A working theory of Bezae’s text

The aim of this post is to outline a working theory of Bezae’s text in the gospels and Acts, starting with five well-known features of Bezae’s text:1

  1. Isolation from the Greek mainstream
  2. Old Latin parallels
  3. Parallels with ancient writers
  4. East-West exchange of readings
  5. Major variation in Acts

Isolation from the Greek mainstream

Bezae’s Greek text is composed of three primary layers assembled at the end of the fourth century (c. 385), each layer representing a distinct source of mixture:2

  1. A Greek base, perhaps connected to the library at Caesarea
  2. A selective retroversion of Latin readings from various Old Latin source traditions
  3. An upper “scribal” layer (not actually by Bezae’s scribe)3

Bezae’s mixture of layers obscures its individual component traditions and hides its mainstream relationships: A significant side effect of layering is that Bezae’s text as a whole appears isolated from the mainstream tradition.4 But if we partition Bezae’s readings into natural layers, these individual layers can be related to the mainstream tradition.5 So when Old Latin and “singular” readings are set aside, Bezae has a very mainstream Greek text, with parallels to Family 1, Origen, and other texts associated with Caesarea.

Final layer combination dating to c. 385: Bezae’s three immediate layers were brought together at the end of the fourth century (c. 385) based on the following considerations:

  1. Bezae’s text must post-date the late, so-called “European” or “northern Italian” form of the Old Latin tradition (350–380) to which it is partially assimilated.6 Bezae’s close relationship with this late form of the Old Latin is most apparent in Mark.7
  2. Bezae’s upper layer exhibits a well-documented interest in enhancing Peter’s role in Acts.8 This same interest is found in Bezae’s Corrector G (see post), suggesting that Bezae’s upper layer was produced at the same time as the manuscript and exemplar, that is, close to its initial correction.9
  3. Documented tendencies detected in Bezae’s upper “scribal” layer, especially the augmentation of Peter, fit a late fourth-century context (see post).
    1. Pro-Petrine tendencies – driven by the promotion of Constantinople to second rank among apostolic sees at the Council of Constantinople (381) (see post).
    2. Anti-ascetic tendencies – a response to Jerome (380’s) or possibly Jovinian (390s)
    3. Anti-Judaic tendencies – motivated by church orders segregating Christians and Jews, reflecting marginalization of Jews in imperial code (see post)
    4. Other tendencies – all documented tendencies fit a context of c. 385
  4. The assumption that the Vulgate revision of the gospels provided some impetus for Bezae’s project as a means to legitimate the Old Latin version (384-385) (see post)
  5. Rome’s mediation in the Antiochian schism as a background for shared readings in the Latin and Syriac traditions as well as between Bezae and other “Western”-influenced Greek MSS (378-397).10

Bezae’s Greek base with Caesarean connections: Bezae’s Greek base had an independent history before being appropriated by Bezae’s producers in the final two decades of the fourth century.11 Several studies suggest that Bezae’s Greek base has connections with Caesarea in Palestine as a possible provenance.12

Bezae’s Latin column a composite of Old Latin texts: Bezae’s Latin column reflects a hybridization of Latin texts, “African” and “European,” according to the traditional nomenclature, which accounts for its independence within the Latin tradition.13

Old Latin parallels

Latin assimilation a major process in Bezan Greek text: Bezae’s distinctive parallels with the Old Latin version result from assimilation to the Latin version through a process of selective retroversion (on assimilation theories, see my survey of Bezan theories).14

Bezae’s Greek text a partial retroversion of various Latin versions: Bezae’s Greek column reflects a process of selective assimilation to one or more strands of the Old Latin version. The Greek column may not be derived directly from the Latin column (at least as written), though it shares the same readings.15 A proposed process is as follows:

  1. Multiple Latin versions were combined to create an archetypical Latin column
  2. Latin column archetype translated into Greek and used to correct a Greek base text
  3. Resulting Greek and Latin columns mutually corrected to agree, obscuring the dependence of the Greek column on the archetypical Latin column.

Parallels with ancient writers

Ancient parallels in Bezae are direct or indirect echoes of second- or third-century writers: Bezae’s parallels with ancient writers reached its text through one of two routes:

  1. Incorporation of parallels already in the Old Latin version indirectly through assimilation to this version (see post).
  2. Deliberate archaizing of Bezae’s text form to agree with authoritative ancient writers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, Victorinus, and Irenaeus.16

The implication is that no second-century writer had access to a so-called “Western” or pre-“Western” text. Readings shared by Bezae with ancient writers and the Old Latin tradition were likely assimilated into Bezae’s text through the Old Latin tradition. Particularly vivid parallels with ancient writers and parallels not shared with the Old Latin tradition may have resulted from deliberate archaizing of the fourth-century text.17

East-West exchange of readings

Western mediation in the Antiochian schism (378-397) a plausible background for Bezae’s text: The exchange of readings responsible for Bezae’s Latin and Syriac parallels and possibly also its parallels with Codex Sinaiticus (א) in John 1–8 and with P127 in Acts occurred towards the end of the fourth century in the aftermath of the Arian controversy, when the East faced a struggle to rebuild its institutions (on East-West exchange, see post). The Antiochian Schism (362-397) provides a plausible backdrop for the introduction of Old Latin readings from West to East by representatives of Rome during the period of mediation (378-397), though important work may have occurred in Caesarea in Palestine.18 Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) explicitly sought Rome’s involvement in mediating the Antiochian schism between rival orthodox parties (Epistles 70, 92). In the subsequent period, numerous delegations were sent in both directions between Rome and Antioch, providing a promising setting for the exchange of texts.19

Major variation in Acts

Bezae’s Acts text establishes an apostolic precedent for recognition of Petrine primacy: Significant rewriting in canonical Acts is a side effect of this book’s importance for establishing apostolic precedent in general and especially recognition of Petrine primacy, in late fourth-century debates. The issue of Petrine primacy was particularly relevant in the case of Rome’s intervention in the politics of an ancient see, such as Antioch, and its rivalry with Constantinople after the Council of 381.


  1. Of course, the views expressed are provisional.
  2. See Michael W. Holmes, “Women and the ‘Western’ Text of Acts” in The Book of Acts as Church History: Text, Textual Traditions and Ancient Interpretations (ed. Tobias Nicklas and Michael Tilly; BZNW 120; Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003) 183–203 at 186–187. Only three of the layers mentioned by Holmes are primary layers, that is, layers that correspond to sources assembled at the end of the fourth century. These are (1) “the textual base upon which the ‘Western’ text was built,” (2) “the distinctive second-century textual tradition to which the label ‘Western’ has been attached,” and (3) the layer “of the late fourth or early fifth century scribe.” Secondary layers are those that already existed in the primary layers before they were imported into Bezae’s text (see post).
  3. Parker has shown that this upper layer cannot be attributed to the scribe of Bezae: “It is not permissible to regard the text of D as coterminous with the Codex Bezae.” D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 96.
  4. While the entire tradition is “mixed,” it is not mixed in the same way as Bezae. So in comparative studies, which tend to use a monolithic approach, evaluating all of Bezae’s readings en masse regardless of source, Bezae’s text not unexpectedly stands aloof.
  5. Michael 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; Peter E. Lorenz, “Analyzing Textual Stratification in the Greek Gospel Text Codex Bezae: Comparing Three Approaches to Layer Extraction in John 4:1-42,” Conversations with the Biblical World 35 (2015) 350-361.
  6. Bonifatius Fischer, “Das Neue Testament in lateinischer Sprache. Der gegenwärtige Stand seiner Erforschung und seine Bedeutung für die griechische Textgeschichte” in Die Alten Übersetzungen des Neuen Testaments, Die Kirchenväterzitate und Lektionare (ed. Kurt Aland; ANTF 5; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1972) 1–92 at 36.
  7. F. C. Burkitt, ”Itala Problems” in Miscellanea Amelli. Scritti varii di letteratura ecclesiastica dedicati al Rev.mo Abate Ambrogio Amelli (Rome, 1920) 25–41 at 37; J.-M. Auwers, ‘Le texte Latin des évangiles dans le codex de Bèze’ in Codex Bezae: Studies from the Lunel Colloquium, June, 1994 (ed. D. C. Parker and C.-B. Amphoux; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 183-216 at 211; Jean-Claude Haelewyck, Vetus Latina. Die Reste der altlateinischen Bible. 17. Evangelium secundum Marcum (Freiburg: Herder, 2013) 66-70,73-78.
  8. J. Crehan, “Peter according to the D-Text of Acts,” Theological Studies 18 (1957) 596–603.
  9. Bezae’s enhancement of Peter is a response to the promotion of Constantinople to a place among the four ancient apostolic sees, second only to Rome as the “New Rome,” a move to which Rome strenuously objected for centuries. Peter was connected to all of the ancient sees (Jerusalem, Antioch, Rome, and even Alexandria through his disciple Mark, see post), but not to Constantinople.
  10. Note that this scheme rules out a date of 350 for the text of C. Sinaiticus in John 1-8 as too early. But a date at the end of the fourth century is possible.
  11. See Holmes, “Women,” 186–187.
  12. See, for example, the Gruppierung tables in Text und Textwert in Matthew, suggesting a relationship with Family 1, while Lorenz (2015) suggests a layer in common with Origen’s Commentary on John in John 4:1-42.
  13. The independence of Bezae’s Latin column breaks down in Mark, where it closely resembles the “European” Latin witness. See above notes.
  14. The question is whether the Old Latin tradition is based partially on an early form of the Greek text found in Bezae (Greek priority theories) or Bezae’s Greek text depends partially on a late form of the Old Latin tradition (Latin assimilation theories). Latin assimilation theories have been dismissed in modern scholarship for two reasons: (1) misapprehension of the kind of “Latinization” that must be involved too narrowly as the influence of Bezae’s Latin column on its Greek column as opposed to influence from the Latin version at large and (2) insufficient appreciation of motives, such as legitimation of the Latin text, capable of driving the retranslation of a Latin text back to Greek (see post).
  15. The extent of Latin influence in Bezae’s Greek column is a controversial topic fed by misapprehension of two distinct but related problems involved. The first problem is whether Bezae’s Greek column has been corrected to or translated from its Latin column, seemingly disproved by examples of influence in the opposite direction (though the test of “influence” is not robust in the case of mutual correction between the columns, it is possible that any case of apparent influence is in fact reverse influence correcting the primary direction of influence). The second problem is whether Bezae’s tradition has been influenced by the Latin version at large (the view argued here, which is not disproven).
  16. See Ambrosiaster, Comm. Rom. 5:14.
  17. This possibility is suggested by Ambrosiaster’s Commentary on Romans 5.14, where the citations of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Victorinus are noted as indicative of the true text.
  18. Affinities between Bezae’s Corrector B and the C-group of correctors in Sinaiticus suggest that important work was carried out in Caesarea or perhaps with MSS from Caesarea (see post). See D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 144-148. The Caesarean connection is corroborated by characteristics of Bezae’s Greek base text in certain books.
  19. Rome initially sided with Paulinus (d. 388) and Evagrius (d. 393) against Meletius (d. 381) and Flavian (d. 404), until Chrysostom brought reconciliation by persuading Rome to acknowledge Meletius’ successor Flavian (397). In terms of allegiances, Paulinus ordained Jerome (378), suggesting that any dissidents who preferred the Old Latin tradition would have worked with the Melitian side. Meletius ordained Chrysostom deacon (378), who is known for some peculiar so-called “Western” readings in Acts.

What do you think?