How old are the Old Latin gospels?

In the second edition of his Introduction and Appendix (1896), B. F. Westcott (1825-1901) suggested a novel criterion to assess so-called external evidence, namely, that the convergence of the Old Latin manuscript 1 (k) with the recently-discovered Sinaitic Syriac palimpsest (sys) could signal a text form of greater antiquity than the combined witness of Codices Vaticanus and Sinaiticus:

“The discovery of the Sinaitic MS of the Old Syriac raises the question whether the combination of the oldest types of the Syriac and Latin texts can outweigh the combination of the primary Greek texts. A careful examination of the passages in which syr.sin and k are arrayed against אB would point to the conclusion.”1

Christened a “methodological formula” by A. Vööbus and, rather dramatically, a “deathbed confession” by W. L. Petersen, Westcott’s “criterion” gained some acceptance, judging from the range of scholars who cited it.2 Yet we wonder whether — with F. J. A. Hort (1828-1892) no longer in the picture as a voice of restraint — Westcott’s remarks reflect a degree of sensationalism following Agnes Lewis’s recent discovery of the Sinaitic Syriac palimpsest in 1892.

No doubt a certain mystique surrounds the early versions. This aura of antiquity can be felt in their weighty titles, Vetus Latina and Vetus Syra. It is only enhanced by the abundance of free text forms they attest, thought to evoke the earliest stages of the New Testament text. Indeed, the Latin and Syriac versions are cited in support of a variety of seemingly ancient traditions, from the pericope adulterae to reports of a light or fire on the Jordan to a range of other traditions. Of course, since the attesting manuscripts tend to be much later than the period of interest, it is routinely noted that the dates of manuscripts matter less than the dates of the texts they contain, which of course may be several centuries older.

But how certain can we be that these particular texts as found in the Old Latin and Old Syriac gospels are very much older than their manuscripts? How reliable is the impression of age of their text forms? Can they somehow transport us behind the Greek tradition?

Examining the evidence, it is difficult to see how. Bobbiensis’s text likely dates to a generation or so before Cyprian, perhaps to the 230’s, as Tertullian betrays no knowledge of it.3 The Sinaitic Syriac text is difficult to date, but while perhaps influenced by earlier material seems itself not much earlier than the fourth century — not much earlier indeed than the Greek witnesses it is said possibly to preempt.4 And turning to the manuscripts themselves, we find in the case of the Old Latin that they date mainly to the fifth century:5

MS/Nr Name Contents Date Place
e 2 Palatinus Gospels V Italy
b 4 Veronensis Gospels Late V Italy
d 5 Bezae Cantabrigiensis Gospels,Acts c. 400 Berytus
ff2 8 Corbiensis Gospels V Italy
h 12 Claromontanus Matthew Late V Italy
n 16 Sangallense Gospels V Italy
i 17 Vindobonensis Luke,Mark Late V Italy
t 19 Bernense Mark Late V Italy (?)

Now at the end of the fourth century, the diversity of the Old Latin tradition is mentioned by more than one writer. Jerome writes in the 380’s:

“the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit.”6

And again:

“We must confess that as we have it in our language it is marked by discrepancies, and now that the stream is distributed into different channels we must go back to the fountainhead [i.e. the Greek].”7

Writing about a decade later in 397, Augustine makes a similar observation, also conceding the priority of the Greek:

“As to the books of the New Testament, again, if any perplexity arises from the diversities of the Latin texts, we must of course yield to the Greek.”8

Augustine tries hard to cast these divergent translations in a positive light:

“the great number of the translators proves a very great assistance, if they are examined and discussed with a careful comparison of their texts.”9

But while Jerome was apparently content to make his own revisions (at least in the gospels), Augustine urges anyone with the requisite skills to correct texts:

“For those who are anxious to know, the Scriptures ought in the first place to use their skill in the correction of the texts, so that the uncorrected ones should give way to the corrected.”10

So as the fourth century drew to a close, we find a context in which various correctors are at work on the Old Latin texts, attempting to correct them to a Greek model.

Yet while Augustine and Jerome could at least agree that Latin texts should be corrected to the Greek, their opinion was by no means the consensus view. Ambrosiaster argues the contrarian position that it is rather the Old Latin that preserves the most ancient available text form, because, as he argues, it agrees with the earliest Christian writers in the Latin tradition:

“it is well-known that very long ago native Latin speakers translated the text we now have from ancient Greek codices, which the innocence of former times has safeguarded and now certifies to us without corruption. … For the text retained today in the Latin codices is found the same in the ancients, Tertullian, Victorinus, and Cyprian.”11

The picture emerges then of a tradition still in flux at the turn of the fifth century, whose text had lost the confidence of its readers, who at the same time sought to affirm its value through their corrections. But with no common criteria for “correcting” the text, the instability of the tradition as a whole could only have been increasing at this time. Given that most of our best witnesses to this tradition date from after this period of instability, we are left wondering how we are to distinguish between ancient traditions and recent corrections. But if this is so, how can these traditions offer us any useful glimpse behind the Greek text?

Did Jerome suspend his criteria to include the pericope adulterae?

At the end of the fourth century, the Latin Vulgate is one of the earliest continuous manuscript traditions to attest the pericope adulterae (= PA) in John, if not the earliest. But given Jerome’s stated criteria, namely, to confine himself only to early Greek texts, and what we know about the Greek tradition, namely, that the earliest non-bilingual witness of the PA dates to the ninth century (K 017), we find ourselves virtually driven to the conclusion that, in his revision of John, Jerome severely neglected his own rules to include a pericope that — if he even did find it in his tradition — he nevertheless must have known failed his criteria!

Now Jerome claims to have seen many Greek manuscripts with the PA:

The story of the adulterous woman who was accused before the Lord is found in many Greek and many Latin manuscripts of the gospel of John. (Jerome, Against the Pelagians 2.17, my translation)

But that was in 415, thirty years after the fact! (Against the Pelagians, 2.17, see post) In that context, Jerome quite uncharacteristically cites the authority of Latin manuscripts, certainly an anomaly for one who normally rants against the Old Latin and its proponents, for example, as the famous “two-legged asses” (see post). (Of course, it would be somewhat unfair if Jerome included Vulgate copies in the tally after thirty years of copying! But can we be sure he does not have some of his own copies in mind?)

But in at least one other case where Jerome claims to have seen Greek manuscripts, he is convicted by his own testimony of a rather severe case of exaggeration, offering a conjecture in his Commentary on Matthew in 398, that just three years later, in his Homily 11 on Psalm 78, he now claims “is found in all the ancient copies” (see post).1

So what are Jerome’s criteria for his revision? They are plainly stated in his Preface to the Four Gospels:

I therefore promise in this short Preface the four Gospels only, which are to be taken in the following order, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, as they have been revised by a comparison of the Greek manuscripts. Only early ones have been used. (NPNF 2.6, 488, italics mine)

Jerome claims to have limited himself only to early Greek texts. Of course, in John, we happen to have some of these old gospel texts in P66 and P75, which as we are well aware, do not contain the PA.2 So even if Jerome had actually seen a Greek manuscript with the PA in the 380’s, it is still harder to believe that such a manuscript would have been among the early copies he claims to have used elsewhere.

So it seems unlikely that Jerome did not set aside his criteria to include the story. By his own principles, Jerome should have excluded the PA assuming he found it, but he chose not to.

We might inquire then as to what could be different about the PA that seems to have inspired Jerome to have included it against his critical judgment? As I have noted elsewhere, there are remarkable parallels between the PA and Jerome’s own story (see post; and more recently, here and here).

But how can we be sure Jerome’s criteria would have excluded the PA?

Fortunately, there is a similar case just three chapters earlier in John, in the tradition of the angel stirring the water in John 5:4. Here the witness groups in support of the apparent interpolation are arrayed as follows:

  • For: 2 3 4 6 8 14 15 22
  • Against: 5 10 11 13
  • Earliest extant Greek MS: A (V)
  • Vulgate: Against

The alignment is remarkably similar in support of the PA:

  • For: 2 5 6 8 14 15 22
  • Against: 3 10 11 13
  • Earliest extant Greek MS: D (bilingual, 400), K (non-bilingual, IX)
  • Vulgate: For

In neither case are there extant Greek MSS that precede the Vulgate, so in either case we might question whether Jerome had Greek support.

We should note however that the tradition of the angel has better support in the Old Latin tradition, including the support of our only fourth-century Old Latin witness, Vercellensis (a), but the tradition is nevertheless excluded by Jerome. Since Jerome’s opinion of the Old Latin was not favorable, we can assume he found no early Greek testimony. The Letter to Marcella should suffice to capture Jerome’s sentiments on the Old Latin:

the Latin manuscripts of the Scriptures are proved to be faulty by the variations which all of them exhibit, and my object has been to restore them to the form of the Greek original, from which my detractors do not deny that they have been translated. If they dislike water drawn from the clear spring, let them drink of the muddy streamlet. (Epist. 27.1 “To Marcella”; NPNF 2.6, 44)

So we should be surprised indeed if Jerome allowed a tradition into his revision solely on Latin support. We should rather expect him summarily to exclude such traditions.

Yet three chapters later in Jerome’s revision we find the PA, which has significantly less support in the Latin tradition, with no extent non-bilingual Greek support for four centuries. So Jerome’s motives for including the PA seem ulterior to the textual support.

But let us suppose for argument’s sake that Jerome did find the PA in the Old Latin tradition in 384. Here we have a case analogous to John 5:4, where the distribution of witnesses is similar though decidedly weaker. So if Jerome had found the PA in John in just the Old Latin tradition but not the Greek, we should expect him summarily to have excluded it, but he apparently does not. Jerome evidently valued the story highly enough that he was willing to make an exception for it.

But if Jerome did not find the PA in his text or if he found it but it did not meet his criteria, what then might have drawn him to this remarkable story? What here induced Jerome to prefer the muddy streamlet over the clear spring? Was it the story of forgiveness? Admiration for his teacher Didymus? Identification with the accused? Anger at the hypocrites? Or perhaps sympathy for a beloved friend similarly accused? It seems we shall never know.

Did Ambrose use an Old Latin or Vulgate text in the pericope adulterae?

This post responds to the helpful comments I have received concerning my suggestion that Jerome might be the interpolator of the pericope adulterae (= PA) in John. Of course, any suggestion of this kind must ultimately be evaluated in light of the textual evidence.

Ambrose’s witness to the PA turns out to be highly significant because it dates to the same decade that Jerome released the Vulgate gospels, the first indirect witness to the PA in John. The question we must ask is whether Ambrose depended on a newly-minted Vulgate text or an existing Old Latin text. If Ambrose relied on a new Vulgate text, it is evident either that he cited rather freely or relied on a different edition — a possibility suggested by Jerome’s own citations of the PA, which differ from the standard Vulgate form. On the other hand, if Ambrose relied on an Old Latin text, it is not like any Old Latin text we have, though it shares some distinctive readings with the Old Latin witnesses.

The following table shows Ambrose’s agreements with the Old Latin and Vulgate texts in the pericope adulterae. Text shared with the Vulgate is green (104 units), text shared with at least one Old Latin witness is yellow (34 units), and text unique to Ambrose is red (71 units).1

MS 2 MS 5 MS 8 MS 14 Vulgate Jerome, Pelagius Ambrose, Epist 68 Ambrose, Epist 50 Ambrose, Misc 1 Ambrose, Misc 2
John 8:4
et offerentes ergo eam (+ et W, + publice M)
dixerunt dicunt dixerunt dixerunt dixerunt dixerunt
illi illi ihm ei ei
magister magister magister [m]agister magister
haec haec haec haec haec hanc
mulier mulier mulier mulier mulier mulierem
modo modo
depraehensa conpraehensa deprehensa depraehensa deprehensa inuenimus
est est est est est
sponte palam publice
in in [in] in
moecata adulterio moecatione adulterio adulterio moechantem
John 8:5
2 5 8 14 Vg HI Pel AM Ep 68
in in in
lege moyses intellege lege lege
autem autem autem autem autem scriptum est enim (autem r)
nobis in in
lege lege
moyses moyses Moses Moysi (Moysis m)
mandauit praecepit precepit mandauit mandavit
nobis [n]obis nobis
huiusmodi tales qui huiusmodi huiusmodi omnem moecham
lapidare lapidare lapidetur lapidare lapidare lapidari
tu tu tu tu tu tu
ergo autem nunc autem autem ergo uero
quid quid quid quid quid quid (qui E*)
dicis dicis dicis di[ci]s dicis dicis
de de
ea ea
John 8:6
2 5 8 14 Vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50 AM Iob AM De spiritu
hoc haec hoc haec quae hoc hoc
enim autem autem cum igitur
dicebant dicebant dicebant dicebant dicerent
temptantes temptantes temptantes temptantes
illum eum eum eum
ut ut ut ut
haberent haberent [pos]sent possent
quomodo causam
eum eum
unde cum Iudaei
accusarent adcusandi accussare accusare accusarent
eum eum adulteram
praeuidens digito mystice etiam
dominus dominus dominus
ihs ihs ihs ihs Iesus at Iesus Iesus Iesus Iesus Iesus
autem autem autem autem autem
inclinato inclinatus inclinato inclinans inclinans inclinans inclinato inclinato inclinato
[… se
capite capite d]eorsum deorsum capite capite capite
digito digito digito digito digito digito digito digito
supra suo suo
scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat
in in in in in in in in in
terram terram terra terra terra terra (terram Pl) terra terra terra
cum a Iudaeis adultera esset oblata
John 8:7
2 5 8 14 Vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50 AM David
cum cum cum cu[m cum cum
ergo autem autem aute]m autem
perseuerarent inmanerent interrogarent perseuerarent perseverarent exspectarent
interrogantes interrogantes expectantes interrogantes interrogantes ut audirent
eum eum eum eum eum
quid […]
adlebauit erexit erexit erexit erigens
capud caput
se se se se
et et et et et
dixit dixit dixit dixit dixit dixit iterum erigit quasi dicturus sententiam et ait
illis illis eis eis eis
quis quis quisque qui qui qui qui qui qui
uestrum est uestrum
sine sine sine sine sine sine sine sine sine
peccato peccato delicto peccato peccato peccato peccato peccato peccato
est est es[t est est est est est, inquit,
ipse uestrum …] vestrum uestrum (+ uestrum F P1 al., ~ est sine peccato M)
prior prior prior primus primus prior prior prior
super super in in
illam eam eam [… illam
iniciat mittat mittat
super eam
lapidem lapidem lapidem lap]ide[m] lapidem lapidem lapidet lapidet lapidet
iactet mit[tat] mittat eam eam (lapidem in illam mittat F) eam
John 8:8
2 5 8 14 Vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50
et et et […] et et
iterum iterum iterum iterum iterum
inclinato inclinatus inclinas inclinans inclinato
capite se capite
digito digito
hoc autem dixit et
scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat scribebat
in in in in in
terra terram terra terra (terram Pa*) terra
John 8:9
2 5 8 14 Vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50
illi unusquisque illi
autem autem igitur
cum iudaeorum cum
audissent audissent audientes audientes audientes (+ autem P, audiens M*)
autem autem
hoc uerbum
exierunt foras
unus paulatim […] unus unus (unum M) illi
post secedebant post post post
unum singuli unum unum unum
exiebant exiebant exiebant exiebant exire coeperunt
incipientes incipientes adcipientes incipientes incipientes incipientes incipientes (insipientes M)
a a a a a a
senioribus presbyteris senioribus […]bus senioribus senioribus senioribus
et sedebant cogitantes de se uel quod ipsi plura haberent crimina qui diu uixerant uel qui priores (priorem B* F L P) uim intellexerunt sententiae quasi prudentiores
omnes omnes
exire recesserunt recedentibus ergo illis
et et et et et et
relictus remansit relictus remansit remansit remansit remansit remansit
est est
ihs ihs
solus solus solus solus solus solus solus
ihs Iesus Iesus
et et et et et cum et
mulier mulier mulier mulier mulier mulier mulier
in in in in in in
medio medio medio me[dio] medio medio
cum cui
esset erat stans stans locutus est Iesus stans
John 8:10
2 5 8 14 Vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50
cum cumque et
adleuasset erigens erexisset erigens erigens eleuans eleuans
autem autem autem autem autem
capud se se se se caput caput
ihs ihs ihs ihs Iesus Iesus
dixit dixit dixit dixit dixit dixit
ad ad
ei eam ei ei
mulier mulieri mulier mulier mulier mulieri (mulier B) mulierem
ubi ubi ubi […] ubi ubi ubi ubi
sunt sunt sunt sunt sunt sunt sunt sunt
qui qui qui qui
te te te te
perduxerunt accussabant accusabant accusabant
nemo nemo nemo nemo nemo nemo nemo nemo
te te te te te te te te
condemnauit lapidauit condem[na]uit condemnavit condemnauit lapidauit (condemnauit r) lapidauit (condemnauit HSr)
John 8:11
2 5 8 14 vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50 AM Ep 64 AM David
et et et et
illa illa illa illa illa
quae quae quae
dixit dixit dixit dixit ait respondit respondit
nemo nemo nemo nemo nemo nullus nemo nemo
dne dme dne dne Domine domine domine
dixit dixit dixit dixit dixit responditque et ait dicit ait
autem autem autem autem
ei ei ad illam ei
ihs ihs i[hs] Iesus Iesus Iesus Iesus
ad illam
nec nec nec nec nec neque nec nec
ego ego ego ego ego ego ego ego
te te te te te te te te (x F)
iudico condemno damnabo condemnabo condemnabo condemno damnabo (condemnabo EFHMOSWd) damnabo (damno r, condemnabo cett.)
i uade uade uade vade uade uade uade uade uade
et et et et et et et et
ex ex ex post
amplius hoc hoc ho[c] amplius amodo amodo amodo amodo haec
uide uide (x B, ~ uide amodo m) uide uide
iam iam iam iam
noli noli noli noli noli noli ne (nec F) ne ne ne
peccare peccare peccare peccare peccare peccare pecces pecces pecces pecces
2 5 8 14 vg HI Pel AM Ep 68 AM Ep 50 AM Ep 64 AM David

The pericope adulterae and Jerome’s use of fictional narrative

In several recent posts, I have explored the possibility that Jerome himself was the author and interpolator of the pericope adulterae (= PA) in the form and location in which it appears in his Vulgate revision of John. I have based this suggestion largely on five observations:

  1. The sudden interest in the final form of the PA and knowledge of its place in John at the time the Vulgate gospels were introduced (c. 385), especially among Latin writers who were likely to have been acquainted with Jerome and his revision.
  2. The questionable reliability of Jerome’s testimony to the PA thirty years later in Against Pelagians (415), when he appeals to the existence of Greek and Latin copies which by this time had thirty years to propagate.
  3. Uncertainty as to the precise date the Vulgate gospels were completed, due to our nearly complete dependence for this date on a dubious letter exchange between Jerome and Damasus.
  4. A series of striking parallels between the story related in the PA and Jerome’s circumstances in 385 concerning his bitter dismissal from Rome under charges of sexual misconduct and his attachment to a woman (Paula) who was by implication caught in the act of adultery by those whom he called a hypocritical “senate of Pharisees.”
  5. The uncanny overlap between sources detected in the PA and Jerome’s literary activities in the mid-380’s. In particular, we might consider:
    1. In producing his own Commentary on Ecclesiastes (388), it is likely Jerome consulted the Commentary on Ecclesiastes of his esteemed mentor Didymus, which attests a shorter version of the PA, featuring Jesus and a condemned woman. So Jerome was likely in contact with Didymus’ version of the story just as he was completing the Vulgate.
    2. Jerome’s use of Jeremiah’s imprecations against his own accusers in the Preface to his translation of Didymus’ Treatise on the Holy Spirit, where he imagines to a boiling pot (Jeremiah 1:13) tilting over his persecutors, while in the PA, Jesus writes the accusers of the woman in the dust (Jeremiah 17:13).

Of course, one obvious problem with any suggestion that Jerome may have authored the PA is that it seems to accuse him of passing off a fictional narrative as a genuine tradition about Jesus. The problem is little diminished if we suggest that Jerome merely interpolated an existing tradition with certain details from his own experience.

But as Donatien De Bruyne pointed out long ago, Jerome’s use of fictional narrative settings is not uncommon in his letters.1 Nor does Jerome’s use of fiction necessarily reflect an intent to deceive, given that the letters seem to have been prepared expressly for publication.2

If De Bruyne’s understanding is accurate, Jerome used fictional narrative settings for a variety of ends, for example, moral instruction (Epistles 117 and 147) or as a background for exegetical inquiry (Epistles 106, 120, 121). Consider:

  • In Contra Vigilantium 3, Jerome acknowledges that a story he recounted in his Epistle 117 is fictitious:3

“he [Vigilantius] may choose once more to misrepresent me, and say that I have trumped up a case for the sake of showing off my rhetorical and declamatory powers in combating it, like the letter which I wrote to Gaul, relating to a mother and daughter who were at variance.” (NPNF 2.6, 418)

The letter in question contains Jerome’s supposed advice to a monk from Gaul, whose mother and sister had welcomed monks to live in their respective homes. Of course, Jerome’s advice is for the women to dismiss the monks and live together lest they provoke temptation and scandal.

  • D. de Bruyne points out that the setting of Jerome’s Epistle 106 to Sunnias and Fretela is likely fictitious. The letter alleges that two inquisitive sojourners from Getica have arrived in Bethlehem desiring a full account of the differences between Jerome’s “Roman” psalter of 383 and the LXX psalter, an inquiry that seems unlikely to have driven two travelers across the Empire, while (perhaps too conveniently) the identity of travelers from a remote provenance is not easily verified! At the same time, the rather obscure inquiry fits Jerome’s interests particularly well.
  • de Bruyne points to the setting of Epistle 120 as likely fictitious. In this letter, a certain woman, Hedibia, from Gaul with a burning interest in the study of Scripture approaches Jerome with twelve questions concerning “contradictions” in the New Testament. Again, we might note the somewhat contrived setup as well as the suspicious alignment of “Hedibia’s” interests with Jerome’s.
  • de Bruyne suggests that the setting of Epistle 121 is likely fictitious. In this letter, another woman from Gaul, a certain Algasia, approaches Jerome for answers to her eleven most pressing New Testament questions.
  • de Bruyne also suggests as fictitious Jerome’s lurid tale in Epistle 147, concerning a certain wayward monk, Sabinianus, who commits adultery at Rome and attempts to seduce of a nun in Bethlehem.

These contrived narrative settings fall into two categories. On the one hand is Jerome’s self-assured and somewhat self-promoting topos of the “celebrity” scholar to whom petitioners flock from remote corners of the empire to test his exegetical insight (Epistles 106, 120, 121). On the other though is a more troubled preoccupation with sexual guilt, temptation, and hypocrisy, closer to the themes encountered in the PA. Here we find what seems a losing struggle to escape sexual immorality involving monks, widows, virgins, and nuns. In both categories, a choice of more remote settings in Gaul and the distant Latin West makes it difficult to challenge the veracity of the narrative.

While these purely fictitious settings seem harmless enough, in other cases Jerome’s apparent reference to real persons and events seems to cross the line in an apparent intent to mislead. According to Nautin’s suggestion, this is notably the case for Epistle 35, which appears not to have been composed by Pope Damasus to Jerome (as claimed), but rather by Jerome himself to secure support for his projects, as Nautin explains:

when examined closely, these documents [Epistles 35 and 36] raise some troubling questions that we must decide one day to confront directly. Not that we can doubt that the three letters of Jerome are by him, but many indications suggest that he is also the author of three letters attributed to Damasus and that he composed this correspondence after the death of the pope at a time when it was useful to take advantage of his relationship with the deceased pontiff.4

Following Jerome’s established topos of the inquisitive petitioner, Epistle 35 poses five exegetical questions lifted straight out of Ambrosiaster’s Questions on the Old Testament. As Nautin argues, Jerome’s purpose in using a fictional setting is threefold:

  1. To demonstrate his superiority as a biblical scholar over Ambrosiaster5
  2. To display his close relationship with the pope and suggest the pope’s approval of his scholarly projects6
  3. To show that he had long contemplated a Latin translation of Didymus’ work on the Holy Spirit lest the timing of his own translation be misunderstood as a direct attack on Ambrose, as it was apparently intended7

Nautin suggests that the rest of Damasus’ putative private correspondence with Jerome is similarly fictitious, including Epistle 19, in which the pontiff allegedly inquires about the meaning of the word “Hosanna,” as though he were Jerome’s obedient pupil. Of course, the point is to allow Jerome to display his allegedly copious knowledge of Hebrew. In a similar vein, Epistle 21 responds to Damasus’ alleged request for a minute explanation of the parable of the prodigal son.

So what are we to make of the fictional element in Jerome’s epistles? Certainly, if we are to cite Jerome’s testimony as textual evidence, we must be fully aware that he is not always trustworthy. Moreover, we cannot apologize for Jerome’s lack of reliability as a kind of forgetfulness or a fondness for exaggeration. The consequence of being too accepting is to attribute to the early gospel what was likely never there.

The ultimate question though is how far Jerome would be willing to exploit this device of narrative fiction beyond the epistolary genre. Would he have introduced a fictional narrative into a gospel? Might he have justified this on the basis of Didymus’ use of a similar story? As textual scholars we cannot afford to be too generous towards Jerome when it comes to his inclusion of the PA in the Vulgate when we encounter so much willingness to employ fiction elsewhere.

It is strange indeed that the final form of the PA, if it is truly an ancient tradition, cannot be traced before the decade of the first indirect tradition in which it is attested. It is odd that this sensational story remained so well hidden before Jerome’s Vulgate burst on the scene. In fact, the position of the PA in John strikes us as odd until we read it through the lens of Jerome’s bitter experience.

Are Jerome’s Roman accusers the Pharisees of the pericope adulterae?

In my previous post, I pointed to Jerome’s Vulgate as a possible avenue by which an expanded version of Didymus’ account of Jesus and the condemned woman — from a certain gospel — reached John 7:53 in its final full form as the pericope adulterae (= PA). Some appealing features of this suggestion are:

  • Jerome’s recent expulsion from Rome by an assembly of clerics he terms a “senate of Pharisees” under charges of sexual impropriety predisposed him towards texts concerning hypocritical judges and accusations of sexual sin
  • Jerome’s high opinion of his mentor Didymus is favorable to his acquaintance with material found in Didymus’ writings, such as the story of Jesus and the condemned woman, from which the full form of the PA may have developed
  • Given his acquaintance with Didymus’ work, it is not improbable that Jerome consulted Didymus’ Commentary on Ecclesiastes, which contains the story of Jesus and the condemned woman, in preparing his own Commentary on Ecclesiastes (388), a work nearly contemporaneous with his eviction from Rome
  • Given that Jerome’s revision of the gospels was already in progress at the time accusations against him surfaced and that it was apparently produced with little or no oversight, Jerome was afforded an ideal opportunity to introduce new material as he saw fit
  • The possibility that Jerome fabricated his correspondence with Damasus should make us wary of accepting his report concerning the circumstances of the Vulgate’s production at face value, including his report of presenting the work to Damasus before the latter’s death in 384
  • The PA’s affinity with the Latin tradition is well-explained if it arose in the Latin rather than the Greek tradition

While the circumstantial parallels are certainly remarkable, we still require an impetus capable of explaining the introduction of new material into a canonical gospel. Such an impetus is readily supplied by Jerome’s festering hostility towards those whom he believed had plotted his downfall at Rome, for whom he may well have intended the PA as a “secret” indictment.

Jerome’s Bitterness against his Accusers

Jerome’s bitterness towards his Roman accusers is best exemplified in a series of vicious attacks on Ambrose, whom Jerome apparently held responsible for his undoing, a case that is examined by S. M. Oberhelman in his article, “Jerome’s Earliest Attack on Ambrose: On Ephesians, Prologue (ML 26:469D-70A).” 1 Oberhelman recounts in vivid detail how, following his expulsion from Rome, Jerome’s stance towards Ambrose reversed practically overnight from obsequious flattery to malicious character assault:

“Jerome initiated and conducted for almost thirty years a malicious assault on Ambrose’s character, as well as his literary and exegetical abilities.”2

As Oberhelman points out, the suddenness of Jerome’s reversal is especially striking:

“until the end of 384, Jerome praised Ambrose as a gifted writer and a pillar of orthodoxy. But beginning in 388 Jerome cast malicious aspersions on Ambrose’s character, literary accomplishments, theological training, and critical tools in scriptural exegesis; the attacks do not cease with Ambrose’s death but continue until the end of Jerome’s life. Jerome blamed Ambrose for a hand in his expulsion from Rome. This then accounts for the deep bitterness that emerges immediately after his return to the east in late 385 or the summer of 386.”3

The viciousness with which Jerome, in Oberhelman’s words, “savagely pilloried Ambrose” was not lost on the contemporary writer Rufinus, Jerome’s former associate and friend, who notes in his own defense against similar attacks:

“another man whom he [Jerome] tears to pieces is Ambrose that Bishop of sacred memory. In what manner, and with what disparagement he attacks him, I will show” (Apology against Jerome 2.22; NPNF 2.3, 469).4

“now I have undertaken to prove how violently he attacks a man who is worthy of all admiration, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who was not to that church alone but to all the churches like a column or an impregnable fortress. I will therefore set forth a Preface of his by which you may see in what foul and unworthy terms he assails even a man of such eminence, and also how he praises Didymus to the sky.” (Against Jerome 2.23; NPNF 2.3, 470)

Rufinus claims to know more than he wants to divulge concerning the allegedly unsavory details of Jerome’s exodus from Rome, as he relates:

“I could unfold a tale as to the manner of your departure from Rome; as to the opinions expressed about you at the time, and written about you afterwards, as to your oath, the place where you embarked, the pious manner in which you avoided committing perjury; all this I could enlarge upon, but I have determined to keep back more than I relate.” (Apology of Jerome against Rufinus 3.21; NPNF 2.3, 530)5

Elsewhere Rufinus mentions “secret” unfavorable information he might disclose about Jerome:

“he [Jerome] knows that I possess a letter of his in which, while he discharges others, he makes his strictures fall upon Ambrose. But, since that letter contains certain more secret matters, I do not wish to see it published before the right time.” (Against Jerome 2.23; NPNF 2.3, 471)

But the context of Rufinus’ remarks makes it absolutely clear that he connects Jerome’s assault on Ambrose to events surrounding his unceremonious dismissal from Rome.

Is Ambrose One of Jerome’s Pharisees?

Oberhelman attaches particular significance to Jerome’s reference to the assembly of the Roman clergy who forced him out of Rome as a “senate of Pharisees:”6 In his translation of Didymus’ Treatise on the Holy Spirit, itself intended to expose Ambrose’s alleged plagiarism of his mentor, Jerome writes:

“While I was an inhabitant of Babylon [i.e. Rome], a settler in the land of the purple harlot, and lived under the law of the Quirites, I attempted to write some poor stuff about the Holy Spirit and dedicated the work to the Pontiff of that city [i.e. Damasus]. When on a sudden that pot which Jeremiah saw after the almond rod began to seethe from the face of the North [in judgment]; and the whole senate of the Pharisees raised a clamour and no mere imaginary scribe but the whole faction of the ignorant as if I had declared war against them, laid their heads together against me.”(Jerome, Preface to Treatise of Didymus on the Holy Spirit, cited by Rufinus, Against Jerome 2.24, NPNF 2.3, 470)

It is significant that in his attack on this so-called “senate of Pharisees,” Jerome invokes Jeremiah’s judgment oracles against his accusers, much as Jesus’ writing on the ground invokes Jeremiah’s judgment on the Pharisees in the PA. At the same time, Jerome invokes the saintliness of Didymus, who provided him with material for this “prophetic” indictment against the hypocritical Pharisees:

“But Didymus, my own Didymus, who has the eyes of the bride in the Song of Songs, those eyes which Jesus bade us lift up upon the whitening fields, looks afar into the depths, and has once more given us cause to call him, as is our wont, the Seer Prophet.” (Jerome cited by Rufinus, Against Jerome 2.24, NPNF 2.3, 470)

Jerome is of course making an ironic comparison of the blind Didymus to “the Seer Prophet” Jeremiah, implying that Didymus’ words will reveal judgment against his false accusers, especially the “plagiarizer” Ambrose, just as the innocent Jeremiah’s prophecy announced divine judgment on the Kingdom of Judah. But if Didymus’ words on the Holy Spirit convey judgment on Jerome’s “senate of Pharisees,” might his account of the condemned woman convey similar, more pointed judgment on these “false” accusers?

Jerome against Hypocritical Bishops

In fact, as Oberhelman shows, Jerome’s writings at Bethlehem following his ignominious departure from Rome overflow with vitriol against bishops, who sound a lot like caricatures of Ambrose, who it is claimed:

“have achieved their positions, not by merit, but by influence and connections.”7

Of course, Ambrose is known for having been promoted from catechumen to bishop on the basis of his secular prominence as governor of Aemilia-Liguria. But according to Jerome, these hypocrites resort (according to Oberhelman’s paraphrase) to:

“obsequiousness, bribery, and methods so vile (so Jerome claims) that he must keep silent … [o]nce these bishops assume office, they consider their position as one of absolute authority rather than as a dispensation from God” 8

Oberhelman continues:

“Jerome does not stop here with theoretical observations, but proceeds to paint a series of very vivid, highly rhetorical scenes of bishops inebriated in taverns, hurling wine cups, ‘vomiting in order to drink and drinking in order to vomit,’ and indulging in the most disgusting sexual and carnal lusts …. [t]hese same bishops, exulting as they do in their power, will not refrain from excommunicating laypeople who seem to be enjoying the ‘good life’.”9

Oberhelman concludes:

“Such passages have particular relevance when we reflect on Jerome’s expulsion of a year earlier from Rome by a council of Roman clerics who had been abetted by the powerful bishops of Rome and Milan. … Jerome inserts in the most irrelevant places tirades against the highest ranking members of the clergy, who, as Jerome is careful to point out, are ignorant of theology and the scriptures, but who prefer to pander to fawning congregations and audiences by indulging in rhetoric and oratory-the very charges that the prologue to On Ephesians lays at Ambrose’s feet.”10

So Jerome’s bitter attack on Ambrose offers us a glimpse of the lengths to which he would go to pursue his accusers. But might Jerome’s fondness for Didymus “the prophet” have emboldened him to insert a free gospel tradition cited by Didymus in a canonical text to impugn his accusers?

Oberhelman is led to the following chilling appraisal of Jerome:

“[his commentaries on Paul] illustrate the intensity of Jerome’s ill-will and hatred toward the bishops of the church at the very time when he formulated his attacks on Ambrose between 386/7 and 392. Jerome could never forget the episode in Rome or those whom he held accountable for his disgraceful departure. Jerome’s malice toward Ambrose and the “senate of Pharisees” surfaces first in the Pauline commentaries and does not cease until death conquered what his Christian love and faith were not able to overcome.”11

While Oberhelman makes little effort to disguise his unfavorable view of Jerome, his withering critique certainly has some basis. Nor is Oberhelman the first scholar to have formed an essentially negative assessment of Jerome’s character. But if Jerome were so ready to avenge himself on his adversaries that any separation between truth and fantasy became distorted in his eyes, it is time that text critics pay attention, and all the more urgently if we wish to rely on Jerome’s testimony for our decisions on the text.

Is the pericope adulterae Jerome’s indictment against his Roman accusers?

In an earlier post, I asked whether Jerome might have introduced the full form of the pericope adulterae (=PA) to its present location at John 7:53. Indeed, just as he was completing the final touches on his revision of the gospels, Jerome was himself hauled before a tribunal of “elders” to face charges of sexual misconduct in connection with his wealthy sponsor Paula, before (in his view) hypocritical accusers, as he relates in Epistle 45:

my sex is my one crime, and even on this score I am not assailed, save when there is a talk of Paula going to Jerusalem. Very well, then. They believed my accuser when he lied (Epist. 45.2; NPNF 2.6, 59).

The parallels (noted in this post) between Jerome’s contemporary experience at Rome and the scene depicted in the PA are indeed striking. Might we wonder then whether Jerome’s decision to include the PA in the Vulgate was at all impacted by his having been at the receiving end of accusations similar to those encountered by the “adulteress”? Might this painful experience have led him to interject new details such as Jesus (presumably) writing judgment against the accusers on the ground?

Our Dependence on Jerome for Background on the Vulgate

Now the precise date Jerome completed his Vulgate gospels is not known for certain.1 The year 384 is typically cited on the basis of his Preface to the Four Gospels, thought to have been presented to Damasus before his death in December 384.

The problem though is our nearly complete reliance on Jerome for information regarding his activities in connection with his revision. To make matters worse, some years ago noted Jerome scholar Pierre Nautin credibly challenged the authenticity of Damasus’ side of Jerome’s putative letter exchanges with the pontiff, showing just how likely it is that Jerome himself composed both sides of these exchanges.2

Now if this were true, not only is Jerome’s credibility at stake, but so too is our understanding of the circumstances of his Vulgate revision, from the timing of its completion to the nature of Jerome’s relationship with Damasus and the latter’s oversight (or lack thereof) to the validity of Jerome’s commission and authority to produce his revision at all. If Jerome never presented his gospels to Damasus, if his letter exchanges and Preface are later inventions, this has significant implications for the PA, whose first indirectly documented occurrence lies within this tradition.

The Convergence of Early PA Sources around Jerome

It is certainly remarkable that our early sources on the PA all seem to converge around the time Jerome completed his revision of the gospels, just as he was dismissed from Rome. It is natural to wonder then whether Jerome had any special investment in the story in the form in which it appears in John. Did Jerome expand an earlier form of the story, received, for example, from his mentor Didymus?

Now at least four significant elements are found in the PA that are lacking in Didymus’ account yet paralleled in Jerome’s experience.3 For all we know, Jerome himself may have introduced these elements:

  • The elders are identified as scribes and Pharisees perhaps to emphasize their hypocrisy. But Jerome later refers to the Roman tribunal as a “senate of Pharisees” (Pref. to Did. Spir., 387 CE).
  • The sin of the woman is identified as adultery, analogous to the charge of sexual misconduct leveled against Jerome regarding his relationship with Paula.
  • The scribes and Pharisees intend to trap Jesus. But Jerome describes his adversaries as similarly deceitful, noting that they “kissed my hands, yet attacked me with the tongues of vipers; sympathy was on their lips, but malignant joy in their hearts” (Epist. 45.2).
  • Jesus (it is presumed) writes the indictment of the woman’s accusers on the ground just as, presumably, Jerome would have liked to indict his own accusers, though he could not do so directly due to their positions of power.

The PA: Jerome’s Indictment against his Accusers?

Is it plausible then that Jerome might ultimately have seen Jesus’ act of writing in the PA as an indictment against his accusers? Chris Keith makes an incisive observation when he remarks that both Jerome and Ambrose take note of Jesus’ writing because they too were writers. As Prof. Keith observes:

“Ambrose and Jerome know PA in GJohn and find Jesus’ writing to be significant.” 4

Keith points out that Jerome and Ambrose are also the first to cite the story’s place in John and, moreover, that knowledge of Jesus’ writing is linked in our sources with knowledge of the PA’s location in John:

“The evidence concerning Ambrose and Jerome being the first Christian authors to comment upon Jesus’ acts of writing in PA may suggest that PA’s insertion is closer to the context of these fathers in the fourth century … [O]ne must note that every Christian author who knows Jesus’ writing in PA also knows PA in GJohn. … patristic knowledge of Jesus’ acts of writing in PA has an affinity with the version of PA in GJohn.” 5

This leads Keith to suggest that the narrator’s particular interest in Jesus’ act of writing may reflect the interpolator’s own interest this detail:

“PA’s narrative reads smoothly if one omits John 8.6, 8, and the narrator seems to be the only one in the scene who cares about Jesus’ writing. This raises the possibility that the interpolator added the acts of writing in John 8.6, 8 to the story.” 6

Now if Jerome were in fact the interpolator, we have good reason to suspect that his source of inspiration for Jesus’ writing on the ground is Jeremiah 17:13:

“O Lord, hope of Israel, let all who forsake you be disgraced, let all who turned away be written on the earth, for they have deserted the Lord, the spring of life.” (Jer 17:13 LXX, my translation)

In this passage, Jeremiah is beseeching God for justice against his persecutors, precisely what Jerome was looking for with regard to his Roman accusers! In fact, Jerome makes the connection to Jeremiah explicit in his (much later) tract Against the Pelagians:

“The scribes and Pharisees kept accusing her and vigorously pressing their case, eager to stone her according to the law. But Jesus bending down began to write with his finger on the ground the sins of the accusers (and indeed of all mortals), according to what is written in the prophet: “Those who forsake you shall be written on the earth,” and lifting his head, he said to them: The first of you without sin may throw a stone at her.” (Pelag. 2.17, my translation)

Now Jerome had only recently translated Origen’s homilies on Ezekiel and Jeremiah (382) and was just preparing to translate Jeremiah from Hebrew (389). So as he endured the ignominy of his ejection from Rome, Jeremiah’s indictment against his persecutors who had refused to repent of their own hypocrisy could not have been far from mind:

“They keep saying to me,
“Where is the word of the LORD?
Let it now be fulfilled [i.e. against them]!”(Jer 17:15 NIV)

So Jerome’s allusion to Jeremiah allows him to accuse his accusers discretely, without their knowledge. Of course, this is classic subversion. After all, Jerome knew he was powerless before his enemies, forced out of Rome against his will, presumably to return to the diocese where he had been ordained. Like many others in similarly overwhelming situations, Jerome turned to literary expression for a voice, an avenue for which his classical education left him uniquely qualified. His mentor Didymus had left the ideal seed of a story, already found in certain gospels. Finally, the Vulgate revision gave him an unexpected opportunity to engrave a record of his accusers’ wrongs forever onto the New Testament text:

“Judah’s sin is engraved with an iron tool,
inscribed with a flint point.” (Jer 17:1a NIV)

And shall we add to the number of Judah, Jerome’s so-called “senate of Pharisees,” and parchment and ink to the tools of iron age Palestine?

Was Helvidius an embarrassment to Bezae’s producers?

Ambrosiaster was not the only Latin writer in the latter fourth century to contend against the Greek tradition. In his treatise On the Perpetual Virginity of Blessed Mary: Against Helvidius, Jerome faults Helvidius for contending that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt:

“you with marvellous effrontery contend that the reading of the Greek manuscripts is corrupt, although it is that which nearly all the Greek writers have left us in their books, and not only so, but several of the Latin writers have taken the words the same way” (Helv. 8; NPNF 2.6, 338)

Jerome later continues the accusation:

“Seeing that you have been foolish enough to persuade yourself that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt, you will perhaps plead the diversity of readings” (Helv. 16 (18); NPNF 2.6, 343)

But which verse and variant does Jerome have in mind?

Luke 2:33 in the contest over Mary’s perpetual virginity

In chapter 8 of Against Helvidius, Jerome argues against Helvidius that Joseph and Mary remained celibate after the birth of Jesus, noting that Joseph had been persuaded to do this after witnessing the miracles that attended Jesus’ birth. As proof Jerome cites Luke 2:33 before immediately digressing to discuss the textual variant:

“His father and mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him.” (Luke 2:33) And yet you with marvellous effrontery contend that the reading of the Greek manuscripts is corrupt …

But what variant does Jerome have in mind? Luke 2:33 is known for one significant variant (“Joseph” for “his father”):

Joseph and his mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him.”

Because Jerome cites the form “his father and mother,” it seems Helvidius must have cited the variant, “Joseph and his mother.” The latter has been attributed to an impulse to protect the virginal conception, as observed by B. M. Metzger:

“In order to safeguard the doctrine of the virgin birth [sic] of Jesus, ὁ πατήρ was replaced by Ἰωσήφ in a variety of witnesses …” [1]

Of course, Helvidius did not oppose Mary’s conceiving as a virgin, but rather the notion that she maintained her virginity for life (i.e. perpetually). Why then would he care that the reading was “Joseph” rather than “his father”?

The reason becomes fully apparent only in chapter 16 (18 [NPNF]). Here Jerome addresses one of Helvidius’ main arguments, namely, his appeal to the New Testament references to the brothers and sisters of Jesus as evidence that Mary did not remain a virgin:

“It is clear that our Lord’s brethren bore the name in the same way that Joseph was called his father [i.e. not literally]” (Helv. 16 (18); NPNF 2.6, 343)

Jerome contends that terms such as “brother,” “sister,” and “father” are not literal but refer to members of the extended family, appealing to the Roman conception of paternitas, in Jerome’s own words, “many generations spreading from one root” (ex una radice multa generis turba diffunditur) (Helv. 14 (16); PL 23, 0197, my trans.). [2] So just as Joseph is not Jesus’ literal father, so the “brothers and sisters” mentioned in the New Testament are not literal brothers and sisters, but perhaps cousins.

According to Jerome, Helvidius prefers the reading “Joseph” over “his father” because his argument requires that the familial terms “brother and sister” imply a blood relation. This forces him into the difficulty of explaining why literal terms apply to the siblings but not to Joseph who is called “father,” but the difficulty is sidestepped by identifying Joseph by name:

“The Evangelist himself relates that His father [‘Joseph’ v.l.] and His mother were marvelling at the things which were spoken concerning Him, and there are similar passages which we have already quoted in which Joseph and Mary are called his parents. Seeing that you have been foolish enough to persuade yourself that the Greek manuscripts are corrupt, you will perhaps plead the diversity of readings.” (Helv. 16 (18); NPNF 2.6, 343)

So given Jerome’s charge, it is clear Helvidius had argued that the Greek tradition was corrupt in Luke 2:33, but the Latin was not. If this is so, we have another instance of a Latin writer — besides the anonymous Ambrosiaster (Comm. Rom 5:14) — who defends the Old Latin version ostensibly under the conviction that it preserved the old reading, where the Greek text had been corrupted. [3]

The Textual Evidence

Considering the textual evidence, it is clear that with the sole two exceptions of Codex Bezae (d) and Evangelium Gatianum (gat), the Old Latin gospels support Helvidius with iosef/ioseph: a aur b β c d e f ff2 l q r1. But the Latin column of Codex Bezae, like the Greek, sides with א B L W 1 131 700 1241 1582* and the versions Ss Sh mg Cs Cb (mss.) Gg (I.II) OS.

Here we have evidence that Bezae’s bilingual text is not entirely related to the Old Latin version. In the present case, it is clear that Bezae’s Greek column attests the reading of its Greek exemplar. But how do we explain the Latin column? Every indication suggests that Helvidius attests the predominant Old Latin reading, so it appears there are (at least) two possible explanations for Bezae’s Latin reading:

On the one hand, it is possible that D reflects the exemplar of an old layer of the Latin tradition preserved in d, that predates the introduction of the variant reading ioseph in the rest of the Old Latin version. But if D’s reading were truly the oldest Latin reading, it is striking that no other Latin witness follows this reading except the relatively late Gatianum. We might have expected at least one of the African-influenced MSS (c and e) or the early European MS (a) to have kept the old reading or at least to show signs of disturbance.

On the other hand, the alignment of the main Old Latin traditions and the isolation of d may indicate that its reading pater eius is fairly recent. It may even reflect a deliberate reaction to the Old Latin reading and selection of the Greek reading based on specific interests and concerns of Bezae’s producers. But what might these have been?

Bezae’s adoption of the Greek reading

Although Helvidius was never formally condemned, in subsequent decades, those with similar views did not fare so well, such as Jovinian, who was condemned by a Roman synod in 393. To the astute observer in the Latin West it would have been clear that any association with questionable proof texts of a proponent of low Mariology posed a certain liability. Indeed, we have reason to believe that Helvidius’ writings were initially well-known, because Jerome begrudgingly acknowledges the extent of the “scandal” they had instigated (Helv. 1). At the end of the fifth century, Gennadius still remembers Helvidius’ writings:

Helvidius … wrote, indeed, with zeal for religion but not according to knowledge, a book, polished neither in language nor in reasoning, a work in which he so attempted to twist the meaning of the Holy Scriptures to his own perversity, as to venture to assert on their testimony that Joseph and Mary, after the nativity of our Lord, had children who were called brothers of the Lord. In reply to his perverseness Jerome, published a book against him, well filled with scripture proofs (Vir. ill. 33; NPNF 2.3, 391-392)

But if d alone rejects an otherwise solid Old Latin reading that is nevertheless definitely attested as a key proof text of a writer who “attempted to twist the meaning of the Holy Scriptures to his own perversity” using a well-known variant of Luke 2:33, it seems not unlikely that this reflects a sense of caution in distancing Bezae’s text from potentially sensitive associations.

When we consider Bezae’s other well-known tendencies in the context of the latter fourth century (see this post for some examples), they tend to be consistent with a conservative, ecclesiastical, and even Roman perspective (e.g. promoting Peter, favorable to Roman officials) that reflects contemporary concerns of church order (e.g. the autonomy of female lay ascetics), discipline (e.g. Christian “Judaizing”), and doctrine (e.g. the consubstantiality of the Holy Spirit). If Bezae’s text developed in an ecclesiastical setting, as suggested by its initial corrector (G), we should expect a real hypersensitivity to heretical opinions and a self-conscious effort to distance the text from any party suspected of heresy. If this analysis is correct, the Greek reading was followed in Luke 2:33 because the Old Latin had strayed in a potentially dangerous direction.

What might this imply about Bezae?

If Bezae’s Latin reading in Luke 2:33 is not an old reading, but a recent correction to the Greek column, this might suggest that in its bilingual tradition, the Latin column was constructed with reference to the Greek column. (Of course the latter may have come about in a variety of ways, including the selective correction a Greek base to one or more Old Latin copies.) When the Greek reading was selected in Luke 2:33, the Latin column was translated and updated to reflect this reading, creating the (correct) impression that the Greek reading is the exemplar of the Latin.

It is possible to see now how a “layered” effect might have been achieved in Bezae’s Greek text through a process of selective correction of a Greek base to a reconstruction of one or more Old Latin versions. In such a model, the Greek layers reveal characteristics of the initial Greek exemplar of Bezae’s bilingual tradition, while the layers aligned with the versions reflect the well-known “free” characteristics. This two-layered model accounts for cases, as in Luke 2:33, where Bezae’s Latin column follows the Greek column in preference to the Old Latin version, while also allowing for the general resemblance of both columns to the Old Latin version.

Ironically, Helvidius’ sponsorship of the Old Latin reading in Luke 2:33 may have led to its ultimate rejection from a tradition otherwise well-inclined to preserve Latin readings. In another case, a writer who promoted Old Latin readings did not leave his name to posterity. But perhaps he knew that if he had, we would not have his writings at all.

[1] B. M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (2nd ed.; Stuttgart, 1994) 111. Presumably Metzger is not referring literally to a virgin birth (virginitas in partu), but to the virginal conception.

[2] He suggests they are most likely children of Mary’s sister (first cousins) (Helv. 14 [= NPNF 16]), but it seems this in-law relationship does not quite fit the paternitas scheme.

[3] This raises the question as to the identity of Ambrosiaster and Helvidius with the same individual, which as far as I know has not been proposed. This identification would face a few problems. First, Jerome refers to Helvidius disparagingly by name, but prefers to allude to Ambrosiaster indirectly without naming him. Second, it is generally thought that Helvidius was a lay person (see Helv. 1), but it seems Ambrosiaster a presbyter.