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The Monk and the Book: Jerome and the Making of Christian Scholarship
Megan Hale Williams
University Of Chicago Press, 2006
312 pp., $58.00
Brad S. Gregory
Jerome, in the Library, with a Pen
In the last generation, intellectual history has become incarnate. Overlapping histories of the book, of reading practices, and of the practice of scholarship itself have transformed the history of ideas. Approaches initiated by historians studying the influence of moveable type and the circulation of printed books in early modern Europe have been adapted and extended backward to the ancient world and forward to our own age of wireless laptops. To be sure, leading intellectual historians have long recognized the importance of contextualizing texts, reconstructing the circumstances in which thinkers wrote so as to illuminate their ideas. But they rarely paid much attention to the material culture of books and manuscripts, the physical layout of classrooms or salons, the costs and connotations of education, or the ways in which scholars garnered financial support and were able, in concrete terms, to disseminate their ideas. That intellectuals of every time and place are flesh-and-blood human beings apparently seemed a fact too banal to be significant. It turns out that it's not. For as the societies, institutions, and technological realities within which intellectuals work have varied enormously in the West from the ancient Mediterranean world through the Middle Ages to the present, so have their constraints, opportunities, and experiences diverged. In The Monk and the Book, Megan Hale Williams applies this sort of deeply contextualized intellectual history to Jerome (c.347-419), the formidably learned late antique scholar and irascible ascetic behind the Vulgate Bible, the text that would stand at the center of Christian civilization for more than a millennium.
Two principal objectives run throughout Williams' book. First, she seeks to reconstruct the social circumstances and material realities within which Jerome worked as a biblical scholar, from his education in Rome during the 360s until his death at the Bethlehem monastery in 419. Williams integrates a wide range ...