The Text of Matthew in the Writings of Basil of Caesarea

by Raymond Van Dam
The Text of Matthew in the Writings of Basil of Caesarea
Raymond Van Dam
Journal of the American Oriental Society
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Reviewed work(s): The Text of Matthew in the Writings of Basil of Caesarea by Jean-Fran├žois Racine

The Text of Matthew in the Writings of Basil of Caesarea. By JEAN-FRANCOIS RACINE. SBL New Testament in the Greek Fathers, vol, 5. Atlanta: SOCIETY OF BIBLICAL LITERATURE, 2004. Pp. xvi 424. $49.95 (paper).
The emperor Julian always felt uneasy about the dual nature of his education. Growing up in Cappadocia, he had studied both classical texts and the Bible with a local churchman. But once he became emperor he openly rejected the Christianity of his youth, supported pagan cults, and imposed restrictions on Christian teachers. In his estimation, since Christians did not believe in the traditional gods who were so integral to the canonical texts of classical Greek culture, they should instead confine their teaching to "commentaries on Matthew and Luke." Basil of Caesarea was a contemporary with an equally fine education in biblical studies and classical culture. In fact, as a young boy one of his teachers may have been his father, a local grammarian who taught correct classical Greek. But once he began serving as a priest and bishop in Cappadocia during the 360s and 370s, he downplayed the importance of classical literature and instead frequently cited the Gospels and the Pauline letters in his sermons, letters, and ascetic treatises. His writings are hence an important early source for determining the development of the text of the New Testament in the early church.
Jean-Francois Racine now provides a meticulous examination of Basil's reading of the Gospel of Matthew. His research is part of the ongoing project to study Greek patristic texts as evidence for textual criticism of the New Testament. Basil used passages from Matthew for various purposes, as the starting point for a sermon about the responsibilities of the rich toward the poor, as support for his theology of the Holy Spirit, and as testimony in responses to questions about asceticism. Racine's book includes a long catalogue of the citations, allusions, and adaptations from Matthew in all of Basil's writings. Although this scrupulous catalogue and the accompanying tables of data analysis will be most useful to specialists, the results are very significant. Racine concludes that Basil seems to have used a version of Matthew that had "the closest affinities with the Byzantine manuscripts" (p. 249). Since there are no early manuscripts for this textual group, "Basil of Caesarea represents the earliest witness to this type of text for the First Gospel" (p. 271).
Editors of Matthew will now need to evaluate Racine's extensive examples and detailed observations and then incorporate his conclusions into their reconstruction of the textual tradition for this Gospel. From a reverse perspective, however, his findings should also encourage new editions of Basil's writings, in particular of his homilies, letters, and treatises about asceticism. In addition, Racine's collection of citations raises intriguing questions about Basil's attitude toward the New Testament. Try as he might, like other equally highly educated bishops Basil never quite transcended the snobbery that accompanied his vast learning. One bishop on Cyprus was so embarrassed by the vernacular vocabulary of the Gospels that when citing a verse from Mark he carefully replaced a common Hellenistic word with a more proper classical substitute. In his reading of the First Gospel, Basil was likewise not immune to this classicizing tendency, and when he cited Matthew, he sometimes also quietly corrected the text for "conformity to Attic usage" (p. 343). Julian and Basil had little in common except their extensive study of classical texts while graduate students at Athens. But like the pagan emperor, the Christian bishop too was always under the spell of traditional classical culture, and even as a biblical exegete he still remembered his father's lessons in classical Greek grammar.
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Oriental Society

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