Presenting at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium: The Latin Version and Codex Bezae’s Greek Text

This week I will be presenting a paper at the Eleventh Birmingham Colloquium on the Textual Criticism of the New Testament, where the theme of the colloquium is the versions and other indirect textual evidence for the New Testament. My paper looks at the history of scholarship on the theory that Latin readings have significantly influenced Bezae’s Greek text in its final form. The title of the paper is “Has Pervasive Influence of the Old Latin Version on Codex Bezae’s Greek Text Form Been Disproved? An Examination of Some Key Objections to the Theory of Latin Influence on Bezae’s Greek Text.”

Of course, the prevailing theory concerning Bezae’s distinctive parallels with the Latin version is that these readings are native Greek text forms that have been faithfully conveyed in Latin by translators of the Old Latin version. This view was expressed by J. S. Semler in his Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem (1767), where he observes that “the Latin copies were originally translated from the same Greek codices from which many Greek copies of a different kind [such as Codex Bezae] were transcribed.” 1

But as I have noted in a few other posts (see Why assimilation theories of Bezae’s Greek text are compelling, Can Greek manuscripts account for Bezae’s variation?, Has Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text been disproved?, and Latinization in Codex Bezae?), this view was not the first modern opinion on the matter of the distinctive Latin parallels in Bezae’s Greek text form. For the first two centuries following Bezae’s rediscovery during the Reformation, the predominant view was that these readings were borrowed from the Latin version, a view held by J. Mill and J. J. Wettstein among others.

This earlier view was challenged, not only by Semler, but also by J. D. Michaelis, J. J. Griesbach, H. Marsh, and D. D. Schultz, who laid the groundwork for the current consensus in a series of objections to the notion that parallels with the Latin version found in Bezae’s Greek column might have arisen as renderings in the Latin version.2 These objections include:

  • The prevailing direction of assimilation between Bezae’s columns is from the Greek to the Latin rather than the Latin to the Greek (Michaelis and Schultz)
  • Sufficient diversity exists within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s Latin parallels without appeal to the Latin version (Semler and Griesbach)
  • A Bezan text is likely to lie at the source of the Latin version (Semler and Griesbach)
  • The notion that an original language text, such as Bezae’s Greek column, might have appropriated renderings from a secondary version is contrary to reason (Semler and Marsh)

My paper argues that none of these objections upon which the present theory relies and by which it distinguishes itself from the earlier opinion entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s significant collection of distinctive Latin parallels might have arisen through the influence of readings in the Old Latin version, though not necessarily its own Latin column.

The abstract follows:

Before the mid-eighteenth century, it was generally assumed by figures such as Erasmus, R. Simon, H. Grotius, F. Lucas Brugensis, W. H. Estius, J. Mill, J. A. Bengel, and J. J. Wettstein among others, that Codex Bezae’s Greek text form, where it parallels the Latin version — often with little or no additional Greek support — has been influenced by readings of the Latin version. Such an inference is understandable given Bezae’s Greek-Latin format and frequent divergence from the rest of the Greek tradition in agreement with one or more witnesses of the Old Latin version. But in his Apparatus ad liberalem Novi Testamenti interpretationem, published in 1767, J. S. Semler challenged this earlier assumption, arguing that the theory of Latin influence on Bezae’s Greek text form was, not only contrary to reason, but also unnecessary. Semler argued that there was sufficient diversity within the Greek tradition to account for Bezae’s Latin parallels without appeal to the Latin version as their source, suggesting that, rather than reflecting Latin influence, a text like Bezae’s lay at the source of the Latin version. Taking up Semler’s critique, J. D. Michaelis strove “to rescue the [Bezan] copyist from the charge” of Latinizing a Greek text, while D. D. Schultz assembled instances in which Bezae’s Latin column appears to depend on errors in the Greek column, believing that he had thereby settled the question.3 H. Marsh summed up the sentiments of many when he remarked that “[i]t is surely more reasonable to suppose, that a translation would be altered from an original, than an original from a translation.”4 Since Semler, the notion that Latin readings may have influenced Bezae’s Greek text form has generally been dismissed, with F. J. A. Hort calling it “a whimsical theory of the last century.”5 More recently, B. M. Metzger summarized the state of the question, observing that “the theory finds little or no support among present-day scholars.”6

In this paper, I propose to reexamine some of the key objections to the theory that Bezae’s Greek text form has been widely influenced by the Old Latin version, arguing that none of the traditional objections entirely succeeds in excluding the possibility that Bezae’s substantial collection of peculiar Latin parallels might have arisen through the influence of readings in the Old Latin version, but not necessarily its own Latin column. I will observe that much of the discussion in the literature has conflated two distinct problems: while critics have tended to view the problem in terms of the direct translation of Bezae’s own Latin column, the theory’s early proponents understood the problem more broadly in terms of the selective influence of the wider Latin version. Yet demonstrations purporting to disprove the entire theory have typically addressed only the former problem. Meanwhile, the question of plausibility has been framed too quickly in terms of modern critical and editorial biases, which strongly prioritize the Greek text as original, while neglecting to consider historical contexts that might have preferred Latin over Greek readings. Clearly though, the question can be addressed satisfactorily only in light of ancient opinion. In light of this apparent failure of the traditional objections, I will conclude by suggesting that the pervasive dependence of Bezae’s Greek text form on the Old Latin version remains very much an open question.