Patristic Commentaries on the Book of Daniel: Comparing and Contrasting Hippolytus and Jerome

After examining just some of the highlights and interesting exegesis contained in the commentaries of both Hippolytus and Jerome, what can be said about them? What, if any, is the relationship of one to the other? How do they compare? A cursory reading of both texts would readily yield to substantive remarks about their similarity and dissimilarity. Reasons as to why these comparisons exist may not be as readily ascertained. Here is a list of comparative differences:First, while both are relatively aware of the history of the Mediterranean world from Daniel’s day to their present situation, it seems that Jerome has a more firm grasp of it and a greater interest in it. This is evidenced by some of the gratuitous historical comments that he makes with regard to historical personalities and events. Hippolytus possesses a grasp of the history, but it seems of secondary importance to him.

Second, Jerome is almost decidedly anti-allegorical even if he does defend it. He makes few if any allegorical references, and even those that he does make seem more to be similitudes than allegories. Several examples were given above that illustrate the highly allegorical nature of Hippolytus’ exegesis (or shall we even use that word!). Jerome’s adherence to a literal understanding of the text may be attributed to his apologetic against Porphyry.

Third, related to the previous comment, Jerome reads the text more closely. He constructs his text in a verse-by-verse manner. Hippolytus, by contrast, seems to comment on what seems to be important to him at the moment. For instance, he almost completely ignores the text in Daniel that contains his preamble to the dreams, and many other items of lesser interest remain uncommented.

Fourth, Jerome’s work takes on a decidedly apologetic notion. Jerome defends the prophecy of Daniel from the skeptical Porphyry who employs a very early “hermeneutic of suspicion.” Hippolytus has only minor controversies with various conflicting viewpoints here and there throughout his commentary.

Fifth, a progression may be noted in eschatology from Hippolytus to Jerome. Whereas Hippolytus begins the destruction of an any-moment Second Coming; Jerome denies a literal millennium. Jerome goes further than Hippolytus, who still holds to the millennium as a Sabbath rest for the earth. Clearly, an evolution can be seen of which the only slightly later Augustine would transform into a non-literal Postmillennialism if not an outright Amillennialism.

Sixth, Hippolytus interacts more with other Scripture. Jerome does not fail to interact with other Scripture, but it does not become the very idiom in which he writes. Hippolytus carries on style that highlights his dependence on Scriptural modes of thinking much like the later Puritan divines:

Hippolytus’ commentary is inundated with biblical quotations: lengthy biblical pericopes or short passages constantly are interwove with his own comments, while on the other hand brief scriptural phrases or terms are so fully and subtly integrated into his own sentences that only a specialist’s eye can detect them. One could argue plausibly that the biblical texts cited verbatim by him cover more space than his own analysis of them.

Seventh, only Jerome critically examines and weighs the opinions of other commentators. It might be argued that Hippolytus writes for devotional purposes which would increase the piety of a Christian through a proper understanding of the Word. Jerome, on the other hand, seems driven by the need to answer Porphyry. His interest is not so much to encourage piety as it is to defend the prophecy of Daniel against the critics.

These seven (and Hippolytus would find this number fitting) differences may be demonstrated easily from the text. There are perhaps more and more subtle differences that would open to the interests of a longer and more involved study. To my knowledge there are no extant published articles or monographs that compare the two commentaries. Most comparisons occur in the brief venue of a patristics eschatology overview.

1. Trakatellis comments in footnote 5 on a study that revealed that a random sample of Hippolytus’ text demonstrated that three-fifths of the overall text was directly attributed to the text of the Bible. (Trakatellis, “LOGOS AGONISTIKOS: Hippolytus’ Commentary on Daniel,” 529.).

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