Yii-Jan Lin has a new book coming out next month that is the published form of her Yale dissertation. The provocative title is The Erotic Life of Manuscripts: New Testament Textual Criticism and the Biological Sciences (OUP).
Since the New Testament’s inception as written text, its manuscripts have been subject to all the dangers of history: scribal error, emendation, injury, and total destruction. The traditional goal of modern textual criticism has been to reconstruct an “original text” from surviving manuscripts, adjudicating among all the variant texts resulting from the slips, additions, and embellishments of scribal hand-copying.I’ll be interested to see the connection she draws between the biological sciences and textual criticism. A year or so ago I came across an article by John van Wyhe showing that, when it comes to evolutionary thinking, the philologists had it before the biologists.
Because of the way manuscripts circulate and give rise to new copies, it can be said that they have an “erotic” life: they mate and breed, bear offspring, and generate families and descendants. New Testament textual critics of the eighteenth century who began to use this language to group texts into families and genealogies were not pioneering new approaches, but rather borrowing the metaphors and methods of natural scientists. Texts began to be classified into “families, tribes, and nations,” and later were racialized as “African” or “Asian,” with distinguishable “textual physiognomies” and “textual complexions.” The Erotic Life of Manuscripts explores this curious relationship between the field of New Testament textual criticism and the biological sciences, beginning with the eighteenth century and extending into the present.
While these biological metaphors have been powerful tools for textual critics, they also produce problematic understandings of textual “purity” and agency, with the use of scientific discourse artificially separating the work of textual criticism from literary interpretation. Yii-Jan Lin shows how the use of biological classification, genealogy, evolutionary theory, and phylogenetics has shaped—and limited—the goals of New Testament textual criticism, the greatest of which is the establishment of an authoritative, original text. She concludes by proposing new metaphors for the field.
Table of Contents
Part I: Collection and Theorization
Chapter 1: Bengel and the Classification and Racializiation of Texts
Chapter 2: Lachmann and the Genealogy and Corruption of Texts
Part II: Historicization and Innovation
Chapter 3: Darwin, Streeter, and Narrative Textual Criticism
Chapter 4: Philology and Phylogeny
Appendix 1: Excerpt of Interview with Gerd Mink and Klaus Wachtel, Institut für Neutestamentliche Textforschung, Münster, March 10, 2011
Appendix 2: “Marcus Niebuhr Tod,” by Maurice Bowra
You can look inside the book already at Amazon. I only read the appendix which has an interesting and candid interview with Klaus Wachtel and Gerd Mink on the CBGM. Of course, I couldn’t miss the reference to the ETC blog on p. 178.