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Logo for the project CATENA: Commentary Manuscripts in the History and Transmission of the New Testament

ITSEE will host a conference at Birmingham in March 2022 with the theme ‘The Decentralising of the Biblical Text in Manuscript Formation’, and invites proposals for papers to be presented at this gathering. 

The aim of the conference is to explore those manuscripts in which the biblical text has been marginalised or obscured in favour of other textual, paratextual, or codicological features and consider the resulting historical, theological, and textual implications. The conference is sponsored by the ERC-funded CATENA project and is planned to be held in-person at the University of Birmingham from 14 - 16 March 2022.

It has been asserted that the codicological presentation of New Testament manuscripts demonstrates that the biblical text existed as the ‘centrepiece’ of the manuscript, overshadowing all other material. It cannot be denied that biblical textual scholarship of the last century has focused almost entirely on the biblical text to the exclusion of the paratextual material contained in the manuscript books. Yet, with the onset of liturgical, commentary and catena manuscripts of the pre-medieval and medieval era, a decentralising emphasis on the biblical text begins to occur, and, in some cases, dominates the manuscript format.

A ‘paratext’ has been defined as ‘a piece of content whose presence in the manuscript is thematically dependent on one or several other pieces of content in the same manuscript.’ (Andrist, 147) While it is true that in many, if not most, cases the ‘dependence’ of paratextual material is quite clear—the biblical text takes precedence—the theme of this conference is meant to highlight those manuscripts in which the biblical text, be it aesthetically or contextually, is obscured in favour of other paratextual material. While Andrist’s definition excludes non-textual elements, the focus of this discussion seeks to include those manuscripts whose artistic or visual elements within or around the text obscure the biblical text itself. Additionally, it seeks to probe the philosophical and theological implications of these shifts away from a focus on biblical material and how these considerations might impact further understanding of its use in Christian or Jewish traditions. Finally, the conference seeks to identify the advances in knowledge or clarifications that come from acknowledging and understanding those ‘biblical’ manuscripts that decentralise the text of the scriptures for the fields of manuscript studies, textual criticism, codicology, and the related areas of historical or theological inquiry.

The topics this event seeks to explore are:

  • Cases of duplicated or abbreviated biblical lemmas in catena manuscripts.
  • Decorative manuscripts whose ornamentation corrupts the quality of the biblical text, either for reading or as a witness to the Ausgangstext.
  • Catenae or commentaries with the commentary in the centre of the page.
  • Catenae or commentaries where the biblical lemmas and scholia are equal or indistinguishable by visual hierarchy.
  • Analyses of theological method, reception history, and intellectual developments in the medieval context and ways that manuscripts reflect those circumstances.
  • Any other case where the codicology and textual elements of the page indicate the purpose of the manuscript was something other than to have a copy of the scriptures for reading/liturgy (in an admittedly modern sense).

Suggested areas of additional inquiry may include, but are not limited to:

  • When the biblical text is the paratext.
  • Problems (and solutions!) in defining paratexts and other elements in manuscripts.
  • Profiles or case studies of a particular manuscript or scribe.

Proposals for papers should be sent to Clark Bates and Andrew Patton by 6 December 2021.

Details of the programme schedule and registration will be posted on ITSEE news and circulated by email to participants.

A manuscript