The Erotic Life of Manuscripts

New Testament Textual Criticism and the Biological Sciences

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Yii-Jan Lin
  • New York, NY: 
    Oxford University Press
    , January
     2016.
     224 pages.
     $74.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780190279806.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Description

This book has been reviewed in JAAR by Gary Gilbert. Click here to read the review.

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. 

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.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Yii-Jan Lin is Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She received her PhD in religious studies from Yale University and an MA in English literature from the University of Chicago.

Add New Comment

Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.

Log in to post comments