The Erotic Life of Manuscripts: New Testament Textual Criticism and the Biological Sciences

By Pickens, Brad | Anglican Theological Review, Spring 2018 | Go to article overview

The Erotic Life of Manuscripts: New Testament Textual Criticism and the Biological Sciences


Pickens, Brad, Anglican Theological Review


The Erotic Life of Manuscripts: New Testament Textual Criticism and the Biological Sciences. By Yii-Jan Lin. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. xi + 203 pp. $78.00 (cloth).

Yii-Jan Lins The Erotic Life of Manuscripts began as a PhD dissertation and takes its title from the metaphor of sexual reproduction that New Testament text critics have borrowed from the biological sciences to describe the creation and transmission of the manuscripts they study. Lin argues that scholars engaged in the search for the "original" New Testament text adopted sexual and racial metaphors from the biological sciences to classify and categorize New Testament manuscripts into families and races with different characteristics, with certain texts and families bearing the taint of corruption or adulteration (p. 5). While Lin addresses issues of text criticism, she is not a text critic, nor is she attempting to operate as one in this work. Rather, Lin situates her w'ork within the field of cultural studies, with the goal of "analyzing] and deconstruct [ing] a technical aspect of the field [of] textual criticism" (p. 8) with the purpose of revealing how the metaphors used in textual criticism shape the way text critics and other scholars understand (or perhaps misunderstand) the field. Her goal in the book is to explore the language of criticism and the implications of the metaphors employed for both sides of what she calls "The Great Divide" in biblical studies-traditional historical criticism on one side and literary criticism, with an emphasis on poststructural and postcolonial critics, on the other (p. 5).

Lin structures her argument chronologically, tracing the shifting language of New Testament text critics as they adapted their metaphors and methods to reflect the understandings of the world that were being developed within the biological sciences. She traces this unlikely interdisciplinary connection through Johann Bengels eighteenth century efforts to classify New Testament manuscripts '"by their families, tribes, and nations'" (p. 29) and Karl Lachmann's exploration of genealogy and corruption within text families (pp. 52-53), through B. H. Streeters adoption of Darwinian progression to explain the emergence of different text types (p. 80), and through modern relational understandings of biology that are adopted by philologists who search for webs of relationships between texts in search of narrative development, rather than a branching tree of corruption (pp. 116-117).

Lin has produced a highly engaging work that addresses the technical nuances of her subject matter without getting lost in the details. …

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