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.


  1. B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek: Introduction and Appendix (London, 1882) 122.
  2. H. von Soden, Die Schriften des Neuen Testaments in ihrer ältesten erreichbaren Textgestalt (Göttingen, 1911) 1:1276.
  3. H. A. Sanders, The New Testament Manuscripts of the Freer Collection (New York: Macmillan, 1918) 68.
  4. K. Aland et al., Text und Textwert der griechischen Handschriften des Neuen Testaments 4.1.2. Das Markusevangelium (2 vols.; ANTF 27; Berlin: De Gruyter, 1998) 438-441.
  5. The precise number of non-mainstream readings depends on decisions made in the segmentation of variation units.
  6. We consider only manuscripts extant at a minimum of 200 of Bezae’s non-mainstream readings.
  7. TuT 4.1.1, 45, 48.
  8. TuT 4.1.1, 45.
  9. This is not the only possible interpretation of the evidence.

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