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.

Is Bezae’s Lukan genealogy the work of an editor?

In an earlier post, I suggested that Bezae’s harmonization of the Lukan genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38) offers one of the most assured glimpses of an editorial process behind its distinctive text, simply because the motivation for such harmonization is so patently clear. In short, the nature of the variation itself suggests a deliberate attempt to smooth over what was evidently perceived as a major apologetic problem posed by the divergent Matthean and Lukan genealogies.

Bezae’s variant genealogy is technically a “singular” reading in that no other witness presents a similar genealogy as the text of Luke 3:23-38. Yet Bezae’s genealogy seems closely related to a sequence of names offered by Aphraates in his Demonstration 23 — though Aphraates presents the names in chronological order and does not identify his source either as a biblical text or as a harmony. 1 Aphraates seems content merely to demonstrate that there were sixty-three generations from Adam to Christ by listing all sixty-three names.

Section 1 of 3: From Joseph to David

All versions of Luke’s genealogy begin with Joseph and proceed backwards to Adam: 2

Verse Luke (D) Luke (B) Matthew (B) Aphraates
3:23 ιωσηφ (01) Ιωσηφ (01) Ιωσηφ (40) yawsep (63)
Forty names according to the mainstream tradition omitted in Bezae

The forty names between David and Joseph in mainstream Luke depict Jesus’ descent from Nathan, an otherwise unknown son of David. They differ entirely from the well-known royal line of David given by Matthew. The forty names — all absent in Bezae — are as follows (from Codex Vaticanus):

Verse Luke (B)
3:23 Ηλει (02)
3:24 Ματθατ (03)
ηλειει (04)
Μελχει (05)
Ιανναι (06)
Ιωσηφ (07)
3:25 Μαθθαθιου (08)
Αμως (09)
Ναουμ (10)
Εσλει (11)
Ναγγαι (12)
3:26 Μααθ (13)
Ματταθιου (14)
Σεμεειν (15)
Ιωσηχ (16)
Ιωδα (17)
3:27 Ιωαναν (18)
Ρησα (19)
Ζοροβαβελ (20)
Σαλαθιηλ (21)
Νηρει (22)
3:28 Μελχει (23)
Αδδει (24)
Κωσαμ (25)
Ελμαδαμ (26)
Ηρ (27)
3:29 Ιησου (28)
Ελιεζερ (29)
Ιωρειμ (30)
Μαθθατ (31)
Λευει (32)
3:30 Συμεων (33)
Ιουδα (34)
Ιωσηφ (35)
Ιωναμ (36)
Ελιακειμ (37)
3:31 Μελεα (38)
Μεννα (39)
Μετταθα (40)
Ναθαμ (41)
Thirty names according to Bezae’s text

In place of the forty names in mainstream Luke, Bezae substitutes twenty-five names drawn from Matthew and five from the LXX for a total of thirty names. The effect is to bring the Lukan genealogy into consistency with Matthew. 3

Yet Bezae introduces two notable variations to Matthew’s genealogy. First, three kings missing from Matthew’s genealogy are inserted by Bezae (αμασιου, ιωας, and οχοζιου), a variation also found in Aphraates. Second, Bezae is the only witness that counts Jehoiakim (a.k.a. Eliakim) twice by listing him under each of his names (του ιωακειμ του ελιακειμ, i.e. “Jehoiakim the son of Eliakim”). But according to 2 Kgs 23:34, Jehoiakim was the name assigned to Eliakim by Pharaoh Necho when he installed him as an Egyptian client! This variation is not found in Aphraates.

Luke (D) Matthew (B) Aphraates LXX
ιακωβ (02) Ιακωβ (39) tmp_24098-62-gen-525853145 yaʿqúb (62)
μαθθαν (03) Μαθθαν (38) mattan (61)
ελεαζαρ (04) Ελεαζαρ (37) ʾelíʿāzar (60)
ελιουδ (05) Ελιουδ (36) ʾelíúd (59)
ιαχειν (06) Αχειμ (35) ʾakín (58)
σαδωκ (07) Σαδωκ (34) zādúq (57)
αζωρ (08) Αζωρ (33) ʿāzúr (56)
ελιακειμ (09) Ελιακειμ (32) ʾelíqím (55)
αβιουδ (10) Αβιουδ (31) ʾabíúd (54)
ζοροβαβελ (11) Ζοροβαβελ (30) zúrbābel (53) Ζοροβαβελ (1 Chron 3:19)
σαλαθιηλ (12) Σελαθιηλ (29) šelatiʾél (52) σαλαθιηλ (1 Chron 3:17)
ιεχονιου (13) Ιεχονιαν (28) yúyākín (51) ιωακιμ (4 Kgs 24:8)
ιωακειμ (14) yúyāqím (50) ιωακιμ (4 Kgs 23:36)
ελιακειμ (15) ελιακιμ (4 Kgs 23:34)
ιωσεια (16) Ιωσειαν (27) yúšiyā (49) ιωσιας (4 Kgs 22:1)
αμως (17) Αμως (26) āmún (48) αμων (4 Kgs 21:19)
μανασση (18) Μανασση (25) mnaše (47) μανασσης (4 Kgs 21:1)
εζεκεια (19) Εζεκιαν (24) ḥezaqyā (46) εζεκιας (4 Kgs 18:1)
αχας (20) Αχαζ (23) āḥāz (45) αχαζ (4 Kgs 16:1)
ιωαθαν (21) Ιωαθαμ (22) yútām (44) ιωαθαμ (4 Kgs 15:5)
οζεια (22) Οζειαν (21) ʿúziyā (43) αζαριας (4 Kgs 15:1)
αμασιου (23) ʾamúṣiyā (42) αμεσσιου (4 Kgs 15:1)
ιωας (24) yāhúʾāsh (41) ιωας (4 Kgs 12:2)
οχοζιου (25) ʾeḥazyā (40) οχοζιας (4 Kgs 8:25)
ιωραμ (26) Ιωραμ (20) yāhúrām (39) ιωραμ (3 Kgs 16:22)
ιωσαφαδ (27) Ιωσαφατ (19) yúšāpāṭ (38) ιωσαφατ (3 Kgs 15:24)
ασαφ (28) Ασαφ (18) ʾāsā (37) ασα (3 Kgs 15:9)
αβιουδ (29) Αβια (17) ʾabiyā (36) αβια (2 Kgs 14:27; 3 Kgs 12:24)
ροβοαμ (30) Ροβοαμ (16) rḥabʿam (35) ροβοαμ (2 Kgs 8:7)
σολομων (31) Σολομωνα (15) šlémún (34) σαλωμων (2 Kgs 5:14)

Section 2 of 3: From David to Abraham

Fourteen names

Mainstream Matthew and Luke are in essential agreement with each other and with Bezae for the fourteen names from David through Abraham, though there are some minor orthographic variations.

Verse Luke (D) Luke (B) Matthew (B) Aphraates LXX
3:31 δαυειδ (32) Δαυειδ (42) Δαυειδ (14) dawíd (33) δαυιδ (1 Kgs 16:12)
3:32 ιεσσαι (33) Ιεσσαι (43) Ιεσσαι (13) ʾíshay (32) ιεσσαι (1 Kgs 16:1)
ωβηλ (34) Ιωβηλ (44) Ιωβηδ (12) ʿúbíd (31) ωβηδ (Ruth 4:21)
βοος (35) Βοος (45) Βοες (11) bāʿāz (30) βοος (Ruth 4:21)
σαλμων (36) Σαλα (46) Σαλμων (10) šelā (29) σαλμαν (Ruth 4:20)
ναασσων (37) Ναασσων (47) Ναασσων (09) neḥšún (28) ναασσων (Ruth 4:20)
3:33 αμειναδαβ (38) Αδμειν (48) Αμειναδαβ (08) ʿamínādāb (27) αμιναδαβ (Ruth 4:19)
αραμ (39) Αρνει (49) Αραμ (07) ʾārām (26) αρραν (Ruth 4:19)
ασρωμ (40) Εσρων (50) Εσρωμ (06) ḥeṣrún (25) εσρων (Ruth 4:18)
φαρες (41) Φαρες (51) Φαρες (05) pareṣ (24) φαρες (Ruth 4:18)
ιουδα (42) Ιουδα (52) Ιουδαν (04) íhúdā (23) ιουδα (Gen 29:35)
3:34 ιακωβ (43) Ιακωβ (53) Ιακωβ (03) yaʿqúb (22) ιακωβ (Gen 25:26)
ισακ (44) Ισαακ (54) Ισαακ (02) ʾísḥāq (21) ισαακ (Gen 17:19)
αβρααμ (45) Αβρααμ (55) Αβρααμ (01) ʾabrāhām (20) αβρααμ (Gen 17:5)

Section 3 of 3: From Abraham to Adam

Twenty names

Only Luke traces the genealogy of Jesus past Abraham to Adam, with the mainstream Lukan tradition including twenty names before Abraham (Luke 3:34-38). Bezae follows the mainstream tradition here, except for lacking the name Καιναμ, a variation it shares with Aphraates and P75(vid). 4

Verse Luke (D) Luke (B) Aphraates LXX
3:34 θαρα (46) Θαρα (56) tārāḥ (19) θαρα (Gen 11:24)
ναχωρ (47) Ναχωρ (57) nāḥúr (18) ναχωρ (Gen 11:22)
3:35 σερουκ (48) Σερουχ (58) srúg (17) σερουχ (Gen 11:20)
ραγαυ (49) Ραγαυ (59) ʾarʿú (16) ραγαυ (Gen 11:18)
φαλεκ (50) Φαλεκ (60) pālāg (15) παλεκ (Gen 11:16)
εβερ (51) Εβερ (61) ʿābār (14) εβερ (Gen 11:14)
σαλα (52) Σαλα (62) šālāḥ (13) σαλα (Gen 11:13)
3:36 Καιναμ (63) καιναν (Gen 11:12)
αρφαξαδ (53) Αρφαξαδ (64) ʾarpakšar (12) αρφαξαδ (Gen 11:10)
σημ (54) Σημ (65) ším (11) σημ (Gen 5:32)
νωε (55) Νωε (66) núḥ (10) νωε (Gen 5:29)
λαμεκ (56) Λαμεχ (67) lāmāk (09) λαμεχ (Gen 5:25)
3:37 μαθουσαλα (57) Μαθθουσαλα (68) matúšlaḥ (08) μαθουσαλα (Gen 5:21)
αινωχ (58) Ενωχ (69) ḥnúk (07) ενωκ (Gen 5:18)
ιαρεδ (59) Ιαρετ (70) yārād (06) ιαρεδ (Gen 5:15)
μαλελεηλ (60) Μαλελεηλ (71) mahlālāʾél (05) μαλελεηλ (Gen 5:12)
καϊναν (61) Καιναν (72) qaynān (04) καιναν (Gen 5:9)
3:38 αινως (62) Ενως (73) ʾānúš (03) ενως (Gen 5:6)
σηθ (63) Σηθ (74) šít (02) σηθ (Gen 5:3)
αδαμ (64) Αδαμ (75) ʾādām (01) αδαμ (Gen 2:16)

So the total number of names in Jesus’ lineage in each genealogy is:

Luke (D) 64
Luke (B) 75
Matthew (B) 40
Aphraates 63

Certainly Bezae’s similarity to Aphraates is striking, despite its unique listing of Jehoiakim under two names.

So does Bezae’s Lukan genealogy reveal the work of an editor? It is clear that at various times an apologetic motive would have existed to produce a single harmonized genealogy of Jesus. Such a genealogy may have been intended to silence critics, but might also have served to instruct the orthodox in the “correct” synthesis of the two genealogies. But what makes Bezae’s Lukan genealogy most likely the work of a resolute editor is the difficulty of imagining why a genealogy originally in harmony, as found in Bezae, might have been taken out of harmony in the respective traditions of Matthew and Luke. Until this question is answered, it is difficult to see Bezae’s text here as anything other than implied evidence that its distinctive text could not represent the initial text.

When was Bezae’s Lukan genealogy harmonized?

At eighty Greek words — roughly half the size of the Pericope adulterae — Bezae’s distinctive harmonization of the Lukan genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38) stands as one of its longest variations from the mainstream text. By comparison, the longest so-called “Western non-interpolation” at Luke 22:19-20 involves thirty-two words, while the Sabbath worker episode at Luke 6:5 consists of just twenty-eight words. Yet from Luke 3:23-31, Bezae’s text replaces the forty names from Joseph to David in Luke’s genealogy. In their place, we find the twenty-five names between Joseph and David in Matthew’s genealogy.

No other of Bezae’s variations suggests more clearly the work of a determined editor! In fact, the process of harmonization required the Matthean order to be reversed to accommodate Luke’s reverse-chronological design! So Bezae’s Lukan genealogy must be regarded as evidence of the secondary nature of its distinctive text. After all, to suggest otherwise, we must explain why the mainstream text would have introduced genealogies that do not agree. Yet while the motive for a change on Bezae’s side seems obvious enough, it is not so obvious when such a change might have occurred.

Our investigation of synoptic harmonization must naturally begin in the second century. But while our second-century sources mention the two genealogies, they are notably quiet on any conflict between them. While Justin Martyr does not cite Matthew’s genealogy, he refers to the Lukan genealogy in connection with Jesus’s descent from Adam, explaining why Jesus called himself “Son of Man”:

“He called himself Son of Man either because of his birth by the Virgin who was … of the family of David and Jacob and Isaac and Abraham, or because Adam himself was the father of those above-named patriarchs, from whom Mary traces her descent.” (Dial. 100.3) 1

Now Justin mentions nothing here of any conflict between the genealogies. More striking though is the apparent reason why, namely, that Justin sees the Lukan genealogy, not as an account of Joseph’s lineage, but rather as the account of Mary’s illustrious descent through David and the patriarchs to Adam. Clearly there is no other genealogy to which Justin could be alluding than the Lukan text.

Justin confirms this understanding in the Apology, where he refers to Mary’s descent from Judah, the father of the Jews:

“For by the power of God He [Christ] was conceived by a virgin of the seed of Jacob, who was the father of Judah, the father of the Jews, as we have shown; and Jesse was His forefather according to the oracle, and He was the son of Jacob and Judah according to lineal succession. (1 Apol. 32) 2

It is clear then that Justin could perceive no conflict raised by the Lukan genealogy, which he believes to represent Jesus’ lineage through Mary.

Irenaeus is similarly aware of the Lukan genealogy, citing it with its Matthean counterpart in support of his doctrine of recapitulation. He first cites the Matthean genealogy (which he regards as giving Joseph’s lineage) to argue the impossibility that Jesus could have been born physically of Joseph, because Jeremiah had cursed Jeconiah’s descendants, barring them from the throne:

“For Joseph is seen to be the son of Joachim and Jechonias, as also Matthew explains His origin. Now Jechonias and all his descendants were disinherited from the kingdom. So says Jeremias …” (Haer. 3.21.9) 3

Irenaeus then cites the Lukan genealogy to argue that Christ is descended from Adam and thus is able to rescue the whole of fallen humanity:

“Luke shows that the genealogy of our Lord, which extends to Adam, contains seventy-two generations, and so he joins the end to the beginning and points out that He [Christ] it is who recapitulates in Himself all the nations that had been dispersed from Adam onward.” (Haer. 3.22.3-4)4

In neither case does Irenaeus mention any discrepancy between Luke and Matthew.

Yet of all second-century writers, the one that we would most expect to have attempted a harmonization is Tatian. but It seems rather that Tatian omitted the genealogy altogether from his harmony. According to Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 457), this was not due to any inability to reconcile the synoptic texts, but from a prejudice against Jesus’s Davidic heritage.

Most striking though is the silence of Celsus on the conflict, even though according to Origen was aware of both genealogies:

“he [Celsus] asserts that the ‘framers of the genealogies, from a feeling of pride, made Jesus to be descended from the first man [i.e. according to Luke], and from the kings of the Jews [i.e. according to Matthew].'” (Cels. 2.32; ANF 4, 444)

Yet amazingly Celsus seems to have said nothing of any discrepancies between the two genealogies, though he seems to know both! In fact, Origen takes Celsus to task for his neglect of this obvious problem:

“in finding fault with our Lord’s genealogy, there are certain points which occasion some difficulty even to Christians, and which, owing to the discrepancy between the genealogies, are advanced by some as arguments against their correctness, but which Celsus has not even mentioned. For Celsus, who is truly a braggart, and who professes to be acquainted with all matters relating to Christianity, does not know how to raise doubts in a skilful manner against the credibility of Scripture.”

Origen dismisses Celsus’ comment about Jesus’ social status:

“the carpenter’s wife could not have been ignorant of the fact, had she been of such illustrious descent.”

But it is clear from this that, like Justin, Celsus understood Luke’s genealogy to be that of Mary and Matthew’s to be that of Joseph. In fact, Celsus apparently considered it so self-evident that Luke recorded Jesus’ genealogy through Mary, that he does not bother to mention it. Yet Origen does inform us that in his time the discrepancies between the genealogies had been “advanced by some as arguments against their correctness.”

It is not until the third century that we find the issue of the genealogies being raised in the surviving literature, when according to Eusebius, Julius Africanus noted the problem and suggested the custom of Levirate marriage as a possible solution. But although Eusebius claims that Africanus is “refuting the opinions of others” (Hist. eccl. 1.7.1; NPNF 2.1, 91), it is hard to rely totally on his evidence, given his mistaken claim that Africanus received his answer “from tradition,” when Africanus himself contradicts this very statement, admitting namely that

“we can urge no testimony in its support [the Levirate marriage solution], we have nothing better or truer to offer.” (Hist. eccl. 1.7.15; NPNF 2.1, 94)

It seems then we cannot assume that Bezae’s harmonized Lukan genealogy arose in the second century. If an individual as hostile to Christianity as Celsus apparently saw no conflict, then neither can we assume that Bezae’s editors necessarily saw a conflict. Like Celsus, they may have viewed the two genealogies as belonging to Mary and Joseph.

Rome, Petrine primacy, and Bezae’s text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


[1] “It is not permissible to regard the text of D as coterminous with the
Codex Bezae.” D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992) 96. Note that Parker’s statement in the context of Bezae’s sense lines does not comment on the possibility that the D text might be coterminous with Bezae’s exemplar. Note also that Parker’s reconstruction allows Bezae’s exemplar of Acts to have been transcribed through the end of the fourth century (p. 281).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which compares to the Old Latin text:

pungens autem latus Petri (d gig)

But this reading is also attested by Codex Glazier:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

[7] Schenke, Apostelgeschichte, 229.

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

Has Aramaic influence on Codex Bezae been disproved?

In two recent posts, I have considered theories of the origins of Codex Bezae’s Greek text based on assimilation to one or more strains of the Old Latin version. But in his Textual Commentary, B. M. Metzger also lists several theories of Semitic influence, including those of F. H. Chase, J. Wellhausen, C. C. Torrey, A. J. Wensinck, and M. Black. [1]

One intriguing theory is that of C. C. Torrey, who argued that Bezae developed from a retroversion of an Aramaic Targum of the gospels. Torrey writes:

“There is very good reason to believe that an especially able and complete (also occasionally expanded) retroversion into Aramaic, an ‘original’ gospel very widely celebrated in its time (early second century?) and therefore translated into Greek with constant employment (from memory?) of the wording of the standard Greek text of that day, was the origin of our Codex Bezae and the ‘Western’ text.” [2]

Torrey’s theory is appealing for a number of reasons. For example:

  1. If we accept that Bezae’s features imply a Semitic influence, then a historical context among Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians supplies a compelling motive for an initial translation that might explain some of Bezae’s variation.
  2. The expansive character of Bezae’s text is consistent with the interpretive and storytelling elements we expect to find in a Targum. [3]
  3. The existence of gospel materials in Aramaic is supported by the documentary evidence of later writers.
  4. The existence of written Targums is not without precedent in the time frame proposed by Torrey. [4]

Now it is often thought that J. D. Yoder’s study, “The Language of the Greek Variants of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis,” effectively excluded the possibility of distinctive Semitic influence on Bezae’s text. [5] By evaluating Bezae’s readings both for and against three broad categories of Semitic forms, Yoder found that the number of Semitic forms present in Bezae but lacking in Westcott and Hort (= WH) was generally offset by the number present in WH but lacking in Bezae, leading him to conclude that Bezae’s Semitisms are no more representative of its text than of the larger tradition.

But Yoder’s experimental design does not rule out a significant class of theories of Semitic influence in Bezae. Specifically, it does not rule out any theory (such as Torrey’s Targum theory) that involves initial translation into a Semitic language followed by retroversion into Greek.

Why is this the case? It is simply that any Semitisms that might have existed in the initial Greek Vorlage would have been subsumed into the text of the Aramaic translation. When the text was re-translated into Greek, these original Semitisms would now have become indistinguishable from the surrounding text. In the process, the Greek retroversion would likely acquire new Semitisms or new varieties of the original Semitisms. But unless copied from an existing Greek codex, we would not expect the original Semitisms to be restored with any consistency to their former places. In fact, the expected result if Torrey’s theory were true is remarkably close to Yoder’s actual result.

So what does this mean for Torrey’s theory?

It is important to realize that Yoder’s test does not disprove Torrey’s theory or any similar theory involving rewriting the Greek text from an intermediate Semitic stage. Yet neither is it a demonstration of such a theory.

Like nearly all theories that propose the early development of a “Western” text form, a weakness of the Targum theory is its reliance on gaps in our knowledge of the earliest period of Christianity. Yet while perhaps not altogether compelling, the Targum theory highlights a potentially significant aspect of the evidence that we cannot simply dismiss, namely, the presence of certain apparent Semitic influences in Bezae’s text that are not in the mainstream text.

If Yoder intended to show that Bezae’s apparent Semitic elements need not be considered in reconstructions of its textual history simply because they do not occur in other manuscripts, this objective was not achieved. So long as distinctive elements are found in Bezae but not in the remaining tradition, they must be accounted for in any comprehensive theory of its text.

[1] B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Stuttgart, 1994) 231-232.

[2] C. C. Torrey, The Four Gospels: A New Translation (New York, 1933) 282.

[3] Metzger’s comment that “such an hypothesis … offers no help in explaining how the Bezan text of Acts became nearly one-tenth longer” (p. 232) is difficult to understand. In fact, the Targum theory should be able to account for significant expansions to the text.

[4] We might consider, for example, the Targum of Job from Qumran.

[5] J. D. Yoder, “The Language of the Greek Variants of Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis,” Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1958. See also, J. D. Yoder, “Semitisms in Codex Bezae,” Journal of Biblical Literature 78 (1959) 317–321.

Why assimilation theories of Bezae’s Greek text are compelling

In an earlier post, How to validate a theory of Bezae’s text, I suggested a fourfold classification of the nine theories of the so-called “Western” text enumerated by B. M. Metzger in his Textual Commentary. [1] The four categories are:

  1. Multiple editions
  2. An initial “Western” text
  3. A secondary “Western” text
  4. Assimilation to either the Latin or Syriac versions

(Of course, reference to the “Western” text is somewhat problematic given the existence of multiple “long texts” of Acts. Therefore I will consider these theories from the point of view of the single extant text of Codex Bezae.)

It is evident that the first three classes of theories focus on the timing of the development of the “Western” tradition with respect to the mainstream tradition — whether it came before, after, or roughly contemporaneously with the mainstream. Theories of assimilation also presume that the “Western” text is secondary, but go further in attributing the development of this text form to a specific source of influence, namely, a desire to conform the Greek text to a more familiar versional text.

Now the consensus is not favorable to theories that Bezae’s Greek text reflects systematic assimilation to a version, in particular, to the Latin version. As Metzger plainly observes:

“The theory finds little or no support among present-day scholars.” [2]

It seems though that most theorists since the eighteenth century have considered the question primarily in terms of the interaction of Bezae’s columns, where it has been shown that assimilation to the Latin column cannot explain the development of the present Greek column. Framed in these terms Latin assimilation is easy to dismiss.

But as I have argued in “Has Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text been disproved?” and “Against reason? Bezae’s Greek text and the possibility of Latin influence,” interaction between the columns is just one aspect of the question of Latin influence. A second, more fundamental aspect is whether Bezae’s Greek text has been corrected to one or more Old Latin exemplars besides its Latin column.

Once this bigger picture is considered, the theory of assimilation to the Old Latin begins to offer what other theories for the most part lack, namely, a specific, documented historical context and, more importantly, a compelling motive for the effort and expense of producing a Greek text form that so often mirrors the Old Latin version. This motive was simply the belief among certain of the participants that the Old Latin version was less corrupt than the Greek. Thus, in his Commentary on Romans 5:14, we find Ambrosiaster arguing that the text form found in his Old Latin manuscript, lacking the negative particle, is in fact the correct reading, while the Greek manuscripts that have the particle are corrupt.

Nevertheless, it has often been considered next to impossible that the ancient producers of a Greek text would borrow from a Latin version. H. Marsh argues:

“I have myself collated the two first chapters of St. Mark … and have found that in most of the readings, in which the Codex Bezae differs from all the Greek manuscripts, it agrees with some one of those Latin versions. But shall we therefore conclude that those readings were actually borrowed from a Latin version, and translated into Greek? It is at least as possible that they might have had their origin in the Greek as in the Latin, and this very possibility is sufficient to defeat the whole of Wetstein’s hypothesis [that Bezae borrows Old Latin readings].” [3]

Marsh concludes:

“there is no reason whatsoever for ascribing any reading of a Greek manuscript to the influence of the Latin, unless it can be proved that it could not have taken its rise in the Greek, and that it might easily have originated in the Latin” [4]

Although Marsh acknowledges the abundant evidence and correctly infers what the evidence seems to imply, he simply assumes that no one would ever want to correct a Greek MS to a Latin MS. Perhaps more tellingly, he speaks of readings being borrowed and translated or having an origin as though these events took place in a vacuum. Of course, what is missing from Marsh’s account is any attempt to recover the perspective of the human participants or even to acknowledge that human actors exist.

Yet going back to Ambrosiaster’s argument, it is obvious that a corrected Greek MS without μη would show not a trace of having been inspired by the Latin reading. The absence of the particle really leaves no definitive argument as to why it might be lacking. Certainly, Latin influence is not the most compelling explanation for a missing particle. So by Marsh’s rule we have no reason to suspect Latin influence. Yet we have a documented case of an unambiguous motive to drop this very Greek particle in accordance with the Old Latin variant. The motive of course is that the Old Latin version was regarded as preserving the true text, but the Greek was seen as corrupt.

But can there be any more compelling motive for the correction of a Greek MS than the belief that it was simply wrong?

It turns out then that the compelling aspect of assimilation theories is the human aspect and, in particular, the practically limitless human capacity to insist that what is familiar must be correct. Clearly, human participants are dangerous to text-critical theories based on pure reason. Once they are allowed into the picture, assimilation theories that were once judged impossible by the standards of criticism are suddenly not so improbable and in the proper context even compelling.

[1] B. M. Metzger, Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2d ed.; Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994) 223-232.

[2] Metzger, Textual Commentary, 231.

[3] H. Marsh, “Notes” in J. D. Michaelis, Introduction to the New Testament (trans. H. Marsh; 1802) 2/2:680-681.

[4] Marsh, “Notes,” 2/2:683. J. S. Semler likewise considers it “against reason” that a Greek MS would be corrected to a Latin copy. J. S. Semler, Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem (1767) 44.