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.