14 Jan 2024

scriptures & things

It’s well known, of course, that Jewish bibles do not contain texts that Christians call the New Testament, and it’s also well known that Catholic bibles include additional deutero-canonical texts. And just as the multiplicity among bibles is a matter of common knowledge, so too with the multiplicity within. It’s often noted that our singular English term ‘bible,’ paradoxically, derives from the Latin plural, biblia. What makes this paradox more than etymological trivia, however, is its power to remind us of a tension we habitually forget. . . .

Research on the formation of biblical canons has tended to take our modern notion of the closed and fixed text of the bible as its assumed telos and culmination, tracing a thin line from the formation of biblical texts to their elevation and interpretation as scripture, to the shifting technologies of their transmission from scrolls to codices and finally to . . . closure . . . . What might we miss, then, both about the present and the past, when we focus on the origins of this one modern ideal of the bible as a single, set, printed and bound set of books? . . . Instead of asking when the biblical canon was closed, my interest is in exploring some of the limits of the process of canonization, as well as some of the other ways in which the biblical past made cultural meanings, both before and after.

Annette Yoshiko Reed, delivering a paper several years ago, the promise of whose title never quite gets fulfilled in the video but which makes for really a good compact listen on scripture and scriptural proliferation even so.

This is housed in an odd way, at a YouTube channel that looks like it might originally have been meant to represent Texas mainline-Protestant institution Trinity University’s religion department in a general way, but in the end is only a repository for five recorded talks from the school’s 2016–17 Reinventing the Bible seminar project. I haven’t listened to all five yet, but those I have have well repaid the time given.

One in particular of the other four, Michael Satlow’s, covering material from the popular-audiences book he’d had published a year or so before, makes for a decent intro in some respects to what I post here now just about a year ago — to Yonatan Adler’s Origins of Judaism talk, at least. I want to listen to all the readings from that conference again.

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