Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Otto Zwierlein, Die antihäretischen Evangelienprologe und die Entstehung des Neuen Testaments. Abhandlungen der Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse, Jahrgang 2015, Nr. 5​. Mainz; Stuttgart: Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur; Franz Steiner Verlag, 2015. Pp. 86. ISBN 9783515112109. €15.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Joshua Yoder, Bryn Mawr, PA (

Version at BMCR home site

Classicist and philologist Otto Zwierlein, professor emeritus of the University of Bonn, has recently turned his attention to Christian origins, most notably in his work on the early Christian traditions about Peter and Paul. In his new book, Zwierlein tackles the so-called "anti-Marcionite prologues" to the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John found in varying combinations in an array of manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate dating from the 8th–12th centuries (though one ms. containing the prologue to Luke is dated to as early as the 5th century). These Latin gospel prologues elicited a good deal of comment in the early 20th century, culminating in a monograph by Jürgen Regul published in 1969.1 Since that time, however, critical work has been limited. Some recent research on Marcion has returned these prologues to discussion, and Zwierlein's book is a welcome addition to this conversation.

Scholarship on these prologues has generally held that they were originally written in Greek, though only one copy (and a fragment) of a Greek text for the prologue to Luke survives. It is also thought that the longer versions of the prologues found in a group of Vulgate manuscripts from the 10th –12th centuries (TXEOY) represent an expansion of the original, shorter versions with material from Jerome's De viris illustribus. In an article of 1928, Donatien de Bruyne designated the prologues "anti-Marcionite" and traced them to a single author of the late second century.2 Other scholars have called into question this early date and the unity of authorship and theme that de Bruyne found.

Zwierlein challenges much of this orthodoxy. He argues that the long recension was the original, the short recension a later abbreviation of it. The Greek text is merely a translation of the later, abbreviated form. Zwierlein supports de Bruyne's position that a single author composed all three prologues, and traces them to a catalogue of Christian authors that would have been composed in the first half of the fourth century. The use of this source by both the prologue composer and by Jerome explains the similarity of certain parts of the prologues to what we find in De viris illustribus.

The argument of the book falls into four main parts. In the first, the author tries to establish the priority of the longer recension of the prologues over the shorter, and to establish that all are the product of a single author. In the second, he argues that the Greek form of the prologue is merely a translation of the secondary form of the text. In the third, he compares the longer prologues with Jerome and argues that the similarities are due to use of a common source. In the fourth, he suggests that this common source may have drawn on a lost work of Eusebius.

Following a brief introduction, Zwierlein offers a list of the manuscripts containing one or more of the prologues, organized by families, and a stemma (presupposing the author's view of the prologues' sources). Zwierlein's list includes the sigla of both de Bruyne and Regul for each manuscript (Zwierlein employs de Bruyne's sigla rather than those of Regul).

In the first movement of the argument, Zwierlein places a lightly emended text of the long version (α) side by side with de Bruyne's text of the short version (β) (with some alterations to orthography and punctuation and the deficits from the long version marked by spaces). Text-critical notes supplied for the long version mainly focus on the variations of β from it (for a full text-critical apparatus one must look to Regul). Zwierlein reads the long versions in the order in which they appear in Jerome—Luke, Mark and John—thus putting the most extensive prologue in the first place. In this way he is able to bring out a self-consistent, unified conception in the prologues as a whole, leading from the beginnings of the gospel in the "forerunner" John the Baptist at the start of the Luke prologue to the expulsion of Marcion narrated at the end of the John prologue. He also points to linguistic parallels and common motifs as evidence of unified authorship. Zwierlein finds a rhythmic pattern to the endings of clauses that is disturbed by the abbreviation found in β.3 Additionally, anti- Marcionite elements are present in the long versions that are lacking in the shorter recensions. Nevertheless, Zwierlein concludes that these prologues are more broadly anti-heretical than specifically anti-Marcionite in character.

In the next phase of the argument, Zwierlein tries to demonstrate that the Greek version of the short recension of the Luke prologue is not the original prologue text, as has often been supposed, but represents a late translation. The Greek composition is preserved within a collection of introductory material for the Acts of the Apostles that according to its preface comes from the hand of a Patriarch Methodius. This led Chapman to aver that St. Methodius Patriarch of Constantinople must have obtained the prologue at the time of his visit to Rome in the early ninth century.4 However, Zahn and Harnack objected on philological grounds, and their arguments won the day. Zwierlein subjects the Greek text and short version to a close philological and text-critical analysis and concludes that the evidence weighs in favor of the Latin being the original. The Greek text of the prologue to Luke, therefore, is not the sole surviving copy of the original Greek version of one of the prologues, but a later translation of an abbreviated version of the original Latin prologue.

In the third movement, Zwierlein approaches the question of the sources of the prologues (long versions). He concludes that neither Jerome nor the prologues can be the source of the other. Instead, the close agreement in wording between Jerome and portions of the long recensions of the prologues is due to use of a common source. Through close comparison of the two, Zwierlein is able to speculate on how that text might have run. A comparison of Jerome with both the long and short versions would have been helpful here. In the prologue to Mark, for example, the composer of the short version seems to have left out precisely those things in the long version that coincide with Jerome. This puts Zwierlein's arguments in favor of the originality of the long version into question.

The common text, which Zwierlein thinks of as an index of Christian authors, may have drawn from Eusebius: in the final stage of the argument, Zwierlein posits that the catalogue (οἱ πίνακες) of books assembled in the library of Caesarea that Eusebius included in his now lost Vita Pamphili of ca. 315-320 (Hist. eccl. 6.32.3) is the ultimate source of the author catalogue used by Jerome and the prologue writer. Callimachus' Pinakes of the library of Alexandria in 120 books must have contained not simply lists of authors and their works, but also biographical data as well as information on sources, time of publication, authenticity, and so on. Similarly, Eusebius' Pinakes may have contained the kind of information we find in the prologues. This use of Eusebius explains why we find echoes of Eusebius in the catalogue of authors as it is represented in both the prologues and in Jerome. If this is the case, the prologues cannot reasonably have been composed before 340. This fourth movement elicited the most skepticism from this reviewer. Was the library catalogue contained in Eusebius' Vita Pamphili so extensive as to have incorporated into its entries the kind of information found in the prologues? Is it not more likely to have been more of a list of works with occasional comments on their content, such as the list of the works of Origen we find in Hist. eccl. 2.18?

Given his dating of the prologues to the mid fourth century, Zwierlein's estimation of their worth for early Christian history and the development of the NT canon is largely negative. The information they provide about the gospel authors is mostly legendary. Though the John prologue cites Papias as a source, the only part of the prologue that can be securely linked to Papias is the notice that John disseminated his gospel in his lifetime. The John prologue is interested in fourth century heresies, not second century ones, and it mentions Marcion because Marcionism still had some purchase at that time.5

This brief summary of the author's main claims hardly does justice to the intricate argumentation in each section and the wealth of observations and inferences made along the way. Zwierlein has given ample material for further discussion and has shown that it is possible to construe the evidence differently than how it is commonly done. ​


1.   Jürgen Regul, Die antimarcionitischen Evangelienprologe, Vetus Latina: Aus der Geschichte der lateinischen Bibel 6 (Freiburg: Herder, 1969).
2.   Donatien de Bruyne, "Les plus anciens prologues latins des Évangiles," Revue Bénédictine 40 (1928), 193-214.
3.   Zwierlein uses a system of notation for these clause endings that is explained in his article, "Augustins quantitierender Klauselrhythmus," ZPE 138 (2002), 43-70.
4.   John Chapman, Notes on the Early History of the Vulgate Gospels, (Oxford: Clarendon, 1908), 237.
5.   For this he cites Epiphanius, Adv. haeres. (Panarion) 42.1. ​

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