Compilation, Canonization and Authority


Some of the most influential texts in human history have been identified as compilations, either by their producers or by subsequent scholars. Ancient religious canons are typically compilations, such as the Hebrew or the Christian Bibles, or the Buddhist canons. Why did religious leaders, lawmakers, educators, and historians use compilation to produce and disseminate authoritative texts? What is the relation between compiling and synthesizing earlier sources? 

Many great law-books are compilations. These include the Corpus iuris civilis of Roman law and the Decretum Gratiani of Canon law, which shaped legal cultures across the world.

Many historical works were compilations, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses or the old Norse sagas. And, of course, curricula for learning often use compiled texts. Indeed, compilation has been a predominant method for producing all kinds of influential texts throughout history. But what does ‘compilation’ mean? A conventional definition would encompass both: (a) the method of selecting text-fragments then editing and recomposing them in new sources, and (b) the finished product so created. However, this definition lacks appreciation of the wider context of the function of compilation, relevant compilation processes, or the impact on the source texts or their perceived authority.

Often, it seems, compilations have gained canonical impact while the original texts were lost, forgotten, or remembered as having been identical to the compiled texts. In other words, compilation can be instrumental to the production of textual authority and resilience.

To what extent were compilations products of creativity or established even new knowledge or understanding? What was the role of compilations in the process of reception, transmission and translation of knowledge from one cultural context to another?

How to participate

A prerequisite for participation in all ATTR seminars is membership. We welcome membership applications from PhD candidates employed at one of the ATTR member institutions (UiO, UiB, UiT, NTNU, MF). PhD students at other institutions internationally are welcome to participate in individual ATTR seminars. 

How to apply and application requirements


Practical information

A seminar for PhD students within the fields of Humanities, Theology and Law. The Seminar will take place in Bergen (including a field trip to Baroniet Rosendal). 

Application deadline: August 20, 2021

  • This seminar is organized in cooperation with the Research Group for Legal Culture, Legal History and Comparative Law, University of Bergen and also with the museum Baroniet Rosendal.  
  • The seminar will be hybrid due to covid-19. Please see our technical guide, and guides to participants and lecturers for more information.
  • The seminar equals 5 ECTS
  • The seminar is free of charge and most of your expenses (flight tickets, hotel, most meals) will be covered
  • Registration is binding, provided that you are admitted. 
  • Before the application deadline, make sure that you have uploaded all necessary attachments:

Research seminars

Adelyn Wilson and Sören Koch

Compilation – a topic for interdisciplinary research?

Sören Koch (UiB) / Adelyn Wilson (University of Aberdeen)

The purpose of this first session is to explore the concept of compilation, the methods involved in compilation, and to understand how compilation relates to concepts of authority and authorship. The format of the session will be a workshop event, with a combination of small group discussion among seminar participants and interactive discussions led by Professors Koch and Wilson.

This workshop session will begin with the opportunity for participants to share in small groups their pre-seminar understanding and experience with compilation, and to reflect on what that understanding means in the context of some set texts which will be provided in advance. This first part of the workshop will be an excellent opportunity to begin to get to know the other participants, and to set a baseline for your understanding of compilation against which you can reflect your learning through the programme.

The second part of the session will be an interactive discussion with Professors Koch and Wilson, in which they will discuss their own research on compilations among legal texts. Together Professors Koch and Wilson and the participants will probe several questions about compilation, examining concepts in connection to specific textual examples. What is the nature of compilation? Can there can be a universal concept of compilation? How were compilations made? To what extent does compilation differ from original authorship? What are the motivations for compiling? How does compilation interact with concepts of authority? In exploring these questions, Professors Koch and Wilson will introduce the seminar participants to several compilations with which they have worked across three different genres of legal texts from Norway and Scotland from the early-modern period. A key theme of the discussion will be the extent to which these questions might be answered differently across the disciplines.

Terje Stordalen

Compilation, Complexification, Canonization: Canonical Ecologies

Compilations can be made for many different purposes, and they may be used in very diverse ways. One phenomenon common to compilations of authoritative texts, rules, or standards seems to be the build-up of a certain complexity through the compilation process – both in terms of possible intertextual exchange, and in terms of texts and rules becoming applicable to ever-changing (often expanding) spheres of life. The many strategies that canonical communities may apply to deal with growing complexities can be subsumed under the twofold policy of limitation and simultaneous flexibility. The limitation comes in terms of formal canonization, delimitation of authoritative materials, petrification of texts, etc. A certain flexibility, on the other hand, comes for instance in the forms of authorized commentary, socially controlled reception, or the management of social remembering (and forgetting) of the authoritative base. The continued authority of a compilation is produced in a complex interplay between text, commentary, institutions, social memory, social habits. This presentation charts some central elements and moments of such “canonical ecologies” by way of following one biblical text — the Book of Proverbs – through some of its moments in production, compilation, and reception

Jens Eike Schnall (UiB)

Compilatio and Ordinatio in Medieval Encyclopedic Manuscripts

The manuscript culture of the Middle Ages developed and refined the art of (re)organizing and systematizing knowledge in large, at times monumental, works. Among the best known examples are encyclopedic works such as the Didascalicon de studio legendi by Hugo of St. Victor, De proprietatibus rerum by Bartholomaeus Anglicus, De natura rerum by Thomas of Cantimpré and the Speculum maius by Vincent of Beauvais. In this session, we will deal with the concepts and techniques of compilatio and ordinatio and their application within medieval encyclopedic texts and texts which contain sections of encyclopedic character. Our examples will be taken from both Latin and Old Norse works, as for the latter mainly the Norwegian King’s Mirror and Icelandic law manuscripts containing the Jónsbók. Special attention will be given to structural models which provide schemes for the compilation of large works and which, at the same time, can be linked to the medieval art of memory. We will thus e.g. get a glimpse of the medieval roots of modern tree diagrams, medieval pedagogy, and see what makes a text on phlebotomy appear in legal manuscripts.

Mathias Schmoeckl

The History of Expropriation and Its Relation to 1 Samuel 8

(Geschichte der Enteignung an Hand von 1 Sam. 8)

The sedes materiae for expropriation for centuries was 1 Sam 8: The Prophet reminds the Jews, who wanted to have a king, what kings usually do: they take away the boys for their army and the money for their wars. The interpretation displays clearly how the Christian authors of the last millennium thought of kings and the legitimacy of expropriation.

Eirik Hovden

Compilation, canonization, and codification in the Islamic legal tradition

Islamic scholars have over the centuries developed a vast and rich scholarly textual tradition where legal theory (jurisprudence, fiqh) is a core discipline. Large parts of these developments have taken place in cosmopolitan scholarly networks outside direct control of a central state. Compilation has been a way of managing the diversity of sources and potential legal rules that arose over the centuries, something the legal anthropologist Brinkley Messick have called “the library” (2018). Some of these library texts were canonized by various “communities of interpretation”, the most famous of which are the four Sunni legal “schools” (madhhabs), although many other existed and exists. In the process of managing “library-texts”, explicit and implicit criteria for inclusion were made. Efforts of reducing a potential destructive plurality and incoherence early on led to codification, even if such codes were primarily meant for scholarly and didactic purposes and thus functionally different from later, modern Islam-inspired legislation. “Compilations”, “Canons” and “Codes” are terms or concepts that some see as foreign to the Islamic tradition and thus of limited use. I argue that these terms, separately or in juxtaposition, are highly useful as hermeneutical tools that open for comparative endeavours and theoretical that generate new questions and perspectives, drawing our attention to agency, social settings and historical contexts.

Jørn Øyrehagen Sunde and Brage Hatløy

Compilation in the Code of the Norwegian Realm of 1274

One can think of legislation as a coin with two opposite sides, since law is an instrument both for stability and for change in society. Stability is a precondition for predictability, and hence for social order and economic growth. But law is also a political tool for governance, and hence an instrument for change. 

Balancing stability and change may become a pressing issue during times when larger pieces of legislation are in the works, such as is the case in the writing of a code of law. When a large part of the entire body of law is in flux, the whole stability and ability for society to change is at stake.

A valuable and useful tool in the process of making new law is to reuse already existing law by editing, rearranging, rewriting, and supplementing it, and this can take the form of a compilation process. There is no universal formula on how to conduct the process because the balancing has to be done with regards to the existing instability in society, which again is decisive for the degree of changes possible to achieve. The Code of the Norwegian Realm of 1274 was made by compiling older law that was edited, rearranged, rewritten and supplemented. It is hence a most suitable object of study to understand the art of compilation when making a code of law. At the same time, a study of the Code of 1274 gives insight in European and Norwegian medieval politics and society from a legal point of view, in an era of codification of law in Europe.

Tone Irene Brekke (UiO)

From Canonized to Canonizing Women in British Romanticism: Anthologies and Lists of Excellent Women Writers as Feminist Praxis?

The late eighteenth century is frequently referred to as a period in which our modern notion of the literary emerges. One phenomenon that accompanies the changes in the literary marketplace in this period, is the growing interest in literary anthologies. Although they frequently contained references to religious texts, some of these explicitly present themselves as secular, literary canons. Not surprisingly, these “lists” do for the most part exclude women writers. The cultural and ideological work invested in these canons, such as their contribution to the formation of a national and male, middle-class identity has been pointed out by many critics. What has not received much critical attention is, however, the anthologies and canons launched by women writers of the eighteenth-century.

This presentation points to some of the canonizing efforts in the translations, selections of texts, authors, and lists of “excellent women” in Mary Wollstonecraft’s anthology, The Female Reader (1789), Mary Robinson’s pamphlet A Letter to the Women of England (1799), Anna Letitia Barbauld’s The British Novelists (1810) and Mary Hays’ Female Biography, or, Memoirs of Illustrious and Celebrated Women (1807). That British women writers in the second half of the eighteenth century, such as Hays, Wollstonecraft, Robinson and Barbauld developed and financed their careers as poets and authors of fictions and pamphlet by working as reviewers and translators is well known. Less debated, however, is their role as cultural “transmitters” in the development of the emerging English literary canon. A central point of this presentation will be to reevaluate the understanding of cultural authorship and its gendered hierarchies. Instead of viewing women’s roles as translators, editors and reviewers as a secondary activity limited to passively reproducing and transmitting texts, perhaps we need to reevaluate and widen the discussion of canonic processes to include such cultural work?

Kelsie Rodenbiker

The Catholic Epistles as a (Para)Canonical Compilation

The ancient process of forming an authoritative canon of Christian scriptures was not an inevitable plod toward a teleological end resulting in the now-familiar New Testament, and the Catholic Epistle collection – James, 1 and 2 Peter, 1, 2, and 3 John, and Jude – played a fraught role in this process. Key antecedents prepared the ground for a sevenfold Catholic collection, including the Muratorian fragment, the early manuscript tradition, and ancient references to ‘catholic’ epistles. But there was an ancient concern over the perceived pseudonymity of the majority of the collection—as exhibited, for example, by Eusebius, who both provides the first unambiguous designation of a sevenfold collection of Catholic Epistles and relegates the majority of the collection to a grouping of antilegomena (debated texts). The concern over pseudonymity and the accompanying hesitation to include all seven Catholic letters among the New Testament place the collection in a liminal space between texts that were widely accepted early on, like the four now-canonical Gospels or Paul’s letter to the Romans, and texts that fell outside the supposed boundary of an authoritative New Testament, like the Gospel of Mary or the Protevangelium of James. Still, while the suspicion of pseudonymity is at the centre of the debate over the Catholic Epistles’ role in the New Testament, their attribution to key apostles is also a major factor in their continued use and eventual inclusion. We will first discuss the tethers between attribution, compilation, and canonicity, using the Catholic Epistles as a case study, before exploring the implications of their canonical liminality on the broader notions of scriptural authority and the integrity of a scriptural canonical boundary.

PhD Seminars

Seminar guide (.pdf) 

Central to all ATTR seminars and summer schools are the PhD fellows’ own presentations of papers based on their dissertation work, with prepared responses by other PhD fellows. 

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of ATTR, the focus of the discussions will be primarily on methodological matters and interdisciplinary insights.

The PhD seminars are important means to the ATTR learning goals:

  • Writing and presentation skills: The seminars aim not only at providing a setting for constructive discussions relating to thesis work, but also at preparing the candidates for life after their dissertations. ATTR thus aims to hone students’ presentation and writing skills, skills that may be useful for development of research projects for which funding can be sought from, e.g., ERC and RCN.
  • Methodology: The objective of ATTR is to create a venue where interpretive methodologies can be critically discussed, evaluated, and developed, so as to broaden the candidates’ perspectives and heighten the quality of their analyses.
  • Networking: In all its activities, the creation of an interdisciplinary network of young scholars in order to ensure the highest possible academic quality of PhD education is a central goal of ATTR.


Please contact the ATTR Administrative coordinator / Ina Marie Ausland.

Published Dec. 10, 2020 2:51 PM - Last modified June 28, 2022 2:01 PM