New Essay on the Greek Vorlage of the Old Latin Version in Mark

I have published a new essay on the Greek Vorlage behind the Old Latin  version of Mark, entitled “The Latin Version and the Greek Tradition in the Gospel of Mark,” which appears in the just-released Studien volume of the Editio critica maior of Mark.

This essay addresses problems with the assumption that Old Latin readings, where they diverge from Greek mainstream traditions, can be traced to a Greek “Western” text similar to the text found in Codex Bezae, a view that originated with J. S. Semler in the eighteenth century and was later popularized by F. J. A. Hort in his Introduction to the New Testament in the Original Greek. The main problem with this view is that it takes the Latin version out of the context in which it came into existence, all but ignoring the contribution of translators, editors, and copyists within the version to its final shape.

In this essay, I discuss the pitfalls of a hasty appeal to Greek sources to explain routine artifacts of the translation event observable in the habits of the translators. In short, it is not possible to view the Old Latin version as a mere proxy of Greek sources without falling into a crucial source-critical blunder of overlooking the larger context of the text itself.

The abstract follows:

Readings in the Latin gospels are often approached as translations of a Greek “Western” text, a construct devised in the eighteenth century to explain parallels between Codex Bezae and the Latin version as native Greek readings and later adopted by nineteenth-century source critics as a means to access early Christian traditions. A significant limitation of this approach is in overlooking the version itself as a tradition by deflecting the complexities of translation and inner-versional transmission onto putative Greek sources, while reducing the translation event to the mechanical replication of these sources in Latin. This essay takes an alternative approach, focusing first on the versional context in which these readings appear and the capacity of translators, editors, and copyists within the version to generate new readings without the aid of a Greek model. In examining the habits of the translators, it is apparent that they frequently produced the same kinds of variation in their singular readings that we find in their parallels with so-called “Western” texts, such as Codex Bezae, raising the possibility that these readings arose in Latin rather than in Greek and, hence, that the theory of a “Western” text is superfluous in accounting for the development of the version.

Bibliographical information:

Peter E. Lorenz, “The Latin Version and the Greek Tradition in the Gospel of Mark.” Pages 133–173 in Novum Testamentum Graecum Editio Critica Maior I Synoptic Gospels: The Gospel of Mark, Vol. 3: Studien. Ed. H. Strutwolf, G. Gäbel, A. Hüffmeier, M.-L. Lakmann, G. S. Paulson, and K. Wachtel. Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 2021.

Which MS is closest to Bezae in the gospels?

Where does Bezae’s text fall in the Greek gospel tradition? Is it totally isolated or does it have some close relationships?

To get a rough sense, we can turn to the Gruppierung nach Übereinstimmungsquoten tables in Text und Textwert. By excluding agreements with secondary Majority readings, these tables are helpful in taking account of distinctive agreements with the greatest potential genealogical significance.

Not surprisingly, the result depends on which gospel we are examining. Only in Mark of the four gospels does Bezae lack any close witnesses according to the Gruppierung tables. The data for the other three gospels are given below.

In Matthew, two family 1 MSS appear closest to Bezae, followed by the palimpsest Codex Dublinensis (Z) and the fragmentary majuscule 0281 from Saint Catherine’s monastery:

Witness Without MT Total
1582 62,5% (15/24) 55,1% (27/49)
1 61,5% (16/26) 52,8% (28/53)
035 (Z) 60,0% (6/10) 50,0% (9/18)
0281 60,0% (3/5) 50,0% (5/10)

While the fragmentary nature of the latter two witnesses diminishes the significance of the data, the close alignment of a segment of Bezae’s readings with core Family 1 MSS suggests the influence of a Greek tradition in Matthew similar to that of Origen (see Anderson 2004).

In Luke the significance of Bezae’s agreement with Codex Zacynthius (Ξ) is questionable (like that of 035 and 0281 in Matthew) given the fragmentary nature of this codex:

Witness Without MT Total
040 (Ξ) 85,7% (6/7) 43,8% (7/16)

In John it is well-known that Bezae attests a high number of distinctive parallels with Codex Sinaiticus (א) in the first eight chapters (Fee 1968), a result that is confirmed by the Gruppierung data:

Witness Without MT Total
01 (א) 57% (31/54) 46% (57/123)

Although only the first half of John (through 10:41) is represented in the test passages, this level of agreement in even part of a gospel over so many test passages must be considered highly significant.

So what might we gather from the Gruppierung data for Bezae?

It is clear that only in Matthew and John are the numbers significant enough (statistically speaking) to relate Bezae to another part of the Greek tradition. But here the data are historically significant because they seem to connect a sizeable body of Bezae’s readings in these gospels to recognized old texts, whether of Family 1 in Matthew or of Codex Sinaiticus in John.

The situation is especially intriguing in John, because Sinaiticus departs from its usual pattern to agree with Bezae and the Old Latin gospels. If we accept this as evidence of a relationship, it might imply, for example, that something like Bezae’s tradition was already well-established in Greek by the mid-fourth century (accepting a ca 350 date for Sinaiticus). On the other hand, if Bezae’s bilingual Greek tradition reflects any degree of influence from Old Latin traditions that were still developing in the mid-fourth century, this would seem to push Sinaiticus to the end of the fourth century at the earliest.