Presenting on Bezae’s Scribal Habits at the ISBL Conference in Berlin

Due to the demands of writing my dissertation, it has been far too long since I last posted.1 In the coming weeks, I plan another post providing (as far as I am permitted) a general sense of my work in this area.

This week I will be presenting at the International SBL conference in Berlin. A huge benefit of living in Germany is that the trip is a mere hop on the Bahn.

At the conference, I will present on an important aspect of Bezae’s text that I have explored little to date, namely, the issue of scribal habits. It turns out that bilingual codices and (in particular) Bezae present various unique challenges in proceeding with Colwell’s method of deducing scribal habits from apparent singular readings.

J. R. Royse already mentions the problem of Bezae’s numerous readings that are singular only in Greek, but well-attested in the versions and early Christian writers:

“a list of ‘singulars’ of D that failed to consider the Old Latin (and perhaps other versional material) would be quite misleading, since the list would include readings of D that are evidently part of a much older tradition.”2

But there are other issues and questions.

For example, how do we even define a singular reading in a bilingual codex? Is a reading that appears in both columns of Bezae but nowhere else actually singular?

We find such a case in Mark 1:13, where both columns state, not that “the spirit,” but that “the Holy Spirit,” sent Jesus out into the desert, a reading found in no other Greek or versional witness.3

My suggestion is that such readings should not be considered singular for the purpose of scribal habits. In such cases, the scribe prepared two separate transcriptions of the reading in different languages — so clearly it is no accident. The question is whether the scribe inserted such readings in both columns during transcription, a habit that would require translation each time to maintain balance between the columns (an evident concern in Bezae’s tradition). It seems more likely to me that the scribe copied such readings from the exemplar.

Another problem is readings that appear nowhere else in any tradition, but which seem too substantial to credit to a scribe acting alone. For example, Bezae’s so-called Sabbath worker pericope at Luke 6:5 is found in no other witness or early Christian writer. But at twenty-eight words, it is difficult to conceive of this significant change to the gospel narrative in terms of the habits of a scribe.

Then there is the problem of the scribe working in two languages. In Bezae’s case, the scribe, while perhaps not a native Latin speaker, is nevertheless more comfortable in Latin than in Greek. As David Parker observes:

“the scribe was a Latin speaker – he wrote the Latin as he would hear it, but the Greek as he saw it.”4

One result of this discrepancy is that we can expect different habits in Bezae’s two columns. For example, we should interpret orthographical singularities differently depending on the column in which they occur. While on the Greek side, they are more likely to reflect ignorance or unfamiliarity, on the Latin side, they are more likely to reflect habitual preferences. Ultimately then we have two sets of scribal habits that we must combine into a single picture of the scribe.

From an initial examination of Bezae’s singular readings, my sense is that the greater part of significant singulars in Bezae derive from its traditions rather than its scribe. One reason for this has to do with the practical constraints imposed by the bilingual format on its two matching texts. The presence of two texts offers a constant control against various common types of error, with each column providing a reference against which to check the accuracy of the other column. For example, in the case of scribal leaps, it is immediately apparent when the number of lines does not match in the facing column. In this way, the bilingual structure provides a kind of “safety apparatus” around the text.

I look forward to a great discussion.

Presenting at the Birmingham Colloquium on Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy

This week I am heading to the University of Birmingham for the Tenth Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament. It will be my first attendance at this colloquium. On Wednesday, I will present a paper entitled “Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) as a ‘Living Text’.”

Bezae’s Lukan genealogy is a text I have discussed in a number of blog posts, particularly in relation to the (nearly) parallel list of names supplied by Aphrahat in his Demonstration 23 (in Syriac). Bezae’s Lukan genealogy makes a particularly elegant case study given that few of Bezae’s variations are so clearly secondary. Not only is the problem it solves patently evident (i.e. harmonizing the genealogies), but there are clear traces of the editor’s work in the text and (as I will propose) in the codex itself. Moreover, any argument that Bezae reflects the earlier text form must account for the mainstream tradition. If Bezae’s unified genealogy were the initial text form, why would anyone then replace this with a different genealogy in the mainstream tradition?

The genealogy is also instructive for its illumination of the history of the text. While we might naturally expect Bezae’s Greek text form to represent the source of Aphrahat’s Syriac list of names, in the genealogy we find evidence of secondary development in Bezae’s text, for example, in the duplication of Jehoiakim’s place in the genealogy, suggesting an incomplete grasp of the significance of Aphrahat’s list of names.

At the colloquium, I will approach Bezae’s Lukan genealogy as a “living text,” that is, as a possibly secondary text form that nevertheless stands on its own as a significant contribution to our understanding of the early Christian community who used it as their Lukan genealogy.

The abstract follows:

Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy (Luke 3:23-38) as a “Living Text”:
The Genealogy of Jesus in the Traditions of Codex Bezae and Aphrahat

At eighty words, Codex Bezae’s variant text of the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23-31 presents one of the longest variations in the gospels. Yet the resulting genealogy, while essentially harmonized to Matthew’s names, is no mere assimilation to Matthew, but reflects in several respects the editor’s touch, for example, including Old Testament kings lacking in Matthew’s list, adapting Matthew’s list to Luke’s phraseology, and rearranging the names to follow Luke’s Christ-to-Adam sequence. The end result is a text that betrays little apparent interest in reproducing a putative “original,” but rather reveals a process of development within the community (or communities) that superintended its growth. In this paper, I will suggest that Prof. Parker’s paradigm of the living text offers a particularly apt framework for understanding Bezae’s Lukan genealogy, arguing that close examination of Bezae’s text as a “living text” leads to some surprising results that challenge common conceptions of textual history. I will show that, while clearly dependent on a tradition shared with Aphraates, Bezae’s apparently-mistaken duplication of Jehoiakim’s name — which appears under both his birth and regnal names — and the consequent disruption to the numerology presupposed by Aphraates’ tradition, indicates that, far from representing Aphraates’ source (as might be presumed under the typical assumption that Bezae represents an ancient second-century text form), Bezae rather reflects a derivative and perhaps later form of Aphraates’ tradition, calling into question whether Bezae’s Lukan genealogy can be considered a second-century or even Diatessaronic tradition and prompting us to look to other contexts, possibly as late as the end of the fourth century, for a suitable backdrop to Bezae’s text form.

Article published on the angry Jesus reading in Mark 1:41

I have published a new article on the angry Jesus reading in Mark 1:41, which appears in the latest issue of Tyndale Bulletin. The article is posted here.

This well-known reading, in which Jesus becomes angry at a leper he is about to heal, has been the subject of a number of articles and essays over the past few decades, many claiming that the reading’s difficulty makes it all but certain to have appeared in the tradition before the current mainstream reading.

SBL paper on Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings now online

Yesterday I presented a paper on Bezae’s so-called “anti-feminist” readings in Acts at the 2016 SBL Annual Meeting in San Antonio, offering an alternative “anti-ascetic” interpretation of these readings on the basis of a proposed context in the late fourth century. The paper (with footnotes) is now available for viewing and download here. (For further background and an abstract, see my earlier announcement.)

Contextualizing Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings near the time of the manuscript’s production avoids several pitfalls affecting typical attempts to place these readings in a second-century context or earlier:

  1. We may now draw a specific connection between the manuscript as artifact, produced with evident effort and expense, and pressing issues in the church at the time of production in circa 400.
  2. We can make historical connections that move beyond vague observation of a trend towards the institutionalization of patriarchal social conventions in the church.
  3. We avoid obvious anachronisms associated with the term “anti-feminist.”

A number of insightful questions were raised by colleagues, including a well-taken point about the inherent uncertainty regarding the status of apparently singular readings — whether in assessing scribal habits or Bezae’s uppermost layer. Naturally we are unable to attain certainty about what still-unknown sources might reveal about a given reading.1 I would suggest though that in dating Bezae’s uppermost textual layers singularity is not strictly required if the associated witnesses are related in other ways to a common provenance and time frame. So if Bezae does in fact attest a late fourth-century text, then its agreements with similarly late Old Latin manuscripts and capitula might reflect a common textual layer close to Bezae’s production.2

Another insightful question was raised concerning how to reconcile the late date I propose for these readings with the attestation of similar Bezan readings in the middle-Egyptian tradition, an important issue that I have discussed in a previous post.

Now in Münster, upcoming topics

I thought I would post an update on the status of my move to Münster now that the most pressing move-related deadlines are behind. I now have a Münster address. Personal belongings that would not fit in the suitcases are now enroute by ship. I am now somewhat free once again to continue the research that informs this blog.

In fact, I am eager to press in a number of directions:

First, while it may not be the most exciting variation from a literary or theological perspective, for a number of reasons Bezae’s Lukan genealogy seems to hold some promising clues regarding the initial context of Bezae’s text. Writers, such as Ambrosiaster — contemporary with Bezae’s production — seem preoccupied with harmonizing Luke’s and Matthew’s genealogies, though their solutions differ from that of Bezae. Meanwhile Augustine suggests that the contemporary Manichaean writer Faustus exploited incompatibilities in the genealogies for apologetic ends. At the same time, Bezae’s Lukan genealogy resembles in format a genealogy offered by Aphraates. Hence I am now preparing a number of posts exploring this significant though little-discussed variation.

Second, despite a range of internal criteria suggesting that Bezae’s text is likely secondary — for example, apparent improvements, harmonizations, tendencies — there remains no consensus that Bezae’s text must be secondary. In fact, the view that Bezae’s text as a literary piece might represent the initial text raises significant questions concerning the validity of what are often assumed to be accepted text-critical canons and historical frameworks. On the other hand, it remains questionable whether a case for the relative prioirty of Bezae’s text can be sustained primarily on the basis of literary features.

Third, there is need to review the history of scholarship regarding Bezae’s Greek text as a possible retroversion. The topic might include especially an examination of Wettstein, Semler, Michaelis, Griesbach, Matthaei, Middleton, Marsh, Schultz, Hort, Harris, and several more recent writers on the origins of Bezae’s Greek text. Opinions tend to be strongly expressed, yet historically there are serious misunderstandings of the parameters of the discussion and what the evidence is able to demonstrate. The suggestion that Bezae’s Greek text might reflect assimilation to an ancient version — for example, the Latin, the Syriac, or both — while out of favor, yet deserves a hearing simply because it remains to be disproven — despite frequently stated belief to the contrary.

Fourth, the steadily dwindling pool of Bezan features that absolutely demand a second-century date requires definition. At the same time, a fascination with things ancient must be taken into account as a potential inspiration for apparent archaisms in Bezae.

Fifth, it should be possible to relate Bezae’s tendencies to a particular shared context, since it is unlikely they arose in separate contexts. While Bezae’s observed tendencies are often consigned by default to the second century, it is clear they do not all fit a second-century context (for example, attempts to exonerate Roman officials).

Sixth, the factionalism of the latter fourth century needs to be explored as a potential background for Bezae’s production as a manuscript — whether or not the text itself is early or late. What factors might have contributed to the production of such a distinctive text? Is its very distinctiveness an indication of partisan sympathies and if so to which party might it be attributed? Of particular relevance is controversy concerning the Vulgate.

Seventh, there is need to examine Greek manuscripts with uncanny parallels to Bezae — such as Codex Sinaiticus in John 1-8 and P127 in Acts.

Eighth, if it is agreed that Bezae contains both Eastern and Western elements, it must be asked what contexts and forces might best explain this East-West communication.

Ninth, it seems worthwhile to recontextualize the PA, Markan long ending, Sabbath worker, and other similar contributions of Bezae’s text in light of the context in which the manuscript was produced. Whether or not they originated in Bezae’s tradition, such passages evidently held some attraction for those who produced the manuscript.

Clearly, there is still much to discuss concerning Bezae’s text!

Moving to Münster

Most readers of my blog are likely aware of my plans to start Ph.D. work later this year at the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung in Münster. Of course this means I will be packing up and moving shortly with my whole family to Germany. Since I have now been stymied for the past few weeks in my every attempt to complete a timely blog post, I thought I should post this brief explanation. As the move is just weeks away, it appears for now that I will be dealing mainly with practicalities such as preparing the house to rent, selling things that are no longer needed, and packing the rest. I will also continue looking for a place to live in Münster. I still hope to catch a few breaks to finish my next post on Bezae’s Lukan genealogy.

Upcoming SBL presentation on Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings in Acts

I will be presenting at the 2016 SBL Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on Codex Bezae’s so-called “anti-feminist” readings. According to the online program book, the presentation is currently scheduled for the morning session on Sunday, 20 November. I will approach these primarily “singular” Bezan readings from the perspective of the fourth-century anti-ascetic movement, active in the decade preceding Bezae’s paleographically-assigned date of ca 400 and evidenced, for example, by the Jovinian controversy at Rome in the early 390’s.

The title and abstract are on the SBL site and below:

The ascetic choices of Rome’s aristocratic women and ecclesiastical authority in late fourth-century Rome as a proposed background for Codex Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings in Acts

The “Western” text of Acts is often cited for a tendency to diminish the visibility and prominence of women, sometimes thought to reflect a second-century context (Schüssler Fiorenza, 1983; Witherington, 1984). But Holmes (2003) observes that at least half of the cited readings are attested only by Codex Bezae, which suggests that they may belong to a narrower layer of variants deriving from a time closer to Bezae’s production in ca. 400 C.E. In this paper, I will argue that specific concerns apparent in these readings are anticipated by critics of the privileged status of sexual asceticism in the Latin West in the final decades of the fourth century, including Helvidius, Jovinian, Filastrius, Vigilantius, and especially Ambrosiaster, whose ostensibly spiritual objections (e.g. charges of Manichaeism) were in part animated by a contest for authority over female lay ascetics of the Roman aristocracy, whose perceived independence was seen as a challenge not merely to the integrity of the household but also to the prerogatives of the male ecclesiastical hierarchy (Clark, 1981; Hunter, 1989). On the one hand, Bezae enhances precedents favorable to arguments against the special prestige of sexual renunciation, such as the apostolic example of marriage and procreation (a point argued by Ambrosiaster and Jovinian), evident in Bezae’s mention of wives and children in the upper room (Acts 1:14) and reinforced by the enlargement of the married Peter’s role over that of the celibate Paul in Bezae’s tradition (Brock, 2003). On the other hand, Bezae’s obfuscation of the conversion accounts of women who are depicted in Acts as making spiritual choices outside the authority structure of the household, such as the public profession of Damaris, apparently unaccompanied by a husband, who chooses to follow Paul, a man who is not her husband (Acts 17:34), accords well with Ambrosiaster’s contention that women possessed the imago Dei only through a male head (Hunter, 1992). These and other parallels suggest that the decades prior to Bezae’s production warrant closer attention as a potential context for its “anti-feminist” readings.