Codex Bezae and Latin-Trained Syriac Scribes

Last week I presented a paper at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, as announced in my previous post. In the paper, I examined five classic objections to the theory that Codex Bezae’s Greek text form has appropriated text forms from the Latin version, concluding that none of these objections entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s collection of distinctive Latin parallels might have arisen as readings in the Old Latin version.

In the discussion following my talk, a sixth objection was raised, namely, that parallels between the Old Latin and Old Syriac suggest that a common source lies behind them both, presumably resembling Bezae’s Greek text.

In my answer, I noted that Bezae’s text form is only distantly related to the Old Syriac, at least in Mark.1 In Mark, for example, Bezae’s text is more closely aligned with the text of Codex Vaticanus. So Bezae is not a good candidate to represent the source of the Old Syriac, at least in this gospel.

Moreover, in my paper, I pointed out that Bezae is unlikely to represent the source of the Old Latin version, which requires no Bezan source to explain its development. Its text forms, where they differ from Greek witnesses, likely arose through translation and inner-versional copying.

So if the Old Latin and Old Syriac require a common source, which is doubtful, a text like Bezae’s is probably not it.

Syriac Traditions in a Greek Text that Borrows Latin Readings

Nevertheless, Bezae’s text form does have a relationship with Syriac traditions, apparently dating to the time after Aphrahat (d. c. 345), as I argue in my essay on Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy, which depends on a list of names found only in Aphrahat. In this case, it is clear that Bezae is not the source of the list in Syriac, because Bezae develops Aphrahat’s list of names, even introducing an erroneous name in the process. So Bezae’s contact with Syriac traditions likely occurred in the latter fourth century, after the time of Aphrahat.

But how are we to explain Syriac contact in a Greek manuscript, whose text form seems to borrow from the Latin version?

One explanation relates to contact between the Greek and Latin languages in the East, where Bezae was likely produced.2 There was little if any true bilingualism in the East at the time of Bezae’s production. The situation is best described as diglossia, the side-by-side coexistence of languages in separate domains, where the use of Latin was confined primarily to official contexts, namely, the military, the civil administration, and the law.3

If Bezae was produced in such a context, it is unlikely to have been prepared for a bilingual congregation. Even in centers of Roman culture in the East, such as Berytus, the churches were Greek speaking.4

It is likely then that the Latin version of Bezae’s Latin parallels and Latin column was approached as a written source, much like the Latin legal documents of the law school. Indeed, Bezae’s legal script supplies a valuable clue that its production took place at or near a legal center, such as Berytus, or among individuals who had received their training at such a legal center.5

John of Palestine: A Latin-Trained, Syriac-Speaking Scribe

In his account of the Christian community at Berytus in the latter fifth century, Zacharias of Mytilene describes a certain John of Palestine, a monk at the monastery of Saint Jude, just outside of Berytus, who

after training in the law, had consecrated himself to God in that church [of Jude], adopting the philosophical life-style … [and had] benefited many of those studying law in that city, … because of the (collection of) Christian books that he owned, which he shared and gave out.6

The fact that John had amassed a collection of books suggests that he was a scribe. After all, an individual ascetic would have had little other means by which to acquire books.

As a well-educated native of Palestine, we can assume that John was fluent in both Greek and Aramaic, while as a former law student, he would have been literate in both Greek and Latin. So in John of Palestine we find a Latin-trained, Syriac-speaking scribe.

Peter of Iberia’s Recruitment of Latin-Trained Monks in Palestine

Apparently, John was not alone among the Latin-trained monks of Syria and Palestine. In his account of Peter the Iberian, John Rufus describes Peter’s deliberate recruitment of law students to his monastic community:

When he [Peter] came to Beirut, he was recognized immediately by the young lawyers, his acquaintances from Palestine and from Alexandria … Some of them while he was still alive and some after his departure would reject the vanity of the world and run to him.7

Among Peter’s law recruits identified by Rufus (who was also trained at Berytus) were Theodore of Ascalon, Anastasios of Edessa, and Elisha of Lycia, all former students of the law school at Berytus. Rufus describes how Peter had received a vision instructing him specifically to recruit lawyers to his monastic community:

God wanted that there should be offered to him also from [among] the lawyers rational sacrifices and whole burnt offerings, able to carry his cross and follow him, like Basil and Gregory and John and Arsenius, and those who are like them in zeal.8

But every one of these recruits must have known Latin, because Roman law was promulgated in Latin, even in the East, down through the time of Justinian. So we cannot assume that Latin was wholly unfamiliar among the monks of Syria and Palestine. A Greek text such as Bezae’s, accompanied by a Latin column, would not have been entirely inaccessible in the Syriac world among those trained in law who inhabited its monastic communities.

Bezae’s Text and Miaphysite Monasticism in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt

Therefore, when we encounter errors in Bezae suggesting that its producers were not fully competent in literary Latin and Greek, a natural inference is that their native language was neither Greek nor Latin, but a third language, such as Syriac.9 Here we find a second clue as to Bezae’s origins, linking it potentially with the monastic communities of Syria and Palestine (and, ultimately, Egypt) among those trained in Roman law.

As the Chalcedonian settlement split apart the Eastern church, it is not difficult to imagine such a text ending up among the miaphysite communities of middle Egypt, where something like it appears in Codex Glazier, and still later in the Harklean marginal notes of Acts, produced outside of Alexandria by the Syrian miaphysite, Thomas of Mabug. So exchange between the monastic communities of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt supplies one explanation for the appearance of Bezan text forms in Syriac and Coptic. This more refined theory is at least as plausible as the usual theory that Bezae’s text form represents the original source behind both the Latin and Syriac versions.

Presenting at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium: The Latin Version and Codex Bezae’s Greek Text

This week I will be presenting a paper at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, where the theme of the colloquium is the versions and other indirect textual evidence for the New Testament. My paper looks at the history of scholarship on the theory that Latin readings have significantly influenced Bezae’s Greek text in its final form. The title of the paper is “Has Pervasive Influence of the Old Latin Version on Codex Bezae’s Greek Text Form Been Disproved? An Examination of Some Key Objections to the Theory of Latin Influence on Bezae’s Greek Text.”

Of course, the prevailing theory concerning Bezae’s distinctive parallels with the Latin version is that these readings are native Greek text forms that have been faithfully conveyed in Latin by translators of the Old Latin version. This view was expressed by J. S. Semler in his Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem (1767), where he observes that “the Latin copies were originally translated from the same Greek codices from which many Greek copies of a different kind [such as Codex Bezae] were transcribed.” 1

But as I have noted in a few other posts (see Why assimilation theories of Bezae’s Greek text are compelling, Can Greek manuscripts account for Bezae’s variation?, Has Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text been disproved?, and Latinization in Codex Bezae?), this view was not the first modern opinion on the matter of the distinctive Latin parallels in Bezae’s Greek text form. For the first two centuries following Bezae’s rediscovery during the Reformation, the predominant view was that these readings were borrowed from the Latin version, a view held by J. Mill and J. J. Wettstein among others.

This earlier view was challenged, not only by Semler, but also by J. D. Michaelis, J. J. Griesbach, H. Marsh, and D. D. Schultz, who laid the groundwork for the current consensus in a series of objections to the notion that parallels with the Latin version found in Bezae’s Greek column might have arisen as renderings in the Latin version.2 These objections include:

  • The prevailing direction of assimilation between Bezae’s columns is from the Greek to the Latin rather than the Latin to the Greek (Michaelis and Schultz)
  • Sufficient diversity exists within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s Latin parallels without appeal to the Latin version (Semler and Griesbach)
  • A Bezan text is likely to lie at the source of the Latin version (Semler and Griesbach)
  • The notion that an original language text, such as Bezae’s Greek column, might have appropriated renderings from a secondary version is contrary to reason (Semler and Marsh)

My paper argues that none of these objections upon which the present theory relies and by which it distinguishes itself from the earlier opinion entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s significant collection of distinctive Latin parallels might have arisen through the influence of readings in the Old Latin version, though not necessarily its own Latin column.

The abstract follows:

Before the mid-eighteenth century, it was generally assumed by figures such as Erasmus, R. Simon, H. Grotius, F. Lucas Brugensis, W. H. Estius, J. Mill, J. A. Bengel, and J. J. Wettstein among others, that Codex Bezae’s Greek text form, where it parallels the Latin version — often with little or no additional Greek support — has been influenced by readings of the Latin version. Such an inference is understandable given Bezae’s Greek-Latin format and frequent divergence from the rest of the Greek tradition in agreement with one or more witnesses of the Old Latin version. But in his Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem, published in 1767, J. S. Semler challenged this earlier assumption, arguing that the theory of Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text form was, not only contrary to reason, but also unnecessary. Semler argued that there was sufficient diversity within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s Latin parallels without appeal to the Latin version as their source, suggesting that, rather than reflecting Latin influence, a text like Bezae’s lay at the source of the Latin version. Taking up Semler’s critique, J. D. Michaelis strove “to rescue the [Bezan] copyist from the charge” of Latinizing a Greek text, while D. D. Schultz assembled instances in which Bezae’s Latin column appears to depend on errors in the Greek column, believing that he had thereby settled the question.3 H. Marsh summed up the sentiments of many when he remarked that “[i]t is surely more reasonable to suppose, that a translation would be altered from an original, than an original from a translation.”4 Since Semler, the notion that Latin readings may have influenced Bezae’s Greek text form has generally been dismissed, with F. J. A. Hort calling it “a whimsical theory of the last century.”5 More recently, B. M. Metzger summarized the state of the question, observing that “the theory finds little or no support among present-day scholars.”6

In this paper, I propose to reexamine some of the key objections to the theory that Bezae’s Greek text form has been widely influenced by the Old Latin version, arguing that none of the traditional objections entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s substantial collection of peculiar Latin parallels might have arisen through the influence of readings in the Old Latin version, but not necessarily its own Latin column. I will observe that much of the discussion in the literature has conflated two distinct problems: while critics have tended to view the problem in terms of the direct translation of Bezae’s own Latin column, the theory’s early proponents understood the problem more broadly in terms of the selective influence of the wider Latin version. Yet demonstrations purporting to disprove the entire theory have typically addressed only the former problem. Meanwhile, the question of plausibility has been framed too quickly in terms of modern critical and editorial biases, which strongly prioritize the Greek text as original, while neglecting to consider historical contexts that might have preferred Latin over Greek readings. Clearly though, the question can be addressed satisfactorily only in light of ancient opinion. In light of this apparent failure of the traditional objections, I will conclude by suggesting that the pervasive dependence of Bezae’s Greek text form on the Old Latin version remains very much an open question.

Back to the USA and Research Status

At the end of September, I returned with my family to the USA from Münster, Germany, where I have been working for the past two years on a history of Codex Bezae’s text of Mark at the Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung. Having recently attended the SBL Annual Meeting in Denver, I realized that many friends and colleagues were not yet aware of my move back to the Seattle area. So I now post this brief announcement with a summary of the status of my research.

Of course, the reason for my move to Germany was to research Codex Bezae’s text of Mark using transcriptions recently compiled for the ECM edition of this gospel and ultimately to produce a dissertation on this topic. I am presently carrying out final revisions of this dissertation in the hope of submitting a final draft as soon as possible.

The present title of the dissertation is “A History of Codex Bezae’s Text in the Gospel of Mark.” While the title is admittedly somewhat generic, it manages to convey two central aspects of my work: first, it is a study of Bezae’s text form versus a study of Bezae the manuscript and, second, the approach is self-consciously historical, not only in attempting to trace the history of the text in its formation and development, but also in examining the ways in which the circumstances under which the text developed may have shaped the final text form.

The thesis that I am defending consists of two distinct but closely-related threads: first, concerning the date of Bezae’s Greek text form and, second, concerning its relation to the Latin version. These twin threads are interdependent and difficult to separate: If Bezae is an ancient text (e.g. second century), then it is difficult to see how it could depend in a significant way on readings of the Old Latin version, whose existence is not attested before the first half of the third century. On the other hand, if Bezae is a late text (e.g. fourth century), then it is difficult to see how the Latin version could depend on it, while at the same time it becomes easier to see how Bezae might depend on readings of the Latin version. Naturally, if Bezae is a late text, it likely contains elements from all of the intervening centuries between the autographs and its final production, a situation that might account for the complexity of its final text form. Of course, it is theoretically possible that the origins of Bezae’s Greek text form lie between these two extremes.

The dissertation is divided into two parts. The first part outlines the main problems of Bezae’s textual history: dating its text form and determining its relation to the Old Latin version, with special emphasis on the historical background, bilingual context, and model of textual development, concluding that there is little to exclude the possibility that Bezae’s Greek text form arose in the final decades of the fourth century. The design of the second part follows from the conclusions of the first part, describing the three main layers of the text in reverse chronological order: the layer of singular and sparsely-attested readings, the layer of distinctive Latin parallels, and the Greek base text. This design assumes that the text we have is a late text that depends in certain places on readings of the Old Latin version though not on the Latin column. The two parts are followed by a conclusion that draws the various threads of discussion into a single narrative that supplies an account of Bezae’s textual history in Mark.

New Essay on Codex Bezae’s Lukan Genealogy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ambrosiaster and the Producers of Codex Bezae

Whether or not we regard the greater part of Codex Bezae’s text form as an ancient second-century text form, it is beyond dispute that the text as we now have it in its final form — scribal peculiarities and all — is, strictly speaking, a product of the early fifth-century context in which the manuscript was produced in ca. 400.

Though we might debate whether the substance and shape of that text is of the highest antiquity or something more recent, we are forced to acknowledge that the text itself, like the manuscript that transmits it, is an artifact of a particular context in which the words, as written, flowed from the pen of the scribe.

A natural first question then is what motivated Bezae’s producers to produce this specific text form at this specific time, given the range of competing text forms available at the turn of the fifth century. Was the goal to preserve an antiquarian curiosity for the benefit of subsequent generations? Or was there some other more strategic objective?

One way to consider this question is to inquire as to which known participants or contexts at the turn of the fifth century might have regarded a text form of the kind found in Codex Bezae with such exceptional interest as to prepare it for transcription at great cost in time and resources. Certainly, a community with some stake in both the Greek and Latin traditions would be a minimal expectation.

In an article that has just recently become available, “Ambrosiaster’s Three Criteria of the True Text and a Possible Fourth-Century Background for Bezae’s Bilingual Tradition,” I examine one such participant, the pseudonymous Latin writer known as Ambrosiaster, who was active in Rome from the 360’s through the 380’s CE.1 The intriguing thing about Ambrosiaster is that he seems to have thought about the Greek and Latin versions in a manner that is suggested also by the presentation of the Greek and Latin columns in Bezae’s bilingual tradition.

In the article, I draw several parallels between Ambrosiaster’s attitude regarding the Greek and Latin versions and the presentation of these versions in Codex Bezae. For example:

  1. Ambrosiaster’s appeal to extrinsic factors, such as reason, history, and authority, as the final arbiters of competing text forms, rather than necessarily the letter of the Greek text, supplies a consistent rationale for the free approach to the Greek tradition we encounter in Bezae’s own text form.
  2. Ambrosiaster’s defense of the Old Latin version as more authoritative than the Greek text of his day assumes that the contemporary Latin version could stand on equal footing with an appropriate archaic — or, indeed, archaizing — Greek text form, as implied by the presentation of Bezae’s Greek and Latin columns.
  3. Ambrosiaster’s critique of the Vulgate would have been well-served by the presentation of mutually corroborating Greek and Latin columns, such as we find in Bezae’s bilingual tradition, in which the Greek column might be taken as a putative Vorlage of the Old Latin text form found in the opposite column.

While we can assume no necessary direct relationship between Ambrosiaster and Bezae’s producers, the compatibility of their perspectives should caution us about assigning Bezae’s text form too readily to the very earliest centuries of Christianity or too hastily dismissing the possibility that Latin readings might in some ways have shaped its final Greek text form.

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.

The Vulgate — Jerome’s idea?

For much of what we believe we know about the origins of Jerome’s revision of the Latin Bible, Jerome himself is our only source.1 To read Jerome’s version of events, we come away with the picture of a persecuted scholar obediently fulfilling a commission from Rome to restore the variant-ridden texts of the Latin church, while virtually directing the course of the Latin version from a cell in Bethlehem. From his self-portrait as innocent victim of unwarranted attacks to his complaints about the ignorant masses incapable of appreciating his vision of the authority of the Greek and Hebrew versions, Jerome’s rhetoric shines when polishing his own literary image.

To judge the effectiveness of Jerome’s rhetoric, we might consider B. M. Metzer’s account of the Vulgate’s origins:

“… various people, at various times and in various places, with varying degrees of success, had translated various parts of the Bible into Latin. The result was chaos. The different versions had become so mixed and corrupt that no two manuscripts agreed. Accordingly Pope Damasus (366–84) undertook to remedy this intolerable situation, and the scholar to whom he entrusted the arduous task was the great biblical scholar of the ancient Latin Church, Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus, known to us today as St. Jerome.”2

It is evident that Metzger essentially accepts Jerome’s version of events, reciting Jerome’s Preface with scarcely a hint about the potential dangers of such a one-sided account (or Jerome’s tendency to produce such accounts):

“Although we do not have the original request of the scholarly Damasus … we can judge from Jerome’s Preface to his revision of the four Gospels … how he regarded the Pope’s mandate. … There were two reasons … which prompted Jerome to incur such an amount of opprobrium [i.e. for altering the biblical text]. The first reason, as he goes on to say in the Preface, was the command laid upon him by Damasus, the supreme pontiff. The second was the shocking diversity among the Old Latin manuscripts.”3

Of course, this is all Jerome’s story: the Old Latin version in hopeless disarray, a hapless church unsuccessfully striving to lift itself above the chaos, a visionary pope benevolently assessing the situation and appointing for the Herculean task a consummate scholar able to accomplish what no one else could, namely, Jerome himself. We find here no real attempt to probe Jerome’s account, whether of Damasus’s commission, Jerome’s obedience to it, or the persecution he accepts for his obedience. But given Jerome’s pattern of self-promotion and exaggeration in reporting events concerning his own personal narrative, such an approach is not without risk in attempting to acquire an accurate assessment of Jerome’s place in textual history.

The Importance of Rufinus’s Account of Jerome

So we are relieved to find in Rufinus’s Apology against Jerome a voice that for once challenges Jerome’s own carefully-crafted and closely-controlled literary self-portrayal. Rufinus’s characterization of Jerome is nearly the opposite of his own. We hear of Jerome’s meanness, pettiness, fickleness, conniving, perjury, deception, self-delusion, and willingness to preserve his literary reputation at virtually any cost.

We cannot forget of course that Rufinus was himself in conflict with Jerome at this time. Moreover, Jerome is able to defend himself on certain points in his own counter Apology against Rufinus. Yet we get the sense that Rufinus restrains himself from revealing all that he could:

“for God is my witness how truly I can say that I have kept silence on many more points than I have brought forward.” (Against Jerome 2.44; NPNF 2.3, 481)

According to Rufinus, he has spared Jerome a humiliating exposure, just has David spared Saul:

“Let us not follow his example [Jerome’s], but rather that of the patriarch David, who, when he had surprised his enemy Saul in the cave and might have slain him, refused to do so, but spared him. This man [Jerome] knows well how often I have done the same by him, both in word and deed; and if he does not choose to confess it, he has it fixed at least in his mind and conscience.” (Against Jerome 1.31; NPNF 2.3, 452)

Rufinus refers to incriminating letters in his possession:

“he [Jerome] knows that I possess a letter of his in which, while he discharges others, he makes his strictures fall upon Ambrose. But, since that letter contains certain more secret matters, I do not wish to see it published before the right time; and therefore I will corroborate what I say by other proofs similar to it.” (Against Jerome 2.23; NPNF 2.3, 470)

Of course, this evidence of restraint only serves to enhance Rufinus’s credibility.

Rufinus on Jerome’s Commission … or Lack Thereof

But one unexpected revelation of the Apology is Rufinus’s apparent belief that the Vulgate, at least as conceived by Jerome, was entirely Jerome’s idea. Rufinus (like Augustine) is especially concerned with Jerome’s preference for the Hebrew scriptures over the LXX:

“But this emendation of the Seventy, what are we to think of it? … This has been the present which you have made us with your excess of wisdom, that we are all judged even by the heathen as lacking in wisdom [for changing the basis of the text].” (Against Jerome 2.35; NPNF 2.3, 476)

Rufinus echoes the sentiments of other writers (such as Augustine) with facetious disbelief, referring to Jerome as a self-appointed “legislator” of the text, acting on his own initiative:

“When the world has grown old and all things are hastening to their end, let us change the inscriptions upon the tombs of the ancients, so that it may be known by those who had read the story otherwise, that it was not a gourd but an ivy plant under whose shade Jonah rested; and that, when our legislator [Jerome] pleases, it will no longer be the shade of ivy but of some other plant.” (Against Jerome 2.35; NPNF 2.3, 476.) 4

Significantly, Rufinus sees Jerome as challenging the authority on which the text stands from that of the apostles to that of his own critical judgment:

“And what are we to do when we are told that the books which bear the names of the Hebrew Prophets and lawgivers are to be had from you in a truer form than that which was approved by the Apostles?” (Against Jerome 2.32; NPNF 2.3, 475, italics mine)

“he [Jerome] has altered the sacred books which the Apostles had committed to the churches as the trustworthy deposit of the Holy Spirit” (Against Jerome 2.43; NPNF 2.3, 480, italics mine)

 “… to pervert the law itself and make it different from that which the Apostles handed down to us,—how many times over must this be pronounced worthy of condemnation?” (Against Jerome 2.32; NPNF 2.3, 475, italics mine)

“Who but you would have laid hands upon the divine gift and the inheritance of the Apostles?” (Against Jerome 2.32; NPNF 2.3, 475, italics mine)

This is no abstract charge. Of course, the apostles were no longer present in person. But the Roman see evidently understood itself to be exercising the same authority. At the Roman synod of 378, during Damasus’s reign, we encounter the first reference to Rome as an apostolic see.5 From a vantage point in Rome, Ambrosiaster notes that

“the succession is preserved beginning with the apostle Peter and handed down to the present time by the succession of bishops” (Quaest. 110.7)6

Meanwhile an inscription on the old Vatican baptistery, ascribed to Damasus, attributes the project vicariously to Peter, head of the apostles:

“Not by human power or art, … but with the help of Peter, pre-eminent [among the apostles], to whom was handed over the very door of heaven, I, Damasus, Bishop of Christ, built this. 7

So Rufinus’s charge that Jerome has undermined the authority of the apostolic text comes close to a denial that he is presently acting on behalf of a pope who claimed to possess apostolic authority.

While Rufinus focuses on the Hebrew translation as in his view the most egregious example of Jerome’s pretension to authority, he also cites Jerome’s Preface to the Four Gospels, suggesting that his criticisms are not limited to the Old Testament translation, but to a certain extent apply to the entire revision:

“To the daring temerity of this act we may much more justly apply your words: ‘Which of all the wise and holy men who have gone before you has dared to put his hand to that work?’ [citing the Preface]” (Against Jerome 2.32; NPNF 2.3, 475)

According to Rufinus, it is Jerome’s “style” to make unilateral judgments according to his “own arrogant authority” on which texts are suitable for the larger church:

“with that ‘censor’s rod’ of yours, and by your own arrogant authority, you make your decrees in this style: ‘Let this book be cast out of the libraries, let that book be retained; … Let this one be counted as Catholic …” (Against Jerome 2.30; NPNF 2.3, 474, italics mine)

Rufinus then states explicitly what he has previously only suggested, namely, that Jerome has no support from any authority in Rome:

“This action [translating the OT] is yours, my brother, yours alone. It is clear that no one in the church has been your companion or confederate in it …” (Against Jerome 2.37; NPNF 2.3, 477)

So Rufinus is apparently convinced that the Vulgate — at least in the Old Testament and apparently in the gospels as well — is solely Jerome’s idea. Rufinus mentions nothing of the commission by the pope that Jerome mentions in the Preface, of which he presumably must have known had it existed. It is clear then that, in Rufinus’s view, Jerome never had the support of any ecclesiastical authority.

How then did the Vulgate prevail? In a fascinating picture, Rufinus depicts Jerome as essentially the director of a scriptorium of his own works, who floods the churches with unsolicited copies of his revision:8

“But how are we to regard those translations of yours which you are now sending about everywhere, through our churches and monasteries, through all our cities and walled towns? are they to be treated as human or divine?” (Against Jerome 2.32; NPNF 2.3, 475)

So according to Rufinus, Jerome is acting entirely on his own initiative with no commission from Rome, while propagating the results by effectively “spamming” the churches and monasteries, cities and walled towns with unsolicited copies of his work.

From the point of view of the history of the text, we must be wary then of accepting Jerome’s claims at face value, especially when contradicted by a contemporary, such as Rufinus, who appears to have known Jerome personally as well as anyone else. In our inquiry concerning the history of the text, we simply cannot afford to accept Jerome’s word as definitive, especially when he is our only source.

Rufinus’s “other” citation of the pericope adulterae – against Jerome

Rufinus’s knowledge of the pericope adulterae (= PA) is usually cited in connection with his translation of Eusebius’s Church History, where he appears to have changed Papias’s reference to a woman “accused of many sins” to an “adulterous” woman, presumably under the influence of the PA found in John.

But Rufinus cites the PA in another context that is potentially revealing of Jerome’s own ambiguous connection with the story. 1 In his Apology against Jerome (401), Rufinus takes his erstwhile friend Jerome to task for the vicious accusations he has lodged against fellow Christians for Origenism, while failing to acknowledge his own record of promoting Origen. He then cites the story of Jesus and the adulteress (which he oddly calls “a parable”) to demonstrate the proper response of a convicted conscience, ironically displayed by the Jewish accusers:

“There is a parable of the Gospel which illustrates this. A woman taken in adultery was brought before our Lord by the Jews, so that they might see what judgment he would pronounce according to the law. He, the merciful and pitying Lord, said: ‘He that is without sin among you let him first cast a stone at her.’ And then, it is said, they all departed. The Jews, impious and unbelieving though they were, yet blushed through their own consciousness of guilt; since they were sinners, they would not appear publicly as executing vengeance on sinners. And the robber upon the cross, said to the other robber who was hanging like him on a cross, and was blaspheming, “Dost not thou fear God, seeing we are in the same condemnation?” But we condemn in others the things of which we ourselves are conscious; yet we neither blush like the Jews nor are softened like the robber.” (Against Jerome 1.44; NPNF 2.3, 459) 2

Rufinus’s reference is of particular significance because the work in which it is found is intended for Jerome, another writer who cites the PA and presumably included it in his Vulgate revision. Nevertheless, if Rufinus alludes to the Vulgate version, the connection is obscure at best. In favor of the allusion is the fact that the woman is actively “brought before” Jesus “so that they might see what judgment he would pronounce according to the law,” suggesting that the intent is to test Jesus against the Law of Moses (as it is in John). Yet Rufinus does not explicitly mention a “test” and his account seems somewhat abstracted from the context of John, where the antagonists are identified specifically as the scribes and Pharisees. Rufinus rather identifies the antagonists simply as “the Jews.”

Much more palpable is the connection with Didymus’s account, which, like that of Rufinus, identifies the antagonists as “the Jews.” The connection is especially strong in the latter half of Didymus’s story (lines 10-13):

We find, therefore, 7 in certain gospels [the following story], A woman, it says, was condemned by the Jews for a sin and 8 was being sent to be stoned in the place where that was customary to happen. The saviour, it says, 9 when he saw her and observed that they were ready to stone her, said to those 10 who were about to cast stones, ‘He who has not sinned, let him take a stone and cast it.’ 11 If anyone is conscious in himself not to have sinned, let him take up a stone and smite her. And no one 12 dared. Since they knew in themselves and perceived that they themselves were guilty in some things, they did not 13 dare to strike her.3

Rufinus’s closest parallel with Didymus is found at the end of the story, where we find a warning against judging (an idea that is not explicit in the Johannine version). In both Rufinus and Didymus, the accusers are unexpectedly convicted in their conscience and quickly depart from the scene. We must conclude then that, despite his allusion to details known only in the Johannine story, Rufinus adopts primarily the perspective and emphasis of Didymus’s version.

But perhaps most striking of all is Rufinus’s attribution of the story, not to John’s gospel (as we might expect from a Latin writer writing fifteen years after the Vulgate), but rather to “the Gospel.” Of course, this recalls Didymus’s own attribution of the story to “certain gospels.”

What then shall we make of Rufinus’s puzzling silence about his apparent dependence on details found only in John? Why with the Vulgate so close at hand does he draw such clear parallels with Didymus?

In fact, the links to Didymus are no coincidence. Throughout the Apology, Rufinus repeatedly brings up Jerome’s relationship to Didymus, which he treats as symptomatic of Jerome’s invidious habit of slandering fellow Christians, as Rufinus observes:

“it is habitual to him to disparage all good men, and that, if he can find something to blame in one man after another of those who are highly esteemed and have gained a name in literature, he thinks that he has added to his own reputation.” (Against Jerome 2.43; NPNF 2.3, 480)

And again:

“these invectives of yours are the cause of sadness and confusion to all who fear God, since they see you a prey to this hideous lust of detraction, and me driven to the wretched necessity of recrimination.” (Against Jerome 2.39; NPNF 2.3, 478)

Like Rufinus himself, the esteemed Didymus has suffered from Jerome’s pen the same vituperative attacks for his alleged Origenism. Rufinus reminds Jerome that they both had once claimed Didymus as their mentor, though Jerome has now deserted the teacher he once “praised to the sky”:

“I will therefore set forth a Preface of his by which you may see … how he praises Didymus to the sky, though he has since cast him down even to the infernal region.” (Against Jerome, 2.23; NPNF 2.3, 470)

Rufinus suggests that Jerome had used his relationship with Didymus to advance his career, while quickly dissociating himself when the relationship proved inconvenient:

“He [Jerome] … has not in his whole life stayed more than thirty days at Alexandria where Didymus lived; yet almost all through his books he boasts, at length and at large, that he was the pupil of Didymus the seer, that he had Didymus as his initiator, that is, his preceptor in the holy Scriptures; and the material for all this boasting was acquired in a single month. But I, for the sake of God’s work, stayed six years.” (Against Jerome, 2.12; NPNF 2.3, 466)

According to Rufinus, Jerome has shown more loyalty to the Jewish teachers on whom he relies for his Hebrew translation. Yet in this ironic “parable,” it is the Jews who repent under the Savior’s conviction. So while the Vulgate allusions reflect Rufinus’s context in the Latin church, the parallels with Didymus reflect a last plea to Jerome on behalf of their former friendship.

 

Why does Augustine urge correctors to consult Greek texts … if necessary?

In my previous post, I pointed to the disparity between the Latin and Greek traditions in their respective capacities to account economically for Bezae’s distinctive Latin parallels in the gospels. Since there is no evidence that much of Bezae’s Latin-affiliated variation ever existed in the Greek tradition, while strong parallels exist in Latin, it seems the simpler hypothesis would be that Bezae’s distinctive readings originated in the Latin tradition. Yet given that the Greek tradition is the ultimate source of the Latin version, surely we need good reason to conjecture that a Greek text form may be influenced by readings in the secondary Latin tradition.

One fundamental requirement is a historical context in which the natural flow of influence from Greek to Latin might be reversed, for example, where it was believed that the Latin tradition was more pure or reliable than the Greek. In such a context, we have a ready motive for the alteration of Greek texts to a Latin model.

As I have noted elsewhere, we do find such a belief expressed by Ambrosiaster (Com. Rom. 5.14), who argues that the contemporary Latin tradition is more pure than any contemporary Greek witnesses, which have passed through the hands of recent (Arian) heretics and controversialists, who are willing to change the text to win an argument. While Ambrosiaster is explicit that the ancient Greek tradition is ultimately authoritative, he believes it is simply no longer accessible, at least in Greek. He argues rather that the antiquity of the Latin tradition and its relative isolation from recent Arian dominance support its purity in relation to the contemporary Greek tradition. As for diversity within the Latin tradition, Ambrosiaster believes that the true text is found in the ancient Latin writers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Victorinus, essentially in the so-called “African” tradition.

But Ambrosiaster is not our only evidence of partiality to the Latin tradition. In De doctrina christiana (396–397), Augustine urges his readers three times in one paragraph to correct Latin texts to the Greek version. He begins by insisting:

“to correct the Latin we must use the Greek versions.” (2.22; NPNF 1.2, 542)

So like Ambrosiaster, Augustine affirms the ultimate authority of the Greek tradition. But while Augustine does not insist that the Latin tradition is more pure than the Greek, it is apparent that some of his readers may take Ambrosiaster’s view. Why else would Augustine insist that Latin texts are to be corrected to the Greek unless there were some who were correcting Latin texts to other Latin texts? While it is possible that (rather than from conviction) some of these correctors simply did not know Greek well enough to use the Greek text, Augustine’s exhortation implies that at least some of these correctors were capable of using Greek, but still deferred to the Latin. For some of Augustine’s readers, the authority of the Greek tradition was apparently not taken for granted.

But there is a certain ambivalence to the Greek tradition on Augustine’s part as well. Referring to Old Testament translations, Augustine qualifies his exhortation with a conditional expression, urging correctors to appeal to Greek texts “if necessary” (si necesse fuerit):

“The Latin texts, therefore, of the Old Testament are, as I was about to say, to be corrected if necessary by the authority of the Greeks” (2.22; NPNF 1.2, 542, italics mine)1

Of course, Augustine may simply want to acknowledge that not every text requires correction. But is that not obvious? It seems the qualification expresses a deeper hesitation. Perhaps we have here a hint of ambivalence on Augustine’s part towards altering the Latin text. Augustine affirms the final authority of the Greek tradition in principle, but at the same time wants to limit correction to cases that are specifically necessary. Augustine refers to the New Testament with similar qualifications:

“again, if any perplexity arises from the diversities of the Latin texts, we must of course yield to the Greek, especially those that are found in the churches of greater learning and research.” (2.22; NPNF 1.2, 543, italics mine)2

With the conditional expression, “if any perplexity arises from the diversities of the Latin texts” (si quid in Latinis varietatibus titubat), Augustine suggests that perplexity does not necessarily result when encountering the diversity of the Latin tradition. But if such perplexity is avoidable, as Augustine suggests, there is then no need to yield to the Greek.

But how are Latin correctors to judge that a correction is necessary without consulting a Greek text? How are they to avoid perplexity when confronted with multiple Latin text forms?

In fact, Augustine has just affirmed the superiority of what he calls the “Italian” (Latin) translation:3

“among translations themselves the Italian (Itala) is to be preferred to the others, for it keeps closer to the words without prejudice to clearness of expression.” (2.22; NPNF 1.2, 542)

According to Augustine, this Italian translation is more literal (“keeps closer to the words”) and less prone to smoothing over potential difficulties (“without prejudice to clearness of expression”). While Ambrosiaster had only recently appealed to the authority of the “African” tradition on the basis of its presumed antiquity, Augustine appeals to the “Italian” translation on the basis of its apparent literalness.

So it appears there were some in the Latin West at the turn of the fifth century, Augustine included, who considered a particular Latin text form to be authoritative within the Latin tradition. We wonder then how a bilingual Latin corrector, convinced of the superiority of a particular Latin tradition, might have responded to a Greek text that diverged in a substantial way from this tradition? Would such a corrector necessarily yield to the Greek text as a representative of the larger Greek tradition? If this corrector believed his Latin version to be a superior representation of the initial Greek, it no longer seems so implausible that a Greek text might be corrected to a Latin text form, even in cases where the Latin text form in fact had little or no Greek support.

Can Greek manuscripts account for Bezae’s variation?

Bezae’s distinctive parallels with the Latin tradition are well known in the gospels. The so-called “Western non-interpolations” are among the better known examples. In Luke 22:19-20, for example, Bezae sides with VL(3 8 10 17) against all other Greek witnesses. Of course, Bezae is the earliest Greek manuscript to attest two of the more spectacular gospel variations, both well-represented in the Old Latin tradition, the pericope adulterae with VL(2 6 8 15 14) and the Markan long ending with VL(6 8 10 13 15 16). Bezae also stands alone with the Latin in some notable shorter variants, such as the angry Jesus reading in Mark 1:41 with VL(3 8 14) and the variant cry of dereliction in Mark 15:34 with VL(1 6 17). In these and many other places, Bezae stands out as the only (or earliest) Greek manuscript to attest distinctive Latin readings.

Now it is generally assumed that Bezae represents the source tradition of these peculiar Latin readings. But every parallel has two possible directions. The Greek-source hypothesis is not the only possibility.

Before J. S. Semler (1725–1791), Bezae’s Latin parallels were routinely ascribed to Latin influence. For example, Semler’s mentor J. J. Wettstein (1693–1754) argued that Bezae’s Greek text had been systematically adapted to readings from at least two Latin traditions. Commenting on the scribe’s introduction of divergent text forms from the Latin, Wettstein writes:

“very often he made the Greek according to either the Latin or Italian version.” 1

Noteworthy is Wettstein’s explicit attribution of Bezae’s peculiarities to deliberate conformity of the Greek text to multiple Latin traditions. Significantly, Wettstein makes no claim that Bezae’s distinctive variations derive from its own Latin column, but rather from the broader Latin tradition, a point that has often been missed by subsequent critics. 2

Semler eventually reversed his opinion from that of Wettstein, arguing that sufficient diversity existed within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s variation:

“It is a dubious assertion that the Greek codices have been influenced and altered to the Latin. … We discover this by just looking at the codices written in Greek throughout the various Greek provinces. Noteworthy variations were already in place in the third, fourth, and fifth centuries.” 3

According to Semler, it is easier to suppose that Bezae’s Greek text came from a divergent tradition that lies behind the various Latin translations. Noting the number and variety of Greek witnesses discovered in his time, Semler argues that the diversity (magna varietas) of the Greek tradition is sufficient to account for the readings found in Bezae:

“Erasmus, R. Simon, Mill, Bengel, Wettstein, and nearly all other critics of this mass of Greek codices, which already more recently we have become acquainted with, designated the great multitude Latinized, that is, conformed to the Latin text because they agree with the Vulgate or a certain Latin translation. But we reject this with a single decisive observation, namely, that the Latin copies were originally translated from the same Greek codices from which many Greek copies of a different kind [i.e. Bezae’s] were transcribed. Among the Greek codices there was already at that time great variety, for a great many Latin translations already existed at the time of Jerome and Augustine derived from these Greek codices. Therefore, it certainly did not happen that these Greek books could ever have been altered to those Latin copies with which they already agreed.” 4

So in Semler’s view, there is no need to appeal to Latin codices to account for readings found in Bezae.

But can the diversity of the Greek tradition by itself account for Bezae’s distinctive Latin parallels? It is now clear that even the full Greek tradition leaves us short in accounting for Bezae’s unusual text form. As evident from results published in Text und Textwert, Bezae remains with an abundance of singular Greek readings even when we consider the entire surviving Greek tradition.

Here are the percentages of singular readings in Bezae by book according to Text und Textwert:

Book Witnesses Teststellen Singular Readings % Singular Readings
Matthew 1757 53 6 11.32%
Mark 1754 192 36 18.75%
Luke 1756 53 8 15.09%
John 1763 126 13 10.32%
Acts 607 72 31 43.06%

Clearly the diversity of the Greek tradition cannot by itself account for the full scope of Bezae’s distinctive variation, ranging from ten percent in John to over forty percent in Acts against over 1500 witnesses to each gospel and over six hundred witnesses in Acts. Is it plausible that so many readings generated in the first few centuries were subsequently lost to the Greek tradition from which they presumably derived, only to resurface in translation? Until a satisfactory answer is given, it seems premature to rule out any plausible alternative.

On the other hand, is it not more plausible to ascribe this surplus of variation to readings that we know already existed, even in another version? 5 Perhaps these variations arose in translation or entirely within the Latin tradition. Surely some Latin translators active at the time of Jerome and Augustine were capable of translating select passages into Greek. It seems all we require is a motive.

(On possible motives for Latin assimilation, see here and here.)