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The base text of the Douay-Rheims Bible

April 10, 2014

Victoria asked the other day if the Douay-Rheims Bible “relied heavily on the Septuagint.” My understanding is that the Douay-Rheims Bible was a translation of the Latin Clementine Vulgate 1592, which is tidied up from the older Vulgate versions, and has now been superseded by the Nova Vulgata. The Vulgate was basically Jerome and Paula’s translation from the Hebrew, made while they were living in Bethlehem in the 4th century with the aid of local Jewish scholars which they were able to smuggle into their convent from time to time. Jerome made a point of saying that it was translated from the Hebrew in contrast to the Old Latin versions, which were translations of the Septuagint. The only exception was the Psalms, which kept the Latin translation from the Septuagint because people were familiar with these Psalms as hymns in church.

However, the English Protestant translations of the Hebrew Bible began with Coverdale’s 1534 translation, which was based on the Latin Vulgate, Pagnini’s Latin Bible, Luther’s Bible, and the Zwingli Bible. Later English translations depended on using a polyglot bible as the base. Here are descriptions of two influential polyglot bibles. The first is the Complutensian Polyglot,

I. The Complutensian Polyglot, one of the most noted and rarest of Biblical works, was undertaken under the supervision and at the expense of Cardinal Francisco Ximenez de Cisneros, archbishop of Toledo and chancellor of Castile (d. 1517), and was prepared by the most famous scholars of Spain, such as Demetrius Ducas of Crete, Antonio of Lebrija, Diego Lopez de Stunica, Ferdinand Nu�ez de Guzman, and Alphonso of Zamora. After years of labor the work was printed at Alcala (Latin, Complutum) between 1513 and 1517, being finished only a few months before the death of the cardinal, and was published in 1520 with the sanction of Pope Leo X. It consists of six folio volumes, the first four including the Old Testament, the fifth the New Testament, and the sixth being a Hebrew-Chaldee lexicon with grammatical and other notes (printed separately asAlphonsi Zamorensis introductiones artis grammatic� Hebraic�, Alcala, 1526).

The languages are (1) the Hebrew of the Old Testament; (2) the Targum of Onkelos; (3) the Septuagint (here printed for the first time and with remarkable alterations of the manuscripts to make the text fit the Hebrew or the Latin); (4) the Vulgate; (5) the Greek New Testament. Latin translations of the Targum and Septuagint are appended. The title-page and last page are given in reduced facsimile in Schaff’s Companion to the Greek Testament (New York, 1885).

Actually the pages of this polyglot had the Hebrew, Latin Clementine Vulgate and Septuagint, in columns across the page, and the Targum with Latin translation at the bottom. The Latin Vulgate was central. The second major polyglot is described as follows,

II. The Antwerp Polyglot (Biblia Regia) was printed at the expense of Philip II of Spain by the famous Antwerp printer Christophe Plantin (8 vols., folio, 1569-72). Benedictus Arias Montanus (see ARIAS, BENEDICTUS) had charge of the work, with the help of Spanish, Belgian, and French scholars, among them Andr� Maes, Guy le F�vre de la Boderie, and Fran�ois Rapheleng. Volumes i-iv contain the Old Testament, vol. v the New; besides the original texts, the Vulgate, and the Septuagint with Latin translation, Aramaic targums of the Old Testament (with the exception of Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles) are given, with Latin translation; also the old Syriac (Peshito) version of the New Testament, lacking II Peter, II and III John, Jude, and the Apocalypse; it is printed with both Syriac and Hebrew characters and has a Latin translation.

Volumes vi-vii contain the Hebrew lexicon of Sanctes Pagninus, the Syriac-Chaldee lexicon of Le F�vre de la Boderie, a Syriac grammar by Maes, a Greek dictionary and archeological treatises by Arias Montanus, and many brief philological and critical notes. The last volume repeats the Hebrew and Greek texts with interlinear Latin translations, by Sanctes Pagninus of the former, and the Vulgate for the latter; this part of the work, especially the New Testament, has often been reprinted. The critical preparation was defective and the manuscripts used were of secondary importance; in many places there is dependence on the Complutensian work.

The most significant difference between the two polyglot versions is that the Antwerp polyglot had the addition of Pagnini’s literal Latin translation from the Hebrew as an interlinear aid to reading the Hebrew. The Complutensian Polyglot had only Jerome’s Vulgate in Latin. My suggestion is that as the translators into national languages like French, German, English, etc. were all fluent in reading Latin as a workaday language, this was often the part they used to understand the Hebrew and Greek.

Roman Catholic translators favoured the Vulgate, since it continued to be the official text of the Roman church, while Protestant translators favoured the interlinear of Pagnini – although this text was revised and updated with each printing. However, I do think that all translators used, and were influenced by, all previous translations that were in any way available to them at the time.

The first English translation of the Septuagint was made by Charles Thomson in Philadelphia in 1808, and printed by Jane Aitken.

Note: This lovely webpage with illustrations, etc. and such a nice layout, has incorrect information here.

The 1569 Biblia Sacra, Hebraice, Chaldaice, Graece et Latine, known as the “Antwerp or Plantin’s Polyglot” (named after its printer, Christophe Plantin) presents, across a single, full opening, four different versions in four columns: the Hebrew; the Latin Vulgate; Arias Montano’s revision of Xantes Pagninus’s Latin version from the Greek[4]; and the Greek Septuagint.[5]

Here is the endnote #4, which apparently the author of the webpage did not fully comprehend.

[4] Versions of the Bible” in The Original CatholicEncyclopedia: “Xantes Pagninus, O.P. (d. 1541), made an inter-linear version of both the Old and New Testaments from the original languages, which by its literal fidelity pleased Christians and Jews and was much used by the Reformers. A revision of this translation resulting in a text even more literal was made by Arias Montano. His work appeared in the Antwerp Polyglot (1572).”[5] See Elly Cockx-Indestege.

Pagninus did not do a translation from the Greek as far as I know. I have not been able to find out who did the Latin translation of the Septuagint. Pagnini’s Latin was included as an interlinear text for the Hebrew. Well TMI. I had once planned to do some academic work on this, but time did not permit.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 10, 2014 6:47 pm

    A review of Jerome’s Liber Hebraicarum Questionum in Genesim will convince you that the situation is not so simple; Jerome was certainly motivated by the Hebrew text but he did not restrict his study to Hebrew, rather he drew on a variety of Greek translations as well as the Old Latin.

    Jerome’s work has been translated in English as Saint Jerome’s Hebrew Questions on Genesis; see also Adam Kamesar’s Jerome, Greek Scholarship, and the Hebrew Bible: A Study of the Quaestiones Hebraicae in Genesim.

  2. April 10, 2014 9:50 pm

    Hi Theo,

    Thanks for the links. I agree with you! I was getting around to thinking that this must be true, but did not have evidence at my fingertips, so it just went to the back of my mind for further thinking. But this is why I wrote, “However, I do think that all translators used, and were influenced by, all previous translations that were in any way available to them at the time.”

    I have read some research papers on Jerome’s questions in Genesis, but mostly on phrases that were considered original to him. Here is one I really like –

    Anyway, I appreciate your input on this. I am not very familiar with Catholic versions of the Bible.

  3. April 10, 2014 11:55 pm

    Thanks Suzanne! I wonder where I got my impression.
    I do think I’ve seen footnotes or study notes in Catholic bible translations that privilege the LXX in passages where it differs from the MT. (But those would not have been in the Douay-Rheims, since I don’t own one and don’t recall ever even opening my mother’s copy.)

    I’m glad to see that polyglot bibles were used as source texts – that seems more reliable to me.

  4. April 11, 2014 8:09 am

    Victoria says, “I’m glad to see that polyglot bibles were used as source texts – that seems more reliable to me.”

    And I agree. Doesn’t it seem like the imagination of the history of translation of the Bible tends to prefer including not just one language? From the lore of the Letter of Aristeas to Philocrates to the following outline in the Preface of the JPS 1917, there seems to be a necessary acknowledgement of plurality:

    The sacred task of translating the Word of God, as revealed to Israel through lawgiver, prophet, psalmist, and sage, began at an early date. According to an ancient rabbinic interpretation, Joshua had the Torah engraved upon the stones of the altar (Joshua 8:32) not in the original Hebrew alone, but in all the languages of mankind, which were held to be seventy, in order that all men might become acquainted with the words of the Scriptures. This statement, with its universalistic tendency, is, of course, a reflex of later times, when the Hebrew Scriptures had become a subject of curiosity and perhaps also of anxiety to the pagan or semi-pagan world…. [T]his tradition contains an element of truth….

  5. April 16, 2014 12:15 pm

    Re: the polyglots — sometimes we forget that textual criticism wasn’t invented by modern historical-critical scholars. Origen was doing it long before the Germans!

    But I have never heard that Paula helped with the Vulgate. Where do we learn of that in the ancient sources?

  6. April 16, 2014 3:22 pm

    Paula started studying Greek and Hebrew in Rome around 380. Jerome joined the group of women scholars as tutor in 382. Together, they travelled to Bethlehem, where she set up a convent of about 50 women, and a hostel for monks. Many thought that they had an amourous relationship, but we will never know. They lived in the same convent until Paula died in 404. They entertained together and were considered a couple.

    Paula studied Greek and Hebrew, and supplied any resources, ie texts that Jerome needed. Secondary sources claim she edited his translation and she and some of the nuns copied the texts.

    She was often the impetus for him to translate. We do also have this record that she argued with him over translation points.

    “Jerome, Epistola CVIII; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, XXII (Paris, 1845); trans. Aubrey Stewart, in The Letter of Paula and Eustochium to Marcella about the Holy Places. (365 A.D.) (London: Palestine Pilgrim’s Text Society, 1896). He is telling her daughter Eustochium, after Paula’s death, about the argument he had with her over the translation of the Hebrew “zo”in Psalm 132, Paula insisting it was “her,”Mary, Jerome, that it was “him,” God.”

    This is from Equally in God’s Image: Women in the Middle Ages
    edited by Julia Bolton Holloway, Constance S. Wright, Joan Bechtold, page 121 and found in google books.

    I don’t have further evidence, since I have never searched it down, but she financed the whole show, and studied Greek and Hebrew, so I doubt that for the 22 years they were together, that she kept quiet and did not interact with the text. She was respected by others as a scholar, and some thought that Jerome held her back.

    Some years ago Evangelical Text Criticism blog, listed her as the earliest female text critic. Here is the relevant comment,

    “Well done, Peter. Of course Paula was not a textual critic at the time this image depicts (she weareth not the garb of a textual critic). However, subsequently upon her move to Palestine she founded monasteries, and I therefore presume that she oversaw copying of texts. At least her nuns used to have to learn the Psalms and Paula so mastered Hebrew as to be able to read the Psalms in Hebrew without trace of a Latin accent. Most of the details are in Jerome’s Ad Eustochium, i.e. Ep. 108.” Here is an excerpt from this letter,

    “She asked leave that she and her daughter might read over the old and new testaments under my guidance. Out of modesty I at first refused compliance, but as she persisted in her demand and frequently urged me to consent to it, I at last did so and taught her what I had learned not from myself— for self-confidence is the worst of teachers— but from the church’s most famous writers. Wherever I stuck fast and honestly confessed myself at fault she would by no means rest content but would force me by fresh questions to point out to her which of many different solutions seemed to me the most probable. I will mention here another fact which to those who are envious may well seem incredible. While I myself beginning as a young man have with much toil and effort partially acquired the Hebrew tongue and study it now unceasingly lest if I leave it, it also may leave me; Paula, on making up her mind that she too would learn it, succeeded so well that she could chant the psalms in Hebrew and could speak the language without a trace of the pronunciation peculiar to Latin.”


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