Unmittelbarkeit und Überlieferung: Erasmus und Beza zum Status des neutestamentlichen Textes

Henny, Sundar (2016). Unmittelbarkeit und Überlieferung: Erasmus und Beza zum Status des neutestamentlichen Textes. In: Wallraff, Martin; Seidel Menchi, Silvana; von Greyerz, Kaspar (eds.) Basel 1516: Erasmus’ Edition of the New Testament. Spätmittelalter, Humanismus, Reformation: Vol. 91 (pp. 267-290). Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck

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Erasmus does not aim to present a transcript of the spoken words of Jesus. At least, this is what he professes in the prolegomena of his Novum Testamentum. If such a transcript in Hebrew or Syriac did exist, Erasmus goes on to assure us, he would worship it as a relic. Thus, Erasmus presents himself as a humble bearer of merely the second best conceivable text, namely the Greek New Testament. However, in the context of Erasmus’ other writings there can be little doubt that he thought of the Greek text as the ne plus ultra. His confidence is evident in the way he treats the few Aramaic New Testament phrases in his annotations and downplays the respective critique of the Spanish scholar Nebrija. This was because Greek in the early 16th century was not just a language; its very use was an avowal of commitment to emergent humanist scholarship. Erasmus was deeply committed to this new kind of learning, whereas he never really warmed to Semitic languages. In fact, the Greek quality of the New Testament resonates with Erasmus’ presentation of the life of Jerome who in the Syrian dessert was nourished by the wells of the Greek Church Fathers. It also resonates with Syrian-born Lucian of Samosata, Erasmus’ most cherished Greek stylist. After Erasmus and especially in the Reformed tradition, the Semitic origins of the New Testament became much more alluring. In order to get closer to the words Jesus actually
had spoken, scholars tried to reconstruct a Syriac New Testament text. Even though they were driven by the Protestant battle cry of sola scriptura, their very work questioned the extant text. In the midst of confessional contest, faithfulness to the sources threatened to shake the foundations of Reformed policy. Thus a scholar-cum-churchman like Beza found himself in an uneasy quandary: for the sake of argument he had to attack pre-Reformation textual tradition and Erasmus as an editor while at the same time, for the sake of confessional cohesion, Erasmus’ text had to be presented as the binding Word of God.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of History and Archaeology > Institute of History > Recent History

UniBE Contributor:

Henny, Sundar Markus


200 Religion > 220 The Bible
200 Religion > 270 History of Christianity
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 870 Latin & Italic literatures
800 Literature, rhetoric & criticism > 880 Classical & modern Greek literatures
900 History > 940 History of Europe




Spätmittelalter, Humanismus, Reformation


Mohr Siebeck




Sundar Markus Henny-Renold

Date Deposited:

06 Feb 2020 12:51

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:18





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