Can we use papyri to date Bezae’s layers?

In my latest post, I pointed to a hypothesized second-century layer of mainstream readings in Bezae’s text of John 4:1-42. This layer consists of readings whose distinguishing characteristic is agreement with the majority text (‘BYZ’). Yet the agreement of most readings in this mainstream layer with the early papyrus P66 (ca 200) suggests that it must have been in existence by the end of the second century. [1]

Of course, there is nothing surprising about a second-century mainstream layer. We might observe what G. Zuntz referred to as “that great common reservoir” of readings from which all later streams flowed. [2] The difference though, is that one of the streams flowing out of the second century is demonstrably “mainstream” rather than “Western” as Zuntz supposed.

To get a sense of the second-century date by which this layer must have existed, we can plot Bezae’s readings by layer as described in detail in this earlier post. The example below depicts Bezae’s agreements in each of its readings in John 4:1-42, with readings attested by P66 highlighted in red:

[Update: note that the highlighted readings include both initial and probable secondary readings (for a plot of initial vs. secondary readings, see figure 3 at the bottom of this post). Of course, only the latter would date from the second century.]

John 4 - 6 clusters with P66

Figure 1: Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 partitioned in six layers with P66 readings in red

For reference, my interpretation of the layers from an earlier post is:

  1. Transitional Greek (8 readings, marked ‘o’)
  2. Mainstream / Byzantine (33 readings, ‘Δ’)
  3. Free Greek (9 readings, ‘+’)
  4. Alexandrian (5 readings, ‘×’)
  5. African Old Latin (8 readings, ‘◊’)
  6. European Old Latin (10 readings, ‘∇’)

The axes correspond to the directions of greatest diversity in the per-witness support for the readings. Intuitively, the left-to-right axis seems to register the closeness of a given reading to the mainstream layer, while the up-down axis seems to register along versional or geographical lines. (Keep in mind though that every reading in the plot is a Bezan reading. The graph merely shows Bezae’s agreements per reading.)

It is clear that the readings attested by P66 are clustered over the far-right ellipse corresponding to a (hypothesized) mainstream layer. If we assume a degree of coherence within the readings of this layer, we may conclude that the layer must have existed by at least the paleographically-assigned date of P66. [3]

To corroborate this result, we can compare the readings of another early witness, in this case Origen, coded in green:

John 4 - 6 clusters with Or

Figure 2: Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 partitioned in six layers with Origen’s readings in green

But Bezae’s agreements with Origen are also clustered with the hypothetical mainstream layer at the far right, which is consistent with the result for P66.

[Update: The plot below is color-coded to indicate Bezae’s initial and secondary readings in John 4:1-42:]

John 4 - 6 clusters by level

Figure 3: Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42 color-coded by estimated local-genealogical level (yellow = initial, green = secondary, red = tertiary)

[Update: The complete list of readings per layer is downloadable as a PDF or listed here. Look for the “Level” column, which estimates whether the reading is initial or secondary according to the local genealogical principle.]


[1] I would like to acknowledge Tim Joseph, whose comment alerted me to the potential problem in designating this layer “BYZ”, which could imply that its readings are Byzantine.

[2] Günther Zuntz, The Text of the Epistles; A Disquisition Upon the Corpus Paulinum (London, 1953) 265. For Zuntz, the two streams are “Alexandrian” and “Western”.

[3] In a recent post on his blog, Timothy Mitchell mentions an article in JBL that reconsiders the date of P66.

[Correction: Timothy Mitchell has kindly pointed out my bibliographical error in footnote [3]. The P66 article is actually in Museum Helveticum:

Brent Nongbri, “The Limits of Palaeographic Dating of Literary Papyri: Some Observations on the Date and Provenance of P.Bodmer II (P66),” Museum Helveticum 71 (2014) 1-35.

The article in JBL will discuss P75:

Brent Nongbri, “Reconsidering the Place of Papyrus Bodmer XIV–XV (P75) in the Textual Criticism of the New Testament,” Journal of Biblical Literature 135 (2016) 405–437.

Thank you, Timothy!]

Latinization in Codex Bezae?

When we suggest that Bezae’s Greek text may be “Latinized,” what precisely do we mean? It seems the question has been viewed in two ways.

On the one hand, Latinization in Bezae has been viewed in terms of the interaction of the columns. This seems to have been the view of J. Mill (1707) of which D. C. Parker observes:

“the Greek text [in Mill’s view] … had been consistently altered to agree with the Latin column, thus losing any claim to significance as an ancient Greek witness.” (Codex Bezae 184)

In a similar way, J. D. Michaelis (1788) cites passages in which:

“[t]he Greek text varies … from the Latin version, with which it is accompanied … [and hence we are able] to rescue the copyist from the charge of having corrupted the Greek from the Latin” (trans. Marsh, Introduction to the New Testament 2/1:230).

Certainly, the evidence of the columns discourages any notion that Bezae’s Latin column has consistently influenced the Greek text as a significant force in its development. This can be seen in places where the Latin reproduces errors in the Greek, e.g. in gentes eius (“its nations”) in the Latin of Acts 21.21 which reproduces the erroneous εθνεσι αυτου (“its nations”) for εθεσι αυτου (“its customs”) in the Greek.

But there is another way we can look at Latinization in Bezae. It is possible to see Latinization in Bezae’s Greek text, not in terms of its own Latin column, but in light of the broader Old Latin tradition. This is how H. Marsh describes Wettstein’s view:

“the writer of the Codex Bezae departed from the readings of the Greek manuscript, or manuscripts, from which he copied, and introduced in their stead, from some Latin version, readings which were warranted by the authority of no Greek manuscript.” (Introduction 2/2:680)

The distinction between these two views seems not to have been fully appreciated. While evidence from Bezae as a codex can be mustered to disprove dependence between the columns, proving or disproving dependence on other Old Latin texts is not so straightforward. In fact, we cannot claim that Latin influence has been ruled out for Bezae’s Greek text solely on the basis of the comparison of its columns. In this light, Marsh’s canon comes across as unhelpfully dogmatic:

“there is no reason whatsoever for ascribing any reading of a Greek manuscript to the influence of the Latin, unless it can be proved that it could not have taken its rise in the Greek, and that it might easily have originated in the Latin.” (Introduction 2/2:683)

It is questionable though whether Latin influence can ever be “proved” under such a canon. But are we to conclude then that Latin influence has never occurred? This seems at the very least doubtful in a bilingual tradition as thoroughly Latin as that of Codex Bezae.

Is Codex Bezae an antiquarian codex?

In framing an account of Bezae’s text, researchers often turn immediately to second-century sources. This is due to a variety of presumably archaic elements found in its text, such as parallels with second-century writers. Of course, in looking to the second century, it is first necessary to bypass fourth-century sources that are much closer to the context in which Bezae was produced.

But what if we situate Bezae’s archaic elements in light of the antiquarianism of its times, wherein antiquity was regarded as a kind of guarantee of legitimacy and even authority? Just as Clifford Ando notes “the surge in antiquarianism in the west in the early fifth century” with respect to the competing religious claims of pagans and Christians, both of whom framed their discourse in similarly antiquarian terms, I might suggest that a similar process could be at work in Bezae’s tradition. [1] If this is so, our fourth-century sources may be able to explain in large part the second-century elements we find in Bezae’s text, perhaps as an appeal to the legitimacy of its text form.

We might begin with Bezae’s well-known parallels to second-century Christian writers, which F. J. A. Hort interpreted at face value as a sure indicator of the antiquity of Bezae’s text form. So we read:

“the text of D presents a truer image of the form in which the Gospels and Acts were most widely read in the third and probably a great part of the second century than any other extant Greek MS” [2]

But is this conclusion absolutely necessary? We might consider Ambrosiaster, who argues an antiquarian case for the legitimacy of the the Old Latin text form, appealing to the citations of ancient authorities as a criterion of authenticity in a recent text:

“today you will find that the same text that is closely preserved by the Latin codices is cited precisely by the ancients, Tertullian, Victorinus and Cyprian.” (Comm. Rom 5:14, my translation, see original)

The implication here is that a text that agrees with the citations of these ancient authorities is proved to be authentic, while a text that diverges from these same authorities is corrupt and in need of correction.

So when we find Bezae in agreement with ancient writers, such as Irenaeus, we might interpret this in one of two ways. We may of course understand the agreement like Hort as indicating that Irenaeus used a text much like that of Bezae. But in light of Ambrosiaster’s criterion and fourth-century antiquarianism, we obviously cannot take this for granted. What if Bezae’s heavily-corrected text falls into a tradition that has been corrected according to ancient standards of authenticity? In such a case, Bezae would represent a fourth-century text that cites second-century writers, rather than (as is commonly assumed) the late representative of an ancient text form cited by second-century writers.


[1] Clifford Ando, “The Palladium and the Pentateuch: Towards a Sacred Topography of the Later Roman Empire,” Phoenix 55 (2001) 369–410 at 369. Note that an international conference on this topic, “Antiquarianism in Late Antiquity,” was held one week ago in Ghent, Belgium, May 19–21, 2016.

[2] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek. Introduction and Appendix (New York: 1882) 149.