Why is Irenaeus missing from Ambrosiaster’s list of textual authorities?

In his remarks in defense of the Old Latin version (Comm. Rom 5:14), Ambrosiaster names three third-century Latin writers — Tertullian (d. 215), Cyprian (d. 258), and Victorinus (d. 304) — whose scriptural citations offer in his view an authoritative basis for the “true” text (hoc autem verum arbitror). For Ambrosiaster, these writers are ancient enough to have escaped the corrupting influence of the great controversies of the fourth century.

But who might be missing from this list of authorities?

Of course, Ambrosiaster makes no claim to identify all of the writers whose citations he considers authoritative. Certainly, the inclusion of Tertullian is remarkable given his association with the Montanist heresy. Yet the omission of the schismatic Novatian makes perfect sense. Otherwise we see no conspicuous absences among named Latin writers of equivalent antiquity who can claim any significant body of citations, unless that is, we consider the Latin translation of Irenaeus’ Adversus haereses.

Indeed, given Irenaeus’ antiquity, reputation for orthodoxy, and evident qualifications as an authority on scriptural matters, it is noteworthy that Ambrosiaster does not seem to know of a Latin translation of Irenaeus. At the same time, between Commentarius in epistulas Paulinas and Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti, Ambrosiaster refers to Irenaeus eleven times, but to Tertullian only five times, Victorinus twice, and Cyprian just once (all are allusions). So it appears Ambrosiaster does consider Irenaeus an authority on other matters, yet he is silent on Irenaeus’ text.

Of course, a good explanation would be that when Ambrosiaster wrote (perhaps in the mid-380’s) Adversus haereses had not yet been translated into Latin. (We might consider that Gryson et al. date the translation to 380–395.) But given that the Latin translation of this important second-century work supplies such a rich source of early so-called “Western” readings, including many that are unattested in Greek (such as Mark 16:19 at Haer. 3.10.6, attesting part of the Markan long ending), the later date increases the likelihood that such readings may reflect fourth-century influences on the Latin translation rather than the initial Greek text.

[1] R. Gryson, B. Fischer, H. J. Frede; Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques latins de l’antiquité et du haut Moyen Âge (2007) 2:594.

The Contribution of Fourth-Century Sources to Research on Codex Bezae

This Saturday I will be presenting a paper at the Pacific Northwest Regional SBL conference entitled “The Contribution of Fourth-Century Sources to Research on Codex Bezae.” The paper will discuss the potential contribution of fourth-century sources, such as Ambrosiaster and Jerome, to an understanding of the text of Codex Bezae and the context in which it was produced. As a demonstration, I will examine an important passage from Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Romans (5:14), in which Ambrosiaster offers a thinly-veiled attack on the Vulgate for its dependence on corrupt Greek texts. In his critique, Ambrosiaster takes a special interest in the relationship between the Latin and Greek traditions, summarizing his views in three criteria for discerning the ancient text in a corrupt tradition — reason, history, and authority — each of which I will relate to specific features of Codex Bezae as a document. From the abstract:

“Research on Codex Bezae has typically focused on its distinctive text of the gospels and Acts as a second-century phenomenon. At the same time, little if any research has been dedicated to the place of Bezae’s text in the late fourth-century context which inspired its production. In this paper, I will argue that the circumstances of Bezae’s production in the fourth century warrant more attention as a source of potential insight into its unique text form.”

Was Bezae’s Latin text coequal with the Greek?

In an earlier post, I discussed Ambrosiaster’s critique of the Greek tradition for its many discrepancies, which he attributes to “a spirit of controversy” introduced by “heretics and schismatics” (see translation). But in turning to the Old Latin version, Ambrosiaster makes an unexpected claim, implying that the latter has somehow escaped a similar level of corruption.

“it is well-known that very long ago native Latin speakers (Latinos) translated the text we now have from ancient Greek codices.  Let us not keep silent … because our codices take their origin from ancient Greek copies, which the innocence (simplicitas) of former times certifies to us without corruption (incorruptos)” (Comm. Rom. 5:14, edition α)

How is Ambrosiaster able to justify this extraordinary claim? Is it empty rhetoric? Or might there be a peculiar logic behind its seeming absurdity?

In fact, Ambrosiaster’s exhortation to speak up against critics of the Old Latin version suggests he is utterly sincere. [1] Noting perhaps surprisingly that the translators were “native Latin speakers” — when we might expect skill in Greek rather than Latin to be emphasized — Ambrosiaster seems eager to show that the Latin tradition is in no way deficient in its power to convey the original meaning simply because it is in Latin. Of course, by commending the original Greek codices and the original Latin translation for their antiquity, he situates them in time (it is thought) before the major corruptions. In a sense, Ambrosiaster is suggesting that the Old Latin version is self-sufficient with respect to the recent Greek tradition.

But what is this naïveté concerning the “innocence of the times”? Is Ambrosiaster simply romanticizing about a bygone era?

Not necessarily. Early in his argument Ambrosiaster notes the deleterious effect of theological controversy on the stability of the text, suggesting that this “innocence of the times” refers to a kind of innocence that avoided certain theological developments in the Greek tradition. With the Origenist controversy already looming on the horizon, Ambrosiaster may even be alluding to the theological speculation associated specifically with Origen. In any case, as a theological backwater, the Latin tradition would inevitably have been safeguarded from corruption to a certain extent simply because it was less accessible and less attractive to heretics than the original Greek.

The implications of a standalone Latin tradition for Codex Bezae are clear enough considering the evident role of Latin traditions in its development as a bilingual codex. Might Bezae’s producers have thought like Ambrosiaster that the Old Latin version could in some sense stand on equal terms with recent Greek copies? Our natural tendency to view Bezae as just another Greek codex simply on the basis of its Greek column may then be misguided, so long as the possibility exists that its producers had rather intended to elevate the Latin column to an equal standing with the Greek.

[1] This exhortation is preserved only in the commentary’s first edition.



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.

Top 10 Closest Greek MSS to Bezae in Acts

The Gruppierung nach Übereinstimmungsquoten table found in each of the four Text und Textwert (= TUT) volumes on the gospels offers a good high-level sense of the closest textual relationships in the Greek tradition. Unfortunately, this useful table is not present in the TUT volume of Acts. Recently, I have written a Python script to parse the Verzeichnende Beschreibung data and compute Gruppierung data for Acts (see below).

[Note: The list below has been revised in a more recent post.]

Here are the top 10 closest Greek MSS to Bezae in Acts based on the generated Gruppierung data (NA28 readings in plaintext, special readings in bold, work shown here):

GA Non-Majority % Total % Teststellen
1853 66.7% (6/9) 37.5% (27/72) 4 18.4 46 57 62 72.4
XII Athos acts paul
1646 66.7% (4/6) 36.1% (26/72) 21 26 61 72.4
1172 Athos gospels acts paul
1610 66.7% (4/6) 33.3% (20/60) 18.4 46 57 62
1463 Athens acts paul
1893 62.5% (5/8) 33.9% (20/59) 23 42.4 46 57 74
XII Jerusalem acts paul revelation
2201 60.0% (3/5) 32.8% (19/58) 23 46 57
XV Elassona gospels acts paul revelation
623 60.0% (6/10) 32.1% (17/53) 23 26 42.4 46 57 62
1037 Vatican acts paul
619 58.3% (7/12) 30.9% (17/55) 23 26 42.4 46 57 61 74
X Florence acts paul
913 57.1% (4/7) 35.4% (23/65) 18.4 46 57 62
XIV London acts paul
1162 57.1% (8/14) 34.7% (25/72) 18.4 23 26 42.4 46 57 61 74
XI Patmos acts paul
436 55.6% (5/9) 34.7% (25/72) 18.4 42.4 46 57 62
XI/XII Vatican acts paul

I am following the same method used in the gospels (e.g. see John vol. 1, pp. 50-53; Luke vol 1., p. 25; Mark vol. 1, p. 44 in order of helpfulness, note Matthew has same description as Luke) with a few modifications:

  1. Due to Bezae’s free character, basing agreements on exact matches tends to exaggerate Bezae’s distinctiveness with the result that it may appear more isolated. (see Epp, “Textual Clusters,” 2013) To mitigate this effect, I am including TUT‘s “variant” agreements (denoted as capital letters) as matches (unlike the TUT calculations which exclude these). For example, at Teststelle (= TS) 8 (Acts 2:31) I am counting Bezae’s “singular” variant 2B (ενκαταλειφθη) as an agreement with the initial-text reading 2 (εγκατελειφθη), though this TS is not included in the Haupliste. The result is that in my calculations Bezae has 13 agreements with the initial text (including two additional TSS 2 and 57), rather than the 11 listed in the Hauptliste (4, 8, 21, 23, 26, 46, 58, 61, 62, 74, 75).
  2. Also unlike the TUT Acts volume, I am not counting Bezae’s five 1/2 readings (10, 35, 52, 55, 76) or its 1/2 variant (1/2L) as initial-text readings.
  3. Note that as in the Hauptliste, special readings do not include singular readings. For Bezae there are nine non-singular, special readings (‘15.4’, ‘18.4’, ‘25.3’, ‘42.4’, ‘44.4’, ‘49.4’, ‘68.3’, ‘71.3’, ‘72.4’)

Why does Jerome not cite the Vulgate of the Pericope adulterae?

Jerome’s remarks on the story of the adulterous woman in his tract Against the Pelagians (415) are sometimes cited as evidence for its existence at the time of his revision of the gospels in 384. In an earlier post though, I pointed out that Against the Pelagians was written some thirty years after the Vulgate gospels and hence probably cannot be considered evidence for the state of the text in the early 380’s, at the time of Jerome’s Vulgate project.

The question remains of course whether Jerome was looking back to this earlier time. In light of this possibility, it is noteworthy that Jerome does not cite the Vulgate text in his remarks to the Pelagians. Consider:

Against the Pelagians (CCSL 80) Vulgate (R. Weber)
At Iesus inclinus digito scribebat in terra (v. 6)

Qui sine peccato est uestrum, primus mittat super eam lapidem (v. 7)

Vbi sunt? Nemo te condemnauit? Quae ait: Nullus, Domine. Responditque ei Iesus: neque ego te condemno. Vade, et amodo noli peccare. (vv. 10-11)

Iesus autem inclinans se deorsum digito scribebat in terra (v. 6)

qui sine peccato est vestrum primus in illam lapidem mittat (v. 7)

ubi sunt nemo te condemnavit quae dixit nemo Domine dixit autem Iesus nec ego te condemnabo vade et amplius iam noli peccare (vv. 10-11)

Clearly Jerome’s three citations of the pericope adulterae in Adversus Pelagianos attest some significant discrepancies in comparison with the Vulgate. The differences in vv. 10-11 seem hardest to explain. After all, it seems odd that Jerome would default to a different form of the woman’s two-word response, “No one, Lord,” or the memorable pronouncement, “Neither do I condemn you,” even if he were paraphrasing or citing from memory.

Jerome and the Pericope adulterae

Jerome’s remarks on the story of the adulterous woman in Adversus Pelagianos (415) are sometimes taken as a virtual textual commentary on his Old Latin revision completed more than three decades earlier (384):

In Euangelio secundum Iohannem in multis et Graecis et Latinis codicibus inuenitur de adultera muliere, quae accusata est apud Dominum. (Jerome, Adversus Pelagianos 2.17)

The story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord is found in many Greek and many Latin manuscripts of the gospel of John. (Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2.17, my translation)

From these remarks, it is sometimes assumed that at the time he revised the text of John in the early 380’s, Jerome already had at his disposal many Greek and many Latin manuscripts both with and without the pericope adulterae (= PA). But this assumption overlooks a gap of over thirty years between Jerome’s dispute with the Pelagians in 415 and his Vulgate revision of the gospels in 384. In short, it is questionable that Jerome’s remarks in Adversus Pelagianos can be cited (as they often are) as evidence that the PA was represented in many Greek and many Latin copies of John before its appearance in the Vulgate.

But even in 415, it is not easy to rule out a degree of exaggeration on Jerome’s part. Certainly, given the polemical context, Jerome has every reason to present the Greek evidence in the most favorable light. After all, his argument from the Greek meaning of αναμαρτητος (v. 7) as “without sin” rests somewhat precariously (it would seem) on the existence of Greek copies. But if Greek copies had been easy to find, why mention their number or (for that matter) bring up the problem at all? It seems that by calling in the Latin evidence, Jerome anticipates an  objection concerning the scarcity of Greek copies, which suggests that in 415 there were still very few Greek copies of John with the PA, but apparently plenty of Latin copies.

Stepping back a bit, there is a disconcerting aspect to Jerome’s appeal to the Latin tradition given his own contribution to the dissemination of the PA in Latin. By all appearances, the Vulgate contributed immensely to the story’s popularity. We must wonder at the sudden explosion of interest in the PA in the Latin tradition after its first appearance in the Vulgate. (Consider, for example, Ambrose’s reference in Epistle 68 from 385-387, Rufinus’ apparent reinterpretation of Papias through the PA from 401-402, and Augustine’s two references from after 399. The other allusions in Latin seem to follow this pattern as well.)

On the other hand, it is odd that besides Jerome’s citation of a single Greek word, the only Greek evidence occurs in a manuscript that also contains a Latin column (Codex Bezae), while additional allusions to the PA continue in Latin writers for several centuries before the first surviving reference in a Greek writer. Even in the fifth century then, we still struggle to find the pericope standing as an independent Greek tradition at its canonical position in the Vulgate, leading us to wonder what Greek evidence Jerome might have found in the early 380’s outside of extra-biblical traditions. Why does Jerome’s mentor Didymus still know a very different form of PA (for all its impressive similarity)? Why is he still unwilling or unable to identify which gospel it came from?

Of course, this may all be a coincidence. But it leaves open a number of unanswered questions concerning Jerome’s involvement in establishing the PA in its “canonical” position between John 7:52 and 8:12.