Preface to Poole's "Synopsis": Translations of the Bible, Ancient and Modern

Complutensian Polyglot

Finally, for supplying παραλειπόμενα, the deficiencies of all that remains, I drew in various Versions, or (as they are commonly called) Translations, to be considered and to be brought to bear, whenever it might have seemed useful. This, in the showy inscription and preface of The Ultimate Bible, John de le Haye has most generously promised; and, principally by means of this allurement, I was attracted to procure his immense volumes, at no small price. From these I eagerly seized not a few things of this kind at first, and I set them in their places. However, in the progress of the Work, I perceived that I was not a little mistaken with respect to my expectation. Indeed, he brought together those things with no judgment, for the most part heaping up vanities, listlessly omitting the things of more importance and those in which the difficulty lies. He presented phrases to us: from one Author, the beginning of a verse; from another, the middle; from a third, the end; from the rest (whose Versions, notwithstanding, I judged not rarely to be the most appropriate) absolutely nothing. With all of this in view, all of this labor has been rendered almost useless for that which ought to be prime in such an excellent plan, that is, the collation of diverse Interpreters and of various versions of a word or phrase. Therefore, I judged the matter worthy to be repeated from the ovum, as they say, and each particular thing (as usefulness might require) worthy to be drawn from the very fountains, drawn, of course, from the best and most accurate Versions of the Sacred Scripture, produced by Learned men, ancient and modern. Of these Versions, I chiefly consulted the following, drawing them together and placing their readings side-by-side: the Vulgate, the version of Arias Montanus, the Septuagint, the Chaldean, the Samaritan, the Syriac, and the Arabic, all of which I found collected in a Bible Polyglot.[1] To these I drew, as worthy to be added, the most painstaking Versions of the modern men: the Version of Pagnine,[2] Munster, Leo Jud or Tigurinus,[3] Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Malvenda, Castalio, the English, the Dutch, the French, and versions of several different books, for example, of the Pentateuch by Oleaster and Ainsworth, and of the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles by Strigelius.

But further consideration is due. Concerning these Versions and the Authors of them, it will neither be useless, unpleasant, nor ἀπροσδιόνυσον/ unseasonble to preface some things, so that all readers might know the singular use and the surpassing importance of them, and might be aroused unto the study of the Hebrew tongue, without the knowledge of which he would be able to offer absolutely no judgment concerning the diversity of these Versions. Consequently, I will go forward, albeit briefly. There are six ancient versions which I used in my Synopsis: 1. The Vulgar Latin Version, the same for the most part with that of Jerome, but variously changed and interpolated, and established by the decree of the Roman Pontiff, which some extol with astonishing praises, others no less criticize; but others think that it renders the Sacred Text, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes unhappily, usually tolerably. 2. The Greek Septuagint, so called because it is said to have been produced by seventy-two, or, when they declare it by the round number, seventy learned Men.[4] Whether those Translators really only translated the Pentateuch, or the entire Old Testament; whether it is the true stock of those Translators that we have in our hands, or rather a counterfeit, hitherto Theologians are debating: It is not for us to settle such great disputes.[5] Nevertheless, this I might dare say, that the Greek Version of the Pentateuch is more than a little more polished than that of the subsequent books, and more agreeable to the verity of the Hebrew. 3. The Chaldean Version, in the Pentateuch, boasts Onkelos[6] as author, which is certainly the most notable part of this version. Jonathan ben Uzziel[7] translated the Former and Latter Prophets. Now, if I might note this in passing: The books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings come to the Hebrews by the name of Former Prophets; on the other hand, some major books, namely, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and other minor books, which both are and are called the Twelve, are called by the name of Latter Prophets. It is also to be noted that Jonathan and Onkelos lived around the time of Christ. Who might have translated the Hagiographa (by which name all the rest of the books of the Old Testament go) is hitherto undecided among the Learned. Nevertheless, that Version is ascribed by many to Joseph Cæcus.[8] 4. The Syriac Version of the Old Testament, namely, that one derived from the Hebrew (for I do not dispute that the next is from the Greek), and appearing in the Bible Polyglot, is without doubt the most ancient, made about the times of the Apostles, as is the uniform tradition of the men of the East; or even in the time of Solomon, if you will believe Gabriel Sionita,[9] who relates that this is the most accepted tradition of the Chaldeans and Syrians. Furthermore, he relates that some part of it is older than the Apostles themselves, for Paul seems to make use of it and follow it in Ephesians 4:8, where from Psalm 68:18 he produced these words, He gave gifts to men, as it is in the Syriac Version of the Psalms, while in the Hebrew and Greek it is, He received gifts, etc. This Translation in many passages is accurate and learned, and like unto the Hebrew text; however, not rarely it differs from it and follows the Greek; and it is quite inferior to itself in the books of the Chronicles and Proverbs. 5. The Arabic Version, which that most learned Man, Arnold Boot,[10] asserts to be of no value, and not to express the Hebrew, but rather the Greek text, and that corrupted; in each of these, he was certainly in error. For I discovered that this version is frequently accurate and faithful, and that it did not follow so much the Greek as the Syriac, which it for the most part copies verbatim, even in errors and trifles. The antiquity of this Version they easily construct both from the testimony of the Ancients, from the nature of the thing itself, and from a great multitude of learned Men, both Christian and Jewish, who have made use of that tongue; and it is altogether probable that they burned with no less zeal for the translating of the Sacred Scriptures into their own language than the rest of the nations. Now, the exemplar that I have used in this work is that Antiochian edition produced by Gabriel Sionita, which is found in the Bible Polyglot. Moreover, the Latin translation of the Syriac and Arabic Versions has the same Gabriel Sionita as Author. 6. The Samaritan Version, which is of the Pentateuch only (for the Samaritans do not receive the rest of the Sacred Books), has been revered for its antiquity, inasmuch as it is believed to have originated before Christ; and it renders the text, often happily, and it has usefulness which is not to be despised. Moreover, it is to be noted that in many texts this Version is two-fold; of which they call one the Samaritan Text, the other the Samaritan Version. The Bible Polyglot exhibits both to us. These are able to suffice from the ancients.

Dutch Bible

The more modern versions are: 1. The Version of Saint Pagnine:[11] which claims the first place by right, older than all of the others, inasmuch as it was first published in 1523, or, as others maintain, 1528. In the production of this Version, that great Man (with the encouragement and contributions of Leo X) labored for approximately twenty-five years. Nearly all Learned Men favor this Version as especially literal, while its literality was able to be accomplished tastefully, trustworthy, prepared with singular judgment and skill. The Edition I have used was printed in Zurich, 1579. 2. The Version of Sebastian Munster[12] (how excellent and how great a man! especially in the darkness of those times and scholarship): who, besides his Annotations, which we have in the Nine Volumes of Critical Interpreters of the Sacred Scripture (published in London), prepared a Version from the Hebrew text, with uncommon learning and the highest acumen; in which he reproduces the Hebrew in most places with the utmost fidelity, but not less clearly. My Exemplar was printed in Zurich, 1539. I am not able to note here the slight honesty of John de la Haye, not with the stigma it so richly deserves, who brings forth this version often indeed in the The Ultimate Bible, but he always calls it Venetian, apprehensive, I believe, lest the name of Munster, the heretic, defile that most celebrated Work. 3. The Version of Arias Montanus:[13] who interpolated here and there the Version of Pagnine. Where Pagnine’s version departs from the Hebrew words, he referred it into the margin, and in its place he substituted his own, which copies the Hebrew verbatim. Consequently, not undeservingly, learned Men reflect upon his Work with this censure, that he, without cause, dislodged the Version of Pagnine, and in the place of the good terms of Pagnine, he has placed his own deformed, awkward, and barbarous terms. 4. Tigurinus, or the Version of Leo Jud Tigurinus:[14] by whom a Version of the Old Testament was made and published in 1543. This Version, composed with the highest erudition and great judgment, might not always imitate the very words of the Hebrew text, but it renders the sense in most places, and especially in the most difficult places, ingeniously and faithfully. Moreover, with respect to propriety and purity of diction, perspicuity and elegance of style, and the rest of the excellences of good translation, he is able to contend even with those of the first rank. Wherefore it happens that the very Romanists, who condemn other versions (namely, those of Munster, Castalio, and Junius), and prohibit the use of them in the Expurgatory Index,[15] nevertheless, appear to approve this one to a certain degree; and the Spanish Theologians of Salamanca[16] have allowed it as reworked, changed in only four places, and slightly at that, as I learned from a most learned man, who compared the editions. Now, my Edition was published in Hanovia,[17] 1605. In this Edition, the various Annotations of Francis Vatablus, taken down by his students from his mouth, are placed in the margin, which Annotations, because they have been annexed to the Tigurinus Bible, I everywhere call the Tigurinus Notes in the Synopsis, from which I select not a few things, which do not appear in the more lengthy Notes of Vatablus written in Nine Volumes of Critical Interpreters of the Sacred Scripture, published in London. 5. The Version of Sebastian Castalio: published first at Basel in 1551, which he maintains in the Preface he developed over a period of many years, in a continuous process, making use of his great leisure, state of good health, and consummate zeal. In this Version, he is not at all anxious about rendering the Hebrew text verbatim; but he expresses the sense of a great many passages clearly, simply, elegantly, and faithfully, and he with some frequency happily resolves great difficulties by means of his Translation. 6. The Version of Lucas Osiander, Theologian of Tübingen, and Ecclesiastical courtier of the Prince of Wittenberg: who exhibits the Vulgar Latin Version, but variously supplements and corrects it; and, when the Vulgate Translator departs from the Hebrew text, he inserts his own, or rather, as he freely acknowledges in the Epistle, the German Version of Luther, which he appropriates as a most excellent and most perspicuous Version, produced with prodigious labor, most meticulous judgment, and admirable skill, and asserts that the work is so great that the Sun has seen nothing more perfect of this kind than it. Within this Version, Osiander has interwoven Annotations, brief indeed, but by no means to be despised. Concerning him, the Dean and Theological Faculty of Tübingen say these, among other, things: He brings forth many things, devised with consummate industry, developed with ingenuity in proportion to his excellent erudition, for explaining Biblical texts. And what Flaccius[18] judged as connected with the highest difficulty, Osiander, Doctor of Divinity, has quite successfully accomplished, that abundance is discernible in brevity, and brevity in abundance. 7. The Version of Francis Junius and Immanuel Tremellius: which was first published around 1575, afterwards reviewed by Junius in 1587, which was received with the great applause of the Reformed Churches, as both the unanimous judgments of the Most Illustrious men concerning the excellence of it and the often renewed editions of it sufficiently demonstrate. And although some Versions might differ less from the Hebrew in certain passages, indeed some do render the sense more distinctly and elegantly; nevertheless, with all things considered and laid out that are required for an accurate version (namely, similarity with the authentic Text reaching even to the very accents, which others for the most part neglect; the sense drawn out with great acumen and rendered with maximum fidelity; the word choices, if not always the most polished, for the most part proper and suitable; the difficult passages most diligently weighed, most learnedly and solidly settled), this Version will perhaps claim and win for itself the first rank among equitable Judges. 8. The Version of John Piscator: which follows Junius’ version in a great many places; in which, nevertheless, he often corrects many things with sound judgment, and substitutes his own Version, which is frequently more accurate and consistent with the Hebrew verity, and delivered with greater clarity. However, it ought to be observed that Piscator, having made use of the Version of Junius previously, set his own Analyses, Notes, and Observations side by side with it; but afterwards he prepared a new Version, printed in Nassau,[19] 1646. 9. The Version of Thomas Malvenda of Spain: who superstitiously imitates the Hebrew verbatim, even indeed with words at best absurd, obsolete, and misleading, for the sake of which, nevertheless, he frequently places the better words in the margin, or even among the Annotations. This version has its own praise and usefulness, which is not at all to be despised. It was published in Lugdunus, 1650. 10. The French Version: which is called Genevan by Louis de Dieu and others, having been made by the Genevan Pastors around (if I am not misled) 1560. This version possesses no small amount of erudition and a reputation for judgment and fidelity. 11. The English Version: this one I have most accurate knowledge of and follow most naturally, which, by order of the most serene and Most Learned King JAMES, but by the counsel and labors of Bishops and other learned Men appointed unto this Work, was brought together in 1611, in which there are many examples of great erudition and skill in the original languages, of acumen, and of extraordinary judgment. This Version frequently provided for me the greatest help and use in the most difficult texts. 12. The Dutch Version: which was ordered in the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618;[20] and afterward, by order of the States-General of the Netherlands, was developed by learned Men, brought together through many years of work; and finally it appeared in 1637, also with brief Notes adjoined. This Version certainly answers to the Hebrew text in no slight degree, but it manages to set forth the sense in most passages clearly, faithfully, and soundly; and, although it is named in the last place, nevertheless, it is not to be counted among the worst.

In spite of what has been said, the purpose was not to display all these Versions in their entirety (for that would be of immense bulk and, for the most part, wasted labor), but only in the words and phrases that are either dubious, or obscure, or which occur once or rarely; or where the importance of the matter might require a more careful investigation. Moreover, concerning the great usefulness of these Versions, I would wish the Reader to be taught by his own experience, rather than by my prefatory remarks. Nevertheless, I might dare to say this: not a few δυσνόητα/hard-to-be-understood clauses of the Scripture presented themselves to me, upon which a clearer light did shine from the Versions than from all the Commentaries which indeed I did consult.

[1] It appears that the Polyglot to which Poole is referring is Biblia Hebraica, Samaritana, Chaldaica, Syriaca, Græca, Latina, et Arabica, edited by Gui-Michel Lejay (1588-1674), a French scholar, expert in Oriental languages.

[2] Pagnine (1466-1541) was an Italian Dominican. He was gifted as a Hebraist, exegete, and preacher. He was commissioned by Pope Leo X to produce a new Latin translation of the Scripture.

[3] Leo Jud (1482-1542) was a co-laborer of Ulrich Zwingli during the time of the Swiss Reformation. His translation work might be his most important contribution to the reformation of Zurich. He labored with other divines to produce a vernacular version for the Swiss people, and he produced a Latin version of the Old Testament, usually known as “Tigurinus”, which would be translated, “of Zurich”.

[4] It was once accepted that King Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt commissioned seventy-two scholars to translate the Old Testament into Greek (third century BC), and that they, working independently, produced identical renderings. The reliability of this tradition is now much doubted.

[5] Virgil’s Eclogue 3:108.

[6] According to Jewish tradition, Onkelos, a first century Roman nobleman, was a convert to Judaism. His translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch into Aramaic is, on the whole, quite literal; however, Onkelos does depart from the literal sense of the text in poetry and in places of theological difficulty.

[7] Jonathan ben Uzziel (first century) was one of the great pupils of Hillel. It is a matter of some doubt whether Jonathan ben Uzziel is actually responsible for the translation of this portion of the Chaldean Version. For the most part, Targum Jonathan tends to be more paraphrastic and expansive than Targum Onkelos.

[8] Jewish tradition has it that Joseph Cæcus was a third century rabbi, but there appears to be some question as to whether there is any historical personage behind this name.

[9] Gabriel Sionita (1577-1648) was a learned Maronite, expert in Arabic and Syriac. He served as a professor of Oriental languages, and he assisted Lejay in compiling the above mentioned Polyglot.

[10] Arnold Boot (1606-1653) was a Dutch physician, who excelled, not only in the practice of medicine, but also in the study of Oriental languages. He defended the integrity of the Hebrew text and vowel points against Louis Cappel.

[11] Biblia Latina, ex Hebræo, per Xantem Pagninum.

[12] Biblia Hebraica cum Latina Planeque Nova Translatione.

[13] Bibilia Sacra, Hebraice, Chaldaice, Græce et Latine.

[14] Biblia Latina ex Hebræo, Translata in Sermonem Latinum.

[15] Books on the Index Expurgatorius are only allowed to Roman Catholics in a censored, “expurgated,” form.

[16] In the sixteenth century, the University of Salamanca was one of the great centers of Roman Catholic theological scholarship.

[17] Hanau is fifteen miles east of Frankfurt am Main.

[18] Matthæus Flaccius Illyricus (1520-1575) was a Lutheran divine. He served as Professor of Hebrew at Wittenburg (1544), then as Professor of New Testament at Jena (1557). He made great contributions in the fields of church history and hermeneutics.

[19] Nassau was located in the Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse.

[20] The Synod of Dort was a national synod of the Dutch Reformed Churches (1618, 1619), with representatives from almost all other nations embracing Reformed doctrine. It was called to settle the Arminian controversy.


Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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