Dedicated to Lupulus and Valerianus, probably monks of Bethlehem, the Liber interpretationis nominum Hebraicorum (Book on the Interpretation of Hebrew Names) was written by Jerome around the year 389, certainly before 392 and after his Commentary on Ecclesiastes. This work, which belongs to the genre of the onomastica sacra, is a kind of systematic glossary, alphabetically sorted, which presents the meaning and etymology of the Hebrew names mentioned in almost every biblical book of the Old and New Testaments; Jerome was especially inspired by illustrious Greek predecessors such as the Jew Philo of Alexandria, Origen, or Eusebius of Caesarea. This book, given the immense interest of the ancient writers in etymology, had a particular importance, not only in Antiquity, since it marks a real progress in the Hebrew studies of the time, and even more in its reception during the Middle Ages, since it influenced all the post-hieronymian exegesis. In the exegesis tradition, the Alexandrian one especially, the interpretations make it possible to move easily from the literal to the spiritual meanings. The success of this treatise never ceased until the Renaissance: important traces of it can be found in numerous biblical manuscripts (Irish manuscripts of the Gospels, Theodulf's Bibles, and so on) or in glossaries (e.g., the Liber glossarum). Traces can be found as well throughout Latin patristic literature, whether it is used occasionally – notably by Augustine, Cassiodorus, Gregory the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux – or as revivals or continuations – as in Eucher of Lyon1, Bede, Alcuin, Isidore of Seville2, Raban Maur3. Later, Jerome's work was among those used to teach Hebrew in monastic schools, cathedrals, universities and studia during the end of the Middle Ages.
A new critical edition, natively digital and a French translation
However, the current reference edition, Lagarde 1870, is considered today by many researchers as being notoriously insufficient. As a matter of fact, it uses only five manuscripts, and mentions only eleven more in its introduction, whereas more than two hundred are known today (see Lambert 1969 and online manuscript databases4), some of which being quite old: three pre-Carolingian, and a dozen Carolingian, mainly from the ninth century. Moreover, this edition contains many mistakes: some of them can be explained by shifts from one name to another, due to the set up of parallel columns in the manuscripts. They did have significant consequences on the work reception. Particular attention to the layout of the older copies is therefore essential. There are also practical problems that need to be addressed: the edition as reproduced in the Corpus Christianorum Series Latina is very inconvenient, especially regarding its unsuitable typography and monolithic presentation, its double system of references and pagination. The index of Lagarde's edition is incomplete and based solely on Latin. Not to mention that the raw biblical references of the scriptural apparatus, sometimes erroneous, do not always help finding the Hebrew name. A fresh edition is therefore necessary.
Besides, Jerome's text itself is not easy to handle: various names and their etymology(ies) are not given under the right heading for the right biblical book; many names have several etymologies that are difficult to find, especially since the spelling is not always the same as that used by Jerome in his commentaries; the "Hebrew" name given by Jerome sometimes appears not in the Hebrew, but in the Greek biblical text, or is translated in the Greek or Latin biblical texts. Given these difficulties, and the form of the work itself, similar to a manual or dictionary, it seems highly desirable to design a natively digital edition based on XML-TEI files, allowing multiple entries (by Hebrew name and its translations, by biblical verse, by manuscript, and so on) in the corpus, and quick adjustments as the work progresses. Without considering the entirety of the manuscripts, this edition will nevertheless be based on a scientifically reasoned use of the available material, namely the entire collation of the fifteen or so oldest manuscripts (8th-10th c.) and surveys conducted in the others. It will also result in a printed version in the “Sources Chrétiennes” series, with a trilingual index. A French translation will also be prepared, as today we only have J. Bareille’s made in the 19th century5. In other modern languages, there is only a Spanish6 and an Italian translation without any annotation7.
A database of Hebrew names, linked to BiblIndex
Nonetheless, the Jerihna project is not limited to a digital critical edition and a translation. It also aims to build a vast database contextualising the treatise on Hebrew Names in a history: its sources and etymologies, its echoes and hieronymian complements, its reception. To that end, the project is based on the biblical and patristic repositories already constituted by BiblIndex.
a) Sources and etymologies
We will systematically search for Jerome's sources both in the Targums and in his Greek predecessors, and link these texts to their corresponding biblical verses in BiblIndex. For each word, an (attempted) explanation of the etymologies given by Jerome will be offered. This approach will shed light on Jerome's knowledge of Hebrew and his relationship to Judaism. By studying, upstream of the Hieronymian work, all the occurrences of biblical verses linked to etymologies in the BiblIndex corpus, we will have a much clearer idea of the originality of Jerome’s work in relation to his sources, and a refined knowledge of those he may not have known or used.
b) Hieronymian research
We will systematically search for the occurrences of Hebrew names interpretations in Jerome's work to propose both an exhaustive inventory and a synoptic study. Certainly, to understand the working methods of the Stridonian in his biblical translations and commentaries, the treatise on the Hebrew Names is of utmost importance. Many of his interpretationes find echoes in the latter, and his other works, exegetical commentaries or even letters, also give interpretationes, to be paralleled or compared with those provided by his treatise. We will focus on the following issues: How does Jerome take into account not only the Hebrew text, but also the Greek versions, which are sometimes mandatory for understanding the names? Why did he not treat all the biblical books, nor list all the names that appeared in the biblical lemmas of his commentaries? Why does he not always give the same etymologies for a given name in his treatise and in his other works, and how do these etymologies fit together? From what sources do they come?
c) The reception of the Hebrew Names
Finally, we will conduct the same type of research in the patristic literature after Jerome; but, given the time allotted to the project, only on the basis of the patristic occurrences already identified in BiblIndex in the works of the fifth-eighth centuries, and as these will be enriched during the course of the project. Without claiming to be exhaustive, the aim will be to better document the isolated uses of Hebrew names, the major occurrences having already been the subject of numerous studies. By considering these occurrences in a diachronic perspective and crossing cultural areas, including the Eastern corpus (from the associated biblical references), we will be able to distinguish, downstream this time, between etymologies of Hieronymian origin and those from other sources, and thus better measure the impact of Jerome's work. In particular, the circulation of Jerome's works in the East, where he lived, and of their possible reading by the great authors, for example Cyril of Alexandria, remains a field largely to be explored. After Jerihna, each new work integrated into BiblIndex will be the subject of a specific analysis to validate the presence or not of interpretations of Hebrew names within it, thus extending the project. In addition to the production of a database, this research will give rise to more synoptic approaches, which will be reflected in the introduction and notes of the Sources Chrétiennes volume, which will include the critical edition and the translation, as well as in complementary publications.
An innovative methodology for indexing and visualizing intertextuality phenomena
Jerome’s treatise, regardless of its intrinsic value, will also serve as a test corpus for the implementation of a processing chain that can be generalised to many other corpora: the link between the XML-TEI files and the BiblIndex metadata, once implemented for the Hebrew Names, will be used for all the other patristic texts of the database. The same will be true for the innovative visualizations that will have been created to account for the occurrences of etymologies, Hieronymian or not, in space and in time.