William Yarchin on Biblical Paratexts (Research Series Part 2)

William Yarchin on Biblical Paratexts (Research Series Part 2)

Recently we introduced a new series showcasing some of the latest research in digital biblical studies showcased recently at a major conference in Denver (see Part 1 here, Dr Pete Phillips on The St Cuthbert Gospel).

Dr William Yarchin presented a paper entitled “The Nature of Biblical Paratext: How the Bible Means More Than Its Words,” which anticipates a book he is writing on the subject on biblical paratexts. A biblical ‘paratext’ roughly refers to those features of a biblical text besides the main text itself. (See my previous summary of some of these issues on this blog, including a link to one my own articles on the subject).

Now Yarchin did not focus on digital texts, but since I have been using the category of paratext to think about the hermeneutic differences in various biblical book forms and media, I want to include his work here.

The presentation, at which I arrived a little late, focused on how various biblical texts treated the Hebrew word for Israel’s God YHWH (Yahweh), especially in translation where substitutes like adonai or LORD are often used. His point was that these differences are hermeneutically significant. I agree with this point, though I would not have used ‘paratext’ as the main category to discuss these specific issues of translation.

Of the book project, Yarchin says:

I am writing a book describing non-textual dimensions of the Bible specifically in their cultural role of creating and conveying targeted engagements with the Bible as a material artifact. The working title is The Nature of Biblical Paratext: How the Bible Means More than Its Words. The subject is the Bible as a paratextual phenomenon.

…I describe how a range of paratexts have shaped the presentation of biblical texts toward affective and cognitive signals keyed to reception at particular social-religious nexuses within multiple cultural horizons. My account demonstrates how specific non-textual elements participate in the perception, creation, and transmission of textual meaning. Recognition of that wordless (but not silent!) influence can help us take greater accountability for our own roles as producers and readers of the Bible directing its impact and influence. My book spans the entire 2,000-year history of the Bible.

What is the significance of this? According to Yarchin,

Whenever it is received and handed on, the Bible shares with all other literatures the same destiny: the voice of the text will be heard through its paratext. Indeed, it is the Bible’s paratexts that have always determined how it will speak, to whom it will speak, and what it will say. Biblical paratext is the influencing elephant in the room.

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