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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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VULGATE . 1. The position of the Latin Vulgate, as a version of the original texts of the Bible, has been dealt with in the two articles on the Text of the OT and the NT. But its interest and importance do not end there. Just as the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , apart from its importance as evidence for the text of the OT, has a history as an integral part of the Bible of the Eastern Church, so also does the Vulgate deserve consideration as the Bible of the Church in the West. Although the English Bible, to which we have been accustomed for nearly 300 years, is in the main a translation from the original Hebrew and Greek, it must be remembered that for the first thousand years of the English Church the Bible of this country, whether in Latin or in English, was the Vulgate. In Germany the conditions were much the same, with the difference that Luther’s Bible was still more indebted to the Vulgate than was our AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ; while in France, Italy, and Spain the supremacy of the Vulgate lasts to this day. In considering, therefore, the history of the Vulgate, we are considering the history of the Scriptures in the form in which they have been mainly known in Western Europe.

2. The textual articles above mentioned have shown that, when Jerome’s Biblical labours were at an end, about a.d. 404, the Latin Bible as left by him was a very complex structure, the parts of which differed very considerably in their relations to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The Canonical Books of the OT, except the Psalms, were Jerome’s fresh translation from the Massoretic Hebrew. The Psalms were extant in three forms ( a ) the Roman , Jerome’s slightly revised edition of the OL, which still held its own in a few churches; ( b ) the Gallican , his more fully revised version from the Hexaplar text of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ; and ( c ) the Hebrew , his new translation of the Massoretic text; of these it was the second, not the third, that was taken into general use. Of the deutero-canonical books, or Apocrypha, Judith and Tobit, with the additions to Daniel, were in Jerome’s very hasty version; the remainder, which he had refused to touch (as not recognized by the Massoretic canon), continued to circulate in the OL. The Gospels were Jerome’s somewhat conservative revision of the OL; the rest of the NT was a much more superficial revision of the same. The Latin Bible, therefore, which we know as the Vulgate was not wholly Jerome’s work, still less did it represent his full and final views on the textual criticism of the Bible; and, naturally, it did not for a long time acquire the name of ‘Vulgate.’ The ‘vulgata editio,’ of which Jerome himself speaks, is primarily the Gr. LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , and secondarily the OL as a translation of it. It is not until the 13th cent. that the epithet is found applied to Jerome’s version by Roger Bacon (who, however, also uses it of the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ); and it was canonized, so to speak, by its use in the decree of the Council of Trent, which speaks of it as ‘hæc ipsa vetus et vulgata editio.’ By that time, however, it differed in many points of detail from the text which Jerome left behind him; and it is of the history of Jerome’s version during this period of some twelve hundred years that it is proposed to speak in the present article.

3. Jerome’s correspondence and the prefaces attached by him to the several books of his translation (notably those prefixed to the Pentateuch, Joshua, Ezra and Nehemiah, Job, Isaiah, and the Gospels) sufficiently show the reception given to his work by his contemporaries. He complains constantly and bitterly of the virulence of his critics, who charge him with deliberate perversions of Scripture, and refuse to make themselves acquainted with the conditions of his task. Especially was this the case with the OT. In the NT Jerome had restrained his correcting pen, and made alterations only when the sense required it [‘Ita calamo temperavimus ut his tantum quæ sensum videbantur mutare correctis, reliqua manere pateremur ut fuerant’ ( Prœf . ad Damasum )]; and though even these were sufficient to cause discontent among many readers, the openings given to adverse criticism were relatively insignificant. But in the case of the OT the basis of the OL rendering to which people were accustomed was the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , the differences of which from the Massoretic Hebrew are often very wide. When, therefore, readers found whole passages omitted or transposed, and the meanings of very many sentences altered beyond all recognition, they believed that violence was being done to the sacred text; nor were they prepared to admit as axiomatic the superiority of the Hebrew text to the Greek, the OT of the Jews to the OT of the Christians. Even Augustine, who commended and used Jerome’s revision of the Gospels, questioned the expediency of the far-reaching changes made in the OT.

4 . Nor was Jerome’s translation assisted by authority to oust its predecessor. Never until 1546 was it officially adopted by the Roman Church to the exclusion of all rivals. It is true that the revision of the Gospels was undertaken at the instance of Pope Damasus, and was published under the sanction of his name; and the Gallican version of the Psalms was quickly and generally adopted. But the new translation of the OT from the Hebrew had no such shadow of official authority. It was an independent venture of Jerome’s, encouraged by his personal friends (among whom were some bishops), and deriving weight from his reputation as a scholar and from the success of his previous work, but in no sense officially commissioned or officially adopted. It was thrown on the world to win its way by its own merits, with the strong weight of popular prejudice against it, and dependent for its success on the admission of its fundamental critical assumption of the superiority of the Massoretic Hebrew to the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] . It is not to be wondered at if its progress in general favour was slow, and if its text was greatly modified before it reached the stage of universal acceptance.

5 . The extant evidence (consisting of occasional statements by ecclesiastical writers, and their ascertainable practice in Biblical quotations) is not sufficient to enable us to trace in detail the acceptance of Jerome’s version in the various Latin-speaking countries. Gaul, as it was the first country to adopt his second Psalter, was also the first to accept the Vulgate as a whole, and in the 5th cent. the use of it appears to have been general there; but Gaul, it must be remembered, from the point of view of Christian literature, was at this time confined mainly to the provinces of the extreme south. Isidore of Seville, however, testifies to the general use of the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] by all churches, as being alike more faithful and more lucid than its predecessors. In the 6th cent. it is probable that its use was general among scholars. Victor of Capua, about 541, finding a Latin version of the Diatessaron according to the OL text, and being desirous of making it generally known, had it transcribed, with the substitution of the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] for the OL. Gregory the Great ( d . 604) used the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] as the basis of his commentary on Job, but speaks of both versions as existing and recognized by the Church (‘Novam translationem dissero, sed, ut comprobationis causa exigit, nunc novam nunc veterem per testimonia assumo; ut, quia sedes Apostolica utraque utitur, mei quoque labor studii ex utraque fulciatur’). On the other hand, Primasius is evidence of the continued use of the OL in Africa; and a considerable number of the extant fragments of OL MSS are of the 6th cent. or later date [see Text of MT [Note: Massoretic Text.] , 20 ]. In general it is probable that the old version was retained by the common people, and by such of the clergy as took little interest in questions of textual scholarship, long after it had been abandoned by scholars. In any case, it is certain that the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] was never officially adopted in early times by the Roman Church, but made its way gradually by its own merits. The continuance of the OL in secluded districts is illustrated by the fact that Cod. Colbertinus ( c ) was written as late as the 12th cent. in Languedoc, and Cod. Gigas ( g of the Acts) in the 13th cent. in Bohemia.

6 . Although this method of official non-interference was probably necessary, in view of the fact that Jerome’s version of the OT was a private venture, and one which provoked much hostile criticism, and although in the end the new translation gained the credit of a complete victory on its merits as the superior version for general use, nevertheless the price of these advantages was heavy. If the Vulgate had enjoyed from the first the protection of an official sanction, which Sixtus and Clement ultimately gave to the printed text, it would have come down to us in a much purer form than is actually the case. Under the actual conditions, it was peculiarly exposed to corruption, both by the ordinary mistakes of scribes and by contamination with the familiar OL. In some cases whole books or chapters in a Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] MS contain an OL text; for some reason which is quite obscure, Mt. especially tended to remain in the earlier form. Thus Codd. g : 1 , h , r : 2 all have Mt. in OL, and the remaining Evv. in Vulgate. Cod. Gigas is OL in Acts and Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] , Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] in the rest of the Bible. Cod. p of the Acts is OL in Acts 1:1 to Acts 13:6 ; Acts 28:16-30 , while the rest of the book is Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] Codd. ff : 1 , g : 2 of the Gospels and ff of Cath. Epp. have texts in which OL and Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] are mixed in various proportions. Even where OL elements do not enter to a sufficient extent to be noteworthy, MSS of the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] tend to differ very considerably. In the absence of any central authority to exercise control, scribes treated the text with freedom or with carelessness, and different types of text grew up in the different countries of Western Europe. It is with these different national texts that the history of the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] in the Middle Ages is principally concerned.

7 . During the 5th and 6th centuries, when Jerome’s version was winning its way outwards from the centre of the Latin-speaking Church, the conditions over a large part of Western Europe were ill fitted for its reception. Gaul, in the 5th cent., was fully occupied with the effort first to oppose and then to assimilate the heathen Frankish invaders; and even in the 6th it was a scene of almost perpetual war and internal struggles. Germany was almost wholly pagan. Britain was in the throes of the English conquest, and the ancient British Church was submerged, except in Wales and Ireland. Outside Italy, only Visigothic Spain (Arian, but still Christian, until about 596) and Celtic Ireland were freely open at first to the access of the Scriptures; and in these two countries (cut off, as they subsequently were, from central Christendom by the Moorish invasion of Spain and the English conquest of Britain) the two principal types of text came into being, which, in various combinations with purer texts from Italy, are found in the different MSS which have come down to the present day. From the Visigothic kingdom the Spanish influences made their way northward into the heart of France. Irish missionaries carried the Bible first into southern Scotland, then into Northumbria, then into northern France and up the Rhine into Germany, penetrating even into Switzerland and Italy, and leaving traces of their handiwork in MSS produced in all these countries. Meanwhile Rome was a constant centre of attraction and influence; and to and from Italy there was an unceasing stream of travellers, and not least between Italy and distant Britain. These historical facts find their illustration in the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] MSS still extant, which can be connected with the various churches.

8 . In the 6th and 7th cent. the primacy of missionary zeal and Christian enterprise rested with the Irish Church; but in the latter part of the 7th and the first half of the 8th cent. the Church of Northumbria sprang into prominence, and added to the gifts which it had received from Iona a spirit of Christian scholarship which gave it for a time the first place in Christendom in this respect. In the production of this scholarship the arrival of Theodore of Tarsus as archbishop of Canterbury in 669 happily co-operated, if it was not a chief stimulus; for Theodore and his companions brought with them from Italy copies of the Latin Bible in a purer text than Ireland had been able to provide. There is clear evidence to show that the celebrated Lindisfarne Gospels (Y in Wordsworth’s numeration) was copied from one of these MSS, and the same was probably the case with another Northern copy of the Gospels now in the British Museum (Royal 1 B vii.). The great Cod. Amiatinus (A) itself, the best single MS of the Latin Bible in existence, was written in Northumbria before 716, and must have been copied from MSS brought from Italy either by Theodore or by Ceolfrid of Jarrow, by whose order it was made. Other MSS (notably ∆ and S), written in the north, are closely akin to these, and must he derived from the same source; and this whole group of MSS furnishes the best text of the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] now available. The centres of English scholarship, to which this pre-eminence in Biblical study was due, were the twin monasteries of Wearmouth and Jarrow, of which the most famous members were Ceolfrid and Bede; but their influence spread widely over Northumbria, and was renowned in the more distant parts of England and western Europe.

9 . To this renown it was due that, when a king at last arose in France with a desire to improve the religious education of his country, he turned to Northumbria for the necessary assistance to carry out the reform. The king was Charlemagne, and the scholar whom he invited to help him was Alcuin of York; and the record of their joint achievement constitutes the next chapter in the history of the Vulgate. Alcuin came to France in 781, and was made master of the schools attached to Charlemagne’s court at Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). He was subsequently made titular abbot of Tours, and in 796 he obtained leave to retire to that monastery, where he spent the nine remaining years of his life ( d . 805) in establishing the school of calligraphy for which Tours was long famous. His work in connexion with the Latin Bible falls into two stages. To the earlier part of his life at Aix belongs, in all probability, the beginning of a series of magnificent copies of the Gospels, of which several have survived to the present day. Certainly, they date from about this period, and have their home in the country of the Rhine and the Moselle. They are obviously modelled on the Anglo-Celtic MSS, of which the Lindisfarne Gospels is the most eminent example. Prefixed to each Gospel is a portrait of the Evangelist (in the Byzantine style), a full page of elaborate decoration, and another containing the first words of the Gospel in highly ornamental illumination. The English MSS excel their French successors in elaboration and skill of workmanship; but the French books have an added gorgeousness from the lavish use of gold, the whole of the text being written in gold letters, sometimes upon purple vellum. Hence the whole series of these books (the production of which continued through the greater part of the 9th cent.) is often described as the ‘Golden Gospels.’

10 . The importance of the ‘Golden Gospels’ group of MSS is artistic rather than textual, and although their dependence upon Anglo-Celtic models is obvious, their connexion with Alcuin personally is only hypothetical. It is otherwise in both respects with another great group of MSS, which are directly due to the commission given by Charlemagne to Alcuin to reform the current text of the Vulgate. About the end of 796, Alcuin established the school of Tours, and sent to York for MSS to enable him to carry out his work. On Christmas Day of 801 he presented to the king a complete Bible, carefully revised. Several descendants of this Bible are still in existence, and enable us to judge of Alcuin’s work. They differ from the ‘Golden Gospels’ in being complete Bibles, and in being written in the beautiful small minuscule which at this time, under Charlemagne’s influence, superseded the tortured and unsightly script of the Merovingian and Lombardic traditions, and of which Tours was one of the principal homes. The MS. which appears most accurately to represent the edition of Alcuin at the present day is the Cod. Vallicellianus at Rome (Wordsworth’s V); with this Wordsworth and White associate the ‘Caroline Bible’ (Add. MS 10546 [Wordsworth’s K] In the British Museum), and there are some 8 or 10 other MSS (written mostly at Tours), besides several others containing the Gospels only, which in varying degrees belong to the same group. In text these MSS naturally show a great affinity to the Northumbrian MSS headed by the Cod. Amiatinus, and there is no question that Alcuin introduced into France a far purer text of the Vulgate than any which it had hitherto possessed.

11 . Alcuin’s attempt, however, was not the only one made in France at this period to reform the current Bible text. Another edition was almost simultaneously produced in western France by Theodulf , bishop of Orleans and abbot of Fleury (about 795 821); but its character was very different from that of Alcuin. Theodulf was a Visigoth, probably from Septimania, the large district of southern France which then formed part of the Visigothic kingdom of Spain; and it was to Spain that he looked for materials for his revision of the Latin Bible. The MS which represents his edition most fully (Paris, Bibl. Nal . 9380) has a text closely connected with the Spanish type of which the Codd. Cavensis and Toletanus are the most prominent examples, except in the Gospels, which are akin rather to the Irish type; and a contemporary hand has added a number of variants, which are often Alcuinian in character. With this MS may be associated a volume at Puy, and Add. MS 24124 in the British Museum, which are closely akin to the Paris MS, but follow sometimes its first and sometimes its second reading; the latter (especially in its corrections) has been used by Wordsworth and White along with the Paris MS to represent the Theodulfian edition. All are written in an extremely minute Caroline minuscule.

12 . In spite, however, of the labour spent upon these attempts to improve the current text of the Vulgate, the forces of deterioration were more powerful than those of renovation. Theodulf’s edition, which was a private venture, without the advantages of Imperial patronage, had no wide sphere of influence, and left no permanent mark on the text of the Vulgate. Alcuin’s had, no doubt, much greater authority and effect; yet its influence was only transient, and even at Tours itself the MSS produced within the next two generations show a progressive departure from his standard. On the other hand, the study of the Scriptures was now definitely implanted on the Continent, and the number of copies of them produced in France and Germany shows a great increase. During the 9th cent. splendid copies of the ‘Golden Gospels’ continued to be produced in the valley of the Rhine, and Alcuinian texts at Tours; while a new centre of Scripture study and reproduction came into existence in Switzerland, at the famous abbey of St. Gall . The library and scriptorium of this monastery (many of the inmates of which were English or Irish monks) first became notable under abbot Gozbert (816 836), and perhaps reached the height of their importance under abbot Hartmut (872 883). Many copies of the Bible were written there, and the influence of St. Gall permeated a large portion of central Europe. Here, too, was produced by Walafridus Strabo, dean of St. Gall before 842, the original form of the Glossa Ordinaria , the standard commentary on the Bible in the Middle Ages.

13 . After Alcuin and Theodulf no important effort was made to recover the original text of the Vulgate, though some attempt in this direction was made by Lanfranc, of which no traces seem to survive; but the history of its diffusion can to some extent be followed by the help of the extant MSS, which now begin to increase greatly in number. The tradition of the ‘Golden Gospels’ was carried into Germany, where copies of the Gospels were produced on a smaller scale, with less ornamentation, and in a rather heavy Caroline minuscule, which clearly derive their origin from this source. In France itself, too, the later representatives of this school are inferior in size and execution to their predecessors. Spain and Ireland had by this time ceased to be of primary importance in the circulation of Bible texts. In England a new departure was made, on a higher scale of artistic merit, in the fine Gospels and Service-Books produced at Winchester between about 960 and 1060, the chief characteristics of which are broad bands of gold forming a framework with interlaced foliage. These details, however, relate more to the history of art than to that of the Bible, and with regard to the spread of the knowledge of the Scriptures there is nothing of Importance to note in the 10th and 11th cents. beyond the increase of monasteries in all the countries of western Europe, in the scriptoria of which the multiplication of copies proceeded apace.

14 . In the 12th cent. the most noteworthy phenomenon, both in England and on the Continent, is the popularity of annotated copies of the various books of the Bible. The ordinary arrangement is for the Bible text to occupy a single narrow column down the centre of the page, while on either side of it is the commentary; but where the commentary is scanty, the Biblical column expands to fill the space, and vice versa . The main staple of the commentary is normally the Glossa Ordinaria ; but this, being itself a compilation of extracts from pre-existing commentaries (Jerome, Augustine, Isidore, Bede, etc.), lent itself readily to expansion or contraction, so that different MSS differ not inconsiderably in their contents. The various books of the Bible generally form separate MSS, or small groups of them are combined. Simultaneously with these, some very large Bibles were produced, handsomely decorated with illuminated initials. Of these the best examples come from England or northern France. These are of the nature of éditions de luxe , while the copies with commentaries testify to the extent to which the Bible was at this time studied, at any rate in the larger monasteries; and the catalogues of monastic libraries which still exist confirm this impression by showing what a large number of such annotated MSS were preserved in them, no doubt for the study of the monks.

15 . A further step in advance was taken in the 13th cent., which is to be attributed apparently to the influence of the University of Paris then at the height of its renown and the intellectual centre of Europe. The present chapter division of the Bible text is said to have been first made by Stephen Langton (archbishop of Canterbury, 1207 1228), while a doctor at Paris; and the 13th cent. (probably under the influence of St. Louis) witnessed a remarkable output of Vulgate MSS of the complete Bible. Hitherto complete Bibles had almost always been very large volumes, suitable only for liturgical use; but by the adoption of very thin vellum and very small writing it was now found possible to compress the whole Bible into volumes of quite moderate size, comparable with the ordinary printed Bibles of to-day. For example, one such volume, containing the whole Bible with ample margins, measures 5 1 / 2×3 1 /2×1¾ inches, and consists of 471 leaves. From the appearance of these Bibles (hundreds of which are still extant) it is evident that they were intended for private use, and they testify to a remarkable growth in the personal study of the Scriptures. The texts of these MSS seem to embody the results of a revision at the hands of the Paris doctors. Correctoria , or collections of improved readings, were issued at Paris about 1230, and at other places during this cent., the best being the ‘Correctorium Vaticanum,’ so called from a MS in the Vatican Library. This revision, however, was superficial rather than scientific, and is of importance in the history of the Vulgate mainly because it established the normal text which was current at the time of the invention of printing. These small Bibles were produced almost as plentifully in England as in France, and in an identical style, which continued well into the 14th century.

16 . After the Parisian revision of the 13th cent. no important modification of the text or status of the Latin Bible took place until the invention of printing two centuries later. The first book to be printed in Europe was the Latin Bible, published in 1456 by Gutenberg and Fust (now popularly known as the Mazarin Bible, from the circumstance that the first copy of it to attract notice in modern times was that in the library of Cardinal Mazarin). In type this Bible resembles the contemporary large German Bible MSS; in text it is the ordinary Vulgate of the 15th century. During the next century Bibles poured from the press, but with little or no attempt at revision of the text. Some MSS were consulted in the preparation of the Complutensian Polyglot; but the only editions before the middle of the 16th cent. which deserve the name of critical are those of Stephanus in 1540 and Hentenius in 1547, which laid the foundations of the modern printed Vulgate. It is, however, to the action of the Council of Trent that the genesis of an authorized text is ultimately due. Soon after its meeting, in 1546, a decree was passed declaring that the ‘vetus et vulgata editio’ of the Scriptures was to be accepted as authentic, and that it should be printed in the most accurate form possible. It was forty years, however, before this decree bore fruit. Sixtus V ., in his short pontificate of five years (1585 90), not only caused the production of an edition of the Greek OT (1587), but in 1590 issued a Latin Bible which he declared was to be accepted as the authentic edition demanded by the Council of Trent. This edition was the work of a board of revisers appointed for the purpose, but Sixtus himself examined their results before they were published, and introduced a large number of alterations (rarely for the better) on his own authority. The Sixtine edition, however, had hardly been issued when it was recalled in 1592 by Clement VIII ., at the instance, it is believed, of the Jesuits, with whom Sixtus had quarrelled; and in the same year a new edition was issued under the authority of Clement, with a preface by the famous Jesuit Bellarmin, in which (to avoid the appearance of a conflict between Popes) the suppression of the Sixtine edition is falsely stated to be due to the abundance in it of printers’ errors, and to have been contemplated by Sixtus himself. The Clementine revisers in many instances restored the readings of Sixtus’ board, which Sixtus himself had altered; and the general result of their labours was to produce a text resembling that of Hentenius, while the Sixtine edition was nearer to that of Stephanus. The bull in which the Clementine edition was promulgated forbade any future alteration of the text and any printing of various readings in the margin, and thereby stereotyped the official text of the Vulgate from that day until this.

17 . Clement’s bull practically closed the textual criticism of the Vulgate in the Roman Church, though Vallarsi was able to print a new text in his edition of the works of St. Jerome in 1734, and Vercellone published a collection of various readings in 1860 64. The course of criticism outside the Roman communion can be briefly sketched. Bentley, with the help of his assistants, made large collections for an edition of the Vulgate, but was unable to carry through his task. Lachmann, in the second edition of his Greek NT (1842 50), added a text of the Vulgate, based on a collation of the Cod. Amiatinus and a few other selected MSS. Corssen in 1885 printed a revised text of Gal. as a sample of a new NT, but has carried his enterprise no further, being perhaps deterred by the appearance of the great Oxford edition now in progress. This edition, planned by Bishop J. Wordsworth of Salisbury, and carried out by him with the assistance of the Rev. H. J. White and others, gives a revised text of the Vulgate with a full critical apparatus and introductions. The four Gospels and Acts have now appeared (1889 1905); it is to be hoped that nothing will prevent the completion of the entire work, which will establish the criticism of at least the Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] NT on a firm foundation. A very bandy text of the NT, with Wordsworth and White’s variants in the margin, has been produced by E. Nestle (1907). Quite recently it has been announced that Pope Pius x. has entrusted the Benedictine order with the revision of the Vulgate text. It is satisfactory to know that they propose to devote themselves in the first instance to the OT.

Literature. The Prolegomena to Wordsworth’s and White’s edition; art. by Bp. Westcott in Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ; art. by H. J. White in Scrivener’s Introd. to Crit. of NT : 4 , with description of 181 of the principal MSS, and art. ‘Vulgate’ in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ; and especially S. Berger’s Hist, de la Vulg. [Note: Vulgate.] pendant les premiers siècles du moyen âge (1893). Specimens of the principal classes of MSS mentioned in the present article may be seen in Facsimiles from Biblical MSS in the British Museum (1900). The best edition of the Clementine Vulgate is that of Vercellone (1861). For fuller bibliography, see Berger, op. cit ., and White’s art. in Hastings’ DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] .

F. G. Kenyon.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Vulgate'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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