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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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