Against reason? Bezae’s Greek text and the possibility of Latin influence

Any close examination of Bezae’s Greek text reveals its unmistakable affinity with the Old Latin version. What prevents us then from considering its text form as a possible revision to an Old Latin model? In fact, variations on this idea of Latin influence were the norm until 1767, when, reversing his former position, J. S. Semler expressed his disapproval of such theories as contrary to reason and precedent:

“concerning Greek codices being influenced and altered to the Latin … [this] is neither according to reason nor precedent, which can be easily proved” [1]

In his notes on J. D. Michaelis’s Introduction, H. Marsh concurs:

“there is no reason whatsoever for ascribing any reading of a Greek manuscript to the influence of the Latin …” [2]

Such was the legacy of Semler, Michaelis, Marsh, and others, that we find F. J. A. Hort equally dismissive of what he called:

“a whimsical theory of the last century, which, ignoring all Non-Latin Western documentary evidence except the handful of extant bilingual uncials, maintained that the Western Greek text owed its peculiarities to translation from the Latin.” [3]

But is it really contrary to reason that a Greek text might be influenced by or even corrected to a Latin version? It seems the only constraint worth considering is whether the participants who produced this text form had reason to prefer Latin readings over Greek.

Jerome versus Ambrosiaster

At the time of Bezae’s production in ca 400, the Old Latin version was clearly well-established in the Latin-speaking church, while the Greek tradition was sometimes viewed with suspicion — especially as an impetus of change to the familiar Old Latin version. Why else would Jerome take such pains to defend his revision to Greek exemplars? And why else would he challenge his opponents to produce a single Latin exemplar from the many divergent copies — no doubt assuming they could never do it? Jerome writes:

“if we are to pin our faith to the Latin texts, it is for our opponents to tell us which; for there are almost as many forms of texts as there are copies.” (Prologue to the Four Gospels)

Surprisingly though, we find one of these opponents, the elusive Ambrosiaster, apparently contemplating Jerome’s challenge, for he suggests three criteria — reason, history, and authority — by which to identify “the true text,” not in the Greek tradition, but in the Old Latin version:

“I consider this to be the true text, when reason, history, and authority are all preserved. For the text that is retained today in the Latin codices is found to be the same in the ancients, Tertullian, Victorinus and Cyprian.” (Comm. Rom 5:14, see my working translation of the entire passage)

When we consider Ambrosiaster, it no longer appears so “whimsical” to imagine Latin versions influencing Greek texts in a properly conducive context.

Ambrosiaster on the Relative Integrity of the Latin Tradition

We might begin with Ambrosiaster’s rather dismal view of (at least) the recent Greek tradition:

“the Greek codices … have discrepancies among themselves, which provoke a spirit of controversy … [such that] those who can prevail by no other means in a dispute take matters into their own hands, changing the words.” (Comm. Rom 5:14)

While there is nothing novel about such claims as the stock-and-trade of heresiological discourse, we should bear in mind here that Ambrosiaster is not directing his accusation at heretics, but presumably at orthodox controversialists, whose tendentious alterations threatened to overwhelm “the true text.”

Considered in this light, Ambrosiaster’s appeal to the integrity of the Latin version is hardly surprisingly:

“it is well-known that very long ago native Latin speakers translated the text we now have from ancient Greek codices” (Comm. Rom 5:14)

Yet his acknowledgment of the “ancient Greek codices” suggests that he regards the initial Greek text as the ultimate authority, though he seems to doubt whether this text is still accessible in the Greek manuscripts of his own time. On the other hand, he seems to think that the Old Latin version might supply access to this ancient text, since in his view, the Greek text available to these translators would have been closer to “the true text” than any recent Greek text.

Of course, for this argument to work Ambrosiaster must somehow show that the Old Latin version is less corrupt than extant Greek texts, a severe difficulty to say the least. After all, how is it possible that after the same period of copying the Old Latin version would be any less corrupt in relation to the ancient Greek text than contemporary Greek codices?

Attempting to address this question, Ambrosiaster makes the rather bold claim that:

“the innocence of former times has safeguarded [this original Latin version] and now certifies [it] to us without corruption.” (Comm. Rom 5:14)

We have to wonder whether Ambrosiaster sincerely believes in this supposed innocence of former times. Perhaps he is simply seeking a rhetorical advantage. Given though that he has already considered criteria to identify “the true text,” it seems he really does believe it. But how?

A possible clue lies in his concern about internecine controversy and its alleged corrupting effect on the Greek text. It may be that he sees this “innocence of former times” in terms of a relatively stable text form that stands in antithesis to the corrupted forms spawned by recent controversies. Perhaps also he sees in this antithesis a distinction between the comparative quiet of the Latin West with its still incipient theological self-awareness and the incessant controversy of the Greek East with its significantly more advanced and varied theological traditions.

The Relative Innocence of the Latin Tradition from Corrupting Controversy

It seems this contrast between East and West offers a promising explanation of the kind of innocence Ambrosiaster claims for the Old Latin version, namely, that it had escaped the corrupting influence of theological controversy as a consequence of its development in the theological backwater of the Latin West. Canon 1 of the Council of Constantinople (381) draws attention to a list of anathematized heresies, which largely affected the Greek East:

every heresy shall be anathematized, particularly that of the Eunomians or [Anomœans, the Arians or] Eudoxians, and that of the Semi-Arians or Pneumatomachi, and that of the Sabellians, and that of the Marcellians, and that of the Photinians, and that of the Apollinarians. (NPNF 2.14, 172)

In fact, the relative “innocence” of the Latin West was apparently taken for granted by contemporary observers in both East and West. Consider Sozomen’s narrative of the post-Nicene period:

“The Church throughout the whole of the West in its entirety regulated itself by the doctrines of the Fathers, and kept aloof from all contentions and hair-splitting about dogma. As to the Eastern Church, … [t]here were some … who were fond of wrangling and battled against the term ‘consubstantial'” (Eccl. Hist. 3.13, NPNF 2.2, p. 291; PL 67.1065-1068).

The “innocence” of the West is still captured in the decades following Ambrosiaster’s dispute with Jerome in a letter from Pope Anastasius to John of Jerusalem (401), in which the former professes his total ignorance, not only of Origen’s writings or their contents, but even of Origen himself:

“As for Origen, whose writings he [Rufinus] has translated into our language, I have neither formerly known, nor do I now seek to know either who he was or what expression he may have given to his thought.” (NPNF 2.3, p. 433; PL 21.629)

Of course, Origen’s speculative theology would have been emblematic of the theological adventurousness of the East.

At the same time, the controversies of the East were carried to Ambrosiaster’s doorstep in Rome in the 370’s, as rival Nicene parties to the Antiochian schism sent repeated envoys to Rome in attempts to bolster their respective claims to the episcopal office. Ambrosiaster would have witnessed firsthand Basil of Caesarea’s persistent correspondence attempting to involve Rome and the bishops of Italy and Gaul in resolving the schism on behalf of Meletius, while the proponents of Paulinus equally persistently subverted his efforts. [4]

Nor could Ambrosiaster have been ignorant of Basil’s depictions of chaos:

“Nearly all the East … from Illyricum to Egypt is being agitated. … The old heresy, sown by Arius … has now boldly and unblushingly reappeared. … [I]n every district the champions of right doctrine have been exiled from their Churches … and the control of affairs has been handed over to men who are leading captive the souls of the simpler [ones].” (Epist. 70, NPNF 2.8, p. 166; PG 32.433-434)

And again:

“It is not only one Church which is in peril, nor yet two or three which have fallen … The mischief of this heresy spreads almost from the borders of Illyricum to the Thebaid. Its bad seeds were first sown by the infamous Arius … souls are drenched in ignorance, because adulterators of the word imitate the truth. … [Yet] in addition to the open attack of the heretics, the Churches are reduced to utter helplessness by the war raging among those who are supposed to be orthodox.” (Epist. 92.1-2, NPNF 2.8, p. 178; PG 32.477-480)

Clearly then, Ambrosiaster’s interest in controversy as a source of variation is no coincidence. At the same time, his opinion of the innocence of the Latin tradition now becomes somewhat understandable — perhaps even reasonable.

What does this mean for Bezan research?

It seems then that we must acknowledge a real possibility that Bezae’s Greek tradition has been molded to one or more strands of the Old Latin version — though not its own Latin column — perhaps as recently as the decades immediately prior to Bezae’s production. Ambrosiaster’s apparent response to Jerome would then suggest one framework in which the correction of a Greek text to a Latin model is not only possible, but also has a clear motive, namely, to preserve gospel traditions in either language that were thought to have been lost in recent Greek manuscripts. Ambrosiaster’s acceptance of the ancient Greek codices as the ultimate authority supplies a viable raison d’être for a corrected Greek text that seeks to reconstruct the ancient Greek Vorlage used by the Old Latin translators.

Of course, in the final analysis, we must carefully distinguish between what our critical knowledge tells us, namely, that such a reconstruction is unlikely to have been achieved in this manner, and the motivation of the participants to make the attempt. Of course, we have no inkling as to whether such a project — if there was such a project — would have been judged a success even by the participants. It seems it could not have been successful, which would of course have left Bezae as a lasting legacy of a bold, creative, yet fundamentally misguided attempt to restore the initial Greek text from an Old Version.

[1] de codicibus graecis ad latinos informatis et mutatis … nec rationibus … nec exemplis luculentis adhuc effectum estApparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem (1767) 44, my translation.

[2] H. Marsh, “Notes” in J. D. Michaelis, Introduction to the New Testament (trans. H. Marsh; 1802) 2/2:683.

[3] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, Introduction (1882) 120.

[4] M. A. Norton, “Prosopography of Pope Damasus,” Folia 4 (1950), 13–31; 5 (1951), 30–55; 6 (1952), 16–39. Volumes 5 and 6 lay out many of the sources.

The puzzling case of Codex Sinaiticus in John 1-8

A study of Bezae’s text in John 4:1–42 is attractive for a number of reasons. Not only is John 4 the best-preserved chapter in Origen’s monumental Commentary on John, but it is also the first entire chapter of John in which both Codices Sinaiticus (א) and Bezae (D) preserve a so-called “Western” text.

In fact, the textual character of Sinaiticus in John 1-8 is one the fascinating puzzles of textual research in the gospels. Short of actual historical contact with a tradition very much like that of Bezae, it is difficult to explain the remarkable parallels shared by this normally-solid Alexandrian witness with perhaps the most famously divergent of gospel manuscripts.

In his seminal article on the text of Sinaiticus in John, G. Fee focused on John 4 as the most “Western” of the early chapters of John, a situation that has proved convenient for my own study of Bezae’s layering in John 4:1-42. [1] (For details on this study and its method, see this previous post.) In fact, nine of Fee’s thirteen singular agreements between א and D and four of his seven sparsely-attested agreements are included in my data set. (For Fee’s data from John 4:1-42, see this page.)

As seen in the plot below, with points (o, Δ, +, ×, ◊, ∇) representing D’s readings by layer, Fee’s observations corroborate well with Bezae’s layering in John 4:1-42, where as we might expect, readings attested by א, color-coded in violet, exhibit a significant level of correspondence with D’s two Old Latin layers in the two small ellipses at the lower left:

John 4 - 6 clusters with X01 - special circled

Agreements of א and D in John 4:1-42 (in violet) with layers identified as 1. “Transitional” Greek (o), 2. Greek Mainstream (Δ), 3. “Free” Greek (+), 4. Alexandrian (×), 5. African Old Latin (◊), 6. European Old Latin (∇). A selection of witnesses is listed for each reading.

Certainly, א’s correspondence with D’s Old Latin layers stands out against the remaining Greek witnesses, none of which has any significant representation in the Latin layers, while א is represented at half of the eighteen readings apportioned among the two Old Latin layers.

What is perhaps more striking though, is that the four sparsely-attested א-D agreements singled out by Fee (circled in yellow) do not fit cleanly inside any of the other six layers identified in the study, occupying an outlier position at the fringes of the layer boundaries (in fact, on the perimeters of the blue ellipses in layers 1 and 3). Remarkably then, even after we consider the Alexandrian, mainstream, and two Old Latin layers, א still attests an additional residual layer in common with D.

So from these remarkable parallels, can we say anything more about potential contexts for Bezae or its traditions? For a suggestion, we might turn to Bezae’s correctors:

As it turns out in his study of Bezae’s correctors, D. C. Parker notes a “striking” 62.5% (25/40) agreement between Bezae’s Corrector B and Sinaiticus together with its C-group of correctors, specifically the C[a] and C[b2] correctors, whom A. C. Myshrall places in the fifth to sixth centuries, apparently not long after Bezae’s production in ca 400. [2] Noting the possibility that Sinaiticus was in Caesarea at some point in the fifth or sixth centuries, Parker observes:

“there is evidence [from Corrector B] to suggest that Codex Bezae may also have been in Caesarea, or somewhere susceptible to Caesarean influence, at an early stage in its life, perhaps during the fifth century.” [3]

Parker then suggests that Corrector B had access to both a D*/d-like text and a א[c]-like text, whether combined or as individual manuscripts. [4] Of course,  this plausible coincidence of location is just the kind of evidence we need to begin building a historical framework capable of accommodating the multiple shared layers we find in these two unlikely codices in John 1-8.

Yet there remain many questions. For example:

  • Why were only the first eight chapters of John copied in this so-called “Western” text form?
  • Was this a feature of the exemplar?
  • Did the scribe start out correcting from a second “Western” exemplar and lose interest in chapter 8?
  • Did the scribe choose an unauthorized “Western” MS and proceed until discovered and apprehended?
  • Was the pericope adulterae in this “Western” exemplar at John 8?
  • Was a MS chosen specifically because it attested the pericope adulterae without considering its divergent character throughout?
  • Might dissension among producers of the MS over the pericope adulterae explain why the “Western” text form cuts off in chapter 8?

However we address these questions, the situation we find in א seems to reflect a real grappling with a text form much like that of D. This is surprising given what is often considered of D’s isolation in the Greek tradition. It may suggest though that whenever א was produced, whether in Caesarea or elsewhere, D’s tradition held a real attraction among at least some of the participants. We can only ask what brought this to an abrupt halt, as it were, almost in the act of copying.


[1] G. D. Fee, “Codex Sinaiticus in the Gospel of John: A Contribution to Methodology in Establishing Textual Relationships,” New Testament Studies 15 (1968) 23–44 at 32.

[2] D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 146; A. C. Myshrall, “Codex Sinaiticus, its Correctors, and the Caesarean Text of the Gospels” (Ph.D. Diss., The University of Birmingham, 2005) 102.

[3] Parker, Bezae, 144-148. But see also on the setting, D. Jongkind, Scribal Habits of Codex Sinaiticus (Piscataway, N.J.: Gorgias, 2007) 252-254.

[4] Parker, Bezae, 149.

Can we use papyri to date Bezae’s layers?

In my latest post, I pointed to a hypothesized second-century layer of mainstream readings in Bezae’s text of John 4:1-42. This layer consists of readings whose distinguishing characteristic is agreement with the majority text (‘BYZ’). Yet the agreement of most readings in this mainstream layer with the early papyrus P66 (ca 200) suggests that it must have been in existence by the end of the second century. [1]

Of course, there is nothing surprising about a second-century mainstream layer. We might observe what G. Zuntz referred to as “that great common reservoir” of readings from which all later streams flowed. [2] The difference though, is that one of the streams flowing out of the second century is demonstrably “mainstream” rather than “Western” as Zuntz supposed.

To get a sense of the second-century date by which this layer must have existed, we can plot Bezae’s readings by layer as described in detail in this earlier post. The example below depicts Bezae’s agreements in each of its readings in John 4:1-42, with readings attested by P66 highlighted in red:

[Update: note that the highlighted readings include both initial and probable secondary readings (for a plot of initial vs. secondary readings, see figure 3 at the bottom of this post). Of course, only the latter would date from the second century.]

John 4 - 6 clusters with P66

Figure 1: Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 partitioned in six layers with P66 readings in red

For reference, my interpretation of the layers from an earlier post is:

  1. Transitional Greek (8 readings, marked ‘o’)
  2. Mainstream / Byzantine (33 readings, ‘Δ’)
  3. Free Greek (9 readings, ‘+’)
  4. Alexandrian (5 readings, ‘×’)
  5. African Old Latin (8 readings, ‘◊’)
  6. European Old Latin (10 readings, ‘∇’)

The axes correspond to the directions of greatest diversity in the per-witness support for the readings. Intuitively, the left-to-right axis seems to register the closeness of a given reading to the mainstream layer, while the up-down axis seems to register along versional or geographical lines. (Keep in mind though that every reading in the plot is a Bezan reading. The graph merely shows Bezae’s agreements per reading.)

It is clear that the readings attested by P66 are clustered over the far-right ellipse corresponding to a (hypothesized) mainstream layer. If we assume a degree of coherence within the readings of this layer, we may conclude that the layer must have existed by at least the paleographically-assigned date of P66. [3]

To corroborate this result, we can compare the readings of another early witness, in this case Origen, coded in green:

John 4 - 6 clusters with Or

Figure 2: Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 partitioned in six layers with Origen’s readings in green

But Bezae’s agreements with Origen are also clustered with the hypothetical mainstream layer at the far right, which is consistent with the result for P66.

[Update: The plot below is color-coded to indicate Bezae’s initial and secondary readings in John 4:1-42:]

John 4 - 6 clusters by level

Figure 3: Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 color-coded by estimated local-genealogical level (yellow = initial, green = secondary, red = tertiary)

[Update: The complete list of readings per layer is downloadable as a PDF or listed here. Look for the “Level” column, which estimates whether the reading is initial or secondary according to the local genealogical principle.]

[1] I would like to acknowledge Tim Joseph, whose comment alerted me to the potential problem in designating this layer “BYZ”, which could imply that its readings are Byzantine.

[2] Günther Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles; A Disquisition Upon the Corpus Paulinum (London, 1953) 265. For Zuntz, the two streams are “Alexandrian” and “Western”.

[3] In a recent post on his blog, Timothy Mitchell mentions an article in JBL that reconsiders the date of P66.

[Correction: Timothy Mitchell has kindly pointed out my bibliographical error in footnote [3]. The P66 article is actually in Museum Helveticum:

Brent Nongbri, “The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P.Bodmer II (P66),” Museum Helveticum 71 (2014) 1-35.

The article in JBL will discuss P75:

Brent Nongbri, “Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV (P75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135 (2016) 405–437.

Thank you, Timothy!]

What is the date of Bezae’s text?

In a comment on my latest post, Tim Joseph asked a fair question about where I stand on the date of Bezae’s text. Since this question gets right to the heart of my research, I thought it a worthwhile topic for a post.

In a number of posts over the past few weeks, I have suggested that various features of Bezae’s text seem consistent with a date in the late fourth century, including:

In short, it seems little prevents Bezae’s distinctive final text form from having come together as late as the end of the fourth century. Of course, like most multi-layered texts, Bezae reflects influences from different periods. In terms of Bezae’s layers, my provisional dating in John 4:1-42 is:

  1. with Alexandrian (probably initial)
  2. with BYZ (probably 2nd)
  3. with Origen, family 1 and other Greek (3rd)
  4. with African Old Latin (3rd)
  5. with European Old Latin (4th)
  6. with Irenaeus and other authorities (perhaps 4th)
  7. singular (4th)

It seems that some of the above layers were likely combined before entering Bezae’s tradition:

  1. a Greek base (layers 1 through 3)
  2. a Latin base (layers 4 and 5, possibly 6)

Moreover, certain features of Bezae’s tradition may have entered through multiple layers:

  1. Bezae’s harmonizations may have entered through layers 2, 3, 4, 5, or 7
  2. Its citations of early writers, such as Irenaeus, may have entered through layers 4, 5, or 6
  3. Elements of an early “free” text may have entered at least through layers 3 or 4 [1]

It is clear that many of the mainstream readings Bezae shares with the Byzantine tradition originated in the second century, because we see them already in P66. But while Bezae’s most distinctive readings are often assumed to derive from the second century, I think in many cases this assumption is at least questionable.

In my view, it has not been demonstrated that Bezae’s distinctive Greek text could not have been substantially influenced by Old Latin readings, not from Bezae’s own Latin column, but from other Latin versions, and not necessarily confined to so-called “Latinisms,” but to an entire layer of Old Latin readings. Such a retroversion of Old Latin readings into the Greek text, assumed by the above dates, must have post-dated the mid-fourth-century development of the European Old Latin tradition, which puts us not far from ca 400. [2]

Of course, the dates and model are not definitive.

References and Notes

[1] B. Aland, “Entstehung, Charakter und Herkunft des sog. westlichen Textes” ETL 62 (1986) 5–65 at 20-22 and 49, what Aland refers to as stage-1 changes.

[2] The Latin and Greek columns of Bezae’s bilingual tradition would presumably have been corrected afterwards in both directions to agree as closely as possible. I discuss this controversial matter further in posts on Latinization and the relation of Bezae’s columns.

Do Bezae’s correctors share the tendencies of its readings?

The work of Bezae’s early correctors has long been recognized for suggesting tantalizing glimpses of its original context. As the earliest corrector, corrector G is of special interest as apparently contemporaneous with the copyist. [1] F. C. Burkitt describes this first corrector as:

“a person in authority, examining the codex before he gives it his imprimatur, to use a convenient anachronism. I venture therefore to suggest that G is the handwriting of the Bishop of the church for which Codex Bezae was originally prepared” [2]

Of course, various purported tendencies have long been recognized in Bezae’s text of Acts. But might corrector G share any of these interests?

One well-known tendency is Bezae’s augmentation of Peter’s role in Acts, examined by J. Crehan in his 1957 article, “Peter according to the D-Text of Acts.” Crehan hypothesized that a second-century reviser was stirred by Marcion’s success to reiterate the authority of Peter:

“One must look to a time between the compiling of the original version of Acts and the middle of the second century. There was, therefore, at that time someone who was intent on making the position of Peter much more striking than the existing record made it. … One might hazard the conjecture that it was the doings of Marcion at Rome which led, before 150, to the revision of Acts so as to bring out more clearly the position of the one at Rome who claimed Petrine authority against this heretic from Pontus who had founded his rival church in Rome.” [3]

Yet not only is this conception of Petrine authority somewhat anachronistic, there is no real evidence to support such a response to Marcion in the second century.

On the other hand, we might observe that corrector G, working in ca 400, also seems to have taken an interest in Peter and his role in Acts. This was a time when papal authority had in fact become a significant issue, as witnessed not only in Rome’s rivalry with the new See of Constantinople, which had recently been accorded a “second place among equals” status at the Second Ecumenical Council (381), but also through the contested papal election of Damasus (366), after which the latter sought to cement his claim in epigraphic verse extolling the Roman martyrs, including this magnificent specimen:

“Not by human power or art, …
but with the help of Peter, pre-eminent [among the apostles],
to whom was handed over the very door of heaven,
I, Damasus, Bishop of Christ, built this.
There is one chair of Peter and one true baptism
that no chain can bind.” [4]

Turning to corrector G, we observe that his annotations are limited to Matthew and the first four chapters of Acts, a situation that may well be explained with reference to Matthew’s initial position and Acts’ unusual text. But it might also be explained by the significance of these two books for establishing Petrine primacy. After all, Jesus establishes Peter’s unique authority most explicitly in Matthew 16:18 of the four gospels, while the first four chapters of Acts relate Peter’s early road to leadership at the See in Rome.

While we might suppose the corrector had intended to review the entire MS from the beginning, tiring and losing zeal after Matthew, it is equally possible that he focused on those passages that seemed most relevant to his interests or at least that he gave these passages special attention. Indeed, Burkitt observes that:

“he makes corrections where he chances to have been reading.” [5]

But if this is so, the places he paused to do his most meaningful work are instructive. Fifteen of the twenty-one significant corrections noted by Parker in Acts relate to the speeches and deeds of Peter, which despite Acts’ focus on Peter, is still rather out of proportion:

  • Peter’s speech standing up among the disciples in the upper room (Acts 1:15 [2x], 20, 21)
  • Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2:30)
  • Peter’s call to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38)
  • Peter and John heal the lame beggar (Acts 3:3, 4)
  • Peter preaches at Solomon’s Colonnade (Acts 3:11, 13, 17, 26)
  • Peter’s entrance before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:7)
  • Peter filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:9 [2x])

In Matthew, the general emphasis is clearly not only on Peter, though five of the thirty significant corrections involve central Petrine passages:

  • Peter’s confession of Christ (Matt 16:16, 17)
  • Jesus’ rebuke of Peter (Matt 16:23)
  • Peter’s payment of the temple tax (Matt 17:25)
  • Authority to bind and loose on earth and in heaven (Matt 18:18, reprise of 16:19)

While as Parker notes, the corrections are too slight to detect clear patterns of meaning, nevertheless their place in the text does seem highly suggestive as to the selectivity of our corrector regarding the passages he considered worth his trouble to review. In fact, Parker suggests of corrector G that:

“where his corrections are not stylistic, they are to be regarded as a more authoritative witness to tradition than are those of the first hand.” [6]

But if the interests of our authoritative corrector are so well-aligned with what we already suspect about the text itself, it now seems far less necessary to ascribe these same tendencies to the second century. More straightforward is the notion that they came together within the context in which the MS was produced at the turn of the fifth century.


[1] D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 36.

[2] F. C. Burkitt, “The Date of Codex Bezae,” JTS 3 (1902) 501–513 at 511.

[3] J. Crehan, “Peter according to the D-Text of Acts,” ThSt 18 (1957) 596–603 at 601.

[4] Non haec humanis opibus, non arte magistra … sed praestante Petro, cui tradita ianua caeli est, antistes Christi conposuit Damasus. una Petri sedes, unum uerumque lauacrum, uincula nulla tenent. M. Ihm, ed., Damasi Epigrammata (Anthologiae Latinae Supplementa; vol. 1; Leipzig, 1895) 9–10, presumably on the Vatican baptistry, translation mine.

[5] Burkitt, “Date,” 511.

[6] Parker, Bezae, 129-130.


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.

Did Jerome write the pericopae adulterae?

In a previous post, I pointed to some striking parallels between the full Johannine form of the pericope adulterae (= PA) and the circumstances of Jerome’s ignominious expulsion from Rome (385) under charges of sexual impropriety, suggesting that the final form of the PA and by implication its present “canonical” location at John 7:53 may reflect the editorial decision-making of Jerome himself.

In fact, it is difficult to show that the full form of the PA existed or that its present location was known prior to the time of the Vulgate gospels. As far as our evidence goes, the mature PA arrives on the scene in its canonical position at roughly the time of the Vulgate.

Consider the setup:

  • a story of a condemned woman, hypocritical stone-throwers, and an unspecified sin told by Jerome’s mentor (Didymus, Comm. Eccl 223.14–20)
  • a frustrated ambition to succeed Damasus to the chair of Peter (Epist. 45.3, 385 CE)
  • a bitter lifelong grudge against the malicious “senate of Pharisees” that had orchestrated his downfall (Pref. to Did. Spir., 387 CE; cf. Oberhelman, 1991)
  • “the only woman” who “had the power to subdue me” caught in the “scandal” (Epist. 45.3,4)
  • virtual free rein to revise the gospel text in Latin with little if any apparent oversight (Pref. to the Gospels, 383 CE)

Two notes sound conspicuously in Jerome’s account of his personal circumstances that also resound in the PA and its immediate context in John 7:53-8:11. The first note is Jerome’s insistence on his total innocence, with a deft portrayal of his predicament as the righteous suffering of a martyr.

Jerome magnificently recalls his saintly entrance into the city:

“all Rome resounded with my praises. Almost every one concurred in judging me worthy of the episcopate. Damasus, of blessed memory, spoke no words but mine. Men called me holy, humble, eloquent.” (Epist. 45.3)

But in John 7:46, the temple guards had announced similarly about Jesus:

“No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46 NIV)

Then as undeserved accusations fall his way, Jerome adroitly takes up the mantle of the righteous sufferer :

“cunning malignity of Satan, that dost always persecute things holy!” (Epist. 45.4)

“Men have laid to my charge a crime of which I am not guilty; but I know that I must enter the kingdom of heaven through evil report as well as through good.” (Epist. 45.6)

“the Jews still call my master a magician. The apostle, likewise, is spoken of as a deceiver.” (Epist. 45.6)

But in John 7:51, Nicodemus had also spoken up against sham accusations against the innocent:

“Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?” (John 7:51 NIV)

After the retort of the “senate of Pharisees” in John 7:52, the PA appears almost out of nowhere in John’s narrative. Yet the setting is quite à propos to the autobiographical thought world of its presumptive initial editor, at least that is, if we ascribe the PA to the first textual tradition in which it is documented.

Of course, the second note in Jerome’s account is his obsessive preoccupation with the hypocrisy of his accusers (Comm. Tit 26, 386 CE; cf. Oberhelman, 1991). But that part of the story famously ends with their hypocrisy forever exposed in the dust, to testify as it were “wherever the gospel is preached.”


S. Oberhelman, “Jerome’s Earliest Attack on Ambrose: On Ephesians, Prologue (ML 26:469D–70A),” TAPA 121 (1991) 377–401.