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“Sense-for-Sense” translation in St. Jerome’s Letter

St Jerome’s letter emphasizes on using “Sense-for-sense” translation rather than “word-for-word” translation. He justified his method of translating sense-for-sense by listing examples of Cicero, Horace, Hilary the Confessor and other Classical authors, as well as the Evangelists and the Seventy Translator when translating from the sacred texts. Since the charges by the Clergy against St Jerome was considered a huge offence back then, he mentioned these famous names in his letter. He also explained the difficulties the translators face by mentioning that it is hard for the translator to find the exact meaning, the equivalent rhetorical figures and idioms of the original, in addition to the two languages which belong to two different grammatical systems. On top of that, the meaning of a word had to be explained by using few phrases in the other language, which would reduce the beauty of the writing.

Here we understand that translation depends on time, space and culture. St Jerome throws light on the fact that people were making a fuss about the syllables and were not focusing on the idea of preserving the meaning of the write-up, while translating. He wrote these lines to justify himself and clear the charges imposed on him by the clergy. At this juncture, St Jerome contradicts himself by supporting “word-for-word” translation. This contradiction is an unintentionally revelation of Jerome’s true stance in the strategy of Bible translation. We infer that Jerome adopts a sense-for-sense strategy for Bible translation but to avoid being in conflict with the churches, which might charge him of heresy (mentioned in para 9) for altering the sense of Bible, he makes a cautious yet contradictory statement St Jerome’s letter emphasizes on using “Sense-for-sense” translation rather than “word-for-word” translation.

He justified his method of translating sense-for-sense by listing examples of Cicero, Horace, Hilary the Confessor and other Classical authors, as well as the Evangelists and the Seventy Translator when translating from the sacred texts. Since the charges by the Clergy against St Jerome was considered a huge offence back then, he mentioned these famous names in his letter. He also explained the difficulties the translators face by mentioning that it is hard for the translator to find the exact meaning, the equivalent rhetorical figures and idioms of the original, in addition to the two languages which belong to two different grammatical systems. On top of that, the meaning of a word had to be explained by using few phrases in the other language, which would reduce the beauty of the writing. Here we understand that translation depends on time, space and culture. St Jerome throws light on the fact that people were making a fuss about the syllables and were not focusing on the idea of preserving the meaning of the write-up, while translating. He wrote these lines to justify himself and clear the charges imposed on him by the clergy.

At this juncture, St Jerome contradicts himself by supporting “word-for-word” translation. This contradiction is an unintentionally revelation of Jerome’s true stance in the strategy of Bible translation. We infer that Jerome adopts a sense-for-sense strategy for Bible translation but to avoid being in conflict with the churches, which might charge him of heresy (mentioned in para 9) for altering the sense of Bible, he makes a cautious yet contradictory statement

St. Jerome’s purpose by quoting from his preface to Eusebius’ Chronicle was to point out that there are differences between languages in vocabulary, grammatical and syntactical constructions, idiom and style, which mean that word-for-word translation, would fail to be equivalent to the original. At the same time, he wanted to tell his controversies that from his adolescence he had always attempted to translate the sense not words. In considering a sentence from Matthew with the Septuagint and Hebrew, St. Jerome found that the Evangelist gave a different sense to both of them: Behold a virgin, shall have in her womb and bear a son and they shall call his name Emmanuel (in Matthew) Behold a virgin shall receive in her womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Emmanuel (in the Septuagint) Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Emmanuel (in the original Hebrew) St. Jerome explained that shall have, shall receive, and shall conceive were not the same meaning. Such is the case with they shall call his name Emmanuel, you shall call his name Emmanuel, and she shall call his name Emmanuel because it was the virgin herself who would name him Emmanuel, not Ahaz nor the Jews.

In paragraph 11, St. Jerome talked about the Septuagint. He explained that there were noticeable omissions and additions in it to the degree that the Jews laughed at the Greek version of a sentence in Isaiah like They (Jews) also ridiculed at the phrase in Amos following the description of luxurious living For St. Jerome, this was a very rhetorical sentence worthy of Cicero himself. But, the question was He explained that the Christian indicated the omissions by marking them with an asterisk. Moreover, these omissions were visible on comparing his translation Version (Vulgate) and the original one. However, St Jerome made it clear that despite the omissions and additions, the Septuagint ranked high in Christian churches for two reasons St. Jerome affirmed that many phrases, though beautiful in Greek, if translated literally they would sound awkward in Latin; and conversely, many phrases were pleasing in Latin, but if the word order remains unaltered, it would sound conflicting in Greek and would displeased them.

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