The Medieval Review 14.04.36


Kinney, Angela M. The Vulgate Bible, vol. 6: The New Testament, Douay-Rheims Translation. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pp. 1584. $29.95. ISBN: 9780674996700.



Reviewed by:


Michael P. Kuczynski
Tulane University
mkuczyn@tulane.edu

The book under review here is a magnum opus in two senses. First and most important, it completes admirably the six-volume project of a new parallel-text edition of the Vulgate Bible with English translation by the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (hereafter DOML), begun in 2010 with Swift Edgar's edition of The Pentateuch. The texts edited here by Angela M. Kinney, as an introduction by Edgar explains, were in the case of the Latin translated largely by St. Jerome in the late fourth century; and in the case of the English more than a millennium later, in the sixteenth century and with revisions thereafter, by a team at Douay and Rheims, as part of the Counter-Reformation effort. That is, in addition to being a new Latin-English Bible, the DOML series is an historicist enterprise--an effort to revive interest in the medieval Latin Bible and in an early modern English translation of it that was significant for multiple literary, theological, and political reasons. Second, the book at hand is also great physically: a substantial text, well- presented and bound, just the kind of volume, were it a manuscript codex, that would be at home in a Renaissance image of St. Jerome himself, surrounded by his lion, reading stands, and massy tomes of authority. Despite the old, proverbial warning against judging a book by its cover, it seems essential to note that DOML's New Testament, like the other volumes in its Bible series, impresses aesthetically. It is a worthy vessel for the scriptural texts it contains.

Those texts, the Latin Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims translation of it on facing pages, as reviewers of earlier volumes in this series have observed, are both peculiar (in the non-pejorative sense of "distinctive") and problematic. Regarding the Vulgate itself, the editors note, their aim has been "to present a Latin text close to what the Douay-Rheims translators saw" (1407). Taking the fifth edition of Robert Weber's Biblia Sacra Vulgata, the scholar's standard, as their base, they have adjusted this in light of Douay- Rheims readings by an appeal to other edited versions of the Vulgate, such as the 1592 Sixto-Clementine edition, and various editions of the so-called vetus Latina versions of the Bible. Departures from Weber's text are indicated in the book's endnotes. These, the editors caution, are not to be understood as "a true apparatus criticus," but as a guide "for people wanting to get as close as possible to the earliest versions of the many Latin texts which, combined, form the Vulgate Bible" (1408).

Every edited text, no matter how modest or presumptuous its handlers' intrusions, is a hypothesis. When the Wycliffites set out, in the fourteenth century, to produce the first comprehensive English translation of the Latin Bible, they had initially to establish a sound Latin text by gathering and collating different manuscripts and arriving at the best possible readings, assisted by authoritative commentaries. This process involved, as indicated in the General Prologue to the Wycliffite Bible, myche trauel ("considerable effort"). The Latin version they established, like the one used by the Douay-Rheims translators, is only indirectly recoverable: it must be inferred from the decisions of the translators themselves, using modern editions of the Vulgate as a proximate guide. Hence the DOML editors' frequent decisions to adjust Weber's text--Kinney does so several hundred times in the Gospels alone--although these adjustments are nowhere identified in their reading text by the conventional square brackets. Weber's edition, as a modern critical production, would have been, according to the argument of the DOML Bible editors, anachronistic alongside because not strictly parallel to the Douay- Rheims translation. It does not represent, as they suggest their Latin text more accurately if not definitively does, "the Latin Bible as it was read by many from the eighth through the sixteenth century" (1407).

This having been said, the DOML Latin text is itself anachronistic. For example, its editors modernize spelling and provide Weber's text with modern punctuation throughout, rather than signaling as his text does "new clauses or sentences...per cola et commata" (408), that is, with line breaks. These decisions bring their Latin more in line with that of the facing-page English, the spelling and punctuation of which have also been modernized, but cannot be said to represent the unrecoverable strategies of spelling and punctuation the Douay-Rheims translators confronted. (The improved punctuation does make reading the Latin and English texts together more comfortable than it might be otherwise.) Moreover, when stymied in reconstructing what the Douay-Rheims translators might have had at hand in their Latin exemplar(s), the DOML editors default to Weber's text and give a proposed "reconstruction" (1407) in the endnotes, rather than incorporating it, within say curly brackets, in the Latin text itself. If Weber is simply a base for their purposes rather than an absolute authority, one wonders--despite the editors' understandable desire to avoid visual distractions in the continuous Latin--about such a failure of critical nerve.

The DOML English translation is likewise curious. This is not the Douay-Rheims version published in 1582 (Old Testament) and 1609-1610 (New Testament), but a considerably altered version of the one revised in the eighteenth century by Bishop Richard Challoner and Challoner's text as revised at the end of the nineteenth century. The alterations in DOML's English text concern not only, as in the Latin, spelling and punctuation (what some textual critics would term "accidentals"), but also substantive words and phrases--many of them incorporated from the King James or Authorized Version of 1611. For instance, an early emendation in Kinney's New Testament volume, signaled by italics (as all of them are in her English text, following the series' practice), is to Matthew 2:7-8, where Herod calls in the three Magi and endeavors to manipulate them into serving as his spies concerning the Christ child. Kinney's Latin text reads as follows:

Tunc Herodes, clam vocatis magis, diligenter didicit ab eis tempus stellae quae apparauit eis et mittens illos in Bethleem dixit, "Ite, et interrogate diligenter de puero, et cum inveneritis, renuntiate mihi, ut et ego veniens adorem eum," qui cum audissent regem, abierunt.

She slightly emends the Douay-Reims version of this:

Then Herod, privately calling the wise men, enquired of them diligently the time of the star's appearing to them, and sending them into Bethlehem said, "Go, and search diligently after the child [Douay- Rheims reads "inquire," as Kinney notes], and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may also come and adore him. "Search" is imported from the King James Version. It is arguable, however, that this import upsets however slightly a parallelism the Douay-Rheims translators appreciated as implied in the Latin text (tagged by the repeated adverb diligenter) and thus wanted to emphasize--between Herod's probing of the Magi and the kind of intelligence-gathering he would like them to conduct on their journey. Here is Richmond Lattimore's felicitous 1962 translation from the Greek New Testament (not admittedly an immediate source for the Vulgate): Then Herod called in the Magians secretly and found from them the exact Time when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem, saying: Go and learn exactly about the child, and when you find him, bring back the news to me, so that I too may go and worship him. And they after hearing the King went on their way. (my emphasis) At Matthew 8:33, after Christ's exorcism of a group of demons into a herd of pigs, the Douay-Rheims translators record that "the swineherds fled and coming into the city told everything and concerning them that had been possessed by devils." Kinney adjusts the subject of this sentence, again following KJV, to "they that kept them fled," although the Wycliffite translators much less awkwardly rendered for their fourteenth-century readers Latin pastores simply as "herders" (Middle English hirdes), surely a more medieval sense, echoed in Douay-Rheims, that Kinney might have allowed to stand.

This sort of quibbling is tedious, however. The team that produced the DOML Bible had to manage a very difficult textual problem without embarking on an unrealistic, complete reediting of the Vulgate and retranslation of it into accurate English prose. In doing so they produced necessarily eclectic Latin and English versions. No medieval reader, after all, encountered the Bible in an entirely pure or reliable text (whatever this would have looked like, in the manuscript tradition) or, normally, one unaccompanied by explanatory notes or glosses. Rather, they read Scripture in variously corrupt copies, its sense often mediated by layers of at times tendentious exegesis. The DOML New Testament, like other texts and translations in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, is intended according to its dust jacket not only for a self-selecting community of scholars, but for (erudite, I would say) "general readers...a global audience," too--the sort of people who might take up, for example, the Gospel of St. John for its literary or devotional merits, rather than to fuss over its Eucharistic theology, possible gnostic overtones, or textual variants. If it does nothing else, the DOML six-volume Bible will remind scholars of the instability of the Divine Word, at least insofar as it was conveyed to Western Christendom for centuries by way of the imperfect instruments of human textuality.



Copyright (c) 2014 Michael P. Kuczynski



Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login