Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology





Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's get inspired in St. Jerome's Chapel

Do you read the Bible in its original language, Greek?  Hebrew?  Probably not.  And if not, you are dependent upon a Bible translation.
When you choose your study Bible, first off you have to decide whether you prefer a literal translation – that is, word for word – or a "sense" translation – that is, thought for thought.  Then decide whether you prefer lofty language which may seem stilted at times, or contemporary which may border on irreverent.

Hebrew Bible plus translations

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Hebrew Bible (left) plus so many translations to choose from!

One of the most important Bible translators down through the ages is a man named Eusebius Hieronymus who is better known as St. Jerome.  He was born around 340 in what was once called Yugoslavia and studied Latin rhetoric in his youth.  He was an enthusiastic fan of the Roman orator Cicero (a contemporary of Julius and Augustus Caesar).  At age 18 he became a Christian.  He had a flair for languages and was trilingual.  He could speak and write Latin, Greek and Hebrew.  He studied Aramaic and could speak passable Syriac and even a bit of Arabic.

Statue of St. Jerome outside the Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Statue of St. Jerome outside the Church of St. Catherine, Bethlehem

By the mid fourth century, the common language spoken throughout the Roman Empire began to change.  Before that time, Greek was dominant. In addition to their native tongue, people of every ethnic background in the empire spoke Greek.  The Romans encouraged this since they saw themselves as the heirs of Greek culture and civilization.

But gradually Latin, the language spoken by the Romans, began to replace Greek.  Once Christianity had firmly established itself as the official religion of the Empire, the Bible which shaped Christian faith and life had to be accessible in Latin so that it could be clearly understood by every man, woman and child.
Thus, in 382 the Pope entrusted Jerome, the leading Bible scholar of the day to provide a reliable, readable authorized Latin text of the Gospels to be used in church liturgy.  This was a major challenge, for the early translations into Latin were chock-full of errors, while the language was far too colloquial.
Now if you were Jerome, living in the bustling, hustling gossip-mongering late fourth century Rome which may have had over 100,000 residents, where would you retreat for inspiration and the quiet necessary to excel at this sacred assignment?

Well, Jerome chose as his retreat, the little town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born.  In fact, he worked in a grotto right next to the grotto venerated as the site of the nativity.

Grotto of St. Jerome adjacent to the Grotto of the Nativity

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Grotto of St. Jerome adjacent to the Grotto of the Nativity

After Jerome rendered the Gospels into Latin, he was so into the shvung of translation, he decided to tackle the Hebrew Bible as well.  At that time the church's authorized text was the Septuagint which had originated in Alexandria, Egypt some six centuries earlier.  (Legend has it that 72 scholars were given the task of translating what you call the Old Testament and when they finished, each working separately, all 72 translations were exactly the same!)
Jerome's approach was to prepare an entirely fresh Latin translation from the "original" truth of the Hebrew text and not rely upon the Septuagint.  This was not a popular decision, for at that time there were determined efforts to distance the church from its Jewish roots.

There were no cars at the Church of the Nativity in Jerome's day

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

There were no cars at the Church of the Nativity in Jerome's day!

Jerome deepened his knowledge of Hebrew with the help of three rabbis who also discussed Jewish Talmudic commentary with him and showed him the holy places.  One of his teachers was Rabbi Bar Hananiya from Tiberias who used to meet him secretly at night so his colleagues wouldn't know he was meeting a Christian!  (To put it mildly, relations between Christians and Jews were not super-friendly at the time!)
In all, Jerome spent 25 years on his translation.  In his introduction he apologized for his Latin.  After studying Hebrew for 25 years, he was fearful his Latin had become rusty!

Mosaic floor of 4th century Nativity Church Bethlehem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Mosaic Floor of the Nativity Church while Jerome was working on his translation

One of Jerome's opponents was St. Augustine who suggested that Jerome was driving a wedge between Christians of the East and West, since eastern Christians still spoke Greek and used the Septuagint.  He gave as an example, a tale from a bishop from Libya who complained that when he used Jerome's new translation of Jonah in his church sermon, it was so unfamiliar to his congregants that they rioted in the streets afterwards!
Jerome himself was wary of a word for word translation.  He chose "thought for thought."  His aim was to give the new language not only the original meaning, but also its elevated quality in style and eloquence.
By the way, another noted translator of the Book of Jonah, this time in English in the twentieth century, made similar choices.  He thought that an English translation of the Bible should not sound like a translation at all.  It should sound like it was written in English to begin with.
You probably know him in a different context, as a novelist.  J.R.R. Tokien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings was an editor of the Jerusalem Bible in the 1960s and translated the Book of Jonah.  As far as I know, his English version of the Jerusalem Bible's Jonah did not produce riots in the streets.  Even though Tolkien translated the Hebrew dag gadol as a "great fish" and not a whale as popularly believed.
When I first started to guide, I used the King James Version, which is based upon Jerome's translation.  The pilgrims I was guiding who were biblically literate knew passages from the King James by heart.  When we visited the traditional tomb of King David on Mount Zion, I would suggest that we recite Psalm 23, for David is believed to be its author.  So we all recited Psalm 23 in unison.  But about ten years ago, a pastor stunned me when he opened his Bible to lead the psalm saying,

The Lord is my shepherd
Therefore can I lack nothing
He shall feed me in a green pasture
And lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.

So I guess I can identify with St. Jerome's contemporary detractors!
When we visit Bethlehem on pilgrimage, after spending a few contemplative moments in the grotto where Jesus was born, we swing around to the St Catherine church to descend to the adjacent grotto dedicated to St. Jerome.  We'll admire the stained glass rendition of Jerome being inspired by an angel as he worked on his translation.  And perhaps we will in turn be inspired to deepen our own study of the Holy Word.
Entrance to the church of the Nativity Bethlehem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

"Eye of the needle" entrance to the Church of the Nativity

Window in St. Jerome's chapel must be appreciated in person

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Jerome being inspired by an angel while working -- you have to see it for yourself!

Then we'll go up to the courtyard and note the statue of St. Jerome with a skull at his foot.  Whose skull is it – what does it mean?  Well, come with me to the little town of Bethlehem where Jesus was born….
Caravaggio's St Jerome from 1606

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Caravaggio's St Jerome (1606) -- Note the skull on his desk!!!

Copyright 2015 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin calls herself a Connecticut Yankee guiding in King David's court -- for over 35 years now.  In her early guiding days she used to read on site from the King James.  But then she discovered the Jerusalem Bible in which she could speedily find any passage she wanted to read.  It was accurate and people understood what she was reading.  Alas, she left it behind at Dan in 2008 and hasn't yet found the next best English translation, elevated and faithful to the Hebrew original.  There are oh so many imperfect choices!

Would you like to bring your own favorite Bible and step over Bible verses as you tour the holy sites with Gila?  For ideas about your special memorable day in Jerusalem with Gila see bookgila.

In the Capernaum synagogue apropos the spoken language of Jesus' day, Gila tells the story about a colorful and controversial figure in early 20th century Texas politics named "Pa" Ferguson.  When there was a debate in the Texas legislature about whether the language of instruction in Texan schools should be English or Spanish, he allegedly stood up and bellowed, "If English was good enough for our Lord Jesus Christ, then it's good enough for our Texas schoolchildren!"
Getting back to Jerome, one of his most noted sayings is, "When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting."  This ironic comment could have been written by American humorist Mark Twain who visited the Holy Land in 1867.  Read about Mark Twain's journey to the village of Nazareth where Jesus grew up

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"Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights"


"Let's get inspired in St Jerome's Chapel" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" please contact Gila. 


On Jesus' public ministry:

Let's focus on Jesus' Ministry from Mount Arbel

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Let's orient ourselves to Jesus' Jerusalem

Mt Arbel / Galilean ministry

Walk 1st C AD Bethsaida

Model of 1st C AD Jerusalem


Let's imagine the Passover from Pilate' Praetorium

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Let's consider whether Jesus ever visited Sepphoris

Pilate's Praetorium   

Hippos / Decapolis city

Sepphoris / hypocrites   





Copyright © 2005-2018 Gila Yudkin. All rights reserved.
Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin