Reflections on “Nomadic Text” (Part I)

2370005851562As someone planning a dissertation on “reception history” (albeit it somewhat differently defined and undertaken than Breed), Brennan Breed’s concept of reception history and his application in Nomadic Text offer several potentially fruitful routes forward.

Foremost, Breed offers numerous opportunities for raised awareness of the issues surrounding the field of reception history. First, he rightly highlights the need for a careful definition of reception history and argues for his own take on the application of that definition to biblical studies—“everything is both its own original and own reception” (206). Second, Breed brings his readers into conversation with the semiotic debates and concerns with how to do biblical studies which are informing the development of reception history. His discussions of text, context, and interpretation, even when not directly applicable to my own thought or projects, nonetheless shed light on the flavor and limitations of the field as it is currently constituted. Third, this text helpfully raises awareness of borderlines and their importance in transmission and reception history. For a field which can often unconsciously reify borders and then proceed as if inquiry cannot transcend those limitations, Breed’s engagement with liminality and identifying and traversing borderlines provides a much needed paradigm correction. Finally, the engagement with Hebrew Bible-centered biblical studies provides a much needed expansion of horizons and methodology. For this reader, at least, Breed’s presentation stands as a stark reminder that other (even closely related) fields bring different concerns and practical realities to the table, factors which may fruitfully be brought to inform conversations within our own studies. In all of these ways, Breed rightly raises awareness about the field of reception history in such a way as to better inform the operations of biblical studies and the history of Christianity.

Additionally, Breed’s presentation offers some particulars which might inform my future project. His designation of application of reception history as “tracing interpretive trajectories” (150) appears beneficial for both writing and teaching. This perspective encourages consideration of the important and influential ways in which texts have been received, setting up comparative projects which may both inform readers and offer scholars routes through Gordian knots of interpretation. However, Breed’s outline of the framework for a processional reception history in the latter portions of chapter five may prove the most useful for my future projects. The building blocks of Gilles Deleuze’s arguments for the distinction between virtual and actual (which might be retooled for a more robust version of Platonic essentialism?), the inversion of relationship between problems and solutions, and a topological approach to structure offer helpful argument structures.

Map of the InternetBreed’s discussion of pattern recognition—how “In different contexts, the text is capable of manifesting different sorts of capabilities”—should allow me to clarify how texts are employed and the way in which their authority functions as a mediator between the questions that a community poses and the solutions available within the text. Similarly important is the notion of transmutation—especially the judgment calls that Breed eventually makes by distinguishing between “transmutations” and “readings”, the tearing of a text and alteration of its identity. Further, the outline and application of Roman Jakobson’s categories of intralingual, interlingual, and intersemiotic transmutations offers a useful taxonomy for my project of examining how an EC text was received and (re)employed by other EC writers. Finally, Breed’s emphasis on “mapping trajectories” appears ripe for application to a marriage of digital humanities and reception history applied to early Christian appeals to texts. More could be said about the usefulness of this chapter, but suffice it to say that my copy of the Nomadic Text will indeed prove helpful for dialoguing with and footnote chasing in the years to come.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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