New Book on Codex Bezae

I am excited to announce that my new book on Codex Bezae is set to be published on November 22, a revision of the Ph. D. dissertation I defended in July 2020. The title is A History of Codex Bezae’s Text in the Gospel of Mark.

While the title accurately conveys a focus on Bezae’s text of the gospel of Mark, which was collated in its entirety for this study against the Greek witnesses cited in the Editio Critica Maior of Mark and the Latin witnesses cited in the Vetus Latina edition of Mark, the questions addressed have relevance as well to Bezae’s text in the other gospels and Acts. In the book, the fragility of the traditional framework that conceptualizes Bezae’s Greek text according to a theory of a “Western” text is methodically laid out, while the historical context of Bezae’s production is considered seriously for the first time and found to have direct relevance to the text preserved in the manuscript.

The back cover summary follows:

Using a combination of text-critical, church-historical, philological, and digital methods, the present study calls into question traditional assumptions about Codex Bezae’s distinctive Greek text of the gospels and Acts — that it represents an ancient native Greek tradition and source of the Latin version preserving a textual relic of the first century of Christianity — arguing that this text can be credibly dated to the end of the fourth century, immediately preceding production of the manuscript, and represents the diorthosis of a Greek text to a Latin model distinct from the Latin column found in the manuscript itself. So the better part of this remarkable text derives ultimately from other traditions and, hence, its true significance lies in what it can tell us about the historical circumstances under which the manuscript and its final text were produced at the turn of the fifth century.

Bibliographical information:

Peter E. Lorenz. A History of Codex Bezae’s Text in the Gospel of Mark. Arbeiten zur Neutestamentlichen Textforschung 53. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022.

 

New Essay on the Greek Vorlage of the Old Latin Version in Mark

I have published a new essay on the Greek Vorlage behind the Old Latin  version of Mark, entitled “The Latin Version and the Greek Tradition in the Gospel of Mark,” which appears in the just-released Studien volume of the Editio critica maior of Mark.

This essay addresses problems with the assumption that Old Latin readings, where they diverge from Greek mainstream traditions, can be traced to a Greek “Western” text similar to the text found in Codex Bezae, a view that originated with J. S. Semler in the eighteenth century and was later popularized by F. J. A. Hort in his Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek. The main problem with this view is that it takes the Latin version out of the context in which it came into existence, all but ignoring the contribution of translators, editors, and copyists within the version to its final shape.

In this essay, I discuss the pitfalls of a hasty appeal to Greek sources to explain routine artifacts of the translation event observable in the habits of the translators. In short, it is not possible to view the Old Latin version as a mere proxy of Greek sources without falling into a crucial source-critical blunder of overlooking the larger context of the text itself.

The abstract follows:

Readings in the Latin gospels are often approached as translations of a Greek “Western” text, a construct devised in the eighteenth century to explain parallels between Codex Bezae and the Latin version as native Greek readings and later adopted by nineteenth-century source critics as a means to access early Christian traditions. A significant limitation of this approach is in overlooking the version itself as a tradition by deflecting the complexities of translation and inner-versional transmission onto putative Greek sources, while reducing the translation event to the mechanical replication of these sources in Latin. This essay takes an alternative approach, focusing first on the versional context in which these readings appear and the capacity of translators, editors, and copyists within the version to generate new readings without the aid of a Greek model. In examining the habits of the translators, it is apparent that they frequently produced the same kinds of variation in their singular readings that we find in their parallels with so-called “Western” texts, such as Codex Bezae, raising the possibility that these readings arose in Latin rather than in Greek and, hence, that the theory of a “Western” text is superfluous in accounting for the development of the version.

Bibliographical information:

Peter E. Lorenz, “The Latin Version and the Greek Tradition in the Gospel of Mark.” Pages 133–173 in Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior I Synoptic Gospels: The Gospel of Mark, Vol. 3: Studien. Ed. H. Strutwolf, G. Gäbel, A. Hüffmeier, M.-L. Lakmann, G. S. Paulson, and K. Wachtel. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2021.

New article on Jerome and the story of the woman accused of adultery in the gospel of John

I have published a new article on Jerome’s role in establishing the story of Jesus and the woman accused of adultery in the gospel of John, which appears in the latest issue of Conversations with the Biblical World. The title of the article is “Jerome, Paula, and the Story of the Adulteress: Why Did Jerome Overrule His Old Greek Copies?”. The article is posted here.

An early form of the article was presented at the Pacific Northwest Regional SBL meeting on May 4, 2019 at Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. The article explores the possibility that the story was first introduced into the gospel of John in Jerome’s Vulgate along with those features of the story that are characteristic of its Johannine form.

The abstract follows:

In his Praefatio in evangelio, Jerome claims to have consulted only old Greek manuscripts in producing his Vulgate revision of the Old Latin gospels. If this is true, it is surprising that he included the story of Jesus and the adulteress after John 7:52 in his revision, given that our oldest surviving Greek manuscripts consistently lack this story. At the same time, the manuscript tradition of the Vulgate is unanimous in including the story, suggesting that it was present in this version from the beginning due to Jerome’s own editorial decision to include it. In this paper, I examine points of contact between the story in its Vulgate form and the circumstances of Jerome’s bitter departure from Rome in 385, concluding that Jerome may have had personal motives to include the story even if it were not present in the old copies he presumably consulted.

Doctoral Dissertation on Codex Bezae Defended

I am excited to announce that earlier today I successfully defended my dissertation, entitled A History of Codex Bezae’s Text in the Gospel of Mark, for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Many thanks to my supervisor, Prof. Dr. Holger Strutwolf, the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung (INTF), and the Faculty of Evangelical Theology at the University of Münster!

The thesis I defended contends that the distinctive elements of Codex Bezae’s Greek text of Mark can be credibly dated to the last decades of the fourth century, just before production of the manuscript itself, and that these elements appear in large part to have been appropriated from the Latin version, though not from the Latin column. By “distinctive elements” I mean essentially those readings that Bezae’s text does not share with the Greek mainstream or with Greek witnesses in its Hauptliste.1 The process appears to have been by correction of an existing Greek base text (aka. diorthosis) and finds a contemporary analogy in Jerome’s selective revision of the Old Latin gospels.

Codex Bezae and Latin-Trained Syriac Scribes

Last week I presented a paper at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, as announced in my previous post. In the paper, I examined five classic objections to the theory that Codex Bezae’s Greek text form has appropriated text forms from the Latin version, concluding that none of these objections entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s collection of distinctive Latin parallels might have arisen as readings in the Old Latin version.

In the discussion following my talk, a sixth objection was raised, namely, that parallels between the Old Latin and Old Syriac suggest that a common source lies behind them both, presumably resembling Bezae’s Greek text.

In my answer, I noted that Bezae’s text form is only distantly related to the Old Syriac, at least in Mark.1 In Mark, for example, Bezae’s text is more closely aligned with the text of Codex Vaticanus. So Bezae is not a good candidate to represent the source of the Old Syriac, at least in this gospel.

Moreover, in my paper, I pointed out that Bezae is unlikely to represent the source of the Old Latin version, which requires no Bezan source to explain its development. Its text forms, where they differ from Greek witnesses, likely arose through translation and inner-versional copying.

So if the Old Latin and Old Syriac require a common source, which is doubtful, a text like Bezae’s is probably not it.

Syriac Traditions in a Greek Text that Borrows Latin Readings

Nevertheless, Bezae’s text form does have a relationship with Syriac traditions, apparently dating to the time after Aphrahat (d. c. 345), as I argue in my essay on Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy, which depends on a list of names found only in Aphrahat. In this case, it is clear that Bezae is not the source of the list in Syriac, because Bezae develops Aphrahat’s list of names, even introducing an erroneous name in the process. So Bezae’s contact with Syriac traditions likely occurred in the latter fourth century, after the time of Aphrahat.

But how are we to explain Syriac contact in a Greek manuscript, whose text form seems to borrow from the Latin version?

One explanation relates to contact between the Greek and Latin languages in the East, where Bezae was likely produced.2 There was little if any true bilingualism in the East at the time of Bezae’s production. The situation is best described as diglossia, the side-by-side coexistence of languages in separate domains, where the use of Latin was confined primarily to official contexts, namely, the military, the civil administration, and the law.3

If Bezae was produced in such a context, it is unlikely to have been prepared for a bilingual congregation. Even in centers of Roman culture in the East, such as Berytus, the churches were Greek speaking.4

It is likely then that the Latin version of Bezae’s Latin parallels and Latin column was approached as a written source, much like the Latin legal documents of the law school. Indeed, Bezae’s legal script supplies a valuable clue that its production took place at or near a legal center, such as Berytus, or among individuals who had received their training at such a legal center.5

John of Palestine: A Latin-Trained, Syriac-Speaking Scribe

In his account of the Christian community at Berytus in the latter fifth century, Zacharias of Mytilene describes a certain John of Palestine, a monk at the monastery of Saint Jude, just outside of Berytus, who

after training in the law, had consecrated himself to God in that church [of Jude], adopting the philosophical life-style … [and had] benefited many of those studying law in that city, … because of the (collection of) Christian books that he owned, which he shared and gave out.6

The fact that John had amassed a collection of books suggests that he was a scribe. After all, an individual ascetic would have had little other means by which to acquire books.

As a well-educated native of Palestine, we can assume that John was fluent in both Greek and Aramaic, while as a former law student, he would have been literate in both Greek and Latin. So in John of Palestine we find a Latin-trained, Syriac-speaking scribe.

Peter of Iberia’s Recruitment of Latin-Trained Monks in Palestine

Apparently, John was not alone among the Latin-trained monks of Syria and Palestine. In his account of Peter the Iberian, John Rufus describes Peter’s deliberate recruitment of law students to his monastic community:

When he [Peter] came to Beirut, he was recognized immediately by the young lawyers, his acquaintances from Palestine and from Alexandria … Some of them while he was still alive and some after his departure would reject the vanity of the world and run to him.7

Among Peter’s law recruits identified by Rufus (who was also trained at Berytus) were Theodore of Ascalon, Anastasios of Edessa, and Elisha of Lycia, all former students of the law school at Berytus. Rufus describes how Peter had received a vision instructing him specifically to recruit lawyers to his monastic community:

God wanted that there should be offered to him also from [among] the lawyers rational sacrifices and whole burnt offerings, able to carry his cross and follow him, like Basil and Gregory and John and Arsenius, and those who are like them in zeal.8

But every one of these recruits must have known Latin, because Roman law was promulgated in Latin, even in the East, down through the time of Justinian. So we cannot assume that Latin was wholly unfamiliar among the monks of Syria and Palestine. A Greek text such as Bezae’s, accompanied by a Latin column, would not have been entirely inaccessible in the Syriac world among those trained in law who inhabited its monastic communities.

Bezae’s Text and Miaphysite Monasticism in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt

Therefore, when we encounter errors in Bezae suggesting that its producers were not fully competent in literary Latin and Greek, a natural inference is that their native language was neither Greek nor Latin, but a third language, such as Syriac.9 Here we find a second clue as to Bezae’s origins, linking it potentially with the monastic communities of Syria and Palestine (and, ultimately, Egypt) among those trained in Roman law.

As the Chalcedonian settlement split apart the Eastern church, it is not difficult to imagine such a text ending up among the miaphysite communities of middle Egypt, where something like it appears in Codex Glazier, and still later in the Harklean marginal notes of Acts, produced outside of Alexandria by the Syrian miaphysite, Thomas of Mabug. So exchange between the monastic communities of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt supplies one explanation for the appearance of Bezan text forms in Syriac and Coptic. This more refined theory is at least as plausible as the usual theory that Bezae’s text form represents the original source behind both the Latin and Syriac versions.

Presenting at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium: The Latin Version and Codex Bezae’s Greek Text

This week I will be presenting a paper at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, where the theme of the colloquium is the versions and other indirect textual evidence for the New Testament. My paper looks at the history of scholarship on the theory that Latin readings have significantly influenced Bezae’s Greek text in its final form. The title of the paper is “Has Pervasive Influence of the Old Latin Version on Codex Bezae’s Greek Text Form Been Disproved? An Examination of Some Key Objections to the Theory of Latin Influence on Bezae’s Greek Text.”

Of course, the prevailing theory concerning Bezae’s distinctive parallels with the Latin version is that these readings are native Greek text forms that have been faithfully conveyed in Latin by translators of the Old Latin version. This view was expressed by J. S. Semler in his Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem (1767), where he observes that “the Latin copies were originally translated from the same Greek codices from which many Greek copies of a different kind [such as Codex Bezae] were transcribed.” 1

But as I have noted in a few other posts (see Why assimilation theories of Bezae’s Greek text are compelling, Can Greek manuscripts account for Bezae’s variation?, Has Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text been disproved?, and Latinization in Codex Bezae?), this view was not the first modern opinion on the matter of the distinctive Latin parallels in Bezae’s Greek text form. For the first two centuries following Bezae’s rediscovery during the Reformation, the predominant view was that these readings were borrowed from the Latin version, a view held by J. Mill and J. J. Wettstein among others.

This earlier view was challenged, not only by Semler, but also by J. D. Michaelis, J. J. Griesbach, H. Marsh, and D. D. Schultz, who laid the groundwork for the current consensus in a series of objections to the notion that parallels with the Latin version found in Bezae’s Greek column might have arisen as renderings in the Latin version.2 These objections include:

  • The prevailing direction of assimilation between Bezae’s columns is from the Greek to the Latin rather than the Latin to the Greek (Michaelis and Schultz)
  • Sufficient diversity exists within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s Latin parallels without appeal to the Latin version (Semler and Griesbach)
  • A Bezan text is likely to lie at the source of the Latin version (Semler and Griesbach)
  • The notion that an original language text, such as Bezae’s Greek column, might have appropriated renderings from a secondary version is contrary to reason (Semler and Marsh)

My paper argues that none of these objections upon which the present theory relies and by which it distinguishes itself from the earlier opinion entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s significant collection of distinctive Latin parallels might have arisen through the influence of readings in the Old Latin version, though not necessarily its own Latin column.

The abstract follows:

Before the mid-eighteenth century, it was generally assumed by figures such as Erasmus, R. Simon, H. Grotius, F. Lucas Brugensis, W. H. Estius, J. Mill, J. A. Bengel, and J. J. Wettstein among others, that Codex Bezae’s Greek text form, where it parallels the Latin version — often with little or no additional Greek support — has been influenced by readings of the Latin version. Such an inference is understandable given Bezae’s Greek-Latin format and frequent divergence from the rest of the Greek tradition in agreement with one or more witnesses of the Old Latin version. But in his Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem, published in 1767, J. S. Semler challenged this earlier assumption, arguing that the theory of Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text form was, not only contrary to reason, but also unnecessary. Semler argued that there was sufficient diversity within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s Latin parallels without appeal to the Latin version as their source, suggesting that, rather than reflecting Latin influence, a text like Bezae’s lay at the source of the Latin version. Taking up Semler’s critique, J. D. Michaelis strove “to rescue the [Bezan] copyist from the charge” of Latinizing a Greek text, while D. D. Schultz assembled instances in which Bezae’s Latin column appears to depend on errors in the Greek column, believing that he had thereby settled the question.3 H. Marsh summed up the sentiments of many when he remarked that “[i]t is surely more reasonable to suppose, that a translation would be altered from an original, than an original from a translation.”4 Since Semler, the notion that Latin readings may have influenced Bezae’s Greek text form has generally been dismissed, with F. J. A. Hort calling it “a whimsical theory of the last century.”5 More recently, B. M. Metzger summarized the state of the question, observing that “the theory finds little or no support among present-day scholars.”6

In this paper, I propose to reexamine some of the key objections to the theory that Bezae’s Greek text form has been widely influenced by the Old Latin version, arguing that none of the traditional objections entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s substantial collection of peculiar Latin parallels might have arisen through the influence of readings in the Old Latin version, but not necessarily its own Latin column. I will observe that much of the discussion in the literature has conflated two distinct problems: while critics have tended to view the problem in terms of the direct translation of Bezae’s own Latin column, the theory’s early proponents understood the problem more broadly in terms of the selective influence of the wider Latin version. Yet demonstrations purporting to disprove the entire theory have typically addressed only the former problem. Meanwhile, the question of plausibility has been framed too quickly in terms of modern critical and editorial biases, which strongly prioritize the Greek text as original, while neglecting to consider historical contexts that might have preferred Latin over Greek readings. Clearly though, the question can be addressed satisfactorily only in light of ancient opinion. In light of this apparent failure of the traditional objections, I will conclude by suggesting that the pervasive dependence of Bezae’s Greek text form on the Old Latin version remains very much an open question.

Back to the USA and Research Status

At the end of September, I returned with my family to the USA from Münster, Germany, where I have been working for the past two years on a history of Codex Bezae’s text of Mark at the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung. Having recently attended the SBL Annual Meeting in Denver, I realized that many friends and colleagues were not yet aware of my move back to the Seattle area. So I now post this brief announcement with a summary of the status of my research.

Of course, the reason for my move to Germany was to research Codex Bezae’s text of Mark using transcriptions recently compiled for the ECM edition of this gospel and ultimately to produce a dissertation on this topic. I am presently carrying out final revisions of this dissertation in the hope of submitting a final draft as soon as possible.

The present title of the dissertation is “A History of Codex Bezae’s Text in the Gospel of Mark.” While the title is admittedly somewhat generic, it manages to convey two central aspects of my work: first, it is a study of Bezae’s text form versus a study of Bezae the manuscript and, second, the approach is self-consciously historical, not only in attempting to trace the history of the text in its formation and development, but also in examining the ways in which the circumstances under which the text developed may have shaped the final text form.

The thesis that I am defending consists of two distinct but closely-related threads: first, concerning the date of Bezae’s Greek text form and, second, concerning its relation to the Latin version. These twin threads are interdependent and difficult to separate: If Bezae is an ancient text (e.g. second century), then it is difficult to see how it could depend in a significant way on readings of the Old Latin version, whose existence is not attested before the first half of the third century. On the other hand, if Bezae is a late text (e.g. fourth century), then it is difficult to see how the Latin version could depend on it, while at the same time it becomes easier to see how Bezae might depend on readings of the Latin version. Naturally, if Bezae is a late text, it likely contains elements from all of the intervening centuries between the autographs and its final production, a situation that might account for the complexity of its final text form. Of course, it is theoretically possible that the origins of Bezae’s Greek text form lie between these two extremes.

The dissertation is divided into two parts. The first part outlines the main problems of Bezae’s textual history: dating its text form and determining its relation to the Old Latin version, with special emphasis on the historical background, bilingual context, and model of textual development, concluding that there is little to exclude the possibility that Bezae’s Greek text form arose in the final decades of the fourth century. The design of the second part follows from the conclusions of the first part, describing the three main layers of the text in reverse chronological order: the layer of singular and sparsely-attested readings, the layer of distinctive Latin parallels, and the Greek base text. This design assumes that the text we have is a late text that depends in certain places on readings of the Old Latin version though not on the Latin column. The two parts are followed by a conclusion that draws the various threads of discussion into a single narrative that supplies an account of Bezae’s textual history in Mark.

Ephrem’s Typological Genealogy of Mary

In two recent posts, I noted the possibility that Justin Martyr and Celsus understood one of the two genealogies of Jesus given in the gospels as Mary’s genealogy. While such a view is at best implied by these early writers, Ephrem is remarkably explicit in his apparent attribution of the Matthean genealogy to Mary:

“Matthew wrote down the genealogy of Mary from whom our Lord was born and, because of this, he began from David and from Abraham, according to the promise revealed, ‘Not to you and to your descendants as though unto many, but to you and to your descendant, which descendant is Christ’ (Gal 3:16).”1

While Justin and Irenaeus imply that it is the Lukan genealogy that belongs to Mary, Ephrem somewhat surprisingly designates Matthew’s royal genealogy “the genealogy of Mary.”

Now there are some puzzling aspects about this passage in the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron. For one, Ephrem is citing the evangelist Matthew in a Diatessaron commentary. This is odd. Since Tatian had combined the four gospels into one, it is remarkable that Ephrem calls out one of the four evangelists by name.

But perhaps this is because of a second puzzle: the Diatessaron purportedly contained no genealogy of Jesus.2 It is remarkable that Ephrem senses a need to comment on a passage that was apparently excluded from the work upon which he is commenting. Indeed, Ephrem’s explicit reference to Matthew (and later to Luke) appears to support the notion that the Diatessaron lacked the genealogies.

But the third puzzle is Ephrem’s surprising attribution of the Matthean genealogy to Mary.

This attribution is all the more surprising because just two paragraphs earlier Ephrem asserts that Mary’s family line is nowhere to be found in the scriptures and, moreover, he implies that it is inappropriate to look for it:

“Scripture is silent [about Mary] since it numbers and counts the generations of men. If Scripture were accustomed to represent the family through the women, it would be appropriate to inquire after the family of Mary.”3

But apparently, in Ephrem’s view, it is not appropriate. Otherwise, why bring the matter up? But if not, why does Ephrem later apparently contradict himself by explicitly ascribing the Matthean genealogy to Mary?

If this is in fact a contradiction, it will not have been the first incongruity to have been discovered in the Syriac Commentary. Similar incongruities of thought have led to the conclusion that the commentary preserves multiple layers of tradition, ultimately compiled by a “school” of Ephrem in the latter fourth century.4

But perhaps this is not an incongruity.

Matthew: A Typological Genealogy?

In the same context, Ephrem refers to the genealogy of David as a “type” of the true genealogy of Mary’s child:

“The family of David continued as far as Joseph who had married her, and her child was through the type of the men, for the sake of the family of David.”5

Is Ephrem spiritualizing the Matthean genealogy?

According to Ephrem, the genealogies of the men establish a pattern of the true genealogy, which is Mary’s genealogy, because she is the one who gave birth to Christ, the seed promised to Abraham and David, as Ephrem reminds us:

“He is the son of Mary, however, and not the son of Joseph.”6

Ephrem says that because “Matthew wrote down the genealogy of Mary,” therefore “he began from David and Abraham.” So according to Ephrem, Matthew’s intent was to set forth the spiritual promise to Abraham and to his seed, Christ, and not to record a literal genealogy.7

Yet even to Ephrem, Matthew’s genealogy is not totally spiritualized. It contains three crucial names in the physical lineage of Jesus: Abraham, David, and Mary, “of whom Jesus was born.”8 If we follow this spiritual path, the genealogy becomes Mary’s genealogy, because, after all, the child is hers. And the seed is literally from David because, as Ephrem insists, Mary was from David:

“take note that [the evangelist] has said [elsewhere], concerning Joseph and Mary, that They were both of the house of David.”9

Here again Ephrem reaches outside of the Diatessaron, referring to Luke 2:4, which in the Old Syriac asserts that both Mary and Joseph were of the house of David.10

Whose Names?

So according to Ephrem, whose names are in the Matthean genealogy, Mary’s or Joseph’s?

Apparently, neither, at least after David. We know that Ephrem does not consider the Matthean names to belong to Joseph, because he later assigns the Lukan genealogy explicitly to Joseph:

“Luke however [was concerned] only with Joseph, husband of Mary, and [went back] as far as Adam who is from God.”11

So Ephrem chooses not to interpret the Matthean genealogy in a literal sense. Rather he interprets it typologically, as a figure of the true but unknown genealogy of Mary.

Is this Ephrem’s own solution to the discrepancies between the two genealogies of Matthew and Luke? It is difficult to say. But Ephrem is certainly not the first — nor the last — early Christian writer to spiritualize a difficult passage. Typological interpretations became one defense against the literalistic readings of certain heretics, such as Marcion, Ephrem’s arch-heresiological foe.12 From Ephrem’s perspective, Marcion’s literalistic interpretation ended up pitting one testament against the other and ultimately splitting the godhead into demiurge and stranger. Considered from this perspective, Ephrem’s pious spiritualization of the Matthean genealogy does not seem terribly shocking.

Celsus, Panthera, and the Genealogy of Mary

As preserved by Origen, Celsus is one of our earliest writers to comment on the genealogies of Jesus. Celsus’s failure to mention any conflict between the genealogies appears to support the view that no conflict was perceived in the second-century context in which he wrote.

But if we follow Origen, Celsus seems to have known that there were two genealogies, as he writes:

“the framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man, and from the kings of the Jews.”1

Presumably, Celsus’s genealogy “from the first man” refers to the genealogy of Luke, while his genealogy “from the kings of the Jews” refers to the genealogy of Matthew. So Celsus seems to allude here to the genealogies of both Luke and Matthew.

But if Celsus had sought to undermine Christianity, how could he have resisted pointing out that these two genealogies publish very different lists of names?2

Origen gives us an explanation, flatly attributing the oversight to his opponent’s incompetence:

“in finding fault with our Lord’s genealogy, there are certain points which occasion some difficulty even to Christians, and which, owing to the discrepancy between the genealogies, are advanced by some as arguments against their correctness, but which Celsus has not even mentioned. For Celsus, who is truly a braggart, and who professes to be acquainted with all matters relating to Christianity, does not know how to raise doubts in a skilful manner against the credibility of Scripture.”3

But could Celsus really have been unaware of the discrepancies to which Origen alludes? Certainly, if he had known that one of the genealogies was “from the first man” and the other “from the kings of the Jews,” he must have known something of their contents.

The Panthera Tradition

It is possible that Celsus dismissed the genealogies as pious fabrications, which could not have been expected to agree and, hence, required no in-depth refutation. After all, earlier in his work, Celsus had advanced the story that Mary had committed adultery with a Roman soldier named Panthera and that Jesus was their illegitimate child:

“When she [Mary] was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera.”4

So it appears that Celsus saw the genealogies as part of a cover up for the liaison that led to Jesus’s birth, a cover up that presumably included the account of the virgin birth as well. Perhaps he had heard of a Jewish tradition, preserved in the Talmud, asserting that Jesus was the illegitimate child of an adulterous union, who acquired magical powers in Egypt.5 Celsus writes:

“[Jesus] invented his birth from a virgin. … [He was really] born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God.”6

So in Celsus’s view, not only was Joseph not Jesus’s biological father, but Jesus had never even met Joseph! Of course, any perceived conflict between the genealogies requires that their assertions be taken at face value as giving the lineage of Joseph. But it seems that Celsus was especially eager to point to the irony that Christians considered Jesus to be God despite his apparent illegitimacy, poverty, and lowly birth, circumstances that in his view had only to do with Mary.

Celsus and the Genealogy of Mary

It is not surprising then that Celsus’s criticism of the genealogies focuses entirely on Mary, in particular, on Mary’s supposed ignorance of her noble heritage, as he argues:

“the carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent.”7

Of course, nothing in the biblical text speaks to Mary’s awareness or lack of awareness of her heritage. But Celsus tries to use Mary’s ignorance to show that the genealogies are fabrications. If they were not, he suggests, Mary would certainly have known about her descent from royalty. But since she does not appear to know, the genealogies must be false.

Now Celsus’s attempt to undermine the genealogies with respect to Mary’s lineage, rather than Joseph’s, implies that in his view one of the genealogies — though he does not say which — was understood to be a genealogy of Mary.

The problem is that both evangelists attribute their genealogies to Joseph.8 So some interpretation is necessary to represent either of the genealogies as a genealogy of Mary. It seems unlikely that such an interpretation could have been Celsus’s own idea. In fact, he appears to assume that his readers would share this understanding.

The most plausible explanation then is that he received this interpretation from Christians with whom he had contact, whether directly or through their writings. So Celsus’s criticism of Mary’s ignorance appears to supply additional evidence of an early understanding that at least one of the genealogies belonged to Mary, an understanding that this early critic of Christianity simply took for granted.

Justin Martyr and the Genealogy of Mary

Writing in the first half of the third century, Julius Africanus is our earliest writer to raise the two genealogies of Jesus as a potential apologetic issue.1 But before Africanus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and apparently even Celsus all refer to the two genealogies, yet mention not a word about any conflict between them.

Thus, Origen takes Celsus to task for his failure to mention discrepancies between the genealogies that caused “some difficulty even to Christians.”2 Irenaeus mentions both genealogies by name, but makes no comment on their use of different ancestors.3 With Justin the citations are less clear, though, if we follow one plausible conjecture, he too apparently alludes to both genealogies without any comment on their differences.

Why were these early writers silent about any conflict between the two genealogies?

One possibility is that they believed one of the genealogies to belong to Mary. The obvious choice would have been Luke. While Matthew asserts that Jacob “begat” Joseph, Luke does not say specifically how Jesus was known as “the son of Joseph.”4

The problem is that none of these writers states explicitly that the Lukan genealogy belongs to Mary. Except perhaps Justin.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin is quite interested in Mary’s ancestry.

  • In 43.1 Justin writes of Jesus as “born of a virgin, of the family of Abraham and tribe of Judah, and of David.”5
  • In 45.4 Justin refers to “this virgin of the family of David.”6
  • In 100.3 Justin again refers to “the virgin … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham.”7

Of course, the biblical text never states that Mary belonged to the tribe of David. It is possible though that Justin inferred this from her betrothal to Joseph.

But did Justin have any more secure reason for his belief that Mary, like her husband, was of the tribe of David? Did Justin believe that he had access to Mary’s genealogy?

A Lukan Genealogy of Mary?

It is often thought that Justin alludes to the Lukan genealogy in Dialogue 100.3. In most editions, Justin refers here to a genealogy headed by Adam “from whom Mary derives her descent.” Presumably, this would refer to the Lukan genealogy.8 Thus:

“Jesus said then that he was the Son of man, either because of his birth by the virgin, who was … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent.”9

Unfortunately though the word Adam is a conjecture. While this conjecture is popular among editors, our only surviving manuscripts have Abraham where most editors put Adam.10

Editors seem to prefer Adam because it makes better sense in the context.11 After all, it makes little sense to call Abraham the father of a list of patriarchs that includes himself. Moreover, since Justin is trying to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, it makes sense that he would refer to the first man in his argument.

So Adam is not a bad guess. But if this is Justin’s intention, in a context that also invokes the descent of Mary, in order to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, we have to wonder, did Justin regard the Lukan genealogy as the genealogy of Mary? Perhaps this is why he mentions no conflict between the genealogies.

Fathers of Daughters and their Sons

But Justin leaves us with one more clue. Almost as an afterthought, he adds:

“For we know that the fathers of women are the fathers likewise of those children whom their daughters bear.”12

Is Justin calling Mary’s child the child of Mary’s father? Is Justin connecting Jesus to Luke’s genealogy through Mary? After all, Mary is the only woman or daughter mentioned in the context.

Maybe Justin is referring to the patriarchs as the fathers of Mary. But this hardly makes sense. The patriarchs already had sons to trace their lineage. By invoking the daughter as bearer of her father’s lineage, Justin seems to be referring to Mary’s immediate father and, more specifically, to her father’s lack of sons. Perhaps it is better then to understand Justin’s expression the fathers of women as fathers who have no sons.13 So it is possible that Justin understood Joseph to be the adopted son of Heli, presumably because in his view Mary had no brothers.14

Does Justin believe that the Lukan genealogy is the genealogy of Mary?

We cannot be certain. But his obscure reference to fathers passing their inheritance to the sons of their daughters suggests that he was prepared to understand Mary’s child, Jesus, as the son of her father. At the same time, Justin’s confidence in repeatedly mentioning Mary’s lineage from the family of David suggests that he had a text in mind to back this up. But Justin would have been hard pressed to find such a text outside of the genealogies of Jesus. Of course, since Justin argues passionately on behalf of Jesus’s miraculous birth, this would only have offered him more incentive to emphasize Mary’s tangible role in the genealogy of Jesus.