Presenting on Bezae’s Scribal Habits at the ISBL Conference in Berlin

Due to the demands of writing my dissertation, it has been far too long since I last posted.1 In the coming weeks, I plan another post providing (as far as I am permitted) a general sense of my work in this area.

This week I will be presenting at the International SBL conference in Berlin. A huge benefit of living in Germany is that the trip is a mere hop on the Bahn.

At the conference, I will present on an important aspect of Bezae’s text that I have explored little to date, namely, the issue of scribal habits. It turns out that bilingual codices and (in particular) Bezae present various unique challenges in proceeding with Colwell’s method of deducing scribal habits from apparent singular readings.

J. R. Royse already mentions the problem of Bezae’s numerous readings that are singular only in Greek, but well-attested in the versions and early Christian writers:

“a list of ‘singulars’ of D that failed to consider the Old Latin (and perhaps other versional material) would be quite misleading, since the list would include readings of D that are evidently part of a much older tradition.”2

But there are other issues and questions.

For example, how do we even define a singular reading in a bilingual codex? Is a reading that appears in both columns of Bezae but nowhere else actually singular?

We find such a case in Mark 1:13, where both columns state, not that “the spirit,” but that “the Holy Spirit,” sent Jesus out into the desert, a reading found in no other Greek or versional witness.3

My suggestion is that such readings should not be considered singular for the purpose of scribal habits. In such cases, the scribe prepared two separate transcriptions of the reading in different languages — so clearly it is no accident. The question is whether the scribe inserted such readings in both columns during transcription, a habit that would require translation each time to maintain balance between the columns (an evident concern in Bezae’s tradition). It seems more likely to me that the scribe copied such readings from the exemplar.

Another problem is readings that appear nowhere else in any tradition, but which seem too substantial to credit to a scribe acting alone. For example, Bezae’s so-called Sabbath worker pericope at Luke 6:5 is found in no other witness or early Christian writer. But at twenty-eight words, it is difficult to conceive of this significant change to the gospel narrative in terms of the habits of a scribe.

Then there is the problem of the scribe working in two languages. In Bezae’s case, the scribe, while perhaps not a native Latin speaker, is nevertheless more comfortable in Latin than in Greek. As David Parker observes:

“the scribe was a Latin speaker – he wrote the Latin as he would hear it, but the Greek as he saw it.”4

One result of this discrepancy is that we can expect different habits in Bezae’s two columns. For example, we should interpret orthographical singularities differently depending on the column in which they occur. While on the Greek side, they are more likely to reflect ignorance or unfamiliarity, on the Latin side, they are more likely to reflect habitual preferences. Ultimately then we have two sets of scribal habits that we must combine into a single picture of the scribe.

From an initial examination of Bezae’s singular readings, my sense is that the greater part of significant singulars in Bezae derive from its traditions rather than its scribe. One reason for this has to do with the practical constraints imposed by the bilingual format on its two matching texts. The presence of two texts offers a constant control against various common types of error, with each column providing a reference against which to check the accuracy of the other column. For example, in the case of scribal leaps, it is immediately apparent when the number of lines does not match in the facing column. In this way, the bilingual structure provides a kind of “safety apparatus” around the text.

I look forward to a great discussion.

SBL paper on Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings now online

Yesterday I presented a paper on Bezae’s so-called “anti-feminist” readings in Acts at the 2016 SBL Annual Meeting in San Antonio, offering an alternative “anti-ascetic” interpretation of these readings on the basis of a proposed context in the late fourth century. The paper (with footnotes) is now available for viewing and download here. (For further background and an abstract, see my earlier announcement.)

Contextualizing Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings near the time of the manuscript’s production avoids several pitfalls affecting typical attempts to place these readings in a second-century context or earlier:

  1. We may now draw a specific connection between the manuscript as artifact, produced with evident effort and expense, and pressing issues in the church at the time of production in circa 400.
  2. We can make historical connections that move beyond vague observation of a trend towards the institutionalization of patriarchal social conventions in the church.
  3. We avoid obvious anachronisms associated with the term “anti-feminist.”

A number of insightful questions were raised by colleagues, including a well-taken point about the inherent uncertainty regarding the status of apparently singular readings — whether in assessing scribal habits or Bezae’s uppermost layer. Naturally we are unable to attain certainty about what still-unknown sources might reveal about a given reading.1 I would suggest though that in dating Bezae’s uppermost textual layers singularity is not strictly required if the associated witnesses are related in other ways to a common provenance and time frame. So if Bezae does in fact attest a late fourth-century text, then its agreements with similarly late Old Latin manuscripts and capitula might reflect a common textual layer close to Bezae’s production.2

Another insightful question was raised concerning how to reconcile the late date I propose for these readings with the attestation of similar Bezan readings in the middle-Egyptian tradition, an important issue that I have discussed in a previous post.

Upcoming SBL presentation on Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings in Acts

I will be presenting at the 2016 SBL Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on Codex Bezae’s so-called “anti-feminist” readings. According to the online program book, the presentation is currently scheduled for the morning session on Sunday, 20 November. I will approach these primarily “singular” Bezan readings from the perspective of the fourth-century anti-ascetic movement, active in the decade preceding Bezae’s paleographically-assigned date of ca 400 and evidenced, for example, by the Jovinian controversy at Rome in the early 390’s.

The title and abstract are on the SBL site and below:

The ascetic choices of Rome’s aristocratic women and ecclesiastical authority in late fourth-century Rome as a proposed background for Codex Bezae’s “anti-feminist” readings in Acts

The “Western” text of Acts is often cited for a tendency to diminish the visibility and prominence of women, sometimes thought to reflect a second-century context (Schüssler Fiorenza, 1983; Witherington, 1984). But Holmes (2003) observes that at least half of the cited readings are attested only by Codex Bezae, which suggests that they may belong to a narrower layer of variants deriving from a time closer to Bezae’s production in ca. 400 C.E. In this paper, I will argue that specific concerns apparent in these readings are anticipated by critics of the privileged status of sexual asceticism in the Latin West in the final decades of the fourth century, including Helvidius, Jovinian, Filastrius, Vigilantius, and especially Ambrosiaster, whose ostensibly spiritual objections (e.g. charges of Manichaeism) were in part animated by a contest for authority over female lay ascetics of the Roman aristocracy, whose perceived independence was seen as a challenge not merely to the integrity of the household but also to the prerogatives of the male ecclesiastical hierarchy (Clark, 1981; Hunter, 1989). On the one hand, Bezae enhances precedents favorable to arguments against the special prestige of sexual renunciation, such as the apostolic example of marriage and procreation (a point argued by Ambrosiaster and Jovinian), evident in Bezae’s mention of wives and children in the upper room (Acts 1:14) and reinforced by the enlargement of the married Peter’s role over that of the celibate Paul in Bezae’s tradition (Brock, 2003). On the other hand, Bezae’s obfuscation of the conversion accounts of women who are depicted in Acts as making spiritual choices outside the authority structure of the household, such as the public profession of Damaris, apparently unaccompanied by a husband, who chooses to follow Paul, a man who is not her husband (Acts 17:34), accords well with Ambrosiaster’s contention that women possessed the imago Dei only through a male head (Hunter, 1992). These and other parallels suggest that the decades prior to Bezae’s production warrant closer attention as a potential context for its “anti-feminist” readings.

2 Problematic Assumptions concerning Codex Bezae and its text

At the recent SBL meeting (November 21–24, 2015), I was pleasantly surprised by the number of presenters who referred to Codex Bezae, a reminder of the influence this remarkable manuscript on scholarship of the New Testament text and early Christianity. After all, Codex Bezae has a great deal of personal relevance to me, since its text will be the subject of my PhD dissertation. So in the course of the meeting, I was particularly attuned to any mention of this illustrious codex, its text, and its traditions. In the process, I couldn’t help noticing a number of typical but problematic assumptions that seemed to be taken for granted in discussion of Bezae’s text.

I will begin with two points that particularly stood out.

Codex Bezae and the so-called “Western” text are not interchangeable terms

The first problematic assumption is a tendency to exchange references to Codex Bezae and the “Western” text as though these terms were synonymous, a tendency that is particularly marked in older literature. [1] No doubt this tendency arose from Codex Bezae’s distinction as the principal Greek representative of the so-called “Western” text.

But leaving aside for the moment the larger problem of text types, this confusion of manuscripts and textual traditions attributes to Bezae’s text a generality that it simply does not possess as an individual manuscript, while assuming that a textual tradition can be represented by a single pure manuscript. This of course overlooks the reality of mixture in the textual tradition.

But in reconstructing Bezae’s traditions, the most stable starting point is the artifact that has actually been preserved, whose features are tangible rather than hypothetical. A case in point of this approach is D. C. Parker’s study, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text. [2] Before considering Bezae’s text, Parker examines features of the manuscript itself, including its paleography, codicology, orthography, punctuation, sense lines, nomina sacra, and correctors. This allows Parker to observe points where the character of the text itself potentially changes, for example, between Mark 9:1 and 9:47, data without which we might be tempted to attribute greater uniformity to the text than is warranted.

The text found in Codex Bezae is not a second-century text

It is of course well-known that late manuscripts sometimes contain significantly earlier texts. But does Codex Bezae attest a second-century text form?

This second assumption, that Bezae represents the prevailing text form of the second century, is rooted in Hort’s theory of the “Western” text. While not to deny that Bezae may well contain second-century elements (as do most New Testament manuscripts), we must be careful to acknowledge that Bezae’s text as it now stands differs from any second-century text. [3] While a case can be made for some limited points of contact, none of these apparent contacts is entirely precise, particularly extensive, or free from alternative explanations. In addition, it is quite possible that an unknown proportion of Bezae’s many singular readings were introduced into its text well after the second century and perhaps even by Bezae’s scribe. [4]

[1] J. Rendel Harris’ Codex Bezae: A Study of the So-Called Western Text of the New Testament (Cambridge, 1891) comes to mind.

[2] D. C. Parker, Codex Bezae: An early Christian manuscript and its text. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

[3] J. Neville Birdsall, “The Western Text in the Second Century” in Gospel Traditions in the Second Century (ed. William L. Petersen; Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989) 3–17.

[4] Michael W. Holmes, “Codex Bezae as a Recension of the Gospels” in Codex Bezae: Studies from the Lunel Colloquium, June, 1994 (ed. D. C. Parker and C.-B. Amphoux; Leiden: Brill, 1996) 123–160.