"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Gender and Writing

To read anything written in "religious studies" in the last four decades is to know that "gender" is a huge issue, and all manner of thing is investigated or reinvestigated through a "gendered" hermeneutic. Much of that is illuminating; much is not. Along comes a new book that continues this trend: Kim Haines-Eltzen, The Gendered Palimpsest: Women, Writing, and Representation in Early Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2011), 214pp. About this book, the publisher tells us that it is:

  • The first book-length study to take seriously historical questions of women's roles in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian literature
  • An examination of the text-critical evidence for the deliberate modification of textual representations of female characters
Books and bodies, women and books lie thematically at the center of The Gendered Palimpsest, which explores the roles that women played in the production, reproduction, and dissemination of early Christian books, and how the representation of female characters is contested through the medium of writing and copying. The book is organized in two sections, the first of which treats historical questions: To what extent were women authors, scribes, book-lenders, and patrons of early Christian literature? How should we understand the representation of women readers in ascetic literature? The second section of the book turns to text-critical questions: How and why were stories of women modified in the process of copying? And how did debates about asceticism - and, more specifically, the human body - find their way into the textual transmission of canonical and apocryphal literature?

Throughout, Haines-Eitzen uses the notion of a palimpsest in its broadest sense to highlight the problems of representation, layering, erasure, and reinscription. In doing so, she provides a new dimension to the gendered history of early Christianity.

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