Did Jerome suspend his criteria to include the pericope adulterae?

At the end of the fourth century, the Latin Vulgate is one of the earliest continuous manuscript traditions to attest the pericope adulterae (= PA) in John, if not the earliest. But given Jerome’s stated criteria, namely, to confine himself only to early Greek texts, and what we know about the Greek tradition, namely, that the earliest non-bilingual witness of the PA dates to the ninth century (K 017), we find ourselves virtually driven to the conclusion that, in his revision of John, Jerome severely neglected his own rules to include a pericope that — if he even did find it in his tradition — he nevertheless must have known failed his criteria!

Now Jerome claims to have seen many Greek manuscripts with the PA:

The story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord is found in many Greek and many Latin manuscripts of the gospel of John. (Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2.17, my translation)

But that was in 415, thirty years after the fact! (Against the Pelagians, 2.17, see post) In that context, Jerome quite uncharacteristically cites the authority of Latin manuscripts, certainly an anomaly for one who normally rants against the Old Latin and its proponents, for example, as the famous “two-legged asses” (see post). (Of course, it would be somewhat unfair if Jerome included Vulgate copies in the tally after thirty years of copying! But can we be sure he does not have some of his own copies in mind?)

But in at least one other case where Jerome claims to have seen Greek manuscripts, he is convicted by his own testimony of a rather severe case of exaggeration, offering a conjecture in his Commentary on Matthew in 398, that just three years later, in his Homily 11 on Psalm 78, he now claims “is found in all the ancient copies” (see post).1

So what are Jerome’s criteria for his revision? They are plainly stated in his Preface to the Four Gospels:

I therefore promise in this short Preface the four Gospels only, which are to be taken in the following order, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, as they have been revised by a comparison of the Greek manuscripts. Only early ones have been used. (NPNF 2.6, 488, italics mine)

Jerome claims to have limited himself only to early Greek texts. Of course, in John, we happen to have some of these old gospel texts in P66 and P75, which as we are well aware, do not contain the PA.2 So even if Jerome had actually seen a Greek manuscript with the PA in the 380’s, it is still harder to believe that such a manuscript would have been among the early copies he claims to have used elsewhere.

So it seems unlikely that Jerome did not set aside his criteria to include the story. By his own principles, Jerome should have excluded the PA assuming he found it, but he chose not to.

We might inquire then as to what could be different about the PA that seems to have inspired Jerome to have included it against his critical judgment? As I have noted elsewhere, there are remarkable parallels between the PA and Jerome’s own story (see post; and more recently, here and here).

But how can we be sure Jerome’s criteria would have excluded the PA?

Fortunately, there is a similar case just three chapters earlier in John, in the tradition of the angel stirring the water in John 5:4. Here the witness groups in support of the apparent interpolation are arrayed as follows:

  • For: 2 3 4 6 8 14 15 22
  • Against: 5 10 11 13
  • Earliest extant Greek MS: A (V)
  • Vulgate: Against

The alignment is remarkably similar in support of the PA:

  • For: 2 5 6 8 14 15 22
  • Against: 3 10 11 13
  • Earliest extant Greek MS: D (bilingual, 400), K (non-bilingual, IX)
  • Vulgate: For

In neither case are there extant Greek MSS that precede the Vulgate, so in either case we might question whether Jerome had Greek support.

We should note however that the tradition of the angel has better support in the Old Latin tradition, including the support of our only fourth-century Old Latin witness, Vercellensis (a), but the tradition is nevertheless excluded by Jerome. Since Jerome’s opinion of the Old Latin was not favorable, we can assume he found no early Greek testimony. The Letter to Marcella should suffice to capture Jerome’s sentiments on the Old Latin:

the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit, and my object has been to restore them to the form of the Greek original, from which my detractors do not deny that they have been translated. If they dislike water drawn from the clear spring, let them drink of the muddy streamlet. (Epist. 27.1 “To Marcella”; NPNF 2.6, 44)

So we should be surprised indeed if Jerome allowed a tradition into his revision solely on Latin support. We should rather expect him summarily to exclude such traditions.

Yet three chapters later in Jerome’s revision we find the PA, which has significantly less support in the Latin tradition, with no extent non-bilingual Greek support for four centuries. So Jerome’s motives for including the PA seem ulterior to the textual support.

But let us suppose for argument’s sake that Jerome did find the PA in the Old Latin tradition in 384. Here we have a case analogous to John 5:4, where the distribution of witnesses is similar though decidedly weaker. So if Jerome had found the PA in John in just the Old Latin tradition but not the Greek, we should expect him summarily to have excluded it, but he apparently does not. Jerome evidently valued the story highly enough that he was willing to make an exception for it.

But if Jerome did not find the PA in his text or if he found it but it did not meet his criteria, what then might have drawn him to this remarkable story? What here induced Jerome to prefer the muddy streamlet over the clear spring? Was it the story of forgiveness? Admiration for his teacher Didymus? Identification with the accused? Anger at the hypocrites? Or perhaps sympathy for a beloved friend similarly accused? It seems we shall never know.

A working theory of Bezae’s text

The aim of this post is to outline a working theory of Bezae’s text in the gospels and Acts, starting with five well-known features of Bezae’s text:1

  1. Isolation from the Greek mainstream
  2. Old Latin parallels
  3. Parallels with ancient writers
  4. East-West exchange of readings
  5. Major variation in Acts

Isolation from the Greek mainstream

Bezae’s Greek text is (according to my provisional view) composed of three primary layers assembled at the end of the fourth century (c. 385), each layer representing a distinct source of mixture:2

  1. A Greek base, perhaps connected to the library at Caesarea
  2. A selective retroversion of Latin readings from various Old Latin source traditions
  3. An upper “scribal” layer (not actually by Bezae’s scribe)3

Bezae’s mixture of layers obscures its individual component traditions and hides its mainstream relationships: A significant side effect of layering is that Bezae’s text as a whole appears isolated from the mainstream tradition.4 But if we partition Bezae’s readings into natural layers, these individual layers can be related to the mainstream tradition.5 So when Old Latin and “singular” readings are set aside, Bezae has a very mainstream Greek text, with parallels to Family 1, Origen, and other texts associated with Caesarea.

Final layer combination dating to c. 385: Bezae’s three immediate layers were brought together at the end of the fourth century (c. 385) based on the following considerations:

  1. Bezae’s text must post-date the late, so-called “European” or “northern Italian” form of the Old Latin tradition (350–380) to which it is partially assimilated (see post).6 Bezae’s close relationship with this late form of the Old Latin is most apparent in Mark.7
  2. Bezae’s upper layer exhibits a well-documented interest in enhancing Peter’s role in Acts.8 This same interest is found in Bezae’s Corrector G (see post), suggesting that Bezae’s upper layer was produced at the same time as the manuscript and exemplar, that is, close to its initial correction.9
  3. Documented tendencies detected in Bezae’s upper “scribal” layer, especially the augmentation of Peter, fit a late fourth-century context (see post).
    1. Pro-Petrine tendencies – driven by the promotion of Constantinople to second rank among apostolic sees at the Council of Constantinople (381) (see post).
    2. Anti-ascetic tendencies – a response to Jerome (380’s) or possibly Jovinian (390s)
    3. Anti-Judaic tendencies – motivated by church orders segregating Christians and Jews, reflecting marginalization of Jews in imperial code (see post)
    4. Other tendencies – all documented tendencies fit a context of c. 385
  4. The assumption that the Vulgate revision of the gospels provided some impetus for Bezae’s project as a means to legitimate the Old Latin version (384-385) (see post)
  5. Rome’s mediation in the Antiochian schism as a background for shared readings in the Latin and Syriac traditions as well as between Bezae and other “Western”-influenced Greek MSS (378-397).10

Bezae’s Greek base with Caesarean connections: Bezae’s Greek base had an independent history before being appropriated by Bezae’s producers in the final two decades of the fourth century.11 Several studies suggest that Bezae’s Greek base has connections with Caesarea in Palestine as a possible provenance.12

Bezae’s Latin column a composite of Old Latin texts: Bezae’s Latin column reflects a hybridization of Latin texts, “African” and “European,” according to the traditional nomenclature, which accounts for its independence within the Latin tradition.13

Old Latin parallels

Latin assimilation a major process in Bezan Greek text: Bezae’s distinctive parallels with the Old Latin version result from assimilation to the Latin version through a process of selective retroversion (on assimilation theories, see my survey of Bezan theories).14

Bezae’s Greek text a partial retroversion of various Latin versions: Bezae’s Greek column reflects a process of selective assimilation to one or more strands of the Old Latin version. The Greek column may not be derived directly from the Latin column (at least as written), though it shares the same readings.15 A proposed process is as follows:

  1. Multiple Latin versions were combined to create an archetypical Latin column
  2. Latin column archetype translated into Greek and used to correct a Greek base text
  3. Resulting Greek and Latin columns mutually corrected to agree, obscuring the dependence of the Greek column on the archetypical Latin column.

Parallels with ancient writers

Ancient parallels in Bezae are direct or indirect echoes of second- or third-century writers: Bezae’s parallels with ancient writers reached its text through one of two routes:

  1. Incorporation of parallels already in the Old Latin version indirectly through assimilation to this version (see post).
  2. Deliberate archaizing of Bezae’s text form to agree with authoritative ancient writers, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, Victorinus, and Irenaeus.16

The implication is that no second-century writer had access to a so-called “Western” or pre-“Western” text. Readings shared by Bezae with ancient writers and the Old Latin tradition were likely assimilated into Bezae’s text through the Old Latin tradition. Particularly vivid parallels with ancient writers and parallels not shared with the Old Latin tradition may have resulted from deliberate archaizing of the fourth-century text.17

East-West exchange of readings

Western mediation in the Antiochian schism (378-397) a plausible background for Bezae’s text: The exchange of readings responsible for Bezae’s Latin and Syriac parallels and possibly also its parallels with Codex Sinaiticus (א) in John 1–8 and with P127 in Acts occurred towards the end of the fourth century in the aftermath of the Arian controversy, when the East faced a struggle to rebuild its institutions (on East-West exchange, see post). The Antiochian Schism (362-397) provides a plausible backdrop for the introduction of Old Latin readings from West to East by representatives of Rome during the period of mediation (378-397), though important work may have occurred in Caesarea in Palestine.18 Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) explicitly sought Rome’s involvement in mediating the Antiochian schism between rival orthodox parties (Epistles 70, 92). In the subsequent period, numerous delegations were sent in both directions between Rome and Antioch, providing a promising setting for the exchange of texts.19

Major variation in Acts

Bezae’s Acts text establishes an apostolic precedent for recognition of Petrine primacy: Significant rewriting in canonical Acts is a side effect of this book’s importance for establishing apostolic precedent in general and especially recognition of Petrine primacy, in late fourth-century debates. The issue of Petrine primacy was particularly relevant in the case of Rome’s intervention in the politics of an ancient see, such as Antioch, and its rivalry with Constantinople after the Council of 381.

The pericope adulterae and Jerome’s use of fictional narrative

In several recent posts, I have explored the possibility that Jerome himself was the author and interpolator of the pericope adulterae (= PA) in the form and location in which it appears in his Vulgate revision of John. I have based this suggestion largely on five observations:

  1. The sudden interest in the final form of the PA and knowledge of its place in John at the time the Vulgate gospels were introduced (c. 385), especially among Latin writers who were likely to have been acquainted with Jerome and his revision.
  2. The questionable reliability of Jerome’s testimony to the PA thirty years later in Against Pelagians (415), when he appeals to the existence of Greek and Latin copies which by this time had thirty years to propagate.
  3. Uncertainty as to the precise date the Vulgate gospels were completed, due to our nearly complete dependence for this date on a dubious letter exchange between Jerome and Damasus.
  4. A series of striking parallels between the story related in the PA and Jerome’s circumstances in 385 concerning his bitter dismissal from Rome under charges of sexual misconduct and his attachment to a woman (Paula) who was by implication caught in the act of adultery by those whom he called a hypocritical “senate of Pharisees.”
  5. The uncanny overlap between sources detected in the PA and Jerome’s literary activities in the mid-380’s. In particular, we might consider:
    1. In producing his own Commentary on Ecclesiastes (388), it is likely Jerome consulted the Commentary on Ecclesiastes of his esteemed mentor Didymus, which attests a shorter version of the PA, featuring Jesus and a condemned woman. So Jerome was likely in contact with Didymus’ version of the story just as he was completing the Vulgate.
    2. Jerome’s use of Jeremiah’s imprecations against his own accusers in the Preface to his translation of Didymus’ Treatise on the Holy Spirit, where he imagines to a boiling pot (Jeremiah 1:13) tilting over his persecutors, while in the PA, Jesus writes the accusers of the woman in the dust (Jeremiah 17:13).

Of course, one obvious problem with any suggestion that Jerome may have authored the PA is that it seems to accuse him of passing off a fictional narrative as a genuine tradition about Jesus. The problem is little diminished if we suggest that Jerome merely interpolated an existing tradition with certain details from his own experience.

But as Donatien De Bruyne pointed out long ago, Jerome’s use of fictional narrative settings is not uncommon in his letters.1 Nor does Jerome’s use of fiction necessarily reflect an intent to deceive, given that the letters seem to have been prepared expressly for publication.2

If De Bruyne’s understanding is accurate, Jerome used fictional narrative settings for a variety of ends, for example, moral instruction (Epistles 117 and 147) or as a background for exegetical inquiry (Epistles 106, 120, 121). Consider:

  • In Contra Vigilantium 3, Jerome acknowledges that a story he recounted in his Epistle 117 is fictitious:3

“he [Vigilantius] may choose once more to misrepresent me, and say that I have trumped up a case for the sake of showing off my rhetorical and declamatory powers in combating it, like the letter which I wrote to Gaul, relating to a mother and daughter who were at variance.” (NPNF 2.6, 418)

The letter in question contains Jerome’s supposed advice to a monk from Gaul, whose mother and sister had welcomed monks to live in their respective homes. Of course, Jerome’s advice is for the women to dismiss the monks and live together lest they provoke temptation and scandal.

  • D. de Bruyne points out that the setting of Jerome’s Epistle 106 to Sunnias and Fretela is likely fictitious. The letter alleges that two inquisitive sojourners from Getica have arrived in Bethlehem desiring a full account of the differences between Jerome’s “Roman” psalter of 383 and the LXX psalter, an inquiry that seems unlikely to have driven two travelers across the Empire, while (perhaps too conveniently) the identity of travelers from a remote provenance is not easily verified! At the same time, the rather obscure inquiry fits Jerome’s interests particularly well.
  • de Bruyne points to the setting of Epistle 120 as likely fictitious. In this letter, a certain woman, Hedibia, from Gaul with a burning interest in the study of Scripture approaches Jerome with twelve questions concerning “contradictions” in the New Testament. Again, we might note the somewhat contrived setup as well as the suspicious alignment of “Hedibia’s” interests with Jerome’s.
  • de Bruyne suggests that the setting of Epistle 121 is likely fictitious. In this letter, another woman from Gaul, a certain Algasia, approaches Jerome for answers to her eleven most pressing New Testament questions.
  • de Bruyne also suggests as fictitious Jerome’s lurid tale in Epistle 147, concerning a certain wayward monk, Sabinianus, who commits adultery at Rome and attempts to seduce of a nun in Bethlehem.

These contrived narrative settings fall into two categories. On the one hand is Jerome’s self-assured and somewhat self-promoting topos of the “celebrity” scholar to whom petitioners flock from remote corners of the empire to test his exegetical insight (Epistles 106, 120, 121). On the other though is a more troubled preoccupation with sexual guilt, temptation, and hypocrisy, closer to the themes encountered in the PA. Here we find what seems a losing struggle to escape sexual immorality involving monks, widows, virgins, and nuns. In both categories, a choice of more remote settings in Gaul and the distant Latin West makes it difficult to challenge the veracity of the narrative.

While these purely fictitious settings seem harmless enough, in other cases Jerome’s apparent reference to real persons and events seems to cross the line in an apparent intent to mislead. According to Nautin’s suggestion, this is notably the case for Epistle 35, which appears not to have been composed by Pope Damasus to Jerome (as claimed), but rather by Jerome himself to secure support for his projects, as Nautin explains:

when examined closely, these documents [Epistles 35 and 36] raise some troubling questions that we must decide one day to confront directly. Not that we can doubt that the three letters of Jerome are by him, but many indications suggest that he is also the author of three letters attributed to Damasus and that he composed this correspondence after the death of the pope at a time when it was useful to take advantage of his relationship with the deceased pontiff.4

Following Jerome’s established topos of the inquisitive petitioner, Epistle 35 poses five exegetical questions lifted straight out of Ambrosiaster’s Questions on the Old Testament. As Nautin argues, Jerome’s purpose in using a fictional setting is threefold:

  1. To demonstrate his superiority as a biblical scholar over Ambrosiaster5
  2. To display his close relationship with the pope and suggest the pope’s approval of his scholarly projects6
  3. To show that he had long contemplated a Latin translation of Didymus’ work on the Holy Spirit lest the timing of his own translation be misunderstood as a direct attack on Ambrose, as it was apparently intended7

Nautin suggests that the rest of Damasus’ putative private correspondence with Jerome is similarly fictitious, including Epistle 19, in which the pontiff allegedly inquires about the meaning of the word “Hosanna,” as though he were Jerome’s obedient pupil. Of course, the point is to allow Jerome to display his allegedly copious knowledge of Hebrew. In a similar vein, Epistle 21 responds to Damasus’ alleged request for a minute explanation of the parable of the prodigal son.

So what are we to make of the fictional element in Jerome’s epistles? Certainly, if we are to cite Jerome’s testimony as textual evidence, we must be fully aware that he is not always trustworthy. Moreover, we cannot apologize for Jerome’s lack of reliability as a kind of forgetfulness or a fondness for exaggeration. The consequence of being too accepting is to attribute to the early gospel what was likely never there.

The ultimate question though is how far Jerome would be willing to exploit this device of narrative fiction beyond the epistolary genre. Would he have introduced a fictional narrative into a gospel? Might he have justified this on the basis of Didymus’ use of a similar story? As textual scholars we cannot afford to be too generous towards Jerome when it comes to his inclusion of the PA in the Vulgate when we encounter so much willingness to employ fiction elsewhere.

It is strange indeed that the final form of the PA, if it is truly an ancient tradition, cannot be traced before the decade of the first indirect tradition in which it is attested. It is odd that this sensational story remained so well hidden before Jerome’s Vulgate burst on the scene. In fact, the position of the PA in John strikes us as odd until we read it through the lens of Jerome’s bitter experience.

Are Jerome’s Roman accusers the Pharisees of the pericope adulterae?

In my previous post, I pointed to Jerome’s Vulgate as a possible avenue by which an expanded version of Didymus’ account of Jesus and the condemned woman — from a certain gospel — reached John 7:53 in its final full form as the pericope adulterae (= PA). Some appealing features of this suggestion are:

  • Jerome’s recent expulsion from Rome by an assembly of clerics he terms a “senate of Pharisees” under charges of sexual impropriety predisposed him towards texts concerning hypocritical judges and accusations of sexual sin
  • Jerome’s high opinion of his mentor Didymus is favorable to his acquaintance with material found in Didymus’ writings, such as the story of Jesus and the condemned woman, from which the full form of the PA may have developed
  • Given his acquaintance with Didymus’ work, it is not improbable that Jerome consulted Didymus’ Commentary on Ecclesiastes, which contains the story of Jesus and the condemned woman, in preparing his own Commentary on Ecclesiastes (388), a work nearly contemporaneous with his eviction from Rome
  • Given that Jerome’s revision of the gospels was already in progress at the time accusations against him surfaced and that it was apparently produced with little or no oversight, Jerome was afforded an ideal opportunity to introduce new material as he saw fit
  • The possibility that Jerome fabricated his correspondence with Damasus should make us wary of accepting his report concerning the circumstances of the Vulgate’s production at face value, including his report of presenting the work to Damasus before the latter’s death in 384
  • The PA’s affinity with the Latin tradition is well-explained if it arose in the Latin rather than the Greek tradition

While the circumstantial parallels are certainly remarkable, we still require an impetus capable of explaining the introduction of new material into a canonical gospel. Such an impetus is readily supplied by Jerome’s festering hostility towards those whom he believed had plotted his downfall at Rome, for whom he may well have intended the PA as a “secret” indictment.

Jerome’s Bitterness against his Accusers

Jerome’s bitterness towards his Roman accusers is best exemplified in a series of vicious attacks on Ambrose, whom Jerome apparently held responsible for his undoing, a case that is examined by S. M. Oberhelman in his article, “Jerome’s Earliest Attack on Ambrose: On Ephesians, Prologue (ML 26:469D-70A).” 1 Oberhelman recounts in vivid detail how, following his expulsion from Rome, Jerome’s stance towards Ambrose reversed practically overnight from obsequious flattery to malicious character assault:

“Jerome initiated and conducted for almost thirty years a malicious assault on Ambrose’s character, as well as his literary and exegetical abilities.”2

As Oberhelman points out, the suddenness of Jerome’s reversal is especially striking:

“until the end of 384, Jerome praised Ambrose as a gifted writer and a pillar of orthodoxy. But beginning in 388 Jerome cast malicious aspersions on Ambrose’s character, literary accomplishments, theological training, and critical tools in scriptural exegesis; the attacks do not cease with Ambrose’s death but continue until the end of Jerome’s life. Jerome blamed Ambrose for a hand in his expulsion from Rome. This then accounts for the deep bitterness that emerges immediately after his return to the east in late 385 or the summer of 386.”3

The viciousness with which Jerome, in Oberhelman’s words, “savagely pilloried Ambrose” was not lost on the contemporary writer Rufinus, Jerome’s former associate and friend, who notes in his own defense against similar attacks:

“another man whom he [Jerome] tears to pieces is Ambrose that Bishop of sacred memory. In what manner, and with what disparagement he attacks him, I will show” (Apology against Jerome 2.22; NPNF 2.3, 469).4

“now I have undertaken to prove how violently he attacks a man who is worthy of all admiration, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who was not to that church alone but to all the churches like a column or an impregnable fortress. I will therefore set forth a Preface of his by which you may see in what foul and unworthy terms he assails even a man of such eminence, and also how he praises Didymus to the sky.” (Against Jerome 2.23; NPNF 2.3, 470)

Rufinus claims to know more than he wants to divulge concerning the allegedly unsavory details of Jerome’s exodus from Rome, as he relates:

“I could unfold a tale as to the manner of your departure from Rome; as to the opinions expressed about you at the time, and written about you afterwards, as to your oath, the place where you embarked, the pious manner in which you avoided committing perjury; all this I could enlarge upon, but I have determined to keep back more than I relate.” (Apology of Jerome against Rufinus 3.21; NPNF 2.3, 530)5

Elsewhere Rufinus mentions “secret” unfavorable information he might disclose about Jerome:

“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.” (Against Jerome 2.23; NPNF 2.3, 471)

But the context of Rufinus’ remarks makes it absolutely clear that he connects Jerome’s assault on Ambrose to events surrounding his unceremonious dismissal from Rome.

Is Ambrose One of Jerome’s Pharisees?

Oberhelman attaches particular significance to Jerome’s reference to the assembly of the Roman clergy who forced him out of Rome as a “senate of Pharisees:”6 In his translation of Didymus’ Treatise on the Holy Spirit, itself intended to expose Ambrose’s alleged plagiarism of his mentor, Jerome writes:

“While I was an inhabitant of Babylon [i.e. Rome], a settler in the land of the purple harlot, and lived under the law of the Quirites, I attempted to write some poor stuff about the Holy Spirit and dedicated the work to the Pontiff of that city [i.e. Damasus]. When on a sudden that pot which Jeremiah saw after the almond rod began to seethe from the face of the North [in judgment]; and the whole senate of the Pharisees raised a clamour and no mere imaginary scribe but the whole faction of the ignorant as if I had declared war against them, laid their heads together against me.”(Jerome, Preface to Treatise of Didymus on the Holy Spirit, cited by Rufinus, Against Jerome 2.24, NPNF 2.3, 470)

It is significant that in his attack on this so-called “senate of Pharisees,” Jerome invokes Jeremiah’s judgment oracles against his accusers, much as Jesus’ writing on the ground invokes Jeremiah’s judgment on the Pharisees in the PA. At the same time, Jerome invokes the saintliness of Didymus, who provided him with material for this “prophetic” indictment against the hypocritical Pharisees:

“But Didymus, my own Didymus, who has the eyes of the bride in the Song of Songs, those eyes which Jesus bade us lift up upon the whitening fields, looks afar into the depths, and has once more given us cause to call him, as is our wont, the Seer Prophet.” (Jerome cited by Rufinus, Against Jerome 2.24, NPNF 2.3, 470)

Jerome is of course making an ironic comparison of the blind Didymus to “the Seer Prophet” Jeremiah, implying that Didymus’ words will reveal judgment against his false accusers, especially the “plagiarizer” Ambrose, just as the innocent Jeremiah’s prophecy announced divine judgment on the Kingdom of Judah. But if Didymus’ words on the Holy Spirit convey judgment on Jerome’s “senate of Pharisees,” might his account of the condemned woman convey similar, more pointed judgment on these “false” accusers?

Jerome against Hypocritical Bishops

In fact, as Oberhelman shows, Jerome’s writings at Bethlehem following his ignominious departure from Rome overflow with vitriol against bishops, who sound a lot like caricatures of Ambrose, who it is claimed:

“have achieved their positions, not by merit, but by influence and connections.”7

Of course, Ambrose is known for having been promoted from catechumen to bishop on the basis of his secular prominence as governor of Aemilia-Liguria. But according to Jerome, these hypocrites resort (according to Oberhelman’s paraphrase) to:

“obsequiousness, bribery, and methods so vile (so Jerome claims) that he must keep silent … [o]nce these bishops assume office, they consider their position as one of absolute authority rather than as a dispensation from God” 8

Oberhelman continues:

“Jerome does not stop here with theoretical observations, but proceeds to paint a series of very vivid, highly rhetorical scenes of bishops inebriated in taverns, hurling wine cups, ‘vomiting in order to drink and drinking in order to vomit,’ and indulging in the most disgusting sexual and carnal lusts …. [t]hese same bishops, exulting as they do in their power, will not refrain from excommunicating laypeople who seem to be enjoying the ‘good life’.”9

Oberhelman concludes:

“Such passages have particular relevance when we reflect on Jerome’s expulsion of a year earlier from Rome by a council of Roman clerics who had been abetted by the powerful bishops of Rome and Milan. … Jerome inserts in the most irrelevant places tirades against the highest ranking members of the clergy, who, as Jerome is careful to point out, are ignorant of theology and the scriptures, but who prefer to pander to fawning congregations and audiences by indulging in rhetoric and oratory-the very charges that the prologue to On Ephesians lays at Ambrose’s feet.”10

So Jerome’s bitter attack on Ambrose offers us a glimpse of the lengths to which he would go to pursue his accusers. But might Jerome’s fondness for Didymus “the prophet” have emboldened him to insert a free gospel tradition cited by Didymus in a canonical text to impugn his accusers?

Oberhelman is led to the following chilling appraisal of Jerome:

“[his commentaries on Paul] illustrate the intensity of Jerome’s ill-will and hatred toward the bishops of the church at the very time when he formulated his attacks on Ambrose between 386/7 and 392. Jerome could never forget the episode in Rome or those whom he held accountable for his disgraceful departure. Jerome’s malice toward Ambrose and the ‘senate of Pharisees’ surfaces first in the Pauline commentaries and does not cease until death conquered what his Christian love and faith were not able to overcome.”11

While Oberhelman makes little effort to disguise his unfavorable view of Jerome, his withering critique certainly has some basis. Nor is Oberhelman the first scholar to have formed an essentially negative assessment of Jerome’s character. But if Jerome were so ready to avenge himself on his adversaries that any separation between truth and fantasy became distorted in his eyes, it is time that text critics pay attention, and all the more urgently if we wish to rely on Jerome’s testimony for our decisions on the text.

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.

Aphraates, Bezae, and the 63 generations from Adam to Christ

In a recent post, I noted the parallels between the generations given in Bezae’s Lukan genealogy — harmonized to Matthew — and the list of generations given by Aphraates in his Demonstration 23.21. With a single exception — the apparently erroneous double inclusion of Jehoiakim under both his birth name Eliakim and his regnal name Jehoiakim — the names in Bezae’s singularly-attested Lukan genealogy are identical to those in Aphraates’ list of the generations from Adam to Christ. 1 In addition, Bezae and Aphraates share two significant but smaller textual variations within their respective lists of generations. 2

So given these similarities, we might wish to conclude that Aphraates attests an early form of Bezae’s genealogy that at one point must have circulated in third-century Syria. Yet it is by no means clear that Aphraates intends to cite a gospel text at all and, least of all, the Lukan gospel.

Earlier in chapter 20 of Demonstration 23, discussing the post-exilic restoration, Aphraates recites eleven generations of the Matthean genealogy from Zerubbabel to Joseph, offering no specific identification or context. If we had to name a source here, it would not be Luke, but Matthew, who is also interested in the restoration.

Then in chapter 21, Aphraates recites a second, complete list of sixty-three generations from Adam to Joseph, again with no identification or context pointing to a specific gospel. Now if Aphraates were citing Matthew, we would expect Matthew’s “X δε εγεννησεν τον Y” formula, or if he were citing Luke, we would expect Luke’s “X του Y” formula. 3 But Aphraates’ list of generations gives us little confidence that we have a gospel citation versus a free tradition assembled from pieces of Matthew, Luke, and Hebrew tradition. In fact, it is possible to reconstruct Aphraates’ list without even consulting Luke at all!

But if Aphraates is not citing from a biblical text, might his tradition be a source for a text such as Bezae’s? After all, Bezae seems in other cases to have appropriated extra-canonical sources.

While Aphraates identifies no gospel source for his list of generations, he mentions twice that the number of generations from Adam to the coming of Christ is sixty-three (Dem. 23.20,21), a number that does not correspond to the total generations given in any other gospel (for comparison, mainstream Matthew has 40 generations, while Luke has 75).

So it seems then that Aphraates’ tradition at one point emphasized the distinctive number of generations in its genealogy of Jesus. This genealogy was essentially constructed of the names in Matthew from Joseph to Abraham, while a variety of sources is possible for the generations from Abraham to Adam. 4 But what exactly does the distinctive number sixty-three signify?

While Aphraates does not tell us directly the significance of the number sixty-three, the context suggests that it conveys a sense of the fullness of time from Adam to Christ. We might further speculate, for example, that the perfection of the number 63 lies in its being the product of three squared times seven or its having a sexagesimal basis with the addition of three. In Syriac, the gematric value of 63 implies the root sgi (semkat = 60, gamal = 3), meaning much or many.

Aphraates’ mention of Daniel’s sixty-two weeks (Dan. 9:25) offers further support for the notion that sixty-three generations symbolizes a fulfillment of times. Aphraates explains:

From Adam until Joseph are sixty-three generations. He [Jesus] took his paternal name from Joseph and thus was declared anointed [i.e. Christ]. So from Joseph he received his paternal name, from John his priestly name, and from Mary he was clothed in a body and received his birth name. Then after sixty-two weeks [from the exile], the anointed [Christ] was born and put to death. (Aphraates, Demonstration 23.21, translation mine)

Here the erroneous duplication of a generation in Bezae’s genealogy offers a clue that Bezae reproduces a tradition that once stood outside of its present context in Luke. It seems that a marginal note identifying Jehoiakim’s birth name (Eliakim) crept into Bezae’s text as an additional, sixty-fourth name, suggesting that the tradition already contained readers’ annotations. At the same time, the annotation was not part of Bezae’s tradition, otherwise it presumably would have been recognized as such.

The result is that Bezae’s duplicated name disrupts the symbolism of the number of generations, suggesting that the tradition used by Bezae was not entirely understood by those who imported it. Aphraates himself may or may not have understood the significance of sixty-three generations, but no one in Bezae’s tradition was even sufficiently aware of the potential symbolism to count the number of generations! So the genealogy may itself be ancient, but is evidently recently placed in its present situation in Bezae.

We might conclude then that Bezae’s genealogy has been imported from an outside tradition. This is revealed by its inclusion (or failure to leave out) what must have originated as a gloss, which at the same time destroys the symbolism of the sixty-three generations before Christ. When the genealogy was taken up by Bezae’s producers, it was no longer in a context that could appreciate its rich history. Perhaps the tradition was too ancient. Perhaps it was too far removed from an original source farther East. But one thing seems clear: By the time Bezae’s tradition appropriated the genealogy of sixty-three generations, it was no longer perceived as a mystical statement of the perfection of the times, but merely as a convenient harmony of Matthew and Luke.