Jerome (Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus), Latin Church Father, born to Christian parents in Stridon, Dalmatia, and sent by them to study in Rome. In Gaul, where he lived a life of pleasure after completing his studies, he was overcome by thoughts of repentance; he decided to pursue an ascetic life and joined a group of ascetics in Aquileia. In 374 he decided to go to Jerusalem, but on his way he became ill in Antioch and stayed there. For three years (375–378) he lived the life of a hermit in the desert of Chalcis. There he met an apostate Jew and with his help began to learn Hebrew. He then returned to Antioch where he was ordained priest. He proceeded from there to Constantinople where he met Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 325–389) and heard his discourses on the exegesis of the Bible. From 382 to 385 he lived in Rome and served as secretary to Pope Damasus I.
During his stay in Constantinople he was engaged in translating the Chronicon of *Eusebius into Latin, as well as supplementing it and lengthening it to cover the period from the 20th year of Constantine to the death of Valens in 378. The adaptation is frequently slipshod and inexact. His translation of this work, which included dates of events from Abraham onward, served as the basis for all the chronography of the Middle Ages in the West and also had a direct or indirect influence upon medieval Hebrew authors. In 386 he settled in *Bethlehem, where he directed a monastery and devoted his time to study. He obtained money to found the monastery from one of his female followers in Rome, Paula, who traveled with several friends to Bethlehem, where she founded three nunneries. In Bethlehem Jerome continued his study of the Hebrew language, which he had previously studied in Syria. He had several Jewish teachers: one came from Lydda, and the second, named Bar-Ḥanina, came from Tiberias. Out of fear of the Jews, the latter was sometimes compelled, according to Jerome, to visit him at night, and at times he even sent another Jew, named Nicodemus, to take his place. At that time the Jews derided gentiles who could not pronounce the pharyngeals properly. Jerome, however, attained such a degree of proficiency in his pronunciation of Hebrew that the transcriptions of Hebrew words in his writings are important for knowledge of Hebrew pronunciation at that time.
The study of Hebrew prepared Jerome for his important work – a Latin translation of the Bible from the original (see *Bible, Latin Translations). This translation, together with his translation of the New Testament from Greek to Latin, was accepted as the official version of the Scriptures in the Catholic Church, and is known as the Vulgate from its Latin name, Vulgata. He translated the Book of Psalms three times. The first time, he translated it from the Greek, and this translation was taken into the Catholic liturgy. His second translation was included in the conventional version of the Vulgate, based on the work of Origen (c. 182–251), who had collated the Septuagint with the Hebrew version. Finally, when he translated the Bible from Hebrew, he once more translated the Book of Psalms, a translation which did not gain admission either into the official Christian text of the Scriptures or into Christian worship. Jerome also made various translations of the Books of Judith and Tobit from an Aramaic version that has since disappeared and of the additions in the Greek translation of Daniel. He did not regard as canonical works the Books of Ben Sira and Baruch, the Epistle of Jeremy, the first two Books of the Maccabees, the third and fourth Books of Ezra, and the additions to the Book of Esther in the Septuagint. The Latin translations of these works in present-day editions of the Vulgate are not from his pen.
The translation of the Bible met with complaints from conservative circles of the Catholic Church. His opponents labeled him a falsifier and a profaner of God, claiming that through his translations he had abrogated the sacred traditions of the Church and followed the Jews: among other things, they invoked the story that the Septuagint had been translated in a miraculous manner. Jerome, however, rejected the story as legend. Despite the opposition which the new translation aroused in the ancient period (an opposition also supported by Augustine), on the one hand, and the unfavorable criticism directed against it by many humanists and participants in the Reformation, on the other, the Council of Trent (16th century) declared the Vulgate to be an authentic version. This today means only that the Vulgate is authentic from the judicial, but not from the critical point of view. In addition to translating the Bible, Jerome composed commentaries on it. His commentaries were the basis of medieval Christian biblical exegesis, and even Jewish exegetes occasionally quote him. The commentaries contain much exegetic material that Jerome received from his Jewish teachers, including several Midrashim that have been lost. He makes use of both the plain meaning and homiletical exegesis in his commentaries. In his commentary to the Book of Daniel (c. 407) he rejects the claim of Porphyry (347–420) that it is not prophetic but reflects the historical situation that existed at the time of the decrees of *Antiochus. The first of Jerome's Hebrew studies appears in Quaestiones hebraicae in Genesin in which he collates Christian exegesis with the Hebrew text. His Liber interpretationis nominum hebraicorum is apparently based upon the Onomasticon of Origen, which has since disappeared. This dictionary of personal names occurring in the Bible and the New Testament is arranged in the order of the Holy Scriptures, and in each book the names are cited in alphabetical order. The translations of the names, however, are not always correct.
During his visits to Palestine in about 373 and in the winter of 385 and after he settled there permanently in 386, Jerome familiarized himself with the country and also learned much about it from his Jewish teachers. His major work on the topography of Palestine is De situ et nominibus locorum hebraicorum (c. 390), an adapted Latin translation of the Onomasticon of Eusebius. The translation supplements the source with much material that appeared in the fifth century, mainly in connection with the erection of churches in numerous holy places, such as Beth-El and Shiloh. Jerome also corrected what he viewed as inaccurate, e.g., the location of Bet Annava. Topographical material also appears in his various letters, especially in letter no. 108, a eulogy on the death of his friend Paula. In it, Jerome describes her travels in Palestine and takes advantage of the opportunity to mention many biblical sites, describing their condition at the time. The letter that he wrote after the death of Eustochium, the daughter of Paula, serves as a supplement to this description. In his comprehensive commentaries on the books of the Bible, Jerome cites many Jewish traditions concerning the location of sites mentioned in the Bible. Some of his views are erroneous, however (such as his explanation of the word appadno (אַפַּדְנוֹ), in Dan. 11:45, which he thought was a place-name).
Jerome was regularly in contact with Jews, but his attitude toward them and the law of Israel was the one that was prevalent among the members of the Church in his generation. He had a completely negative attitude toward the observances of both the early Christians and the Jews who converted to Christianity. This attitude was in contrast to that of Augustine, who was more tolerant in this matter, since in the eyes of Christians, the Torah preceded Christianity. The correspondence between Augustine and Jerome testifies that Augustine, as a theologian, was incapable of understanding the importance of Jerome's translations. On the other hand, Jerome was apparently incapable of original thought in the sphere of theology. One letter attributed to him (no. 19) that deals with circumcision and another (no. 149) that discusses the Jewish festivals were not compiled by him. One of Jerome's works that had a great influence on medieval Christian literature was De viris illustribus, which was compiled in Bethlehem in 392. Suetonius had published a book of the same name in about 113, dealing with the great Latin writers. Jerome's work dealt with 135 Christian literary personalities: he commences with Peter and ends with his own literary activity. He also discusses Philo, Josephus, and Justus of Tiberias, who were writers with both sectarian and Jewish backgrounds. The book contains errors and inaccuracies, but important information has also been preserved in it.
D. Goldsmidt, in: Sefer Yoḥanan Levi (1949), 38–45; S. Krauss, in: JQR, 6 (1894), 225–38; L. Hughes, The Christian Church in the Epistles of St. Jerome (1923); F. Cavallera, Saint Jérôme (1923); P. de Labriolle, Histoire de la littérature latine chrétienne (1924), 445–500; G. Bardy, in: Revue Bénédictine, 46 (1934), 145–153; B. Blumenkranz, Die Judenpredigt Augustins (1946), 45–50; A. Penna, S. Gerolamo (1949); P. Antin, Essai sur Saint Jérôme (1951); F.X. Murphy (ed.), A Monument to Saint Jerome: Essays on His Life, Work and Influence (1952); J. Steinmann, Saint Jérôme (1958), 383. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.F.D. Sparks, "Jerome as Biblical Scholar," in: P.R. Ackroyd and C.F. Evans (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 1 (1970); J.N.D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writing and Controversies (1975).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.