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From Hebrew to Latin: Verbs in Translation in the Book of Ecclesiastes

Luke Gorton

The translation of the Bible into Latin by Jerome, based as it was not only on the original Hebrew text but also on several well-established Greek translations, is one of the most significant extant translation projects of the ancient world. Apart from cultural ramifications, it offers the scholar an excellent window into perceived linguistic correspondences between the original Hebrew and the Latin of late antiquity. This paper focuses on one particular set of linguistic correspondences from one particular corpus by studying the translation of verbs in the book of Ecclesiastes. This book was chosen for a number of reasons, not the least of which being its wide range of verbs in all aspects, tenses, and moods. This enables the scholar to examine the attitudes of the translator toward a wide variety of verbs and verbals in different contexts. This paper lays out the results of the study in a systematic fashion, examining the varying ways in which each combination of Hebrew stem and form (e.g., the Qal perfect) finds its expression in the Latin translation. Exact statistics are provided to facilitate comparison between the various categories. The results show that no major category is translated unanimously with any one combination of Latin tense, voice, and mood, although patterns emerge (for instance, the Hebrew Qal perfect is often, although not always, realized as a Latin perfect active indicative). By noting both the “standard” translations and the deviations, this paper sheds light on linguistic categories we often take for granted while facilitating discussion not only of the general operating principles of Biblical translation in the ancient world, but also the question of Jerome's own reliance on previous translations in producing his magnum opus.

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