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.

What is Bezae’s place in Acts?

The textual tradition of Acts is clearly of great relevance for research on Codex Bezae. Not only is Bezae’s text longer and more divergent in Acts, but we also catch glimpses of it in other Greek witnesses, such as P38, P127, and MS 614 among others.

For a sense of Bezae’s close relationships in the Greek tradition, I will turn to the data in Text und Textwert (= TUT) from which I have constructed of a table of closely-related witnesses for Acts, described in a previous post. [1] Using the open-source graphing application, Gephi, I have made a graph depicting the structure of the Greek tradition of Acts based on close relationships between witnesses. The ten witnesses most closely related to Bezae in Acts (1162, 623, 619, 2718, 08, 945, 1704, 1751, 1884, and 2412) are indicated with yellow arrows and arranged in four groups, each with a distinct profile.

Acts Gruppierung (excluding 1-2, bezae)


In the graph, nodes represent witnesses, while the edges denote close relationships and node size reflects the number of close relationships for a witness. Witnesses are color-coded according to “Lesarten 1 1/2 value” with purple farthest from the Majority Text and red closest. Note that some witness groups have no close relationships to witnesses in the main graph and hence they are not connected to the main graph. Some witnesses do not appear at all in the graph, either because they are not extant in enough test passages (such as P38 or P127) or because they have no closely-related witnesses (such as Bezae). A PDF version of the graph is available.


To suggest a tentative interpretation, we might note that witnesses of the so-called “Alexandrian” tradition (represented by purple nodes) appear in the center around a core of P74, Sinaiticus, and Vaticanus. Just above this “Alexandrian” group, a second group (with blue nodes) appears to the left of MS 1739. A third, smaller group (of green nodes) centered around MS 206 lies above the blue nodes. If we assume that the “Alexandrian” group represents the initial text (with a direction of flow towards the Byzantine tradition — represented here by the Majority Text), these “blue” and “green” groups appear to have developed in sequence through a natural but fairly controlled process of transmission. Below the “Alexandrian” group, the tradition quickly branches in a variety of directions into groups that are not as tightly connected, perhaps indicating a less-controlled pattern of transmission.

The large, tightly-coupled cluster (of red nodes) apparently representing the early Byzantine tradition seems not to connect to the main group based on our criteria. My guess is this group would connect near the bottom of the graph (near the orange nodes) if we lowered our thresholds for the Gruppierung criteria or counted 1/2 readings as non-majority. While there are many factors to consider, the radiating pattern seems consistent with models based on an “Alexandrian” initial text. (However, I would welcome alternative interpretations in the comments.)

The precise place of Bezae’s text is somewhat difficult to determine because it is no more than 36% related to any other witnesses that appear in the Gruppierung data. [2] In fact, given Bezae’s isolation and lack of close relationships, it is difficult to envision a natural transmissional pathway to (or from) Bezae’s profile from any other place in the tradition (as I suggested in my earlier reply to James Snapp Jr.). This disconnect with the rest of the tradition suggests that the variations we see in Bezae may have been introduced artificially by processes other than simple copying.

[1] This table is modeled on the Gruppierung nach Übereinstimmungsquoten tables found in the four TUT volumes on the gospels.

[2] This problem is discussed at the end of volume 1 in the TUT of Acts.