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.

Layer Composition of the Bezan Text using Multivariate Clustering

This page publishes details of the layers extracted by the multivariate clustering procedure described in my earlier post Extracting Layers in Codex Bezae. This procedure was applied to Bezae’s readings in John 4:1-42.

Input Data

The data are prepared in a tab-delimited format. Observations are represented by readings, i.e. there is one observation per reading in Bezae. (Note that only one reading per variant is observed, which is the reading found in Bezae. We can only partition readings found in the document!) Variables are represented by the witnesses.

The tab-delimited data has 43 columns for witnesses and 73 rows for readings (see the article or input data for witnesses and readings). In addition, there are three column headers identifying the readings (short, medium, long) and one row header identifying the witnesses. There is one column “Level” with my own ad hoc assessment of the level of Bezae’s reading in the local genealogical stemma for that variant. There is one column “Layer” with my own ad hoc categorization of Bezae’s reading according to Holmes’ approach (A = Alexandrian, B = Byzantine, G = Greek minority neither Alexandrian nor Byzantine, L = Latin).

Download Input Data

Download R Code

The statistical characteristics of the data are worth a separate discussion.

Partitioning Bezae’s Readings

In PAM, the number of clusters is determined in advance and the algorithm responds by optimally partitioning the observations according to the determined number. This allows us to experiment with different numbers of partitions to identify an intuitive fit. I found that six clusters partitioned the data in a manner that best distinguished readings represented by the Byzantine and Old Latin traditions, as these became the two most recognizable features in the distribution.

For a statistical criterion, the number of clusters at which the rate of change decreases of the within-cluster sum of squares provides a good optimum (Figure 1). The change of slope indicates the point at which adding new clusters has a decreased return in producing a good fit of observations to clusters.

Within groups sum of squares by number of clusters

Figure 1: Within groups sum of squares by number of clusters

After running PAM for six clusters, the readings are partitioned as shown in the following page:

View Clusters

The partition contents can also be downloaded:

Download Clusters

Rendering the Results

Various plots show the distribution of Bezae’s readings by cluster. The points in the plots represent individual readings of Bezae in John 4:1-42.

Figure 2 shows clusters partitioned according to each of four categories proposed by Holmes (x = minority Greek, neither Alexandrian or Byzantine; o = Alexandrian; ▲ = Old Latin; ♦ = Byzantine) superimposed over the six clusters produced using PAM. The figure suggests some correspondence between the two methods, esp. in clusters 2, 5, and 6. Cluster 2 (far right) represents Bezae’s stratum shared with the Byzantine tradition, clusters 5 and 6 (lower left) represent the Old Latin version, and clusters 1 and 4 (center) and cluster 3 (upper left) represent various minority combinations of Greek witnesses.

Figure 2: Holmes' categories superimposed over six clusters

Figure 2: Holmes’ categories superimposed over six clusters (x = minority Greek, neither Alexandrian or Byzantine; o = Alexandrian; ▲ = Old Latin; ♦ = Byzantine)

Figure 3 shows the same clusters with readings coded by level in the local genealogical stemma (1 = initial reading; 2 or 3 = secondary reading). Readings at level 1 group in clusters 1, 2, and 4, which include Alexandrian and Byzantine elements. Readings at level 2 are found throughout, but concentrate especially in clusters 3, 5, and 6, which include Old Latin readings.

Figure 3 Clustered readings coded by level in the local stemma

Figure 3 Clustered readings coded by level in the local stemma

Figure 4 plots Bezae’s agreements with Codex Sinaiticus in a solid color. Note Sinaiticus’ agreement with Bezae in clusters 5 and 6, where its Old Latin readings are concentrated.

Clustered readings shaded by agreement with Codex Sinaitucus

Figure 4 Clustered readings shaded (solid) by agreement with Codex Sinaiticus

Figure 5 plots Bezae’s agreements with each of the 31 cited Greek witnesses. Sinaiticus agrees with Bezae in clusters 5 and 6 more than any other cited Greek witness.

Agreements with cited Greek witnesses

Figure 5 Agreements with cited Greek witnesses

Figure 6 plots agreements of Bezae’s Greek column with each of the 8 cited Old Latin witnesses, including its Latin column. As expected, the Latin column agrees with the Greek in most readings. Unlike the Greek witnesses except for Sinaiticus, the Old Latin witnesses consistently appear in clusters 5 and 6. Cluster 5 is represented in all Old Latin witnesses, but readings supported by “African” Old Latin witnesses (e and c) are stronger in cluster 5 than cluster 6. Cluster 6 is better represented in the “European” Old Latin witnesses.

Agreements with cited Latin witnesses

Figure 6 Agreements with cited Latin witnesses

Extracting Layers in Codex Bezae

This post describes a now-published paper presented at the Pacific Northwest Regional Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, Portland, OR, U.S.A., in March, 2015. This paper presented a proof-of-concept of a statistical method to partition readings in Codex Bezae (= Bezae) by layer.

Historically and developmentally, there seem to be two main approaches to Bezae, one that considers its distinctive text the earliest attainable form (despite some corruption) and the other that considers it largely secondary (though with some initial readings perhaps). Naturally, the former approach tends to focus on the coherent aspects of Bezae’s unique text, while the latter focuses on indications of Bezae’s composite character.

The two approaches are not entirely at odds. Using Bezae’s text of Matthew, Michael W. Holmes highlights several coherent threads in readings Bezae shares with the Old Latin tradition. [1] But Holmes is able to isolate these threads only after first assigning Bezae’s readings to distinct “layers,” which are differentiated by the respective combinations of witnesses that tend to support readings in that given layer.

That Bezae’s readings are attested by various consistent combinations of witnesses will be apparent even if we regard its text as a coherent literary piece. It will also be observed the readings Bezae shares with particular witnesses have distinctive characteristics. For example, those shared with the versions tend to be larger and more exegetically significant than those shared with Greek witnesses. These phenomena can be interpreted as layering regardless of our historical model, though they will differ in the sequence of the layers.

In the gospels, Bezae’s layer shared with the Old Latin Gospels is the most recognizable. These are readings attested exclusively (or almost exclusively) by Bezae and Old Latin witnesses. Of course, Bezae shares readings also with the Byzantine and Alexandrian traditions, majuscules such as Θ, and minuscule families, such as Family 1 and Family 13. We should also recognize that Bezae’s textual character varies between gospels and, presumably, within the same gospel.

Bezae’s composite text introduces complications if we wish to profile it against other manuscripts with more homogeneous texts. Because of its variegated elements, Bezae will appear more divergent when its readings are evaluated together. But if the readings are first partitioned by layer, it seems the individual layers will not all diverge equally.

The idea behind layer extraction is to partition Bezae’s readings into more homogeneous components. The paper compares three methods of layer extraction using IGNTP transcripts from John 4:1–42 and finds that they largely corroborate one another.

[1] 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.

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Justin Martyr and the “Western” Text

As the 2015 SBL Annual Meeting approaches, I wanted to post a slightly revised version of the paper I presented at the 2014 meeting, “Justin Martyr: An Early ‘Western’ Witness to the Synoptic Gospels?” The topic was inspired by my attempt to validate the claim that Justin’s biblical citations represent the so-called “Western” text (see the paper for citations). It is well-known that Justin’s biblical citations tend to be highly adapted, at least in relation to our canonical texts. It turns out that some of the more frequently-cited “Western” readings in Justin occur in these highly-adapted texts, three of which are examined in the paper. My observation in the present paper is that, when Justin’s form of citation is compared with the presumed “Western” form as found in D and the Old Latin Gospels, Justin’s form appears to be the more primitive on internal grounds. Justin’s form also tends to appear in the African Old Latin tradition, often presumed to be earlier than the European tradition, which attests the form found in D (however, this historical aspect requires further research). It seems we must allow for greater ambiguity in the direction of influence than is usually acknowledged in assertions that Justin used a “Western” text.

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