This was put into circulation about the same time as the sixteen prophets, that is, about the year 393. It was written in 392. It has no dedication, but is full of personal interest, and shows the deplorable state in which the text of many parts of Scripture was before his time, thus justifying his boast, |I have rescued Job from the dunghill.|
I am compelled at every step in my treatment of the books of Holy Scripture to reply to the abuse of my opponents, who charge my translation with being a censure of the Seventy; as though Aquila among Greek authors, and Symmachus and Theodotion, had not rendered word for word, or paraphrased, or combined the two methods in a sort of translation which is neither the one nor the other; and as though Origen had not marked all the books of the Old Testament with obeli and asterisks, which he either introduced or adopted from Theodotion, and inserted in the old translation, thus showing that what he added was deficient in the older version. My detractors must therefore learn either to receive altogether what they have in part admitted, or they must erase my translation and at the same time their own asterisks. For they must allow that those translators who it is clear have left out numerous details, have erred in some points; especially in the book of Job, where, if you withdraw such passages as have been added and marked with asterisks, the greater part of the book will be cut away. This, at all events, will be so in Greek. On the other hand, previous to the publication of our recent translation with asterisks and obeli, about seven or eight hundred lines were missing in the Latin, so that the book, mutilated, torn, and disintegrated, exhibits its deformity to those who publicly read it. The present translation follows no ancient translator, but will be found to reproduce now the exact words, now the meaning, now both together of the original Hebrew, Arabic, and occasionally the Syriac. For an indirectness and a slipperiness attaches to the whole book, even in the Hebrew; and, as orators say in Greek, it is tricked out with figures of speech, and while it says one thing, it does another; just as if you close your hand to hold an eel or a little muræna, the more you squeeze it, the sooner it escapes. I remember that in order to understand this volume, I paid a not inconsiderable sum for the services of a teacher, a native of Lydda, who was amongst the Hebrews reckoned to be in the front rank; whether I profited at all by his teaching, I do not know; of this one thing I am sure, that I could translate only that which I previously understood. Well, then, from the beginning of the book to the words of Job, the Hebrew version is in prose. Further, from the words of Job where he says, |May the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, a man-child is conceived,| to the place where before the close of the book it is written |Therefore I blame myself and repent in dust and ashes,| we have hexameter verses running in dactyl and spondee: and owing to the idiom of the language other feet are frequently introduced not containing the same number of syllables, but the same quantities. Sometimes, also, a sweet and musical rhythm is produced by the breaking up of the verses in accordance with the laws of metre, a fact better known to prosodists than to the ordinary reader. But from the aforesaid verse to the end of the book the small remaining section is a prose composition. And if it seem incredible to any one that the Hebrews really have metres, and that, whether we consider the Psalter or the Lamentations of Jeremiah, or almost all the songs of Scripture, they bear a resemblance to our Flaccus, and the Greek Pindar, and Alcæus, and Sappho, let him read Philo, Josephus, Origen, Eusebius of Cæsarea, and with the aid of their testimony he will find that I speak the truth. Wherefore, let my barking critics listen as I tell them that my motive in toiling at this book was not to censure the ancient translation, but that those passages in it which are obscure, or those which have been omitted, or at all events, through the fault of copyists have been corrupted, might have light thrown upon them by our translation; for we have some slight knowledge of Hebrew, and, as regards Latin, my life, almost from the cradle, has been spent in the company of grammarians, rhetoricians, and philosophers. But if, since the version of the Seventy was published, and even now, when the Gospel of Christ is beaming forth, the Jewish Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion, judaising heretics, have been welcomed amongst the Greeks -- heretics, who, by their deceitful translation, have concealed many mysteries of salvation, and yet, in the Hexapla are found in the Churches and are expounded by churchmen; ought not I, a Christian, born of Christian parents, and who carry the standard of the cross on my brow, and am zealous to recover what is lost, to correct what is corrupt, and to disclose in pure and faithful language the mysteries of the Church, ought not I, let me ask, much more to escape the reprobation of fastidious or malicious readers? Let those who will keep the old books with their gold and silver letters on purple skins, or, to follow the ordinary phrase, in |uncial characters,| loads of writing rather than manuscripts, if only they will leave for me and mine, our poor pages and copies which are less remarkable for beauty than for accuracy. I have toiled to translate both the Greek versions of the Seventy, and the Hebrew which is the basis of my own, into Latin. Let every one choose which he likes, and he will find out that what he objects to in me, is the result of sound learning, not of malice.