|Workers restore the scene “original sin”|
in the Sistine Chapel (photo credit)
The painting exists at a single location, and one has nowhere else to go to find the work except that one place.... In contrast, a piece of paper with a text of a poem written on it does not constitute a work of literature, and therefore any alterations one makes in the manuscript do not automatically alter the work. If one cleans a dirty spot on a manuscript and reveals a word not legible before, the word is unquestionably a part of the text of the document, but it is not necessarily a part of the literary work nor, for that matter, is any other word in the document, for the work can only be reconstituted through the application of critical judgment to each element of every surviving text (even if there is only one, and it is the only one there has ever been). Similarly, if one touches up a manuscript by writing over an indistinct word or by marking out a word and entering another, one is certainly altering the document, but one does not thereby change the work. Such alteration of documents is regarded, by all who revere historical evidence, as a scandalous activity; but the equivalent alteration of paintings, frescoes, and sculptures is frequently advocated by responsible scholars, deeply committed to the recovery of the past. The ethics of altering artifacts shifts in the second situation because the work and the artifact inhabit the same body, and the work is considered more important. (A Rationale of Textual Criticism, pp. 27-28)My favorite question that gets at the heart of the matter is the one asked by Paul Eggert: “If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where is Hamlet?” (Securing the Past, p. 215). We could just as well ask, “If the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre, where is the Bible?” It seems to me that textual criticism of the Bible is an attempt to answer the latter question.