Is Codex Bezae’s text deceptively ancient?

Dating from the mid-380’s, not long before Codex Bezae’s paleographically-assigned date of ca 400, Ambrosiaster’s thinly-veiled attack on the Vulgate in his Commentary on Romans (chapter 5, verse 14) must be considered highly-relevant to the problem of Bezae’s origins as a bilingual codex, due especially to its concern with the interaction between the Greek and Latin traditions (see my working translation). Ambrosiaster criticizes the Vulgate for its dependence on divergent Greek texts whose pedigree cannot be verified, while at the same time, arguing for the genuineness of the Old Latin version whose reliability (he claims) can be verified with reference to the citations of ancient writers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Victorinus (all three of whom are named explicitly).

Of course, Ambrosiaster could not have been unaware of discrepancies between Latin texts. His concern then must be on the latter point that a text is only as reliable as the authorities that certify its authenticity. Ambrosiaster apparently believes that he can distinguish between corrupted texts and the ancient text on the basis of their respective agreement with the citations of a select pool of authoritative writers. The implication here is that corrupt texts can be corrected on the basis of the appropriate selection of citations.

Now if Ambrosiaster’s method were applied to an actual document, the result would be a text with a series of quite deliberate parallels to the citations of a selection of old writers, embedded within a text that otherwise reflects the period of its production. Taken at face value, such a text might appear very ancient indeed, which is of course the intention. It might even appear as though the ancient writers cited in the text had themselves depended on this later text form.

While we know that stabilization of the Old Latin version was at the time a desideratum, the question is whether Ambrosiaster’s approach would ever have been sufficiently representative to have been applied in practice. But if such a scenario is plausible, the implications for Codex Bezae are momentous. When Bezae parallels a citation of Irenaeus, we can no longer be sure whether it is Irenaeus who used an early text form resembling Bezae’s text or whether Bezae’s producers considered Irenaeus a suitable authority for the correction of their text.

While we must remain ever aware of the limitations of our sources, the uncanny yet somewhat selective appearance in Bezae’s text of parallels with early writers appears at least consistent with Ambrosiaster’s criterion of authenticity (as it were), a connection that seems intriguing enough to pursue for potential insights into possible contexts for Bezae’s origins.

5 thoughts on “Is Codex Bezae’s text deceptively ancient?

  1. Pete, Your focus on Ambrosiaster is well-placed. In my opinion, not enough attention has been given to him/her, and the fact that he/she is roughly contemporary with the Codex Bezae is all the more pertinent. Best wishes as you pursue this further. Peter Rodgers

    • Thank you, Prof. Rodgers. Ambrosiaster is an intriguing figure to be sure.

      Thank you also for pointing out my assumption that Ambrosiaster was a man. It is true that we do not know for sure. While a good case can be made that Ambrosiaster was in fact a man as (it seems) a Roman cleric, I might at least have footnoted this. Moreover, Ambrosiaster expresses some rather egregious views about women (e.g. that women lack the imago dei apart from a male head) that do not sit well with a female identification. I would suggest the article:

      David G Hunter, “The Paradise of Patriarchy: Ambrosiaster on Women as (Not) God’s Image,” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s. 43 (1992): 447–69.

      • Peter,
        First, let me say that I appreciate you and this blog. Finding blogs like this is another advantage of the ETC blog site.
        As to the idea that you should have footnoted that we don’t know for sure that Ambrosiaster is a male, I would say, you would be capitulating to political correctness and not history.
        Prior to the late 20th century, there is hardly a peep as to him not being male. Even when suggested that Ambrosiaster might be female, the argument was made from a reference by Augustine to Hilary. Again, historically, we have universal agreement that Hilary was either the Bishop of Arles or a disciple of Augustine and in either case a man.

        Thanks for the insights on Bezae and I hope to get a chance to buy a book on Bezae written by you!


        • Thank you for the kind words, Tim, as well as your point on Ambrosiaster’s gender. I suppose the fact that I just published a second Ambrosiaster post without the footnote (and before noticing your comment) means I have not capitulated, though I admit I did consider it.

          • Yeah, kinda hard of me! I just read your second post before seeing this reply and thought I really should grant more grace.

            Keep up the great work and do not allow us hot -heads to discourage you!


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