5/8/06

Scottish Postgraduate Conference In Theology and Religious Studies

On June 8, New College is hosting the Scottish PG. Conference in Theology and Religious Studies. I have never attended one of these, so I don't quite know what to expect. But I did toss an abstract into the mix and it was accepted. I am looking forward to using the occasion as a chance to outline the broad strokes of some secondary research I have been doing here in Edinburgh through the following short paper:

Book Culture in Early Christianity: Text, Technology, and Early
Christian Theology


Recent advances in codicology and the history of literacy in early Christianity offer new paradigms for the study of early Christian origins and New Testament theology. This paper will summarize key historical propositions from these fields of scholarship and the nature of their relation to early Christian faith and practice. Much of the data concerning the writing culture of early Christianity, scribal practices in antiquity, and literacy rates in different areas of the Roman Empire has been part of New Testament studies for quite some time, but the means by which this data can deepen our appreciation of the development and spread of early Christian theology has not. This paper will propose several ways in which these rich fields of study can affect New Testament criticism and interpretation.


I did not have room in the abstract to toss in a sentence or two on my introduction to the paper, but I have been increasingly struck by how analogous the period of transition from scroll to codex in Greco-Roman culture is to our contemporary limbo between written and online publishing. In each historical context you have an authority granted to one medium or technology that is only slowly being granted to the other. Part of this textual transition is a complete redefinition of publishing, writing, and reading, and the cultural or semiotic authority that attends these activities. At the very least, thinking of a few early Christian scribal tendencies from this perspective is provocative. I won't have the time on this occasion to explore that thought in great detail, but perhaps at another conference.

10 comments:

Michael F. Bird said...

Michael, sounds good. If ya can send me a copy and I'd be glad to read over it for you.

M. Leary said...

Okay, but I will have to write it first!

Roger Pearse said...

The transition from the manuscript era to that of the printed book is still more analogous to that from printing to online.

After all, all these new texts online are not from the best sources, but from that available to hand (as in the case of printed texts of the classics in the renaissance). The rich and the powerful reject the new medium -- as in the renaissance.

On another note, the ease of copying and altering online texts, the lack of pagination and permanent reference takes us back to the manuscript era in many ways. Will scholars in years to come be attempting to draw stemmas of electronic texts, or wondering where those of us involved in scanning got our sources?

M. Leary said...

Your comments ring true. I am not as conversant with that later era, but I need to be. There seem to be a number of historical factors at work in the scroll-codex, manuscript-print, and the print-online transitions that imply a set of analogous cultural patterns. I am hesitant to say too much about these "patterns" at this point, but simply find the analogy I proposed as a helpful pedagogical aid.

"Stemmas of electronic texts..." That is frightening. We may also see the rise in a set of redactional critical methods applied to Wikipedia entries!

Roger Pearse said...

There is also the question of losses at each stage. When the codex replaced the roll, any literature not copied was soon lost, as readers preferred the easier new format. Likewise whatever was not printed was vulnerable, and there were losses at this stage also. Will the same apply to whatever is online?

Material can be lost which happens to be out of fashion. We are fortunate that the codex-fillers of the 4th century were interested in the likes of Tacitus and Suetonius, which had been out of fashion in the 2nd century; but we lack 2nd and 3rd century texts, which perhaps were out of fashion.

Each technology change is like a gate, and people living on the far side of it base everything on the new form. This is why the Italian mss of the 'Corpus Cluniacense' collection of Tertullian's works all derive from one copy: itself a copy into humanist script from a Gothic exemplar. Both the Gothic ms and the copy are still in Florence, but every copy derives from the humanist copy. So it always is.

Michael F. Bird said...

Michael, I will be the Scottish Conf next Thursday, so I hope to catch you then.

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