Is Codex Bezae an antiquarian codex?

In framing an account of Bezae’s text, researchers often turn immediately to second-century sources. This is due to a variety of presumably archaic elements found in its text, such as parallels with second-century writers. Of course, in looking to the second century, it is first necessary to bypass fourth-century sources that are much closer to the context in which Bezae was produced.

But what if we situate Bezae’s archaic elements in light of the antiquarianism of its times, wherein antiquity was regarded as a kind of guarantee of legitimacy and even authority? Just as Clifford Ando notes “the surge in antiquarianism in the west in the early fifth century” with respect to the competing religious claims of pagans and Christians, both of whom framed their discourse in similarly antiquarian terms, I might suggest that a similar process could be at work in Bezae’s tradition. [1] If this is so, our fourth-century sources may be able to explain in large part the second-century elements we find in Bezae’s text, perhaps as an appeal to the legitimacy of its text form.

We might begin with Bezae’s well-known parallels to second-century Christian writers, which F. J. A. Hort interpreted at face value as a sure indicator of the antiquity of Bezae’s text form. So we read:

“the text of D presents a truer image of the form in which the Gospels and Acts were most widely read in the third and probably a great part of the second century than any other extant Greek MS” [2]

But is this conclusion absolutely necessary? We might consider Ambrosiaster, who argues an antiquarian case for the legitimacy of the the Old Latin text form, appealing to the citations of ancient authorities as a criterion of authenticity in a recent text:

“today you will find that the same text that is closely preserved by the Latin codices is cited precisely by the ancients, Tertullian, Victorinus and Cyprian.” (Comm. Rom 5:14, my translation, see original)

The implication here is that a text that agrees with the citations of these ancient authorities is proved to be authentic, while a text that diverges from these same authorities is corrupt and in need of correction.

So when we find Bezae in agreement with ancient writers, such as Irenaeus, we might interpret this in one of two ways. We may of course understand the agreement like Hort as indicating that Irenaeus used a text much like that of Bezae. But in light of Ambrosiaster’s criterion and fourth-century antiquarianism, we obviously cannot take this for granted. What if Bezae’s heavily-corrected text falls into a tradition that has been corrected according to ancient standards of authenticity? In such a case, Bezae would represent a fourth-century text that cites second-century writers, rather than (as is commonly assumed) the late representative of an ancient text form cited by second-century writers.

[1] Clifford Ando, “The Palladium and the Pentateuch: Towards a Sacred Topography of the Later Roman Empire,” Phoenix 55 (2001) 369–410 at 369. Note that an international conference on this topic, “Antiquarianism in Late Antiquity,” was held one week ago in Ghent, Belgium, May 19–21, 2016.

[2] B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek. Introduction and Appendix (New York: 1882) 149.