How much of Bezae’s text dates to the second century?

The distinctive elements of Bezae’s Greek text are typically dated to the second century or earlier. This dating is of course based on parallels with second-century writers and a “consensus” view of the tradition as essentially stabilized by the fourth century. But in some recent posts, I have questioned aspects of this view with respect to Codex Bezae.

For example:

While it seems possible to view Bezae’s text as a product of the fourth century, it appears unlikely that it would preserve no second-century influences. There must then be some elements of Bezae’s text assignable to the second century. The question is which elements.

To address this question, I suggest we follow M. W. Holmes’ layered view of Bezae’s text, as a layered sequence of traditions accumulated over time from the various influences to which the text was exposed. [1]

In a recent article in which I examined John 4:1-42 as a test case for Bezae’s layers, I found the following six layers for the 73 readings examined. Each layer consists of readings that Bezae shares with various groups of witnesses, which are unknown in advance:

  1. Transitional Greek (8 readings)
  2. Mainstream / Byzantine (33 readings)
  3. Free Greek (9 readings)
  4. Alexandrian (5 readings)
  5. African Old Latin (8 readings)
  6. European Old Latin (10 readings)

The readings may be plotted as points on a graph (see explanation) with ellipses indicating the group of readings per layer:

Figure 2: Holmes' categories superimposed over six clusters

Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 partitioned into six layers (numbering arbitrary): 1. Transitional Greek, 2. Mainstream / Byzantine, 3. Free Greek, 4. Alexandrian, 5. African Old Latin, 6. European Old Latin. Readings labeled as: x = neither Alexandrian or Byzantine, o = Alexandrian, triangle = Old Latin, diamond = Byzantine.

To sequence the readings, I identified several witnesses with identifiable dates:

  1. P66 (200)
  2. Origen (254)
  3. P75 (iii)
  4. Cyprian (258)
  5. a B א (iv)

Then each reading is dated according to the earliest attesting witness or 400, whichever is earlier:

John 4 - 6 clusters by date BW

Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 by earliest datable attestation.

From the sequenced layers, it can be seen that layer 2 (Bezae’s agreement with Mainstream or Byzantine witnesses) attests by far the most readings datable to 200, while the highest proportion of readings datable to 200 belongs to layer 4 (Bezae’s agreement with Alexandrian witnesses). Otherwise, layer 3 (Free Greek) and layer 1 (Transitional Greek) have just two and one reading(s) attested in 200 respectively.

The two layers in which we cannot demonstrate attestation in the second-century are the two Old Latin layers (5 and 6) where we are most conditioned to expect second-century attestation. This shows how completely theoretical our dating schema is for “Bezae” and its Old Latin relatives. Given that unambiguous parallels with early writers such as Irenaeus are so sparse and can be easily explained another way, it seems there is little that can secure the so-called “Western” tradition in the second-century.


[1] M. W. Holmes, “Codex Bezae as a Recension of the Gospels” in Codex Bezae: Studies from the Lunel Colloquium, June, 1994 (ed. D. C. Parker and C.-B. Amphoux; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 123–160 at 127.

What do you think?