The Septuagintand Vulgate

The Septuagint was a translation into Greek of the Hebrew canon and certain additional samples of Jewish/Hebrew literature. “Septuagint” is actually a Latin word meaning “70.” Because the number “70” figures so prominently in the legend, the “Septuagint” is often referred to as “LXX” — the Roman numerals for “70.”
 In the popular legend, Ptolemy was ruler of Egypt. “Greek” was the lingua franca of the era.

“It happened with King Ptolemy, that he gathered seventy-two elders…in seventy-two houses, and didn’t reveal to them the purpose for which he’d gathered them. He went to visit each of them, one by one, and said to them, ‘Write the Torah for me…” The Blessed Holy One gave wisdom to the heart of each…and all of them arrived at the same translation.” [1]

“The earliest, and best known, source for the story of the Septuagint is the Letter of Aristeas…that recalls how Ptolemy (Philadelphus II [285–247 BCE]), desiring to augment his library in Alexandria, Egypt, commissioned a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. Ptolemy wrote to the chief priest, Eleazar, in Jerusalem, and arranged for six translators from each of the twelve tribes of Israel. The seventy-two…translators arrived in Egypt to Ptolemy’s gracious hospitality, and translated the Torah…in seventy-two days. Opinions as to when this occurred [range] from 282 to @ 250 BCE.” [2]

“The LXX represents the first major effort at translating a significant religious text from one language into another.” [3]

It seems that at first, only Torah was translated. Other books of TaNaCh, and some that weren’t in in Jewish canon, like “Judith,” “Tobit,” etc., were translated in other generations and locales. The LXX was later accepted by Christian tradition as the “authoritative” version of the “Old Testament.” 
 This explains why the Catholic “Old Testament” varies from Jewish tradition. In fact, there are multiple “biblical” traditions. Protestant bibles, for example, contain only the “Old Testament” books canonized in Jewish tradition, albeit in a different order. The LXX is also the basis of the Old Latin, Slavonic, Syriac, Old Armenian, Old Georgian and Coptic “Old Testaments.”
 It’s interesting that fragments of the LXX were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, as well, to accommodate Greek-literate Jews who were members of the sect. 
 Jewish/Rabbinic tradition ultimately eschewed the LXX in favor of other translations, like that of Aquila. One reason might be the inherent problems with any translation:

“All translations are commentaries.” [4]

Although a translation might serve pedagogic purposes, the original language is ultimately necessary for full understanding. Muslim tradition deals with the same problem by insisting on a knowledge of Arabic as part of a child’s education — much like Jewish tradition requires some knowledge of Hebrew. That Christian tradition placed less educational emphasis on a knowledge of Greek or Hebrew might have two bases: First, Christianity emphasizes “faith” over intellectual comprehension or dexterity; this is generally common to all Christian traditions. While there are certainly multiple intellectual strands within Christian tradition, even St. Thomas Aquinas, after a spiritual experience late in life, said, “…all that I have written seems like straw to me.” Second, the right to interpret Scripture was historically reserved for the Church; individual reading or interpretation was not only discouraged; it was condemnable.

Though the actual history is far more complicated, the Vulgate is commonly known as St. Jerome’s translation of the Jewish and Christian scriptures into Latin (c. 4th century CE). While there had been previous Latin translations (the “Vetus Latina” — “Old Latin;” meaning older than the “Vulgate”), these had been based on the (Greek) Septuagint.

Jerome consulted the Hebrew and Aramaic originals where relevant, along with the Septuagint. In fact, the oldest Masoretic texts available, which date from the 9th century CE (not including manuscripts from the Dead Sea Scrolls), are predated by the Vulgate by as much as 600 years.

By the 13th century CE, Jerome’s precise and stylistically refined translation had replaced the Vetus Latina [5] and came to be called the “Versio Vulgata” (the “version commonly used”) or “Vulgata” (“Vulgate;” “common,” but not in a pejorative sense). [6]

The Vulgate became the standard text used by the Roman Catholic Church and remains so today. A Jew looking at a Catholic bible would find numerous unfamiliar titles — e.g. “Judith,” “Tobit,” etc — and additions to some texts — e.g. in “Esther.”

While Judaism and Islam require — or at least expect — literacy in scripture’s original language, Christianity retained the reading and understanding of scripture as a strictly ecclesiastical prerogative, until the Reformation. Before the advent of Protestantism, members’ exposure to scripture was in public reading during services, guaranteeing that Scripture was only heard from and interpreted by authorized sources.

John Wycliffe was an early advocate of translating the Bible into (Middle) English, in order to make it accessible to a wider range of people (although the average person wasn’t literate at that time). His translation was based on the Vulgate.
 Although Jerome’s Latin incorporated poetic elements (which, not knowing Latin, I can’t confirm or evaluate), Wycliffe’s translation was in prose (note that there was no uniform spelling at that time):

“The title of the two and twentithe salm [*]:
`The salm, ether the song of Dauid.
The Lord gouerneth me, and no thing schal faile to me; in the place of pasture there he hath set me. He nurschide me on the watir of refreischyng; he conuertide my soule. He ledde me forth on the pathis of riytfulnesse; for his name. For whi thouy Y schal go in the myddis of schadewe of deeth; Y schal not drede yuels, for thou art with me. Thi yerde and thi staf; tho han coumfortid me. Thou hast maad redi a boord in my siyt; ayens hem that troblen me. Thou hast maad fat myn heed with oyle; and my cuppe, `fillinge greetli, is ful cleer. And thi merci schal sue me; in alle the daies of my lijf. And that Y dwelle in the hows of the Lord; in to the lengthe of daies.” [7]

Jerome’s Vulgate and Wycliffe’s English translation weren’t divided into the “chapters and verses” familiar today. Such divisions, unknown in Jewish tradition, are attributed to Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (1150-1228), who also wrote the Magna Carta and the beautiful Latin hymn “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” sung on Pentecost.

Wycliffe’s English translation and Langton’s divisions set the basis for the “King James” translation, which itself set the stage for the later “Leeser,” “JPS” and other recent Jewish translations. It should also be pointed out that these chapter/verse divisions aren’t uniform in all traditions. For example, As shown above [*], Tehillim/Ps. 23 — “The L-rd is my Shepherd” — is # 22 in the Vulgate and its English translations (e.g. the Wycliffe and Douay-Rheims bibles, etc.).

The King James [“KJ”] version follows Jewish tradition in numbering it as “23.” “KJ” also omits those books that were included in the Septuagint and Vulgate, but were not included in the Jewish canon. These books make up the “apocrypha” and “pseudepigrapha” literature.

[1] Megillah 9a
[4] attributed to Rabbi Leo Baeck

[6] ibid.