IVP-Academic has continued their Ancient Christian Texts series with a new commentary on Jeremiah by the fourth and fifth century doctor of the church, Jerome. This is a vital commentary, due in part to the author. Christians today stand in need of a fresh reading from Jerome and this volume gives it. Of particular importance is the Translator’s Introduction (the translator for this volume is Michael Graves) in which we are given a short, but in depth, biography of Jerome. How often we forget the world the early centuries of Christianity inhabited, and how different that world is from ours. Jerome made use of the pagan poets, of Hebrew learning, and even those whom he had violent disagreements with and combined them into a usable product for the Church. Speaking of these violent disagreements, Graves brings a bit of humor to Jerome’s personality, which was that of a man possessed both the Spirit of God and the spirit of learning but hardly with the spirit of patience. Anyway, the insight offered into Jerome’s background is an added bonus to understand where he was coming from and how Western Christianity benefited greatly from the Latin doctor.
Graves supplies his readers with a very important section, entitled Understanding Jerome for Today. Why is this section so vitally important? Because Christians have a difficult time with being an all or nothing people. If Jerome was wrong on a few things, many seek to discard him completely. This must not be so. Christian history is one of development, and if we are true to our theology, it must be one of grace, a grace in which we allow our ancestors some allowance for not being as well informed as we are today. Of course, we cannot take him wholly as appropriate either, but must learn, again according to our theology, to separate the wheat from the chaff. For instance, Graves points out Jerome’s ability to be a loud detractor of those whom he believed were worthless, such as those whom the Church declared heretics. His views on women are another issue, but if we can forgive the writers of Scripture, we can do likewise with the less inspired. Graves also tackles Jerome’s lack of historical scholarship and the ancient ability to interpret the Text in a spiritual manner, something almost universally abhorred today (or, at least universally in the Protestant West). Of another particular interest in this volume is Graves’ allowance for Jerome’s hearing of the Hebrew to come forth. Jerome transliterated several Hebrew words into Latin. Graves leaves these untouched. Indeed, the structure of Jeremiah is important because, as Graves points out, Jerome is using a Hebrew text older than the medieval Masoretic, something which should be of interest to both the Hebrew as well as the LXX scholars among us. All of these things make this volume a valuable contribution to any collection.
Of course, the volume is more than just an introduction to Jerome but includes the ancient commentator’s work on Jeremiah. It does not, however, include the added material to Jeremiah as found in the LXX. Of course, we shouldn’t really have expected it, given Jerome’s preference for the Hebrew originals although he betrays his allowance for the LXX when it suits him such as in Jeremiah 1.11-12. Jerome adds that he had “straightened out the order of Jeremiah,” something LXX scholars, as well as Jeremiah scholars, note is a varied thing in this particular book. His proclivity for Christian interpretation comes through well enough in such places as 16.16, which even modern scholars fail to pick up on as related directly to the Gospels. While Jerome doesn’t give the Church the allowance of interpretation as Severian of Gabala and Bede the Venerable did with Genesis, he does show us the nature of theological interpretation, that of the prophets pointing to Christ. I have several volumes in the Ancient Christian Texts series, but by far, this is the most valuable one in my collection. The introduction is well written and includes invaluable insights not only into Jerome but in using Jerome for today. Finally, the translation is stellar allowing for a sense of connection between the English readers today and how Jerome heard the Hebrew. If for nothing else, this latter detail makes this volume worthwhile.