Les Actes dans le Codex de Bèze
1 de desembre de 2003
The Interface between Discourse Analysis and Rhetorical Analysis
1 de gener de 2015

Jenny Read-Heimerdinger

The Apostles in the Bezan Text of Acts

1.  Introduction

The portrait of the apostles in the Bezan text of Acts is a surprising one, disturbing and reassuring at the same time. It is like looking at a colour photograph of a group of people that one has been used to seeing only in black or white. The surprise comes from seeing these men as people like us instead of the infallible heroes one has become accustomed to – as disciples who had not fully understood the full scope of Jesus’ message by the time he left them and who therefore continue to follow in some respects their traditional Jewish teaching even though it conflicts with what he taught; who make mistakes and are sometimes disobedient; who change as they discover for themselves the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Because of this, the Bezan portrait disturbs, demanding a new way of hearing the story of Acts, of looking at the apostles and evaluating their actions with the same critical judgement as the narrator; nothing can be taken for granted. But it is also wonderfully reassuring because these apostles are real human beings, who share the struggles, tensions, longings and discoveries of ordinary people. They are seen through the eyes of a narrator who knows them for who they are and who understands something of what they go through.

This last point is important: the account of the apostles in the Bezan text is critical, sometimes scathingly so, but it is not hostile. It demolishes some of the beliefs and aspirations most sacred and dear to its characters but it does so from an intimate, first-hand knowledge of the religious, cultural context to which they belong. The narrator of this text writes from a Jewish perspective and addresses questions that are primarily of importance, fundamental importance, to a Jew who wanted to know the truth about Jesus as Messiah and also about the leaders of his disciples; for the latter, far from acting in unison, presenting a united front and a consistent system of doctrines and dogmas, had given differing interpretations of the Scriptures, had remained more, or less, attached to the Temple and, to cap it all, had apparently changed their ideas as time went by. How did all of this relate to the Jewish faith, to its Scriptures, teachings or expectations? The response to such questions is so much in focus in the Bezan account of Acts that it is difficult to see what sense it would have made to a Roman officer, such as the ‘most excellent Theophilus’ (Lk 1,3; cf. Acts 1,1) is often assumed to be. If, on the other hand, Luke’s Theophilus were the only Jew known to have had this name, none other than the former High Priest who had served in office from 37–41 CE, [1] then he could well have found that the Bezan Acts was intelligible to him since it addressed him in terms that were familiar to him.

The Jewishness of Codex Bezae is one indication among others that the text of this manuscript transmits a version of the story of the early Church that predates the more familiar account transmitted by the Alexandrian text. Another indication is the coherence of its language which, from a linguistic point of view, does not look as if it is an accumulation of alterations and modifications but rather looks like the work of one hand, one mind.[2] Yet another pointer to the earlier date of the Bezan text is the coherence of its message, which is above all a theological message expressed by means of a sophisticated and complex interweaving of symbolic and literal representations – of people, places, events – to convey the interplay of spiritual and historical realities.[3] All these factors taken together suggest that the Bezan readings are not some marginal afterthoughts, much less the embroidery of a whimsical scribe, but rather they are fragments of a whole that has to be read as a whole and not as a string of detached curiosities. If Luke was the author of Acts – and the relationship between Acts and Luke’s Gospel which is especially close in the text of Codex Bezae supports this supposition – there is no less reason to assume he wrote the Bezan form of the text than the Alexandrian form. On this basis, Luke will be referred to in this study as the narrator of Acts even, or especially, when it is a matter of the Bezan text.

The portrait of the apostles in Codex Bezae is arguably one more feature that reflects an early date, before they had become venerated as the founders of the Church. The present consideration of the Bezan portrait will seek to consider one of its more striking aspects, namely the evolution in their understanding of the restoration of Israel – inevitably, given the limitations of length, it will be a partial study and to that extent it will be unsatisfactory.

There is also the difficulty of re-creating, re-entering, the world in which the apostles lived. So little is known of the first century, of both Judaism and Christianity of that time, and there is the constant temptation to impose on the first century what is known about the second century. Many questions will therefore be raised by seeking to comprehend what Luke intended Theophilus to see in his depiction of the apostles. And some questions will remain, which is bound to happen and is as it should be for hasty solutions, imposed because of an urgent demand for answers, would only skew the picture.

We shall proceed by focusing attention on a series of key passages, beginning in the closing chapter of the Gospel since it is in the first volume of Luke’s work that the apostles are, as it were, born – certainly, that is where they start their lives of disciples of Jesus. References to Codex Bezae will be indicated by its siglum, D05, and to the principal Alexandrian manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus and Codex Vaticanus, by the abbreviation Alex. except where they differ, in which case by their respective sigla.

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