AVP ~ Book of Genesis

Amateur Vulgate Project
(Jerome’s Bible as interpreted by a fox)

Welcome to the Amateur Vulgate Project! This is my attempt at rendering St. Jerome’s Latin translation of the Bible into English. My goal is to refresh the Bible; to recapture the excitement, joy and beauty of the message; or at least that it might strike you differently and provoke thought. Above all, I hope to help those I believe have been hurt by erroneous translations.

I am going to post each book of the Bible as its own topic, with each chapter being a post. The first post will be a brief overview of the book and a table of contents to easily jump to a chapter. In this post I will follow that with a Preface discussing more of my views.

Comments are welcome! but not in the translation threads; they’re going to be super-long already. Disagreements, which I anticipate, should go in Serious Discussion.

Introduction to Genesis
“Genesis” is the Greek word for beginning, origin, birth. The book covers first the genesis of the world, and how it came to be as it is; and secondly the genesis of the Hebrew people in the histories of the Patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I incline to the view, after translating some of it, that the first eleven chapters – the mythic cosmogony – were written later and prepended to the historical account of the Patriarchs.

The first five books of the Bible are the Torah, the Law (or Pentateuch, from the Greek for “five scrolls”). They are traditionally ascribed to Moses, and I do believe much of it was originally written at his direction; but amended by later scribes.

Table of Contents

~ Chapter I

Preface
Posting this last so that people won’t have to read it to get to the good stuff.~

I conceived this project in response to the realization that… pretty much all English translations were badly misleading. Initially it was over homosexuality; I looked up Jerome to see how various contested passages were rendered in fourth-century Latin. I was happily surprised, and decided to commit to redoing the entire Bible on that basis. In the process I’ve made some startling discoveries and resolved a lot of my own doubts and anxieties about the Bible.

Disclaimer, I am not yet a professional scholar and my Latin is very rusty. Also translation is not an easy task – even closely related languages do not correspond exactly to each other, and ancient languages tend to be far more flexible in meaning, which perforce makes a modern translation look more definite than the original texts are. However I do feel fairly confident that, with the tools at my disposal, I have made a decent job.

But that’s why it’s “Amateur”! It’s just a project that I want to pursue for my own edification and that of others, especially those burdened by inaccurate translations, in some cases I fear willfully misrepresented.

Why the Vulgate? Because I do know Latin enough to go on; I know very little Greek and no Hebrew. Also I believe that Jerome may have had access to manuscripts now lost to us, so his translation can provide a view that might not be available if one went only by the older Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.

The Bible exists in many forms. The Old Testament, or Tanakh, was written in Hebrew; it was translated into Greek in Alexandria in a version known as the “Septuagint” (Latin septuaginta, as it is said to be the work of seventy scholars). The New Testament was written mostly in Greek, although St. Papias testifies that the Gospel of Matthew was originally written in “Hebrew” (which could mean Aramaic). All of this was translated into an “Old Latin” version, which Pope Damasus I found unsatisfactory, so he commissioned Jerome to make a new one; which became the Vulgate.

The canon – the books approved as part of Scripture – varies by tradition; Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox all consider different books to be part of the Bible. For now I am going by what is available in my source, but will note which books are considered “apocryphal” by certain denominations.

And finally, I prefer archaic English, so that is how I cast it. It does have its advantages, apart from my personal taste; one being that it allows me to distinguish second person pronouns – between singular and plural, between subject and object, which can be important. However I am not trying to be formal; much of the Bible has a familiar, colloquial tone, and hopefully at least some of the spice and colour of the original text will come through.

Sources

In addition to Wiktionary, my main prop for checking the meanings of words, I have been using the following sites:

  • Vulgate.Org ~ Text of the Vulgate that I am working from. Also has an instructive bit about St. jerome which outlines how difficult translation is. The English translation given is, i believe, the Douay-Rheims.

  • Kata Biblon ~ For referencing the Greek. Generally very helpful as it provides word for word analysis of meaning, number, case/ conjugation, etc. Though I don’t necessarily trust all their translations as I fear Biblical Greek is treated in a vacuum without reference to the meanings of words in other sources.

  • Bible Gateway ~ To compare other English translations. I am especially fond of Wycliffe’s, which is the oldest English version I believe they have available.

Genesis

(“The Beginning”)

Chapter I

(1) In the beginning, God created heaven and earth.

(2) Now, the earth was empty and void; darkness was upon the face of the Deep. [i]

And the Spirit of God was brought upon the waters; (3) and God spoke: “Let light be made.” [ii]

And light was made. (4) And God saw that light was good. And He drew apart the light from the darkness, (5) and He named the light “Day”; and the darkness “Night”.

And by dusk and dawn was the first day finished. [iii] [iv]

(6) And again God spoke: “Let a firmament be made amidst the waters, and divide the waters from the waters;” [v]

(7) And God did make the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament; and so it was done; (8) and God called the firmament “Heaven.”

And by dusk and dawn was the second day finished.

(9) But God spoke: “Let the waters which are under heaven be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And so it was done.

(10) And God called the dry land “Earth;” and the gatherings of waters he called “Seas.” And God saw that it was good, (11) so He saith: “Let the earth bud forth the herb, growing green and bearing seed {after its kind and likeness}; and let there be the fruit-tree upon earth, bearing fruit whose seed is in itself, after its kind.” And so it was done. [vi] [vii]

(12) And the earth brought forth the green herb growing and scattering seed after its kind {and likeness}; and the tree bearing fruit, having each one its seed according to its {kind and} likeness. And God saw that it was good.

(13) And by dusk and dawn was the third day finished.

(14) And again God spoke: “Let there be luminaries made in the firmament of heaven, to set apart Day from Night; and to be for signs, and seasons, and days, and years: (15) so let them shine in heaven’s firmament, and illuminate the earth.” And so it was done.

(16) And God made two great luminaries: a greater light to rule over Day; and a lesser light to rule over Night, with the stars. (17) And He set them in the firmament of heaven, that they might shine upon the earth, (18) and rule over Day and Night; to set apart the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. [viii] [ix]

(19) And by dusk and dawn was the fourth day finished.

(20) Yet again, God spoke: “Let the waters produce the living soul that crawleth, and that flieth above the earth under heaven’s firmament.” [x] [xi]

(21) And God created the mighty sea monsters, and every soul that liveth and moveth, which the waters have produced in their kinds; and every flier according to its kind. And God saw that it was good; (22) and He blessed them saying: “Grow and be multiplied, and fill the waters of the sea; and let the birds be multiplied over the earth.” [xii] [xiii] [xiv]

(23) And by dusk and dawn was the fifth day finished.

(24) And again God spoke: “Let the earth produce the living soul in its kind: cattle and reptiles and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And so it was done.

(25) And God made the beasts of earth after their kinds, and the cattle; and every reptile of the earth in its kind. And God saw that it was good; (26) and He saith: “Let Us make Man to Our image and likeness, that they may rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fliers of heaven, and the beasts, and all of the earth; and over every reptile that crawleth on the earth.”

(27) And God created Man to His image; to the image of God He created them. The male and the female: God created them (28) and blessed them. And God saith to them: “Grow, and be multiplied, and fill the earth, and subdue it; ye have lordship over the fishes of the sea; and the fliers of heaven; and every one of the breathing souls which move upon the earth.” [xv] [xvi]

(29) And God spoke: “Behold, I have given you every herb scattering seed upon earth, and all of the trees that have in themselves the seeding of their kind; that they may be food for you, (30) and for the whole of the breathing souls of earth: to each bird of heaven; and to all things that move on the earth, in which also is the living soul; that they may have to eat.” And so it was done. [xvii]

(31) And the Lord saw the whole of what He had made: and it was very, very good. And by dusk and dawn was the sixth day finished.

Notes

(i) “the Deep”: Latin abyssus, Greek abyssos “abyss;” literally, “without bottom.” The sense seems to be that of an infinite ocean, so I have maintained the traditional rendering, only capitalising it to show that “abyssus” is the original.

(ii) ferebatur: “it was brought, moved, carried or created.” The sense is, not that the Spirit was just floating around above the water, but that God focused His Spirit on the waters, in preparation of affecting them.

(iii) “first day”: dies unus in Latin, which is properly “one day.” However the following numbers are ordinals, and it makes more sense. On the other hand, it could be seen as “Day 1.”

(iv) “by dusk and dawn”: Literally, by means of evening and morning; the sense would be that God finished the work represented by the day, which is stylistically closed with this formula. Note that it cannot be a “literal day” as there is no Sun yet to mark morning/dawn and evening/dusk – it is just stylistic.

(v) “firmament”: Or “foundation.” This refers to the ancient belief that the universe was a sphere, with the round Earth in the centre and concentric layers around it, each holding a planet (which included the Moon and Sun); the outermost layer was the firmament, the “shell” of the universe. It is not clear what is here meant by water “outside the firmament;” perhaps, as water here represents Chaos, the raw stuff of matter, it represents the “outer void,” the primal, abyssal ocean, with Creation conceived as an island of order set apart by God

(vi) The braces {} represent words present in the Greek not present in Jerome’s Latin. I do not promise to always include the Greek, as I consult the Greek texts only when I am unsure of the sense of the Vulgate.

(vii) “kind and likeness”: Jerome switches between genus – “race, kind, kindred, family” – and species – “appearance, type” – seemingly at random, and I have adhered more to the Greek text, giving “kind” for genos/genus and “likeness” for the Greek “homoiotes”.

(viii) “a greater light” Jerome uses “luminary” throughout, but I felt it read better this way.

(ix) “He set them in the firmament”: ponere “to set, place, fix.” Recall that the firmament is solid. God is being pictured as attaching the Sun, Moon and stars to the “ceiling” of heaven like light fixtures.

(x) “living soul”: anima vivens

(xi) “that creepeth”: reptilis. I have rather freely translated this as “creeping” etc. and as “reptile” as I felt suitable.

(xii) “mighty sea monsters”: cete grandia. I recall this translated as “great whales,” and while not wrong I don’t think it renders justice to the meaning. Large sea creatures would be a lot more awesome to Bronze Age sailors in a fragile galley, and I wanted to capture that.

(xiii) “fliers”: for volatilis. Jerome uses this, volucris, and avis; and I don’t know what difference he saw in them. So for “volatilis” I use “flier” and for the other two “bird.”

(xiv) “grow”: for crescite. St. Irenaeus interprets this as “grow up,” i.e. “become mature and then multiply;” and I choose to give a rendering that could support that.

(xv) “have lordship”: dominamini. The Latin word refers back to domus, “home.” Since the Latin descendants “dominate” and “dominion” have negative implications, I judged it better to stick to an English term that implies a mutual bond between the human and the animal, reflecting the humans’ position as master and mistress of the “house” of creation.

(xvi) “breathing soul”: animans Translating this was tricky. Literally it is “breathing,” or “having a soul,” but used as a noun. I settled on “breathing soul” as showing the connexion between breath, natural life, and the soul.

(xvii) “scattering seed”: adferentam, to carry to or about; “bringing forth” would not be wrong, but the Greek has “sowing seed,” so “scattering” seemed more appropriate.

I very much enjoyed reading your translation and your reasoning for the specific translations of each word. do you mind if I give commentary on this?

No, please do! I’m really grateful that you took the time to read and am thrilled that someone is interested.

I was going to insist that comments be made in another thread, as these threads will be quite long anyway, but I guess with the chapters being reachable from the original post, it won’t seem too cluttered.

Also, glad to see you’re still around! i was afraid we’d lost you when the old forum shut down! You might want to reintroduce yourself, since a few people have joined from the Telegram chat.

Chapter II

(1) And thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their ornament. [i]

(2) And God completed on the seventh day His work which He had made; and on the seventh day He rested after all of the work which He had accomplished. (3) And He blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it; because upon that day God ceased from all His work which He created and had made.

(4) These are the origins of heaven and earth: when they were created, on the day when the Lord God did make heaven and earth, (5) with every shrubbery of the field, before it was born in the earth; and every herb of the ground, ere it had sprouted; for the Lord God had not rained upon the earth, nor was there any human to work the earth. [ii] [iii]

(6) But a spring arose from the ground, watering all of the earth’s surface; (7) and thus, the Lord God formed Man from the mud of the earth, and He breathed into his face the breath of life, and Man was made into a living soul. [iv]

(8) Now the Lord God had planted a walled Garden of Pleasure from the beginning; into this He placed the human whom He had shaped. (9) And the Lord God produced from the soil every tree fair to the eye and sweet to the eating; the tree of life, also, was in the middle of the Garden, and the tree of knowing good and evil. [v]

(10) And a river flowed out from the place of pleasure to water the Garden; which thence was divided into four heads: [vi]

(11) The name of the first is Phison, which compasseth all the land of Hevilat, where gold is born (12) (and it is the best gold, that land’s); there also is found balsam, and the stone onyx. (13) And the name of the second river is Gehon, which compasseth all the land of Ethiopia. 14 But the name of the third river is the Tigris, that which goeth by the Assyrians. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. [vii] [viii]

(15) So therefore the Lord God carried the human and placed him in the Garden of Pleasure, that he might tend and guard it. (16) And He commanded him, saying: “From every tree of the Garden thou mayest eat; (17) however, from the tree of knowing good and evil thou shalt not eat. For in whatsoever day thou should’st eat of it, through death thou shalt die.” [ix]

(18) And the Lord God also said, “It is not good for the human to be alone. Let Us make for him a helper like him.” (19) And so the Lord God, shaping from the soil the whole of the breathing souls of the earth and all of the fliers of heaven, led each to Adam; that He might see what he would call them; because that which Adam called any living soul, that was its name. [x] [xi]

(20) And Adam assigned their names to the whole of the breathing souls: both to all of the fliers in heaven, and to all the beasts of earth. But a helper like himself could not be found by Adam. (21) Therefore the Lord God sent Adam into a deep sleep; and when he was unconscious, He took one of his ribs, and filled out flesh for it. (22) And the Lord God built the rib which he had taken from Adam up into a woman. And He led her to Adam.

(23) And Adam spoke: “Now this is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; and she shall be called ‘woman’, because she was taken from the man.” [xii]

(24) For which fact a human shall leave behind their father and mother, and shall join to their wife; and the two shall in flesh be one. [xiii] [xiv]

(25) Meanwhile, they were both naked – namely Adam and his wife – but they felt no shame.

Notes

(i) “ornament,” ornatus. The Douay-Rheims (DR henceforth) translates this as “furniture,” which is so prosaic as to feel like a mistranslation. God may be considered as furnishing the house He has prepared for mankind; but it is definitely an extravagantly luxurious appointment.

(ii) “origins:” generationes. I take this as indicating the start of the second “myth;” the chapters are not well-divided.

(iii) “shrubbery:” virgultum. 'Tis a good shrubbery.

(iv) “Man:” homo. I have decided, after much thought, to render homo as either “Man” or “human,” using “Man” to indicate where I believe the “archetypal human” is indicated and “human” for any random individual. And meanwhile, to use “man,” lowercase, to translate vir “adult male.” This is, I believe, an important distinction, although to be fair the Hebrew seemingly has no neuter word for “human” and the distinction only goes back to the Septuagint.

(v) “walled Garden of Pleasure:” paradisus voluptatis. “Paradisus” – paradise – comes from the Persian word for a walled pleasure-garden. Curious about what Greek word “voluptas” is translating, I checked, and – it’s “Eden.” So that explains where the word comes from, even though it’s not in the Vulgate. Why Jerome choose to put “voluptas” in place of Eden, I cannot say; perhaps he thought that was what 'eden" meant in Hebrew.

(vi) “heads:” or “sources;” the Latin caput and even more the Greek arche which it translates can mean either “head” or “source” depending on context.

(vii) Phison, Hevilat, Gehon: It seems like every translation I’ve looked at transcribes Hebrew names differently. Here is the rule I’ve settled on:

  1. Follow the Greek, except

  2. Follow the King James Version for the presence of “h” and “sh”, or

  3. Use the familiar forms for important people such as Eve and Methuselah.

(viii) Given Eden’s identification as the source of “rivers,” two of which we know (and were known at the time the myth was written down) and two of “encompass” west Africa and Arabia (Hevilat being located somewhere in Arabia), it seems likely that Eden would be conceived as being in the Persian Gulf or Indian Ocean, with the Phison and Gehon corresponding to the Nile and the Red Sea; with Eden being lost and the shape of world radically altered by the Flood.

(ix) “through death thou shalt die:” morte morieris. I subscribe to the notion that God’s command is so worded to show that, had they not eaten the fruit, humans would never have known death; it was only in breaking this command that they began to experience the slow death of age and decay.

(x) “Adam:” You might notice this name seems to come from nowhere; it’s actually just the Hebrew word for “human” – or “earth;” which was appropriated to the First Man as a proper name. Like Latin homo and humanus, it shows the deep connexion between mankind and the natural world. (Humus is the Laitn word for “soil.”)

(xi) “that He might see:” videret. Yes, I believe the subjunctive here conveys God’s curiosity.

(xii) This is a pun in Hebrew – “isha” from “ish” – which the Greeks couldn’t render at all and which Jerome really stretched to represent with “virago” from “vir.”

(xiii) “for which fact” quam ob rem, which I found very hard to render pithily into English (word for word it means “which on account of thing” – word order means very little in Latin). The “thing” or “fact” in question is rather ambiguous; whether it is because the two are of the same flesh and bone, or because it is not good for Man to be alone; or haply both – being of the same kind allows for the joining of their flesh in carnal union, but the ultimate reason for seeking such union is to be free of loneliness.

(xiv) “to [the] wife:” uxori. It is odd that Jerome uses “uxor” here, which is specifically “wife,” while the Greek uses gyne, a “woman” who may or may not be the wife of the man in question. Likewise in the next verse. I am inclined to restrict my own usage of “wife” to translating “uxor,” and “woman” wherever Jerome uses mulier.

so, would that mean that “Garden of Eden” is probably the most correct translation after all?

quam ob rem might alternatively be translated as “because of this,” just a thought. after all, “this” is a vague placeholder noun.