Monday, September 11, 2017

Review of Lied and Lundhaug (eds.), Snapshots of Evolving Traditions

BRYN MAYR CLASSICAL REVIEW: Liv Ingeborg Lied, Hugo Lundhaug (ed.), Snapshots of Evolving Traditions: Jewish and Christian Manuscript Culture, Textual Fluidity, and New Philology. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 175. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2017. Pp. xviii, 366. ISBN 9783110344189. $137.99. Reviewed by Pieter W. van der Horst, Utrecht University (
The 13 essays in this volume aim to provide “a broad introductory exploration of the applicability of the perspective of New Philology to late-antique Christian and Jewish texts in their manuscript contexts” (vii). In the introductory chapter the editors clarify the idea of ‘New Philology’ by arguing that when scholars of early Christian and Jewish literature acknowledge the fact that our surviving textual witnesses constitute in fact only snapshots of a movie about a developing textual tradition and that such snapshots are not necessarily representative of the entire movie, “it is pertinent to approach the interpretation of these texts from a perspective inspired by New Philology, taking textual fluidity and manuscript culture fully into consideration” (1). This is meant as a corrective to the traditional approach in which manuscripts are used only, or mainly, in the service of the reconstruction of an Urtext and in which variant readings are regarded as ‘deviations’ from it. Manuscripts are rather testimonies to the ‘life’ of a text, and in most modern critical editions of ancient literature the text presented is usually “foreign to the pool of existing manuscripts and the texts presented there” (3). The ‘unruliness’ displayed by actual manuscripts is thus made invisible, much to the detriment of scholarship. Fluidity of the texts should not be regarded as textual ‘corruption’ because ‘living’ texts were altered in the course of transmission to suit new times and needs. By hiding variants in a critical apparatus one also hides the fact that in a manuscript culture texts are constantly in a process of change. “As an alternative way of dealing with medieval manuscript variance New Philology pinpoints the fact that a literary work does not exist independently of its material embodiment, and that this physical form is part of the meaning of the text” (6). A ‘finished’ text is an illusion, for the changes introduced to the text during its transmission are not corruptions but should be studied as important aspects of the life of the text.

I was pleased to see that the reviewer liked my essay on the Hekhalot literature, the last one in the volume.

Past posts on the book are here and links.

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