What is the ‘Text’ in Textual Criticism?

In: Vetus Testamentum
Ronald L. Troxel University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Textual criticism has long used terms and phrases incorporating ‘text’ without scrutinizing whether they are defensible. Contributing to this problem has been imprecision in the definition of ‘text’ itself. Contemporary scholarship has nibbled at the edges of a definition, but no focused consideration has been given to pinpointing what it is textual criticism criticizes. This essay examines the concepts underlying talk of ‘text’, positing that ‘text’ must be defined within a matrix with author and reader. A text’s production and preservation reflects its reading communities’ conferral upon it of the status of ‘text’. Although establishment of the earliest recoverable form(s) of a text remains important, that must be paired with understanding a text’s role in shaping and reflecting the lives of its reading communities. Careful definition of ‘text’ and the nomenclature that describes it can bring clarity to conceiving the task of textual criticism.

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