New Contexts for Old Texts: Unorthodox Texts and Monastic Manuscript Culture in Fourth- and Fifth-Century Egypt (NEWCONT)
Who produced and used the Nag Hammadi Codices and similar manuscripts? And what role did these codices and their texts play in the lives of the communities that produced and used them? Eschewing the category of ‘Gnosticism,’ this ERC-financed research project analyses the codices and their texts in light of late antique Egyptian monasticism.
The Nag Hammadi Codices
Photo: Claremont Colleges Digital Library
Textual Transmission and 'New Philology'
The project studies the Coptic texts as they have been preserved to us in the codices, utilising the perspective often referred to as “New Philology,” and focuses on issues of textual transmission and the use to which the codices were put by their fourth- and/or fifth-century owners. To this end the project pays special attention to codicology, textual variants, and rewriting.
This approach constitutes a decisive shift away from interpretations of the hypothetical Greek originals of these texts 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 to us in actual Coptic manuscripts.
Monastic Manuscript Culture in Late-Antique Egypt
The codices and their contents will be analysed primarily in light of their probable place in monastic manuscript culture, in the context of monastic literary practices of writing, copying, translation, memorization, and recitation. How, and why, were books like these used, produced and transmitted, and how were their contents received within monastic interpretive communities? We know that texts like these were controversial in the Fourth and Fifth Centuries. What can a comparison of these codices with various contemporary sources that discuss the production and use of extra-canonical material tell us concerning early monastic attitudes towards texts and books, Scripture and canonicity?
This project studies some of the most enigmatic religious manuscripts discovered during the last centuries. The Nag Hammadi codices are in this project seen together with the highly similar Codex Berolinensis 8502 and the so-called Codex Tchacos, as well as the little studied Bruce and Askew codices.
The project approaches these questions with a contextual focus on fourth- and fifth-century Egyptian monasticism, employing, among other sources, the writings of the Pachomian koinonia and Shenoute of Atripe, while also having a broader comparative perspective seeing the Nag Hammadi (and related) codices in light of other non-canonical Coptic literature, often preserved in later manuscripts.
Doctrinal Diversity and Conflict
The codices and their contents are also analysed in the context of fourth- and fifth-century theology, tackling questions relating to biblical reception, canonicity and doctrinal diversity in early Christianity, with a special focus on early Egyptian monasticism. The Fourth and Fifth Centuries constitute a period of major organizational and doctrinal developments in the early Church. The project investigates how the doctrinal conflicts and developments of this period may shed light on the contents of the Nag Hammadi (and related) codices.
This research project thus aims to deepen our understanding of the Nag Hammadi (and related) codices in light of their fourth- and fifth-century contexts, while fleshing out our picture of early Christian monasticism, manuscript culture, and the doctrinal diversity of early Christianity, in Egypt and beyond.
Cognitive Approaches to Literature and Memory
The project employs a variety of methodological approaches. In addition to "New Philology" these include cognitive theories of literature and (individual and collective) memory, with a view towards illuminating late antique monastic manuscript culture using current knowledge and theories of the individual and collective workings of the human mind.
Project Organisation and Activities
The NEWCONT-project is financed by a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). It is led by principal investigator Hugo Lundhaug, and also includes postdoctoral research fellow Lance Jenott and doctoral student Kristine Toft Rosland. It has a duration of five years (2012-2016) and will organise annual workshops and conferences. The first workshop, on "new philology" and the Nag Hammadi (and related) codices was held in Oslo in December 2012. The first conference will be held in December 2013. Further information on activities and job openings will appear here.