Is the pericope adulterae Jerome’s indictment against his Roman accusers?

In an earlier post, I asked whether Jerome might have introduced the full form of the pericope adulterae (=PA) to its present location at John 7:53. Indeed, just as he was completing the final touches on his revision of the gospels, Jerome was himself hauled before a tribunal of “elders” to face charges of sexual misconduct in connection with his wealthy sponsor Paula, before (in his view) hypocritical accusers, as he relates in Epistle 45:

my sex is my one crime, and even on this score I am not assailed, save when there is a talk of Paula going to Jerusalem. Very well, then. They believed my accuser when he lied (Epist. 45.2; NPNF 2.6, 59).

The parallels (noted in this post) between Jerome’s contemporary experience at Rome and the scene depicted in the PA are indeed striking. Might we wonder then whether Jerome’s decision to include the PA in the Vulgate was at all impacted by his having been at the receiving end of accusations similar to those encountered by the “adulteress”? Might this painful experience have led him to interject new details such as Jesus (presumably) writing judgment against the accusers on the ground?

Our Dependence on Jerome for Background on the Vulgate

Now the precise date Jerome completed his Vulgate gospels is not known for certain.1 The year 384 is typically cited on the basis of his Preface to the Four Gospels, thought to have been presented to Damasus before his death in December 384.

The problem though is our nearly complete reliance on Jerome for information regarding his activities in connection with his revision. To make matters worse, some years ago noted Jerome scholar Pierre Nautin credibly challenged the authenticity of Damasus’ side of Jerome’s putative letter exchanges with the pontiff, showing just how likely it is that Jerome himself composed both sides of these exchanges.2

Now if this were true, not only is Jerome’s credibility at stake, but so too is our understanding of the circumstances of his Vulgate revision, from the timing of its completion to the nature of Jerome’s relationship with Damasus and the latter’s oversight (or lack thereof) to the validity of Jerome’s commission and authority to produce his revision at all. If Jerome never presented his gospels to Damasus, if his letter exchanges and Preface are later inventions, this has significant implications for the PA, whose first indirectly documented occurrence lies within this tradition.

The Convergence of Early PA Sources around Jerome

It is certainly remarkable that our early sources on the PA all seem to converge around the time Jerome completed his revision of the gospels, just as he was dismissed from Rome. It is natural to wonder then whether Jerome had any special investment in the story in the form in which it appears in John. Did Jerome expand an earlier form of the story, received, for example, from his mentor Didymus?

Now at least four significant elements are found in the PA that are lacking in Didymus’ account yet paralleled in Jerome’s experience.3 For all we know, Jerome himself may have introduced these elements:

  • The elders are identified as scribes and Pharisees perhaps to emphasize their hypocrisy. But Jerome later refers to the Roman tribunal as a “senate of Pharisees” (Pref. to Did. Spir., 387 CE).
  • The sin of the woman is identified as adultery, analogous to the charge of sexual misconduct leveled against Jerome regarding his relationship with Paula.
  • The scribes and Pharisees intend to trap Jesus. But Jerome describes his adversaries as similarly deceitful, noting that they “kissed my hands, yet attacked me with the tongues of vipers; sympathy was on their lips, but malignant joy in their hearts” (Epist. 45.2).
  • Jesus (it is presumed) writes the indictment of the woman’s accusers on the ground just as, presumably, Jerome would have liked to indict his own accusers, though he could not do so directly due to their positions of power.

The PA: Jerome’s Indictment against his Accusers?

Is it plausible then that Jerome might ultimately have seen Jesus’ act of writing in the PA as an indictment against his accusers? Chris Keith makes an incisive observation when he remarks that both Jerome and Ambrose take note of Jesus’ writing because they too were writers. As Prof. Keith observes:

“Ambrose and Jerome know PA in GJohn and find Jesus’ writing to be significant.” 4

Keith points out that Jerome and Ambrose are also the first to cite the story’s place in John and, moreover, that knowledge of Jesus’ writing is linked in our sources with knowledge of the PA’s location in John:

“The evidence concerning Ambrose and Jerome being the first Christian authors to comment upon Jesus’ acts of writing in PA may suggest that PA’s insertion is closer to the context of these fathers in the fourth century … [O]ne must note that every Christian author who knows Jesus’ writing in PA also knows PA in GJohn. … patristic knowledge of Jesus’ acts of writing in PA has an affinity with the version of PA in GJohn.” 5

This leads Keith to suggest that the narrator’s particular interest in Jesus’ act of writing may reflect the interpolator’s own interest this detail:

“PA’s narrative reads smoothly if one omits John 8.6, 8, and the narrator seems to be the only one in the scene who cares about Jesus’ writing. This raises the possibility that the interpolator added the acts of writing in John 8.6, 8 to the story.” 6

Now if Jerome were in fact the interpolator, we have good reason to suspect that his source of inspiration for Jesus’ writing on the ground is Jeremiah 17:13:

“O Lord, hope of Israel, let all who forsake you be disgraced, let all who turned away be written on the earth, for they have deserted the Lord, the spring of life.” (Jer 17:13 LXX, my translation)

In this passage, Jeremiah is beseeching God for justice against his persecutors, precisely what Jerome was looking for with regard to his Roman accusers! In fact, Jerome makes the connection to Jeremiah explicit in his (much later) tract Against the Pelagians:

“The scribes and Pharisees kept accusing her and vigorously pressing their case, eager to stone her according to the law. But Jesus bending down began to write with his finger on the ground the sins of the accusers (and indeed of all mortals), according to what is written in the prophet: “Those who forsake you shall be written on the earth,” and lifting his head, he said to them: The first of you without sin may throw a stone at her.” (Pelag. 2.17, my translation)

Now Jerome had only recently translated Origen’s homilies on Ezekiel and Jeremiah (382) and was just preparing to translate Jeremiah from Hebrew (389). So as he endured the ignominy of his ejection from Rome, Jeremiah’s indictment against his persecutors who had refused to repent of their own hypocrisy could not have been far from mind:

“They keep saying to me,
“Where is the word of the LORD?
Let it now be fulfilled [i.e. against them]!”(Jer 17:15 NIV)

So Jerome’s allusion to Jeremiah allows him to accuse his accusers discretely, without their knowledge. Of course, this is classic subversion. After all, Jerome knew he was powerless before his enemies, forced out of Rome against his will, presumably to return to the diocese where he had been ordained. Like many others in similarly overwhelming situations, Jerome turned to literary expression for a voice, an avenue for which his classical education left him uniquely qualified. His mentor Didymus had left the ideal seed of a story, already found in certain gospels. Finally, the Vulgate revision gave him an unexpected opportunity to engrave a record of his accusers’ wrongs forever onto the New Testament text:

“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
inscribed with a flint point.” (Jer 17:1a NIV)

And shall we add to the number of Judah, Jerome’s so-called “senate of Pharisees,” and parchment and ink to the tools of iron age Palestine?

Did a Manichaean tract inspire Bezae’s Lukan genealogy?

In an earlier post, I noted that the synoptic genealogies of Jesus were not necessarily perceived as being in tension before the third century. Celsus, for example, seems to have taken for granted that the genealogies belonged to Joseph and Mary respectively, while Tatian objected not to the discrepancies between the genealogies but rather to their mention of David.1

Yet by the end of the fourth century, the perceived incompatibility of the Matthean and Lukan genealogies as competing accounts of Joseph’s lineage had most certainly come to be regarded as a significant problem requiring resolution.2 So we find writers such as Ambrosiaster (c. 366-384) building an apologetic case for the integrity of the two genealogies. In his Quaestiones veteris et novi testamenti, Ambrosiaster devotes no fewer than six of his 127 questions to the genealogy of Jesus.3

Questio 56 on the Old Testament addresses conflicts between the Matthean and Lukan genealogy:

“Why is it that in Matthew the father of Joseph is written ‘Jacob’ and in Luke ‘Heli’?” (trans. mine)4

While in Questio 85, Ambrosiaster queries:

“Since it is clear that from David to the Babylonian exile there were seventeen generations, why does the evangelist say fourteen, passing over Ahaziah, who after Jehoram is son of Jehoshaphat and Joash son of Ahaziah and Amaziah son of Joash?” (trans. mine)

Of course, Ambrosiaster offers his own explanations for each question. But it is significant that Bezae’s genealogy also resolves these same questions by harmonization. It is clear from this that Bezae’s Lukan genealogy fits naturally in the same late fourth-century context that ultimately produced the manuscript.

Still we might wonder why Bezae’s producers were willing to take such drastic measures in erasing so much of Luke’s text. At eighty words of the mainstream text, the section replaced in Bezae amounts to one of the longest deliberate excisions of material in the New Testament.5 Bezae’s variant makes even the longest of F. J. A. Hort’s so-called “Western non-interpolations” look like small change indeed! But was the problem of the genealogy really such a burden to the religious life of the community in which Bezae’s text was produced?

One clue may lie in Augustine’s response to the Manichaean bishop, Faustus of Milevis, in Contra Faustum Manichaeum (401/402), a work allegedly motivated by the questions of Augustine’s congregation concerning Faustus’ tract against Christianity.6 According to Augustine, Faustus names the discrepancies between the synoptic genealogies as the main obstacle preventing him from accepting the “catholic” view of the incarnation. As he reputedly observes:

“the discrepancy in the genealogies of Luke and Matthew stumbled me, as I knew not which to follow … This is my reason for not believing in the birth of Christ. Remove this difficulty, if you can, by harmonizing the accounts, and I am ready to yield.” (Faust., 3.1; NPNF 1.4, 159)

So according to his opponent, Augustine, Faustus not only prescribes what to do (i.e. “remove this difficulty”), but how to accomplish it (“by harmonizing the accounts”)! Faustus appears to suggest the very solution we find implemented in Bezae!

We should be skeptical, of course, that a leader of Faustus’ stature in the Manichaean church could be swayed from his convictions by merely scrubbing a dozen or so lines! If in fact Faustus really made the claim cited by Augustine, it was doubtless intended rhetorically, though evidently it was taken at face value by some of his Christian readers. But this is precisely the point.

Evidently there was a perception among certain Christians that if only the discrepancies between the genealogies could be resolved, influential Manichaeans like Faustus could be refuted and the Manichaean church at large won to the orthodox faith! We can envision then a real incentive to harmonize the genealogies, much as we find in Bezae’s Luke. But how likely is it that Bezae arose the context of a struggle with Manichaeism?

In fact, if Bezae’s genealogy derives from the same tradition as that of Aphraates, which seems not unlikely (see post), it had appeared already in a context striving against Manichaeism. Earlier in his Demonstrations, Aphraates takes aim at followers of Mani, accusing them of practicing Babylonian arts:

“But even the children of darkness, the impious followers of Mani, lurk in the darkness in the manner of serpents, serving the Chaldean arts and teachings of Babylon.” (Dem. 3.9, translation mine)

But this struggle was not confined to the East. From a Roman context strongly sympathetic to the Old Latin version, Ambrosiaster singles out followers of Mani for special reprobation in his remarks on 2 Timothy 3:6:

Although all sorts of heretics make their way into houses and capture women [regarding 2 Tim 3:6] by tricks and clever words … nevertheless, the description fits the Manichaeans more than others. Nobody else is as troublesome, as deceptive or as harmful as they are, for it is clear that they worship one thing but profess another, and that they act one way inside but preach something quite different outside. They defend holiness yet live wicked lives, something which their law supports. They praise mercy even though they act unjustly toward one another. They claim that the world must be rejected but always go about well dressed. They preach publicly that they insist on fasting, although they are all bloated, even if they wear make-up (which makes them look sickly) in order to deceive people. Therefore the apostle was prophesying about them more than anyone else. … The Emperor Diocletian referred to the Manichaeans in one of his laws, calling them a sordid and impure heresy which had recently emerged from Persia. (Com. 2 Tim. 3:16, translation by Gerald L. Bray, p. 463) 7

Of course, we have already seen that Ambrosiaster takes a special apologetic interest in the synoptic genealogies. As I have suggested in another post, we also find Ambrosiaster working in a context that in many ways seems to resemble that of Bezae’s producers.

Now this is consistent with what we have already come to suspect regarding Bezae’s remarkable harmonization of the Lukan genealogy, namely, that it is simply unnecessary to posit a second-century date for this variant. Faustus’ putative challenge and the concerns of contemporary writers both reveal that the problem of the genealogies was still an open question in the larger church at the end of the fourth century. But if this is so, we have at the time Bezae’s text apparently attained its final form, that is, in the latter fourth century, all of the ingredients necessary to account for a relatively recent revision of the Lukan genealogy.

Rome, Petrine primacy, and Bezae’s text

In a previous post, I noted the apparent interest of Bezae’s initial corrector, Corrector G, in passages that pertain to Peter and his role of authority among the apostles. I also suggested that this corrector, whose work is confined to Matthew and the first four chapters of Acts, may have focused on these two books, not because he grew tired of correcting in Matthew and hence skipped to Acts due to its unusual text, but rather because these two books contain the passages he was most interested in, namely, passages concerning the question of Petrine primacy.

Now as D. C. Parker has shown, Bezae’s distinctive text was not created by the scribe, who closely followed the text of his exemplar. [1] Yet the final form of Bezae’s text exhibits the same interest we find in Corrector G in passages relevant to Peter’s role, often with the effect of augmenting Peter’s role in the narrative. [2] But if the scribe did not introduce this feature, it seems we must consider whether Bezae’s exemplar also developed under the oversight of the initial corrector. Unless this interest in Peter is coincidental, we might infer, at least for Bezae, that its text of Acts could not have been produced much earlier than the manuscript itself. [3]

Of course, it is by no means impossible that there were other sets of circumstances in which Peter’s role might have been augmented. But when we consider the acute relevance of the question of Petrine authority following the Council of Constantinople in 381, at which Constantinople was promoted above the ancient sees of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem to a rank of second place only to Rome, the time frame immediately prior to Bezae’s production suddenly becomes highly interesting as a potential context for the development of a particular interest in Peter’s role.

In suggesting a context for this special interest in Peter, we might begin then with Canon 3 of the Council of Constantinople:

“The Bishop of Constantinople … shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome.” (NPNF 2.14, 178)

The impact of this canon can be assessed when we consider that sixty years later Rome was still protesting it, as Leo the Great remonstrates with Anatolius, Bishop of Constantinople:

“For your purpose [to invoke the primacy of Constantinople over the Eastern sees] is in no way whatever supported by the written assent of certain bishops [who convened at the Council of Constantinople] given, as you allege, 60 years ago, and never brought to the knowledge of the Apostolic See by your predecessors” (Leo the Great, Epistle 106.5; NPNF 2.12, 79)

Leo argues that Constantinople’s claim rests purely on its secular status as New Rome and hence is inferior to the apostolic claim of the other sees, which Leo seems to assume were all founded on the authority of Peter:

“Things secular stand on a different basis from things divine: and there can be no sure building save on that rock [i.e. Peter] which the LORD has laid for a foundation. … Let him [Anatolius] not disdain a city which is royal, though he cannot make it an Apostolic See” (Leo the Great, Epistle 104.3; NPNF 2.12, 75)

Of course, Leo is alluding to Peter’s connection, not only to Rome, but also to the three demoted sees. Now Peter’s connection with Antioch (formerly the third see) and Jerusalem (formerly the fourth) is established in the New Testament. But Leo also claims Peter as the founder of the See of Alexandria (formerly second) on the basis of Mark’s traditional discipleship under Peter:

“The See of Alexandria may not lose any of that dignity which it merited through S. Mark, the evangelist and disciple of the blessed Peter” (Leo the Great, Epistle 106.5; NPNF 2.12, 79)

In fact, Peter is the only apostle that all of the ancient sees could claim in common, a finding that Leo tries to exploit in his contention that Constantinople usurped the second rank from Alexandria.

So it is evident that Rome’s rivalry with Constantinople in the period after 381 offers a compelling setting for the pattern we find in Bezae’s text of Acts, which in various ways highlights Peter’s unique authority as founding apostle of the church in Acts. Of course, by the end of the fourth century, only a canonical text could have served as the basis for this unique appeal to Peter’s authority. This might explain why Bezae’s text of Acts is more recent than that of its gospels. It may also explain why the text of Acts receives disproportionate emphasis in general in the so-called “Western” text.

Now if this connection is warranted, the long text of Acts we find in Bezae (and possibly in other witnesses) might be seen as promoting the perspective, not only of Rome, but also of the demoted sees of Alexandria and Antioch, yet certainly not of Constantinople. It is remarkable then that the distribution of the so-called “Western” text follows the locations the ancient apostolic sees, in both East and West, while avoiding the area around Constantinople. Hence, both Syria and Egypt attest versional representatives of the so-called “Western” texts of Acts. Just as this long text existed in Latin in various forms for the benefit of the church in the West, so too did it exist in Greek for the benefit of the church in the East — and not only in Greek, but also in the Eastern versions, whether Coptic or Syriac.


References

[1] “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. Note that Parker’s statement in the context of Bezae’s sense lines does not comment on the possibility that the D text might be coterminous with Bezae’s exemplar. Note also that Parker’s reconstruction allows Bezae’s exemplar of Acts to have been transcribed through the end of the fourth century (p. 281).

[2] J. Crehan, “Peter according to the D-Text of Acts,” Theological Studies 18 (1957) 596–603. See A. G. Brock, “Appeasement, Authority, and the Role of Women in the D-Text of Acts” in T. Nicklas and M. Tilly, The Book of Acts as Church History: Text, Textual Traditions and Ancient Interpretations (BZNW 120. Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003) 205-224 at 210-215 for others who have observed this variation of emphasis on Peter or have noted it in their citations.

[3] See Parker, Bezae, 118-119, who observes significantly that Bezae’s Acts tradition is more recent than that of its gospels.

How did a Latin text end up in the Egyptian wilderness?

In some recent posts, I have suggested that certain features of Bezae’s Greek text seem consistent with its assimilation of Old Latin readings. Of course, any theory of Latin assimilation requires a motive capable of justifying the retroversion of Latin readings into Greek. In Bezae’s case, one possible motive is the documented belief that the Greek tradition was more corrupt than the Old Latin version. But a still bigger problem is explaining how these assimilated readings might have appeared in other versions.

One remarkable twentieth-century discovery was the Acts text of Codex Glazier in the Middle Egyptian Coptic dialect, which unexpectedly followed the “long” text form of Bezae and other well-known “Western” witnesses, at times even uniquely agreeing with Bezae in readings that had previously been considered singular. [1]

To suggest then that Latin assimilation might in some way have contributed to the “long” text forms of Acts in Greek clearly requires an account as to how these forms might have appeared in Middle Egyptian texts. Of course, it is possible such an influence passed indirectly through the Greek tradition to the versions. But how necessary is this intermediate step?

We might begin by noting that the so-called “Western” text form is especially well-represented in the Old Latin text of Acts. To take a familiar example, the “baptismal confession” of the Ethiopian eunuch at Acts 8:37, found in Glazier, is well-attested by Latin writers, including Cyprian, Tertullian, Augustine, Pacian, and Ambrosiaster, and whatever its origin, is clearly representative of the Old Latin version as a whole, being attested in c dem e gig l m p ph r t w (Bezae is unfortunately lacunose from Acts 8:29-10:14). While it is also attested in various forms in a range of Greek minuscules, the sheer quantity of variant forms (TUT lists 22 unique forms in ten readings) makes it difficult to insist that the Greek form had to have been the earliest.

But even if we allow that such a reading might first have appeared in Latin, how are we to explain its occurrence in a remote Coptic dialect? What context can convincingly bring these two traditions together in a manner capable of allowing a transfer of readings between these otherwise disparate versions?

One distinct possibility involves the pro-Nicene faction of the fourth-century Arian controversy, whose leadership brought together figures from both the Latin West and Coptic Egypt. We might consider the case of Athanasius (presumably a Coptic speaker), who fled to the West in 339 and remained there for the duration of his second exile (339-346). In the West, he established ties with Pope Julius and the bishops in Italy (Apol. Const. 3), many of whom survived long enough to defend his cause in his later struggles (Hilary of Poitiers, Coll. Ant. Par. B.II.2).

In the opposite direction, both Lucifer of Cagliari in Sardinia and Eusebius of Vercelli in northern Italy were exiled by Constantius to the East (355-361) for refusing to condemn Athanasius at the Council of Milan (355). Both spent the latter portion of their respective exiles in the predominantly Coptic-speaking region of the Thebaid (Upper Egypt). It is interesting to note in this connection that the Old Latin gospel manuscript, Codex Vercellensis (a), is said to have been transcribed by Eusebius. [2] In fact, it seems not unlikely that both Lucifer and Eusebius carried Old Latin gospel texts to their places of exile.

In any case, Lucifer’s writings dating from his exile contain Old Latin citations. He seems to have sent one of these writings, the treatise De Athanasio, to Constantius in defense of Athanasius. If we accept as genuine two letters to Lucifer attributed to Athanasius, the latter requested a copy of the treatise: [3]

To our lord, and most beloved brother the Bishop and Confessor Lucifer. Athanasius greeting in the Lord. …

It has been reported to us that your holiness has written to Constantius Augustus; and we wonder more and more that dwelling as it were among scorpions you yet preserve freedom of spirit, in order, by advice or teaching or correction, to bring those in error to the light of truth. I ask then, and all confessors join me in asking, that you will be good enough to send us a copy; so that all may perceive, not by hearsay only but by letters, the valour of your spirit, and the confidence and firmness of your faith. Those who are with me salute your holiness … (Epist. 1, Ad Luciferum; NPNF 2.4, 561)

In his second letter to Lucifer, we hear of Athanasius’ reception of the treatise:

To the most glorious lord and deservedly much-desired fellow-Bishop Lucifer, Athanasius greeting in the Lord. …

We have received the books of your most wise and religious soul, in which we have seen the image of an Apostle, the confidence of a Prophet, the teaching of truth, the doctrine of true faith, the way of heaven, the glory of martyrdom, the triumphs against the Arian heresy, the unimpaired tradition of our Fathers, the right rule of the Church’s order. O truly Lucifer, who according to your name bring the light of truth …

Believe me, Lucifer, it is not you only who has uttered this, but the Holy Spirit with you. Whence comes so great a memory for the Scriptures? Whence an unimpaired sense and understanding of them? … Whence did you get such exhortations to the way of heaven … and such proofs against heretics, unless the Holy Spirit had been lodged in you? (Epist. 2, Ad Luciferum; NPNF 2.4, 562)

The relevant point here is that Lucifer’s De Athanasio contains well-known “Western” readings, including readings attested by the codices Bezae, Glazier, and just a few others. [4] For example, in Lucifer’s text of Acts 12:7 cited in De Athanasio, the angel “pricks” or “pierces” (νυξας) rather than “taps” (παταξας) Peter’s side, a reading attested only by Bezae, P127, Codex Gigas (gig), and (it seems) Codex Glazier (though the latter’s support is not listed in NA28). [5] Thus, Lucifer writes:

conpungens autem latus Petri (De Athanasio 2.14; CCSL 8, 99)

Which compares to the Old Latin text:

pungens autem latus Petri (d gig)

But this reading is also attested by Codex Glazier:

Acts 12,7 (underline, 80pc)[6]

(Note that H.-M. Schenke’s lexicon defines the verb joke as stechen, stoßen, which in the context suggests to prick, stab, pierce, or pokeDefinition [7])

Compared to Athanasius’ own “Alexandrian” citations, Lucifer’s vivid depiction of the angel “piercing” Peter’s side could not have been lost on readers of the treatise. If the Luciferian tract De confessione verae fidei (88) is credible on this point, Athanasius himself translated Lucifer’s books into Greek, which would have made the treatise accessible to anyone conversant in Greek. [8]

Considering Athanasius’ extravagant praise of Lucifer’s orthodoxy, it is not difficult to envision a certain interest in his unusual text form among those who encountered it. Yet whether or not Athanasius or the “confessors” with him noticed these unusual readings, we can at least affirm that the physical transfer of Old Latin readings to a context in which Coptic was the familiar language is apparently attested. While given the state of the evidence, we are unlikely to establish any definitive connection between the Old Latin and Coptic versions of Acts, if Athanasius did indeed receive a copy of Lucifer’s treatise, it seems neither can we entirely rule out such connections.


References

[1] E. J. Epp, “Coptic Manuscript G67 and the Role of Codex Bezae as a Western Witness in Acts” in Perspectives on New Testament Textual Criticism: Collected Essays, 1962–2004 (Leiden: Brill, 2005) 15-39.

[2] See E. Dekkers, “Les autographes des Peres latins” in Colligere fragmenta, Festschrift Alban Dold zum 70. Geburtstag…, hrsg. von Bonifatius Fischer u. Virgil Fiala (Beuron, 1952) 127-139.

[3] On the authenticity of Athanasius’ letters to Lucifer, see G. F. Diercks, ed., CCSL 8, xxvi and E. Dekkers, “Les traductions grecques des écrits patristiques latins,” Sacris Erudiri 5 (Brugge, 1953) 193-233 at 199.

[4] A. M. Coleman notes the close alignment of Lucifer’s “abundant quotations (more than one eighth of the Acts)” with gig. A. M. Coleman, The Biblical text of Lucifer of Cagliari: Acts (Welwyn, Herts., 1927) 1. See also, J. H. Petzer, “Texts and Text-Types in the Latin Version of Acts” in Philologia Sacra. Vol. 1 (ed. R. Gryson; Freiburg: Herder, 1993) 259–284 at 266.

[5] Probably, there was some uncertainty as to whether the distinction between the two readings could be unequivocally established in the Coptic.

[6] H.-M. Schenke (ed.), Apostelgeschichte 1,1-15,3 im mittelägyptischen Dialekt des Koptischen (Codex Glazier) (TU 137; Berlin, 1991) 180.

[7] Schenke, Apostelgeschichte, 229.

[8] Quos quidem libros, cum per omnia ex integro ageret, suspexit et Athanasius ut ueri uindicis atque in Graecum stilum transtulit, ne tantum boni Graeca lingua non haberet. M. Simonetti, ed.; CCSL 69, 381.

Was Helvidius an embarrassment to Bezae’s producers?

Ambrosiaster was not the only Latin writer in the latter fourth century to contend against the Greek tradition. In his treatise On the Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius, Jerome faults Helvidius for contending that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt:

“you with marvellous effrontery contend that the reading of the Greek manuscripts is corrupt, although it is that which nearly all the Greek writers have left us in their books, and not only so, but several of the Latin writers have taken the words the same way” (Helv. 8; NPNF 2.6, 338)

Jerome later continues the accusation:

“Seeing that you have been foolish enough to persuade yourself that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt, you will perhaps plead the diversity of readings” (Helv. 16 (18); NPNF 2.6, 343)

But which verse and variant does Jerome have in mind?

Luke 2:33 in the contest over Mary’s perpetual virginity

In chapter 8 of Against Helvidius, Jerome argues against Helvidius that Joseph and Mary remained celibate after the birth of Jesus, noting that Joseph had been persuaded to do this after witnessing the miracles that attended Jesus’ birth. As proof Jerome cites Luke 2:33 before immediately digressing to discuss the textual variant:

“His father and mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him.” (Luke 2:33) And yet you with marvellous effrontery contend that the reading of the Greek manuscripts is corrupt …

But what variant does Jerome have in mind? Luke 2:33 is known for one significant variant (“Joseph” for “his father”):

Joseph and his mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him.”

Because Jerome cites the form “his father and mother,” it seems Helvidius must have cited the variant, “Joseph and his mother.” The latter has been attributed to an impulse to protect the virginal conception, as observed by B. M. Metzger:

“In order to safeguard the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus, ὁ πατήρ was replaced by Ἰωσήφ in a variety of witnesses …” [1]

Of course, Helvidius did not oppose Mary’s conceiving as a virgin, but rather the notion that she maintained her virginity for life (i.e. perpetually). Why then would he care that the reading was “Joseph” rather than “his father”?

The reason becomes fully apparent only in chapter 16 (18 [NPNF]). Here Jerome addresses one of Helvidius’ main arguments, namely, his appeal to the New Testament references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus as evidence that Mary did not remain a virgin:

“It is clear that our Lord’s brethren bore the name in the same way that Joseph was called his father [i.e. not literally]” (Helv. 16 (18); NPNF 2.6, 343)

Jerome contends that terms such as “brother,” “sister,” and “father” are not literal but refer to members of the extended family, appealing to the Roman conception of paternitas, in Jerome’s own words, “many generations spreading from one root” (ex una radice multa generis turba diffunditur) (Helv. 14 (16); PL 23, 0197, my trans.). [2] So just as Joseph is not Jesus’ literal father, so the “brothers and sisters” mentioned in the New Testament are not literal brothers and sisters, but perhaps cousins.

According to Jerome, Helvidius prefers the reading “Joseph” over “his father” because his argument requires that the familial terms “brother and sister” imply a blood relation. This forces him into the difficulty of explaining why literal terms apply to the siblings but not to Joseph who is called “father,” but the difficulty is sidestepped by identifying Joseph by name:

“The Evangelist himself relates that His father [‘Joseph’ v.l.] and His mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him, and there are similar passages which we have already quoted in which Joseph and Mary are called his parents. Seeing that you have been foolish enough to persuade yourself that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt, you will perhaps plead the diversity of readings.” (Helv. 16 (18); NPNF 2.6, 343)

So given Jerome’s charge, it is clear Helvidius had argued that the Greek tradition was corrupt in Luke 2:33, but the Latin was not. If this is so, we have another instance of a Latin writer — besides the anonymous Ambrosiaster (Comm. Rom 5:14) — who defends the Old Latin version ostensibly under the conviction that it preserved the old reading, where the Greek text had been corrupted. [3]

The Textual Evidence

Considering the textual evidence, it is clear that with the sole two exceptions of Codex Bezae (d) and Evangelium Gatianum (gat), the Old Latin gospels support Helvidius with iosef/ioseph: a aur b β c d e f ff2 l q r1. But the Latin column of Codex Bezae, like the Greek, sides with א B L W 1 131 700 1241 1582* and the versions Ss Sh mg Cs Cb (mss.) Gg (I.II) OS.

Here we have evidence that Bezae’s bilingual text may not be entirely unrelated to the Old Latin version. In the present case, it is clear that Bezae’s Greek column attests the reading of its Greek exemplar. But how do we explain the Latin column? Every indication suggests that Helvidius attests the predominant Old Latin reading, so it appears there are (at least) two possible explanations for Bezae’s Latin reading:

On the one hand, it is possible that D reflects the exemplar of an old layer of the Latin tradition preserved in d, that predates the introduction of the variant reading ioseph in the rest of the Old Latin version. But if D’s reading were truly the oldest Latin reading, it is striking that no other Latin witness follows this reading except the relatively late Gatianum. We might have expected at least one of the African-influenced MSS (c and e) or the early European MS (a) to have kept the old reading or at least to show signs of disturbance.

On the other hand, the alignment of the main Old Latin traditions and the isolation of d may indicate that its reading pater eius is fairly recent. It may even reflect a deliberate reaction to the Old Latin reading and selection of the Greek reading based on specific interests and concerns of Bezae’s producers. But what might these have been?

Bezae’s adoption of the Greek reading

Although Helvidius was never formally condemned, in subsequent decades, those with similar views did not fare so well, such as Jovinian, who was condemned by a Roman synod in 393. To the astute observer in the Latin West it would have been clear that any association with questionable proof texts of a proponent of low Mariology posed a certain liability. Indeed, we have reason to believe that Helvidius’ writings were initially well-known, because Jerome begrudgingly acknowledges the extent of the “scandal” they had instigated (Helv. 1). At the end of the fifth century, Gennadius still remembers Helvidius’ writings:

Helvidius … wrote, indeed, with zeal for religion but not according to knowledge, a book, polished neither in language nor in reasoning, a work in which he so attempted to twist the meaning of the Holy Scriptures to his own perversity, as to venture to assert on their testimony that Joseph and Mary, after the nativity of our Lord, had children who were called brothers of the Lord. In reply to his perverseness Jerome, published a book against him, well filled with scripture proofs (Vir. ill. 33; NPNF 2.3, 391-392)

But if d alone rejects an otherwise solid Old Latin reading that is nevertheless definitely attested as a key proof text of a writer who “attempted to twist the meaning of the Holy Scriptures to his own perversity” using a well-known variant of Luke 2:33, it seems not unlikely that this reflects a sense of caution in distancing Bezae’s text from potentially sensitive associations.

When we consider Bezae’s other well-known tendencies in the context of the latter fourth century (see this post for some examples), they tend to be consistent with a conservative, ecclesiastical, and even Roman perspective (e.g. promoting Peter, favorable to Roman officials) that reflects contemporary concerns of church order (e.g. the autonomy of female lay ascetics), discipline (e.g. Christian “Judaizing”), and doctrine (e.g. the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit). If Bezae’s text developed in an ecclesiastical setting, as suggested by its initial corrector (G), we should expect a real hypersensitivity to heretical opinions and a self-conscious effort to distance the text from any party suspected of heresy. If this analysis is correct, the Greek reading was followed in Luke 2:33 because the Old Latin had strayed in a potentially dangerous direction.

What might this imply about Bezae?

If Bezae’s Latin reading in Luke 2:33 is not an old reading, but a recent correction to the Greek column, this might suggest that in its bilingual tradition, the Latin column was constructed with reference to the Greek column. (Of course the latter may have come about in a variety of ways, including the selective correction a Greek base to one or more Old Latin copies.) When the Greek reading was selected in Luke 2:33, the Latin column was translated and updated to reflect this reading, creating the (correct) impression that the Greek reading is the exemplar of the Latin.

It is possible to see now how a “layered” effect might have been achieved in Bezae’s Greek text through a process of selective correction of a Greek base to a reconstruction of one or more Old Latin versions. In such a model, the Greek layers reveal characteristics of the initial Greek exemplar of Bezae’s bilingual tradition, while the layers aligned with the versions reflect the well-known “free” characteristics. This two-layered model accounts for cases, as in Luke 2:33, where Bezae’s Latin column follows the Greek column in preference to the Old Latin version, while also allowing for the general resemblance of both columns to the Old Latin version.

Ironically, Helvidius’ sponsorship of the Old Latin reading in Luke 2:33 may have led to its ultimate rejection from a tradition otherwise well-inclined to preserve Latin readings. In another case, a writer who promoted Old Latin readings did not leave his name to posterity. But perhaps he knew that if he had, we would not have his writings at all.


[1] B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Stuttgart, 1994) 111.

[2] He suggests they are most likely children of Mary’s sister (first cousins) (Helv. 14 [= NPNF 16]), but it seems this in-law relationship does not quite fit the paternitas scheme.

[3] This raises the question as to the identity of Ambrosiaster and Helvidius with the same individual, which as far as I know has not been proposed. This identification would face a few problems. First, Jerome refers to Helvidius disparagingly by name, but prefers to allude to Ambrosiaster indirectly without naming him. Second, it is generally thought that Helvidius was a lay person (see Helv. 1), but it seems Ambrosiaster a presbyter.

Natural reason as a criterion of the true text

It is typically assumed that Greek readings take precedence over versional readings in a versional tradition, that in general, every opportunity is taken to correct the version within the availability of Greek texts and the skill to translate them. But in his commentary on the Old Latin text of Romans 5:14, Ambrosiaster does not follow the Greek reading simply because it is Greek, though he is well aware that it differs from his Old Latin text.

Ambrosiaster catches us by surprise in refusing to prefer Greek text forms as a matter of course. For Ambrosiaster, the fact that a reading is in Latin is not in itself reason to reject it as inferior. But how does he justify this preference for the reading of his translation over that of the original language? And what might this tell us about attitudes towards the Greek and Latin traditions in the West at the end of the fourth century?

The discussion begins with Ambrosiaster’s comment on the prevailing Greek reading of Romans 5:14 (with the negative particle):

“Some Greek manuscripts say that death reigned even in those who had not sinned in the way that Adam had.” (Comm. Rom 5:14) [1]

Ambrosiaster objects to the notion implied by the Greek text that death reigned over all human beings before Moses, whether or not they sinned in the same way as Adam, by turning away from the Creator (Rom 5:14). Ambrosiaster wants to insist that death did not reign over those who like Abraham, acknowledged the Creator before there was a written law that revealed the Creator.

To accomplish this, Ambrosiaster turns to the concept of “natural law,” which he has already noted in connection with the law of the Gentiles mentioned in Romans 2:14: [2]

“nature itself recognizes its Creator through its own capacity for discernment, not through the [Mosaic] law but rather through natural reason (per rationem naturae).” (Comm. Rom 2:14; CSEL, 81/1.75, translation mine) [3]

The significance of natural law for Ambrosiaster’s textual problem lies in its nature as an unwritten principle that precedes the written Law. If this natural law  undergirds the written scriptures, Ambrosiaster believes he can appeal to its corollary, natural reason, to arbitrate between texts of uncertain provenance. Under this assumption of the conformity of scripture to natural law, it is simply understood that the true text will conform to reason, as Ambrosiaster argues elsewhere: [4]

“[t]he Scripture wants … many things to be implied, so that the sense gathered from the words should never be contrary to the reason of religion (rationi religionis).” (Quaest. 26) [5]

So for Ambrosiaster “religious reason” points to the true text in the same way that natural law anticipates the written law. It comes as little surprise then that Ambrosiaster includes “reason” (ratio) as the first of three qualities of “the true text”:

“I consider this to be the true text, when reason, history, and authority are all preserved.” (Comm. in Rom 5:14.5a, see my working translation)

So what are the text-historical implications of Ambrosiaster’s “criterion” of reason?

First, we might point out that while presented as a “criterion,” in practice Ambrosiaster’s appeal to natural reason serves a plainly apologetic function, namely, to defend Old Latin readings against the overwhelming claim to priority of the Greek tradition. Still Ambrosiaster’s appeal to natural reason reveals something of the tension that gripped one particular user of the Old Latin text in attempting to reconcile the clear discontinuity between his preferred text form and the “source of truth” in the Greek tradition. We see him grasping for justification for his preference of the secondary text form even as it stands in outright conflict with the original-language source.

Secondly, if the tension we find in Ambrosiaster is at all indicative of the contemporary situation, we might look for other cases of interaction between the Greek and Latin traditions that suggest a similar conflict. Of course, one obvious case is the Greco-Latin bilingual Codex Bezae. In light of Ambrosiaster, it suddenly begins to matter a great deal who transcribed Codex Bezae and where their loyalties might have been. Were they interested in mere transmission of an ancient text? Were they sympathetic to Ambrosiaster’s views? Were they more engaged in the conflicts of the times? If Bezae’s producers were active in the period between 385 and 415, it is hard to see how they could have been unaware of the Vulgate. But if this is so, the mere selection an Old Latin text already betrays something of their interests.

Finally, the case of Ambrosiaster is rather unsettling to the view that Bezae’s Greek text represents the stable culmination of a tradition of Old Latin exemplars. While not to suggest any personal involvement on his part, in his own words Ambrosiaster fits the profile of an individual who might consider correcting a Greek manuscript on the basis of Old Latin readings. So we have evidence that the necessary motive is attested at the time of Bezae’s production. But regardless of our conclusions, we might agree that Ambrosiaster introduces a certain unforeseen volatility to questions pertaining to the interaction of the Greek and Old Latin traditions in the last decades of the fourth century.


[1] Ambrosiaster. Commentaries on Romans and 1–2 Corinthians (ed. and trans. G. L. Bray; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2009) 42, italics mine.

[2] On the role of natural law in Ambrosiaster’s thought, see S. Lunn-Rockliffe, Ambrosiaster’s Political Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 50–52. The concept of natural law has a rich tradition in Roman juridical theory and early Christian apologetics, though it is seldom mentioned as explicitly as it is by Ambrosiaster. See A. J. Carlyle, A history of mediaeval political theory in the West, vol. 1, (New York, 1909) 104–105.

[3] Note that in the first edition (α) of his Commentary on Romans (10:8), Ambrosiaster seems to equate the two, referring to “the natural law, called reason” (lege naturae loquendi ratione) (CSEL, 81/1.347).

[4] L. Perrone, “Echi della polemica pagana sulla Bibbia negli scritti esegetici fra IV e V secolo,” Annali di storia dell’esegesi 11 (1994) 161–185 at 175.

[5] Translation by M.-P. Bussières, “Ambrosiaster’s Method of Interpretation in the Questions on the Old and New Testament” in Interpreting the Bible and Aristotle in Late Antiquity (ed. Josef Lösl; J. W. Watt; Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate, 2011) 49–65 at 53.

Could Bezae be a response to the Vulgate?

Bezae’s paleographically-assigned date of ca 400 — if accurate — naturally raises questions concerning the attitude of its producers towards Jerome’s Vulgate revision of the Old Latin gospels, completed slightly earlier in ca 384. Certainly, Bezae’s attestation of an Old Latin column suggests an air of conservatism in the milieu that gave it rise. At the same time, its peculiar bilingual profile — pairing an archaic Greek with a contemporary Latin text — suggests an interest in supporting the Old Latin column with a putative Greek Vorlage.

But how likely is it that Bezae’s producers knew of the Vulgate? And if they did, can we suggest anything about their attitude towards it?

The Vulgate’s rough reception is of course well-documented, as we gather in Augustine’s account of the ensuing chaos when the Vulgate was read in a nearby church:

“A certain bishop … having introduced in the church over which he presides the reading of your version, came upon a word in the book of the prophet Jonah, of which you [Jerome] have given a very different rendering from that which had been of old familiar to the senses and memory of all the worshippers, and had been chanted for so many generations in the church. Thereupon arose such a tumult in the congregation, especially among the Greeks, correcting what had been read, and denouncing the translation as false, that the bishop was compelled to ask the testimony of the Jewish residents.” (Epist. 71.5, NPNF 1.1, 327)

This resistance can be adduced also from Jerome’s side, as he responds to critics with characteristic vitriol:

“a report suddenly reached me that certain contemptible creatures were deliberately assailing me with the charge that I had endeavored to correct passages in the gospels, against the authority of the ancients and the opinion of the whole world.” (Epist. 27.1; NPNF 2.6, 44)

Then we have Ambrosiaster’s more cautious though potentially more devastating criticism, pointing to discrepancies in underlying Greek tradition on which the Vulgate is based:

“this is what they want to prescribe for us on the basis of the Greek codices, as though these same codices did not have discrepancies among themselves” (Comm. Rom 5:14, translation mine)

In fact, Ambrosiaster’s challenge attacks the Vulgate at the very point it claims to be strongest, namely, in its greater fidelity to the ancient text. Thus, Jerome argues:

“If … we are to glean the truth from a comparison of many [Latin copies], why not go back to the original Greek?” (Preface to the Four Gospels; NPNF 2.6, 488)

But what if Bezae’s producers, like Ambrosiaster, had wished to demonstrate the fidelity of their own Old Latin version? How might they support their claim? It is obvious they would first need a Greek text to point to in support of key Old Latin readings. Now it is evident that Bezae’s format, with an Old Latin column paired with a “slavishly” similar Greek column, would admirably serve such a purpose. [1]

In fact, certain of Bezae’s characteristics seem especially consistent with such an idea. For example, there is the tendency among Bezae’s early correctors to bring the Greek and Latin columns into even closer agreement, as D. C. Parker observes of Bezae’s earliest correcter (G):

“One of the purposes of his activities in Acts is to remove discrepancies between the columns.” [2]

In this respect, Bezae’s earliest corrections differ markedly from those found in other manuscripts, for example, in Codex Sinaiticus, which tend to agree with other known traditions. But internal consistency is clearly crucial in establishing literary dependence.

But whether or not we see Bezae’s text as potentially a response to the Vulgate, it is clear these were tumultuous times in the Latin church, with significant controversies and schisms the order of the day. One wonders whether this spirit of factionalism might be enough to account for the great effort and expense that evidently went into Bezae’s production at a time when its Old Latin column was already poised for obsolescence.


References

[1] B. 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. K. Aland; ANTF, 5; Berlin: de Gruyter, 1972) 1-92 at 42.

[2] D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 128.

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.”


References

S. Oberhelman, “Jerome’s Earliest Attack on Ambrose: On Ephesians, Prologue (ML 26:469D–70A),” TAPA 121 (1991) 377–401.

Why does Jerome cite Latin MSS for the pericope adulterae?

In an earlier post I suggested that it would have been unnecessary for Jerome to cite Latin MSS in support of the pericope adulterae (= PA) if he had considered the Greek evidence sufficient. In the comments, Steven Avery raised the excellent point that Jerome may simply have been noting all of the evidence he knew.

Certainly I cannot disagree! But I noted that my suspicions were raised because Jerome normally considers the Greek text to be sufficient in defending a reading. In this connection, I thought it would be useful to compile a list of references Jerome makes to the Greek and Latin NT texts. While the list is by no means exhaustive, it does suggest that in many cases Jerome considers the Greek evidence to stand by itself, while at the same time he tends to disparage the Latin evidence (though certainly there are rhetorical considerations).

So why might Jerome have invoked the Latin evidence for the PA?

In my first post on Jerome and the PA, I noted that, since Jerome’s point rested on the Greek meaning of αναμαρτητος (v. 7), he was eager to present this evidence in the best possible light:

“But if Greek copies had been easy to find, why mention their number or (for that matter) bring up the problem at all? It seems that by calling in the Latin evidence, Jerome anticipates an  objection concerning the scarcity of Greek copies, which suggests that in 415 there were still very few Greek copies of John with the PA, but apparently plenty Latin copies.”

[To see all (currently 5) of my posts on Jerome/Hieronymus and the PA conveniently on a single web page, click here or click the ‘Jerome’ or ‘Hieronymus’ link under the Tags heading on the left sidebar.]

 

How reliable is Jerome’s testimony for the pericope adulterae?

In an earlier post I pointed to some striking parallels between the Vulgate edition of the pericope adulterae (= PA) and the circumstances of Jerome’s expulsion from Rome, apparently under accusations of sexual impropriety. Considering various anomalies in Jerome’s testimony concerning the PA, I raised the question as to whether Jerome himself may have contributed to its final form.

I had already drafted the above post when last Saturday I attended Amy M. Donaldson’s paper, “‘What Was Spoken through the Prophet Asaph’ (Matt. 13:35): Textual Evidence from Jerome, or Conjectural Emendation by Origen?”, at the Pacific Northwest Regional SBL meeting on the variant “through Asaph” (ασαφ) in Matthew 13:35. [1] Since the reading lacks any surviving continuous manuscript support, the external evidence rests entirely on Jerome’s remarks. [2]

Fortunately, since Jerome comments on the reading on two separate occasions, we are able to compare his respective accounts and assess his reliability. In fact, the results are not favorable to Jerome’s credibility. When he first mentions the reading in his Commentary on Matthew (398), it is still conjecture [3]:

I have read in several manuscripts [Legi in nonnullis codicibus], … that … it is written as ‘through Isaiah the prophet, saying.’ Because the text is not at all found in Isaiah, I think it was later removed by prudent men. In my judgment [Sed mihi uidetur], it was originally published as follows: ‘[in order that what was written] through Asaph the prophet, saying.’ (Comm. Matt 13:35). [4]

Yet just a few years later, in his Homily 11 on Psalm 78 (77 LXX) (401), Jerome confidently asserts that what had formerly been in his judgment “is found in all the ancient copies” (in omnibus ueteribus codicibus). [5] It is unlikely of course that Jerome had discovered any actual MSS in the few years between these remarks. Presumably he would have mentioned such favorable evidence! So we are forced to ask, is Jerome extrapolating on the basis of a self-assured conjecture to evidence that he simply never saw? [6]

Whatever his motives, Jerome’s lack of inhibition in ascribing his personal conjecture to the Greek MS tradition should give us pause in assessing the reliability of his remarks elsewhere. Imagine that Homily 11 had been our only surviving source for the reading ασαφ in Matthew 13:35. We would quite reasonably infer that, had Jerome found this reading in all of his copies, it must have been at least in a great number of Greek copies. Yet we would be utterly mistaken!

Fast-forwarding to the year 415, Jerome asserts that there then existed “many Greek and many Latin codices” with the PA (Pelag. 2.17). But surely Jerome is being somewhat disingenuous in his appeal to “many” Latin copies. After all, this figure included copies of the Vulgate that he had himself revised to include the PA! And why is it necessary to cite Latin evidence at all for a reading that exists in many Greek MSS? Are we to wonder then whether Jerome is extrapolating in this case also to Greek evidence he never saw?


[1] University of Idaho, May 21, 2016.

[2] The evidence is still cited in NA28 and (apparently) UBS5. Jerome’s starting point seems to be Origen’s conjecture.

[3] Date according to Gryson et al., Répertoire général des auteurs ecclésiastiques latins de l’antiquité et du haut Moyen Âge (2007) 1:540.

[4] Cited from Dr. Donaldson’s handout, which cites FC 117:160-161;  SC 242:284.

[5] Date according to Gryson et al., 1:545. Cited from Dr. Donaldson’s handout, which cites FC 48:81-82 in modified form and CCSL 78:66-67.

[6] Dr. Donaldson plausibly suggests that Jerome simply assumed that his inference was correct and hence present in the old copies. See also, Amy M. Donaldson, “Explicit References to New Testament Variant Readings among Greek and Latin and Church Fathers.” (PhD Diss.; University of Notre Dame, 2009) 369-372, where she observes, “The homilist therefore assumes that Asaph is the predominant and oldest reading.” (p. 370) “Jerome especially emphasizes that his conjectured original  reading, Asaph, is theologically correct …” (p. 372)