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New Contexts for Old Texts: Unorthodox Texts and Monastic Manuscript Culture in Fourth- and Fifth-Century Egypt (NEWCONT)
Start date: Jan 1, 2012, End date: Dec 31, 2016 PROJECT  FINISHED 

"Using recently accessible Coptic monastic texts, new philology, and cognitive theories of literature and memory, this project aims to shed important new light on the production and use of some of the most enigmatic manuscripts discovered during the last century, namely the Nag Hammadi codices, together with the highly similar Berlin, Bruce, Askew, and Tchacos codices. This will be done by interpreting the contents of the codices as they are preserved to us in their Coptic versions primarily within the context of fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian monasticism and contemporary Coptic texts. This approach constitutes a decisive shift away from interpretations of the hypothetical Greek originals of this material within hypothetical first, second, or third century contexts all over the Mediterranean world, to a focus on the context of the production and use of the texts as they have been preserved in actual manuscripts. The project will approach the material from a New Philology perspective on manuscript culture, implying a focus on the users and producers of the extant manuscripts, and on textual variants, rewriting, and paratextual features as important clues. From this point of view, the project will also employ cognitive theories of literature and memory in order to illuminate early monastic attitudes towards books, canonicity, and doctrinal diversity in the context of monastic literary practices of copying, writing, memorization, and recitation, and the interfaces between orality and literacy. The project will thus combine new and traditional methodologies within a multi-disciplinary theoretical framework, thus bringing fresh theoretical and historico-philosophical approaches to bear on a traditionally methodologically conservative field of study, and has the potential to radically alter our picture of early Christian monasticism, manuscript culture, and doctrinal diversity."
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