the gourd translation by Jerome in Jonah - Augustine

Steven Avery

Augustine - Letter 71


Bible-Researcher - Michael Marlowe

Correspondence of Augustine and Jerome concerning the Latin Translation of the Bible

... You tell me that I have given a wrong translation of some word in Jonah, and that a worthy bishop narrowly escaped losing his charge through the clamorous tumult of his people, which was caused by the different rendering of this one word. At the same time, you withhold from me what the word was which I have mistranslated; thus taking away the possibility of my saying anything in my own vindication, lest my reply should be fatal to your objection. Perhaps it is the old dispute about the gourd which has been revived, after slumbering for many long years since the illustrious man, who in that day combined in his own person the ancestral honours of the Cornelii and of Asinius Pollio, brought against me the charge of giving in my translation the word "ivy" instead of "gourd." (1) I have already given a sufficient answer to this in my commentary on Jonah. At present, I deem it enough to say that in that passage, where the Septuagint has "gourd," and Aquila and the others have rendered the word "ivy" (kissos), the Hebrew MS. has "ciceion," which is in the Syriac tongue, as now spoken, "ciceia." It is a kind of shrub having large leaves like a vine, and when planted it quickly springs up to the size of a small tree, standing upright by its own stem, without requiring any support of canes or poles, as both gourds and ivy do. If, therefore, in translating word for word, I had put the word "ciceia," no one would know what it meant; if I had used the word "gourd," I would have said what is not found in the Hebrew. I therefore put down "ivy," that I might not differ from all other translators. But if your Jews said, either through malice or ignorance, as you yourself suggest, that the word is in the Hebrew text which is found in the Greek and Latin versions, it is evident that they were either unacquainted with Hebrew, or have been pleased to say what was not true, in order to make sport of the gourd-planters.

1 The dispute about the "gourd" pertains to Jonah 4:6, So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah ... Scholars today still do not know for certain which plant is meant by the Hebrew word. Many believe that it is the castor oil plant. Why was this so important to the indignant Latin congregation? Perhaps a favorite allegorical interpretation was based upon the translation "gourd." — M.D.M

The Vulgate
by Samuel Angus
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


Facebook - NT Textual Criticism - 2015{"tn"%3A"R"}


John Calvin

William Whitaker (1588)

Harris's Natural History of the Bible (1825)

C. M. Burnett (1845)

Calvin Ellis Stowe (1854)

Jerome's commentary on Jonah: Translation with introduction and critical notes and critical notes (1991)
Timothy Michael Hegedus

Stefan Rebenich - (1993)

John Sandys-Wunsch (2005)

Hugh Houghton (2006)

What was Jerome's defense for translating the Hebrew word קִיקָיוֹן (kikayon) in Jonah 4:6, etc. into Latin as hedera? (2013)

How did Augustine of Hippo feel about Jerome's Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate)? (2013)

Timothy Michael Law (2013)

Timothy Mitchell (2014)

Peter Horsfield (2015)


In context of heavenly witnesses

Dublin Review - (1882)

Eberhard Nestle (1901)
p. 198 and 200
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Steven Avery

The Witness of God is Greater

One word in Jonah

● [Augustine to Jerome] "I would indeed rather that you would translate the canonical Scriptures as they
are authorized by the version of the Seventy [LXX]. For it would be a hard case if your version come to
be adopted in many churches; since the Latin and Greek churches would thus be placed at
variance.”(Augustine, Letter 71.3 <>)

● [Augustine to Jerome] "A certain bishop, one of our brethren, having introduced in the church
over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the
prophet Jonah, of which you have given a very different rendering from that which had been of
old familiar to the senses and memory of all the worshippers, and had been chanted for so
many generations in the church. Jonah 4:6 Thereupon arose such a tumult in the congregation,
especially among the Greeks, correcting what had been read, and denouncing the translation as false,
that the bishop was compelled to ask the testimony of the Jewish residents (it was in the town of Oea).
These, whether from ignorance or from spite, answered that the words in the Hebrew manuscripts were
correctly rendered in the Greek version, and in the Latin one taken from it. What further need I say?
The man was compelled to correct your version in that passage as if it had been falsely translated, as
he desired not to be left without a congregation — a calamity which he narrowly escaped. From this
case we also are led to think that you may be occasionally mistaken. You will also observe how great
must have been the difficulty if this had occurred in those writings which cannot be explained by
comparing the testimony of languages now in use." (Augustine, Letter 75.3

● [Jerome to Augustine] You tell me that I have given a wrong translation of some word in Jonah, and
that a worthy bishop narrowly escaped losing his charge through the clamorous tumult of his
people, which was caused by the different rendering of this one word. (Jerome, Letter 75.22

● [Augustine to Jerome] I desire to have your version from the Septuagint, that those who decry your
useful labours may at length understand, that my reason for not wishing your translation from the
Hebrew to be read in churches is, the fear that, by producing something new, at variance with
the Septuagint, one may cause great scandal and disturbance among the faithful, whose ears
and hearts are accustomed to that version; which moreover has been approved by the Apostles.
Wherefore, as to that shrub in the book of Jonah, if in the Hebrew it is neither 'gourd' nor 'ivy,' but
something else which stands erect, supported by its own stem without other props, I would prefer to call
it 'gourd' in all our Latin versions; for I do not think that the Seventy would have rendered it thus at
random, had they not known that the plant was something like a gourd. (Augustine, Letter 82.35