The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity

The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity

The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity

The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity

Synopsis

Books and bodies, women and books, and the malleable word and flesh lie thematically at the center of The Gendered Palimpsest,which explores the roles that women played in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian books, and how the representation of female characters was contested through the medium of writing and copying. The book is organized in two sections, the first of which treats historical questions: To what extent were women authors, scribes, book-lenders, and patrons of early Christian literature? How should we understand the representation of women readers in ascetic literature? The second section of the book turns to text-critical questions: How and why were stories of women modified in the process of copying? And how did debates about asceticism--and, more specifically, the human body--find their way into the textual transmission of canonical and apocryphal literature?

Throughout the book, Haines-Eitzen uses the notion of a palimpsest in its broadest sense to highlight the problems of representation, layering, erasure, and reinscription. In doing so, she provides a new dimension to the gendered history of early Christianity.

Excerpt

Years ago, the plan for this book was quite simple: to tell the story of how scribes modified early Christian texts in order to circumscribe and control the roles of women and to reinscribe women’s proper character and place. It was not for lack of evidence that this project never quite materialized, for a full half of this book is now devoted to the subject. But over time, I found myself resisting a rather one-sided reflection on women and books—namely, how books, almost entirely written and copied by men, rewrote the stories about women; instead, I began to press our evidence for glimpses of women’s roles in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian literature, something I had begun to do in my first book. in some sense, my struggle was with representation and reality, and a stubborn refusal to allow one or the other to dominate the project. What follows, therefore, could be read as my attempt to trace several points of contact between women and books in early Christianity: the extent to which women actively participated in early Christian book culture, how they came to be represented as readers, and why and how stories about women were changed by copyists.

The truth is, however, that books are like life—always partial, fragmentary, and refracted by experience. I am more aware of this now than ever. Life is punctuated by loss and fragmentation, and it has no doubt shaped my desire for wholeness. But a finished book . . .

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