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The Greeky “Deuteronomy” of the Douay-Rheims

April 11, 2014

First read Suzanne’s rich post, The base text of the Douay-Rheims Bible.

Now see how the Douay-Rheims Bible English relies on the Latin of various Bibles that relies on the Greek of the Septuagint that relies on the Hebrew of the Torah and of the book of Joshua.

If we start with something a little more contemporary, like the Preface to the 1917 English JPS Bible, then we read the following:

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….

So there’s a verse to track down (Joshua 8:32), which appears in the Douay-Rheims as follows:

And he wrote upon stones, the Deuteronomy of the law of Moses, which he had ordered before the children of Israel.

For that matter, the Wycliffe Bible (14c) seems to have the same:

and he wroot on the stoonys the Deutronomye of Moises lawe, which he hadde declarid bifor the sones of Israel.

If we go back to the Hebrew, the Masoretic Text, then we don’t find the equivalent or near equivalent match to this English word, Deuteronomy (aka Deutronomye).

If we go then to the Latin, the Vulgate — or the Pagnini for that matter, then we do find this word, Deuteronomium. Again, there’s no such thing in the Hebrew.

So where’d the Douay-Rheims and Wycliffe Bibles in English where’d the Vulgate and the Pagnini Bibles in Latin get that?

We easily find it in the Septuagint (although the chapter and verse numbers aren’t necessarily congruent):

καὶ ἔγραψεν Ἰησοῦς ἐπὶ τῶν λίθων τὸ δευτερονόμιον, νόμον Μωυσῆ, ὃν ἔγραψεν ἐνώπιον υἱῶν Ισραηλ.

This Charles Thomson translates from Greek into English as follows:

And when Joshua had written on the stones the repetition of the law of Moses, in the presence of the children of Israel.

And Sir Lancelot Charles Lee Brenton does something similar:

And Joshua wrote upon the stones a copy of the law [even] the law of Moses before the children of Israel.

But Leonard J. Greenspoon for the New English Translation of the Septuagint reduces the Greek phrase to the Greeky sounds as this English transliteration:

And Iesous wrote upon the stones Deuteronomion, a law of Moyses, which he wrote in the presence of the sons of Israel. [footnote: Deuteronomy]

Does that mean anything much in English? Does it mean anything much in Latin? It sure does mean something in Greek. Does that Hebraic Hellene match the Hebrew? Does the translation have to sound Greeky if from Greek into English?

We can begin to find a few answers to some of these questions about the Latin, oddly enough, in the Oxford English Dictionary. I’ll end with a couple of excerpts from the entry on


What’s one clear conclusion here? Some English and some Latin Bibles (even the Douay Rheims and the Vulgate) follow the LXX Greek, which may have mistranslations of the Hebrew in some places. Here are those English dictionary excerpts:

Pronunciation:  /djuːtəˈrɒnəmɪ/ˈdjuːtərəʊnɒmɪ/
Forms:  Also ME DeutronomyeDeutronomie, 15 Deutronome.

Etymology:  < ecclesiastical Latin Deuteronomium, < Greek Δευτερονόμιον, < δεύτερος second + νόμος law, etc.: in 13th cent. Old Frenchdeutronome, French deutéronome.

The name is taken from the words of the LXX in Deut. xvii. 18 το δευτερονόμιον τοῦτο, a mistranslation of the Hebrew mishnēh hattōrāh hazzōth ‘a copy or duplicate of this law’, for which the Vulgate has Deuteronomium legis hujus.


a. The name or title of the fifth book of the Pentateuch, which contains a repetition, with parenetic comments, of the Decalogue, and most of the laws contained in Exodus xxi–xxiii, and xxxiv.

1388   Bible (Wycliffite, L.V.Deut. Prol.,   In this book of Deutronomye ben contened the wordis which Moises spak to al Israel.Rubric. Here begynneth the bok of Deutronomie.



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