Reviews of

Snapshots of Evolving Traditions

In De Gruyter, Garrick V. Allen, Hugo LUNDHAUG, Liv Ingeborg LIED, Manuscript Studies, Manuscripts, Philology, Textual Criticism on May 2, 2018 at 8:04 pm


2018.05.06 | Liv Ingeborg Lied and Hugo Lundhaug, eds. Snapshots of Evolving Traditions: Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology. TU 175. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2017. xviii + 366 pages.

Reviewed by Garrick V. Allen, Dublin City University.

This collection of thirteen articles, many of which were originally presented in a workshop at the University of Oslo in 2012, is designed to stimulate new methodological approaches to ancient manuscript cultures and their products. It is “New Philology” in action.

The first article (“Studying Snapshots: On Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology”) is authored by the editors. This article is a manifesto for New Philology, tracing its historical origins in the late-twentieth century, charting its challenge to “traditional” editorial theory, and highlighting its applicability to many ancient corpora of literature. Lundhaug and Lied emphasize the relationship between manuscript and text and the idea that variation and fluidity are key aspects of ancient and medieval texts. These themes are key to the volume. They conclude by tracing developments in related fields, such as New Testament textual criticism and book history, and by outlining the following contributions.

The next article (“An Illusion of Textual Stability: Textual Fluidity, New Philology, and Nag Hammadi Codices,” pp. 20-54) is by Hugo Lundhaug, who argues that the textual fluidity of the works preserve in the Nag Hammadi Codices is an inherent aspect of their milieu of production. This points up the fact that what should be emphasized in Nag Hammadi studies is not the hypothetical “original,” but the wording of each witness in their material context. Therefore, a theoretical second- or third-century setting for these works (in Greek) should not be privileged above and beyond their actual fourth/fifth-century material contexts (in Coptic). These materials cannot provide any direct access to the intentions of their authors (p. 33).

Lance Jenott (“Reading Variants in James and the Apocalypse of James: A Perspective from New Philology,” pp. 55-84) makes a similar argument, suggesting that it is best to read the Nag Hammadi library as Coptic literature in a Christian monastic setting, rather than Greek literature translated into Coptic from a “gnostic” perspective. Jenott tests this hypothesis by comparing two versions of the (First) Apocalypse of James, analyzing variation in Jesus’ introductory discourse and other christological texts.

The third article by René Falkenberg (“The Making of a Secret Book of John: Nag Hammadi Codex III in Light of New Philology,” pp. 85-125) is likewise focused on a particular artefact from the Nag Hammadi Codices. Falkenberg produces a number of interlocking textual, material, bibliographic, and paratextual features that lead toward the conclusion that the artefact was produced with both literary and aesthetic intentionality as a coherent object in its fourth/ fifth-century monastic context.

Katrine Brix continues the exploration of Nag Hammadi material in the ensuing article (“Two Witnesses, One Valentinian Gospel? The Gospel of Truth in Nag Hammadi Codices I and XII,” pp. 126-145). Brix challenges the prevailing idea that NHC I,3 and XII,2 are two witnesses to the same, supposedly Valentinian, “Gospel of Truth.” Instead, she argues that the difference between these manuscripts suggest that they provide little conclusive evidence of second-century Valentinianism, opting instead to think of them as witnesses to the fluidity to textual transmission in the fourth century.

The next article, by Lillian I. Larsen, moves beyond Nag Hammadi exclusively and explores textual fluidity in monastic educational contexts more broadly (“Monastic Paideia: Textual Fluidity in the Classroom,” pp. 146-177). Focusing on the interplay of literary and material evidence, Larsen points to the diversity of educational models in monastic settings, a finding that corresponds to other aspects of ancient literary corpora discussed in other articles in the volume. She concentrates on delimiting the structure of scribal education through the material evidence.

Samuel Rubenson continues the application of the volume’s theme to Egyptian monastic contexts (“Textual Fluidity in Early Monasticism: Sayings, Sermons and Stories,” pp. 178-200). He argues that emerging research on material culture has highlighted the vagaries of monastic experience and ideology, and that research into early monastic writings themselves has shown that they are products of transmission and memory from the earliest generations of their production. This fluidity is the result of the anonymity of the works, their didactic functions, and the social characteristics of their copying

J. Gregory Given (“Four Texts from Nag Hammadi amid the Textual and Generic Fluidity of the ‘Letter’ in Late Antique Egypt,” pp. 201-220) returns explicitly to the Nag Hammadi material. Given explores epistolary texts (Letter of Peter to Philip, Apocryphon of James, Eugnostos the Blessed, and Treatise on the Resurrection) and their function in a monastic context, comparing the generic features of these texts to other monastic letter collections.

Next, Michael Philip Penn moves to the Syriac domain (“Know Thy Enemy: The Materialization of Orthodoxy in Syriac Manuscripts,” pp. 221-241), examining the ways that the theological controversies of the Syriac tradition played out in the Syriac manuscripts of the British Library. He analyses the strategies that scribes in disputational contexts used to physically demarcate the views of their opponents, including narrative framing, reading marks, and marginal notations. The materiality of disputation in Syriac manuscripts is directly tied to understanding the ideology of ancient reading practices.

Jeff W. Childers also explores the Syriac tradition by focusing on a single manuscript (“‘You Will Find What You Seek:’ the Form and Function of a Sixth-Century Divinatory Bible in Syriac,” pp. 242-271). Childers argues that British Library Add. 17,119 is the best-preserved exemplar of a larger-scale tradition of divinatory Gospel books (esp. John) and analyses the oracular hermeneiai interspersed among the Gospel text and sortilege traditions preserved in other ancient witnesses. Childers concludes that exemplars like this Syriac manuscript, while not interpretive in the historical-critical sense, nonetheless “brings scripture to bear on the pressing questions and daily lives of common Christian folk” (p. 268).

Liv Ingeborg Lied continues the volume’s focus on Syriac traditions in her examination of the Epistle of Baruch (“Between ‘Text Witness’ and ‘Text on the Page’: Trajectories in the History of Editing the Epistle of Baruch,” pp. 272-296). Lied brings the editorial and material traditions of this work into conversation, focusing on the larger question of cultural perceptions of the boundaries of literary works and how paratexts mediate these ideas. Lied argues that the location and transmission history of this text, sometimes identified as 2 Baruch 78-87 and sometimes as an independent epistolary work, should be essential for the production of editions. She argues for a substantive change to the exigencies of modern editorial praxis in light of New Philology.

Eva Mroczek examines traditions of David’s composition of psalms in “The End of the Psalms in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Greek Codices, and Syriac Manuscripts” (pp. 297–322), sticking with a focus on Syriac material, but also transcending this linguistic register in interesting directions. Mroczek explores traditions of David’s literary activity and the role this tradition played in shaping psalms collections in multiple linguistic and religious contexts, focusing on 11QPsalmsa, two exemplars of the Septuagint (Alexandrinus and Sinaiticus), and some Syriac manuscripts. Her analysis problematizes the Psalter as a collection, pointing to its instability and the unexplored liminal spaces between canonical and non-canonical.

The volume concludes with an essay by James R. Davila (“Translating the Hekhalot Literature: Insights from New Philology,” pp. 323-346). Davila reflects on his translation of the Hekhalot literature into English, focusing on the essential exigencies of rendering a complex tradition into a useful vernacular tool. He argues that even though his translation was executed from an eclectic, reconstructed text of the tradition’s main macro and microforms, his approach was sensitive to the material and textual reality of tradition, taking into account issues that are often in the arena of New Philology. There is more work to be done, he concludes, on the material and paratextual forms of the tradition.

This volume strikes a balance that is difficult to achieve for a collection that relentlessly argues for the importance of examining individual manuscripts as legitimate objects of study in their own right. There is an overriding appreciation for classic modes of text-critical and material analysis, but a constant desire to think more clearly about aspects of the tradition that have been underappreciated. In this sense, the volume is corrective, even iconoclastic in places, but also effective, offering a range of important avenues for future research and potential reservoirs of new evidence that can answer old disciplinary questions. The main thrust of the collection, which is surprisingly unified in its methodological principles despite the variety of traditions addressed, is that the specificities of each manuscript are important, that bibliographic codes contextualize textual codes. Childers’ statement in his article is axiomatic for the volume: “We are reminded that when we detach ancient texts from the concrete artifacts in which they reside, we are liable to lose a critical dimension of the text’s original significance” (p. 268). This volume is a valuable resource for scholars who deal with the primary sources of any ancient literary tradition, but especially for Jewish and Christian traditions, and should further inform the theoretical underpinnings of ongoing editorial activity.

Garrick V. Allen
Dublin City University
garrick.allen [at]

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