in Isaiah.1689 For in the place where we read and translate, “There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,”1690 in the Hebrew idiom it is written thus, “There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse and a Nazarene shall grow from his root.” How can the Septuagint leave out the word ‘Nazarene,’ if it is unlawful to substitute one word for another? It is sacrilege either to conceal or to set at naught a mystery.