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Asien-Orient-Institut UFSP Asien und Europa (2006–2017)

A Most Important Source

In the spring semester of 2014, the public lecture series “Cultural Materiality – Concepts at Stake in Comparative Manuscript Studies” aimed at fostering a lively interdisciplinary discussion on the state of the art in the field of manuscript studies across disciplines. The lecture series tried to provide an accessible overview on most recent archaeological discoveries, manuscript collections and archives, ongoing research projects, up-to-date theories, new analytical tools, and innovative methods in the study of manuscript texts.

Lisa Indraccolo, James Weaver, Phillip Lasater

It is undisputed that the manuscript, in ist wide variety of forms and physical carriers, is the primary medium of source material for studying the pre-modern world across disciplines and cultures. In the last years, newly acquired manuscript collections, recent exciting archaeological findings, and the increased accessibility of such materials thanks to concomitant progress in the digitalization and printed reproduction of texts has produced a rising interest in the study of manuscripts. In particular, studying the physical carrier of a manuscript text can yield extra-textual information about the different circumstances of manuscript production, reproduction, and transmission; the scribal communities that put these texts down in writing; and the different communication goals, uses, and audiences of such manuscript texts. Consequently, a growing awareness has developed of the potential for more dynamic interdisciplinary dialogue and an integrated approach to manuscripts, fruitfully combining philology with the study of material culture. Such an integrated approach focuses not only on the textual analysis of the extrapolated content, but also pays significant attention to the sheer physicality of the manuscript as an artifact and to ist relationship with and influence on the written text.

Organized by Lisa Indraccolo, James Weaver and Phillip Lasater (all members of the URPP Asia and Europe), the lecture series was structured as a set of six lectures that concluded in a final roundtable discussion. The lecture series brought together a selected group of both experienced researchers and junior scholars in the field of manuscript studies, focusing on three manuscript traditions (Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew). The invited speakers, two for each research area, were asked explicitly to address and focus on one or more issues, or to try to tackle and answer a set of key questions initially raised by the organizers. These issues fell within two broad conceptual areas.

Mutual influence

The first conceptual area concerned the analysis of paleographic materials, texts and paratexts, and related critical issues in the study of physical carriers, attending particularly to the interaction between the physical manuscript and the written text. Konrad Schmid (University of Zurich) surveyed the sparse and fragmentary material remnants of Israelite and Judahite scribal activity from the Neo-Assyrian period (specifically, 9th–8th cent. B.C.E.). He discussed how a number of the writings that eventually constituted the Hebrew Bible most likely originated in this period, having begun as scribal texts that circulated as a small number of exemplars. A central characteristic of the texts as “redactional literature” is their gradually expanding commentary. Paul Nicholas Vogt (University of Heidelberg) proposed a paleographic analysis of ancient Chinese Shang (1751–1045/1122 B.C.E.) oracle bones and Zhou (1045/1122–221 B.C.E.) bronze inscriptions on ritual vessels, further broadening his discourse in order to cover paleographic materials that employ different kinds of physical carriers (stone, bamboo, wood) and exploring the relationship and mutual influence between text, manuscript, and writing. Andreas Kaplony (LMU Munich) presented an overview of the documentary and epistolary material on papyrus preserved from the first Islamic centuries, before discussing the development of Arabic textual culture and ist relationship to the state as revealed by the available papyrological and numismatic evidence.

The second conceptual area covered broader issues of textual and scribal cultures, the production and transmission of manuscript texts, the construction of shared knowledge, and the specific role of manuscripts in such a process. Michael Segal (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) summarized the varieties of ancient Jewish scribal culture from the Hellenistic period, particularly as gleaned from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which provide the earliest material evidence of the Hebrew Bible. Tracking a trajectory discernible between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the medieval Masoretic codex (MT), Segal addressed the shift in Jewish scribal culture from a combination of “interventionist” and “conservative” practices toward the more stable text production that post-dated Rome’s destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 C.E. He then outlined the methodology of the Hebrew University Bible Project and ist effort to produce a diplomatic edition of the Hebrew Bible. Miriam Wagner (Woolf Institute, Cambridge) offered an analysis of scribal training and practice amongst medieval Jewish communities in Egypt and Islamic Spain based on the vast array of manuscript material from the period preserved in the Cairo Geniza. Lastly, Rens Krijgsman (University of Oxford) starting from the early Chinese bamboo manuscripts of the Tsinghua collection “The Metal Bound Coffer” (*Jin Teng) and “Treasured Instructions” (*Bao Xun) taken as case studies, addressed issues such as the establishment of textual and meaning communities, the interrelationship between the oral and the written, the transmission and tradition of knowledge, and the construction of shared cultural memory within such communities in Early China.

The final roundtable involved two presentations: one by Michael Friedrich (University of Hamburg), who is the Director of the Center for the Study of Manuscript Cultures in Hamburg, and another by Matthias Richter (University of Colorado at Boulder). Michael Friedrich provided a detailed survey on the ongoing activities and research projects at his institution. Based on his long-time experience in the field of comparative manuscript studies, he offered useful operational definitions of a selection of fundamental concepts, starting with the most basic though the most problematic one (namely, “manuscript”), and addressed further topics such as the interplay between orality and literacy and the possibility of a functional manuscript typologization according to use. By contrast, Matthias Richter contributed a palaeographic perspective, questioning the alleged “textual fluidity” of early Chinese manuscripts on bamboo hypothesized on the basis of their “modularity.” He mounted substantial evidence against this hypothesis. From an interdisciplinary perspective, he also proposed pragmatic ways of ascertaining textual identity in manuscripts that carry several texts at a time, further addressing the issue of the relationship between the physical dimensions, format, and structure of a manuscript and the function and use of the (written) text.

Overall, the lecture series reached ist goal by intensifying the academic discussion about manuscripts and hopefully made ist contribution to the future organization of similar events.

(Asia & Europe Bulletin, 4/2015, pp. 10–11)

Weiterführende Informationen

Lectures Series