Ambrosiaster and the Producers of Codex Bezae

Whether or not we regard the greater part of Codex Bezae’s text form as an ancient second-century text form, it is beyond dispute that the text as we now have it in its final form — scribal peculiarities and all — is, strictly speaking, a product of the early fifth-century context in which the manuscript was produced in ca. 400.

Though we might debate whether the substance and shape of that text is of the highest antiquity or something more recent, we are forced to acknowledge that the text itself, like the manuscript that transmits it, is an artifact of a particular context in which the words, as written, flowed from the pen of the scribe.

A natural first question then is what motivated Bezae’s producers to produce this specific text form at this specific time, given the range of competing text forms available at the turn of the fifth century. Was the goal to preserve an antiquarian curiosity for the benefit of subsequent generations? Or was there some other more strategic objective?

One way to consider this question is to inquire as to which known participants or contexts at the turn of the fifth century might have regarded a text form of the kind found in Codex Bezae with such exceptional interest as to prepare it for transcription at great cost in time and resources. Certainly, a community with some stake in both the Greek and Latin traditions would be a minimal expectation.

In an article that has just recently become available, “Ambrosiaster’s Three Criteria of the True Text and a Possible Fourth-Century Background for Bezae’s Bilingual Tradition,” I examine one such participant, the pseudonymous Latin writer known as Ambrosiaster, who was active in Rome from the 360’s through the 380’s CE.1 The intriguing thing about Ambrosiaster is that he seems to have thought about the Greek and Latin versions in a manner that is suggested also by the presentation of the Greek and Latin columns in Bezae’s bilingual tradition.

In the article, I draw several parallels between Ambrosiaster’s attitude regarding the Greek and Latin versions and the presentation of these versions in Codex Bezae. For example:

  1. Ambrosiaster’s appeal to extrinsic factors, such as reason, history, and authority, as the final arbiters of competing text forms, rather than necessarily the letter of the Greek text, supplies a consistent rationale for the free approach to the Greek tradition we encounter in Bezae’s own text form.
  2. Ambrosiaster’s defense of the Old Latin version as more authoritative than the Greek text of his day assumes that the contemporary Latin version could stand on equal footing with an appropriate archaic — or, indeed, archaizing — Greek text form, as implied by the presentation of Bezae’s Greek and Latin columns.
  3. Ambrosiaster’s critique of the Vulgate would have been well-served by the presentation of mutually corroborating Greek and Latin columns, such as we find in Bezae’s bilingual tradition, in which the Greek column might be taken as a putative Vorlage of the Old Latin text form found in the opposite column.

While we can assume no necessary direct relationship between Ambrosiaster and Bezae’s producers, the compatibility of their perspectives should caution us about assigning Bezae’s text form too readily to the very earliest centuries of Christianity or too hastily dismissing the possibility that Latin readings might in some ways have shaped its final Greek text form.


  1. Peter E. Lorenz, “Ambrosiaster’s Three Criteria of the True Text and a Possible Fourth-Century Background for Bezae’s Bilingual Tradition,” Conversations with the Biblical World 36 (2016) 126-147.

5 thoughts on “Ambrosiaster and the Producers of Codex Bezae

  1. Pete,
    I just read your latest, Profile-based Classification of Composite Text Forms in the Gospel of Mark. Great article! This seems to confirm that the text of Bezae, as we have it, is not early, i.e. 2nd century, but more likely, as I understood you have argued, from the 4th century or later.
    Would you think that at some point you would be able to identify its original text form?
    Anyway, I know you are busy with your dissertation😎


    • Hi Tim,

      Thanks for commenting!

      From the beginning, an important aspect of my dissertation research has been an attempt to characterize the base text of Bezae’s Greek tradition in Mark. Since there is little reason to insist on an early date for Bezae’s text form and much in favor of a date closer to the manuscript’s production near the turn of the fifth century, one interpretation of the evidence is that Bezae’s distinctive elements were added to an existing Greek text form at this time. The question becomes, what text forms served as components of this base tradition? Bezae’s Hauptliste suggests a number of possibilities. In the paper, I suggest that Bezae’s pattern of agreement with 565 and 038 seems consistent with what we might expect if such a tradition had served as a base to which other elements were introduced, though other interpretations also merit exploration.


  2. Pete,
    Thanks for the reply. I did get that 565 and 038 might be the underlying base from which Bezae was added to from your article. I guess I am wondering how you would classify Bazae, at least in Mark? While I realize text types or clusters have fallen out of favor, wouldn’t Bezae and it’s base give us more evidence of what used to be classified as Caesarean?


    • Hi Tim,

      These are excellent questions. After preparing and discarding several answers to your two questions, I have decided to respond with a “short answer” to your first question, i.e. how to classify Bezae’s text in Mark. I hope to give a more complete answer in an upcoming post.

      The short answer follows my analysis in the paper, namely, that Bezae’s text form is mixed and, hence, resists conventional classification as a total entity. Nevertheless, a classification applied to Bezae’s non-mainstream Greek readings in Mark finds that the closest witness is indeed MS 565, a fact that is certainly consistent with such a tradition lying at the base of Bezae’s Greek text form. Still, Bezae’s percentage of agreement with 565 is barely over 50%, a fact that is not surprising if we understand Bezae’s text form to represent a composite of multiple traditions. This composite character prevents any single component from dominating the classification of the whole. The pattern of mixture we encounter in Bezae’s final text form is unique, at least among surviving witnesses, and explains why this text form appears isolated in the larger Greek tradition.

      If I understand the second question, it seems to be getting at whether Bezae’s apparent dependence on a text form in the tradition of 565 in Mark supplies evidence of an early “Caesarean” tradition. I would argue that it does not. The traditions that have been called “Caesarean” are independent of the mainstream and apparently independent of each other as well, though they share certain old readings that suggest a complex web of relationships that could have derived from cross mixture as much as from a genealogical relationship. I also hope to address this question in a future post.


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