Reconstructing the Scripture

Rebecca Frankel, July 27, 2012

Salve from the Mezzanine! Atop the main house at Dumbarton Oaks, I have spent the past six weeks bonding with my good friends Paul, Jesus, Allen and Greenough to help create the framework for a bilingual edition of the New Testament. This version of New Testament will form the sixth and final volume of the Vulgate Bible series to be published under the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library.

The Vulgate Bible, translated by Jerome from ancient Hebrew and Greek texts, dates back to the late 4th century. Seeking to promulgate the scripture among a wider audience, Pope Damascus commissioned Jerome to compile and revise previous versions of the Bible in a new Latin translation.

Though this text remained wildly popular up through the 15th century, its Latin is no longer a “vulgar” attribute as we round the first decade of the 21st. By publishing Jerome’s Latin next to Richard Challoner‘s literal but legible 1752 translation, we at DOML have been striving to make this text accessible to a wider contemporary audience.

Our process is not quite as simple as it might initially appear, consisting of far more than the juxtaposition of these two texts. Challoner’s translation is chock-full of bizarre punctuation and archaisms, requiring its own 2012 revision in conformance with the Chicago Manual of Style. Take Challoner’s translation of Revelations 21:8:
But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone; which is the second death.

With a little bit of modern grammar-policing, this verse will read:
But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable and murderers and whoremongers and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.

Words such as “linnen,” “chearful,” and “murtherers,” though adorable, get the axe, becoming comparatively mundane cheerful linen murderers.

Complications extend to the process of formatting the Latin text. From the start, we face a major challenge in that there is no one definitive version of Jerome’s Latin. Conflicting manuscripts abound, and though we believe Challoner was primarily consulting the 1592 Sixto-Clementine edition, the two often diverge. Seeking to reproduce the Latin text which Challoner was reading as closely as possible, we must embark on a back-translating treasure-hunt to find the version that best corresponds to his English for any given phrase.

Thus, the Latin in this

is actually a holy hodgepodge of these

As deadlines approach, our work has begun to near its finish, and our commander in chief, Angela Kinney, prepares to depart. Most patient of pedants, most devoted of DOakers, she shall be sorly missen by her worker beeves.


About Me:

I am a rising sophomore at Harvard College from Temple, Texas.

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