Ephrem’s Typological Genealogy of Mary

In two recent posts, I noted the possibility that Justin Martyr and Celsus understood one of the two genealogies of Jesus given in the gospels as Mary’s genealogy. While such a view is at best implied by these early writers, Ephrem is remarkably explicit in his apparent attribution of the Matthean genealogy to Mary:

“Matthew wrote down the genealogy of Mary from whom our Lord was born and, because of this, he began from David and from Abraham, according to the promise revealed, ‘Not to you and to your descendants as though unto many, but to you and to your descendant, which descendant is Christ’ (Gal 3:16).”1

While Justin and Irenaeus imply that it is the Lukan genealogy that belongs to Mary, Ephrem somewhat surprisingly designates Matthew’s royal genealogy “the genealogy of Mary.”

Now there are some puzzling aspects about this passage in the Syriac Commentary on the Diatessaron. For one, Ephrem is citing the evangelist Matthew in a Diatessaron commentary. This is odd. Since Tatian had combined the four gospels into one, it is remarkable that Ephrem calls out one of the four evangelists by name.

But perhaps this is because of a second puzzle: the Diatessaron purportedly contained no genealogy of Jesus.2 It is remarkable that Ephrem senses a need to comment on a passage that was apparently excluded from the work upon which he is commenting. Indeed, Ephrem’s explicit reference to Matthew (and later to Luke) appears to support the notion that the Diatessaron lacked the genealogies.

But the third puzzle is Ephrem’s surprising attribution of the Matthean genealogy to Mary.

This attribution is all the more surprising because just two paragraphs earlier Ephrem asserts that Mary’s family line is nowhere to be found in the scriptures and, moreover, he implies that it is inappropriate to look for it:

“Scripture is silent [about Mary] since it numbers and counts the generations of men. If Scripture were accustomed to represent the family through the women, it would be appropriate to inquire after the family of Mary.”3

But apparently, in Ephrem’s view, it is not appropriate. Otherwise, why bring the matter up? But if not, why does Ephrem later apparently contradict himself by explicitly ascribing the Matthean genealogy to Mary?

If this is in fact a contradiction, it will not have been the first incongruity to have been discovered in the Syriac Commentary. Similar incongruities of thought have led to the conclusion that the commentary preserves multiple layers of tradition, ultimately compiled by a “school” of Ephrem in the latter fourth century.4

But perhaps this is not an incongruity.

Matthew: A Typological Genealogy?

In the same context, Ephrem refers to the genealogy of David as a “type” of the true genealogy of Mary’s child:

“The family of David continued as far as Joseph who had married her, and her child was through the type of the men, for the sake of the family of David.”5

Is Ephrem spiritualizing the Matthean genealogy?

According to Ephrem, the genealogies of the men establish a pattern of the true genealogy, which is Mary’s genealogy, because she is the one who gave birth to Christ, the seed promised to Abraham and David, as Ephrem reminds us:

“He is the son of Mary, however, and not the son of Joseph.”6

Ephrem says that because “Matthew wrote down the genealogy of Mary,” therefore “he began from David and Abraham.” So according to Ephrem, Matthew’s intent was to set forth the spiritual promise to Abraham and to his seed, Christ, and not to record a literal genealogy.7

Yet even to Ephrem, Matthew’s genealogy is not totally spiritualized. It contains three crucial names in the physical lineage of Jesus: Abraham, David, and Mary, “of whom Jesus was born.”8 If we follow this spiritual path, the genealogy becomes Mary’s genealogy, because, after all, the child is hers. And the seed is literally from David because, as Ephrem insists, Mary was from David:

“take note that [the evangelist] has said [elsewhere], concerning Joseph and Mary, that They were both of the house of David.”9

Here again Ephrem reaches outside of the Diatessaron, referring to Luke 2:4, which in the Old Syriac asserts that both Mary and Joseph were of the house of David.10

Whose Names?

So according to Ephrem, whose names are in the Matthean genealogy, Mary’s or Joseph’s?

Apparently, neither, at least after David. We know that Ephrem does not consider the Matthean names to belong to Joseph, because he later assigns the Lukan genealogy explicitly to Joseph:

“Luke however [was concerned] only with Joseph, husband of Mary, and [went back] as far as Adam who is from God.”11

So Ephrem chooses not to interpret the Matthean genealogy in a literal sense. Rather he interprets it typologically, as a figure of the true but unknown genealogy of Mary.

Is this Ephrem’s own solution to the discrepancies between the two genealogies of Matthew and Luke? It is difficult to say. But Ephrem is certainly not the first — nor the last — early Christian writer to spiritualize a difficult passage. Typological interpretations became one defense against the literalistic readings of certain heretics, such as Marcion, Ephrem’s arch-heresiological foe.12 From Ephrem’s perspective, Marcion’s literalistic interpretation ended up pitting one testament against the other and ultimately splitting the godhead into demiurge and stranger. Considered from this perspective, Ephrem’s pious spiritualization of the Matthean genealogy does not seem terribly shocking.

Celsus, Panthera, and the Genealogy of Mary

As preserved by Origen, Celsus is one of our earliest writers to comment on the genealogies of Jesus. Celsus’s failure to mention any conflict between the genealogies appears to support the view that no conflict was perceived in the second-century context in which he wrote.

But if we follow Origen, Celsus seems to have known that there were two genealogies, as he writes:

“the framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man, and from the kings of the Jews.”1

Presumably, Celsus’s genealogy “from the first man” refers to the genealogy of Luke, while his genealogy “from the kings of the Jews” refers to the genealogy of Matthew. So Celsus seems to allude here to the genealogies of both Luke and Matthew.

But if Celsus had sought to undermine Christianity, how could he have resisted pointing out that these two genealogies publish very different lists of names?2

Origen gives us an explanation, flatly attributing the oversight to his opponent’s incompetence:

“in finding fault with our Lord’s genealogy, there are certain points which occasion some difficulty even to Christians, and which, owing to the discrepancy between the genealogies, are advanced by some as arguments against their correctness, but which Celsus has not even mentioned. For Celsus, who is truly a braggart, and who professes to be acquainted with all matters relating to Christianity, does not know how to raise doubts in a skilful manner against the credibility of Scripture.”3

But could Celsus really have been unaware of the discrepancies to which Origen alludes? Certainly, if he had known that one of the genealogies was “from the first man” and the other “from the kings of the Jews,” he must have known something of their contents.

The Panthera Tradition

It is possible that Celsus dismissed the genealogies as pious fabrications, which could not have been expected to agree and, hence, required no in-depth refutation. After all, earlier in his work, Celsus had advanced the story that Mary had committed adultery with a Roman soldier named Panthera and that Jesus was their illegitimate child:

“When she [Mary] was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera.”4

So it appears that Celsus saw the genealogies as part of a cover up for the liaison that led to Jesus’s birth, a cover up that presumably included the account of the virgin birth as well. Perhaps he had heard of a Jewish tradition, preserved in the Talmud, asserting that Jesus was the illegitimate child of an adulterous union, who acquired magical powers in Egypt.5 Celsus writes:

“[Jesus] invented his birth from a virgin. … [He was really] born in a certain Jewish village, of a poor woman of the country, who gained her subsistence by spinning, and who was turned out of doors by her husband, a carpenter by trade, because she was convicted of adultery; that after being driven away by her husband, and wandering about for a time, she disgracefully gave birth to Jesus, an illegitimate child, who having hired himself out as a servant in Egypt on account of his poverty, and having there acquired some miraculous powers, on which the Egyptians greatly pride themselves, returned to his own country, highly elated on account of them, and by means of these proclaimed himself a God.”6

So in Celsus’s view, not only was Joseph not Jesus’s biological father, but Jesus had never even met Joseph! Of course, any perceived conflict between the genealogies requires that their assertions be taken at face value as giving the lineage of Joseph. But it seems that Celsus was especially eager to point to the irony that Christians considered Jesus to be God despite his apparent illegitimacy, poverty, and lowly birth, circumstances that in his view had only to do with Mary.

Celsus and the Genealogy of Mary

It is not surprising then that Celsus’s criticism of the genealogies focuses entirely on Mary, in particular, on Mary’s supposed ignorance of her noble heritage, as he argues:

“the carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent.”7

Of course, nothing in the biblical text speaks to Mary’s awareness or lack of awareness of her heritage. But Celsus tries to use Mary’s ignorance to show that the genealogies are fabrications. If they were not, he suggests, Mary would certainly have known about her descent from royalty. But since she does not appear to know, the genealogies must be false.

Now Celsus’s attempt to undermine the genealogies with respect to Mary’s lineage, rather than Joseph’s, implies that in his view one of the genealogies — though he does not say which — was understood to be a genealogy of Mary.

The problem is that both evangelists attribute their genealogies to Joseph.8 So some interpretation is necessary to represent either of the genealogies as a genealogy of Mary. It seems unlikely that such an interpretation could have been Celsus’s own idea. In fact, he appears to assume that his readers would share this understanding.

The most plausible explanation then is that he received this interpretation from Christians with whom he had contact, whether directly or through their writings. So Celsus’s criticism of Mary’s ignorance appears to supply additional evidence of an early understanding that at least one of the genealogies belonged to Mary, an understanding that this early critic of Christianity simply took for granted.

Justin Martyr and the Genealogy of Mary

Writing in the first half of the third century, Julius Africanus is our earliest writer to raise the two genealogies of Jesus as a potential apologetic issue.1 But before Africanus, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and apparently even Celsus all refer to the two genealogies, yet mention not a word about any conflict between them.

Thus, Origen takes Celsus to task for his failure to mention discrepancies between the genealogies that caused “some difficulty even to Christians.”2 Irenaeus mentions both genealogies by name, but makes no comment on their use of different ancestors.3 With Justin the citations are less clear, though, if we follow one plausible conjecture, he too apparently alludes to both genealogies without any comment on their differences.

Why were these early writers silent about any conflict between the two genealogies?

One possibility is that they believed one of the genealogies to belong to Mary. The obvious choice would have been Luke. While Matthew asserts that Jacob “begat” Joseph, Luke does not say specifically how Jesus was known as “the son of Joseph.”4

The problem is that none of these writers states explicitly that the Lukan genealogy belongs to Mary. Except perhaps Justin.

In his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin is quite interested in Mary’s ancestry.

  • In 43.1 Justin writes of Jesus as “born of a virgin, of the family of Abraham and tribe of Judah, and of David.”5
  • In 45.4 Justin refers to “this virgin of the family of David.”6
  • In 100.3 Justin again refers to “the virgin … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham.”7

Of course, the biblical text never states that Mary belonged to the tribe of David. It is possible though that Justin inferred this from her betrothal to Joseph.

But did Justin have any more secure reason for his belief that Mary, like her husband, was of the tribe of David? Did Justin believe that he had access to Mary’s genealogy?

A Lukan Genealogy of Mary?

It is often thought that Justin alludes to the Lukan genealogy in Dialogue 100.3. In most editions, Justin refers here to a genealogy headed by Adam “from whom Mary derives her descent.” Presumably, this would refer to the Lukan genealogy.8 Thus:

“Jesus said then that he was the Son of man, either because of his birth by the virgin, who was … of the family of David, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham; or because Adam was the father both of himself and of those who have been first enumerated from whom Mary derives her descent.”9

Unfortunately though the word Adam is a conjecture. While this conjecture is popular among editors, our only surviving manuscripts have Abraham where most editors put Adam.10

Editors seem to prefer Adam because it makes better sense in the context.11 After all, it makes little sense to call Abraham the father of a list of patriarchs that includes himself. Moreover, since Justin is trying to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, it makes sense that he would refer to the first man in his argument.

So Adam is not a bad guess. But if this is Justin’s intention, in a context that also invokes the descent of Mary, in order to explain why Jesus called himself Son of Man, we have to wonder, did Justin regard the Lukan genealogy as the genealogy of Mary? Perhaps this is why he mentions no conflict between the genealogies.

Fathers of Daughters and their Sons

But Justin leaves us with one more clue. Almost as an afterthought, he adds:

“For we know that the fathers of women are the fathers likewise of those children whom their daughters bear.”12

Is Justin calling Mary’s child the child of Mary’s father? Is Justin connecting Jesus to Luke’s genealogy through Mary? After all, Mary is the only woman or daughter mentioned in the context.

Maybe Justin is referring to the patriarchs as the fathers of Mary. But this hardly makes sense. The patriarchs already had sons to trace their lineage. By invoking the daughter as bearer of her father’s lineage, Justin seems to be referring to Mary’s immediate father and, more specifically, to her father’s lack of sons. Perhaps it is better then to understand Justin’s expression the fathers of women as fathers who have no sons.13 So it is possible that Justin understood Joseph to be the adopted son of Heli, presumably because in his view Mary had no brothers.14

Does Justin believe that the Lukan genealogy is the genealogy of Mary?

We cannot be certain. But his obscure reference to fathers passing their inheritance to the sons of their daughters suggests that he was prepared to understand Mary’s child, Jesus, as the son of her father. At the same time, Justin’s confidence in repeatedly mentioning Mary’s lineage from the family of David suggests that he had a text in mind to back this up. But Justin would have been hard pressed to find such a text outside of the genealogies of Jesus. Of course, since Justin argues passionately on behalf of Jesus’s miraculous birth, this would only have offered him more incentive to emphasize Mary’s tangible role in the genealogy of Jesus.

New Essay on Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy

I have recently published an essay on Codex Bezae’s remarkable and singular Lukan genealogy in the Papers from the Tenth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, edited by H. A. G. Houghton and published by Gorgias Press.1 The essay is a development and expansion of a paper I presented at the Tenth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament in March 2017.

Since one of the themes of the colloquium was to reflect on David Parker’s The Living Text of the Gospels, I examine Bezae’s Lukan genealogy through the method Parker outlines in his book, namely, collecting and describing the textual evidence, reconstructing the path of change, and attempting to contextualize these changes in the history of the users of the text.2

As far as external evidence, one startling fact about Bezae’s genealogy, as mentioned in this earlier post, is that its otherwise highly-original list of names, while singular in the manuscript tradition, corresponds to a nearly-identical list in Aphrahat’s Demonstrations. I say “nearly identical” because Bezae’s only divergence from Aphrahat is its puzzling duplication of Jehoiakim’s name, first (according to the reverse order of the Lukan genealogy) under his regnal name, Jehoiakim (ιωακειμ), and then under his birth name, Eliakim (ελιακειμ).

A second surprising observation is that the structure of the genealogy in Bezae the manuscript appears to mirror the structure of the names in Aphrahat’s list. The structure of Aphrahat’s list seems to divide the names into six groups of ten names around a central group of three names, culminating with the name of David. It turns out that Bezae’s page divisions fall precisely at these theorized divisions in the genealogy. Since Bezae has 33 lines per page, three groups of ten and the group of three occupy a single page on Folio 196.

The greater part of the essay is devoted to an effort to contextualize Bezae’s peculiar Lukan genealogy in the early church. Beginning with Justin’s two allusions to Jesus’s genealogy, I consider remarks on the genealogies by sixteen writers, including Aphrahat himself, down to the time of Jerome and Augustine, who were contemporaries of Bezae’s producers.

It is clear that anxiety about discrepancies between the Matthean and Lukan genealogies becomes more pronounced the later we go, reaching a peak in the Latin church in the second half of the fourth century. Earlier writers, such as Justin, Irenaeus, and even Celsus appear to have seen no conflict between the two genealogies, apparently understanding them as belonging respectively to each of Jesus’s human parents, Mary and Joseph. But starting with Julius Africanus, it is generally assumed that both genealogies belong to Joseph, whom they are purported to represent in the two gospel texts.

So later writers, when they mention the genealogy of Jesus, sense a need to explain that any appearance of conflict between the genealogies given by Matthew and Luke is merely an appearance. By the end of the fourth century, the preferred explanation is some form of the interpretation based on Levirate marriage, though this is not the only explanation given, as discussed in the essay.

The Lukan genealogy supplies a fascinating background to examine the development of Bezae’s tradition, given that its secondary character is so obvious and yet it is one of the longest variations in any of the gospels, consisting of eighty words.

How to Classify Codex Bezae’s Greek Text

For two centuries, Bezae’s classification has been thought of in terms of the so-called “Western” text type. Of course, the label “Western” tells us little if anything about Bezae’s relationships with other witnesses.

But Bezae does have relationships. Its parallels with 03 were noted by F. J. A. Hort.1 In Mark, Bezae’s parallels with 038 and 565 were pointed out by H. von Soden.2 Also in Mark, Bezae’s parallels with 032 were observed by H. A. Sanders to be a byproduct of the latter’s parallels with the Latin version.3 The question is, how does Bezae’s peculiar mix of relationships affect the classification of its text?

The most systematic attempt to classify Bezae’s text form to date is Text und Textwert (TuT), a project that seeks to classify every manuscript on the basis of agreement profiles at non-mainstream readings, which are found in the main list for each manuscript and book. When we inspect Bezae’s main list in Mark, we discover that its closest non-fragmentary relative is 038, which attests 40.4% agreement with Bezae’s profile — certainly not an impressive level of agreement.4 Overall, the impression we gain from Bezae’s main list in Mark is that of a text form isolated from the larger Greek tradition.

Of course, TuT considers only Greek manuscripts. For practical reasons, it relies on test passages, 196 in Mark. These test passages are not randomly selected and, hence, reflect a distinct bias in favor of passages of greater perceived text-critical interest. The result is a high proportion of test passages in which Bezae attests a unique reading in the Greek tradition, a situation that tends to exaggerate Bezae’s apparent isolation.

We can resolve the problem of bias in the selection of test passages with either a random sampling or a complete data set of variation units. According to my collation of transcripts prepared for the Editio Critica Maior (ECM) in Mark, in work for my dissertation, Bezae attests 1383 non-mainstream readings in Mark, setting aside readings that are singular or subsingular in the Greek tradition.5

Bezae’s closest Greek neighbors at these 1383 non-mainstream readings in Mark are 565 at 51.2% agreement, 038 at 47.3%, 032 at 39.3%, 01 at 35.3%, and 03 at 35.3%.6 So Bezae’s closest neighbor, 565, still only registers at 51% agreement.

Now according to TuT, 565 and 038 are closely related in Mark.7 So are 01 and 03.8 So we find at least three different traditions represented among Bezae’s closest witnesses in Mark: 565/038, 032, and 01/03. These results are summarized in the table:

Manuscript Non-Mainstream Agreements with Bezae in Mark
565 51.2% (706/1380)
038 47.3% (654/1383)
032 39.3% (522/1327)
01 35.3% (479/1356)
03 35.0% (482/1376)

Still, none of these witnesses exhibits an overwhelmingly high level of agreement.

Assessing the Unique Contribution of Witnesses

One question that remains unanswered by these figures is how much overlap exists between these agreements. To what extent do the 51% of agreements with 565 overlap the 47% of agreements with 038, the 39% of agreements with 032, or the 35% of agreements with 03? If we take 565 as the closest witness at 51%, which next witness accounts for the highest percentage of non-mainstream readings not attested by 565?

It turns out that the witness that contributes the most new agreements which are not already attested by 565 is 03 — even though this witness registers at fifth place in overall agreement. While 038, 032, and 01 all agree at higher individual percentages than 03, it turns out that many of their agreements are shared with 565.

On the other hand, 03 contributes the most new agreements. Sixteen percent of 03’s agreements at Bezae’s non-mainstream readings are not attested by 565. So between the agreements of 565 and 03 we can account for nearly two thirds or 67.5% of Bezae’s non-mainstream readings in Mark.

The witness that contributes the most new readings not attested by either 565 or 03 is not 038, but 032, which adds 9% to our cumulative percentage of agreement. This brings the total cumulative agreement between the three witnesses — 565, 03, and 032 — to over three quarters or 76.6% of Bezae’s non-mainstream readings in Mark.

With the fourth witness we start to encounter diminishing returns. The witness that contributes the most new readings after 565, 03, and 032 — 038 — contributes just 3.5% to the total cumulative agreement, bringing the total agreement to four out of five or 80.1% of non-mainstream readings. As we noted above, 038 is closely-related to 565 in Mark. So it is not surprising that it contributes so few new agreements.

The respective contributions of the four witnesses that together agree with 80% of Bezae’s non-mainstream readings in Mark are illustrated in the chart.

How are we to understand this result?

It appears that Bezae is related in Mark, not to a single witness or family, but primarily to three witnesses or families in the Greek tradition, namely, 565-038, 032, and 03-01 and their relatives. The implication is that Bezae attests a composite text form in Mark, a result that can be explained by mixture.

Classifying Bezae’s Mixed Text Form

So to answer our initial question, how to classify Bezae’s Greek text, the answer is that there are at least two ways.

One way is to classify the text as a whole. We find then that Bezae’s text form is closest in the Greek tradition to that of 565 across all of Mark, with which it agrees at 51% of its non-mainstream readings. The downside of this all-or-nothing approach is to create the misleading impression that Bezae’s Greek text is not particularly related to any other traditions.

A second way is to partition Bezae’s non-mainstream readings according to the witnesses and families with which they most closely agree. So we acknowledge that different sets of Bezae’s readings are closely related to different parts of the tradition.

As a starting point, we might assume that the largest set of readings — in which Bezae agrees with 565, 038, or both — represents the base tradition before the mixture of readings from other traditions.9

If so, we can assume that, in the case of readings where 565 and 038 overlap with other traditions, the reading entered Bezae’s tradition through the base text, that is, through the tradition represented by 565 and 038. But the readings of traditions that do not overlap with this base tradition presumably entered through mixture.

So we classify Bezae’s text form in parts rather than as a whole. The upside is that Bezae is now shown to be thoroughly related to the rest of the Greek tradition, though not to any single part of it. The classification of its text form consists of sets of readings that are closely related to different parts of the tradition.

We find then that, while Bezae’s text form is perhaps unique among surviving witnesses in its pattern of mixture, its text form is not unrelated to the larger Greek tradition. In fact, it is closely related to multiple witnesses and families.

Profiling Codex Bezae’s Greek Text Form as a Composite Text

On Tuesday, I presented a paper at the SBL International Conference in Helsinki on profile-based classification of composite text forms, in which I highlighted Codex Bezae’s Greek text of Mark as a case study in the profiling of highly-mixed text forms. This paper previewed some of the research for my dissertation on Bezae’s Greek text of the Gospel of Mark.

Highly-mixed text forms, such as Bezae’s, present unique challenges when we compare them to other known traditions, as their total profiles are likely to be substantially unique — unless of course we can identify other manuscripts with precisely same patterns of mixture, an unlikely prospect for text forms that lie far outside of the mainstream.

Are we to conclude from this that such text forms have no significant relationships with the wider tradition at all? Intuition tells us that this could not be so. After all, mixture by definition implies the existence of relationships with a variety of other traditions. Thus, in Bezae’s text of Mark, we find agreements with a variety of witnesses — for example, 03, 032, 565 — that are not otherwise closely related. In fact, Bezae does agree with other manuscripts and with some manuscripts more than others.

To understand how these diverse traditions may have interacted in the development of Bezae’s final text form, we require a more granular approach to manuscript profiling that relates these traditions only at the specific set of readings that they share in common, rather than across their total profiles. In this paper, I discuss such a granular approach to profiling that addresses complex mixed text forms by splitting the total profile into a composite of smaller sub-profiles, each with specific alignments within the tradition and hence modeling different relationships in the development of the final text form. In this way, we can begin to reconstruct Bezae’s textual history and potentially the textual histories of other highly-mixed witnesses.