Sunday, 3 May 2015

Rebekka Schirner: Augustine's theory of signs as hermeneutical key to his practice of dealing with different biblical versions

The writings of the church father Augustine are interspersed with biblical citations. Of particular interest for scholars working in the field of either textual criticism or biblical exegesis are passages where he compares different Latin translations of a certain biblical verse by explicitly referring to manuscripts containing the respective readings. Augustine's approach towards this kind of various versions is characterised by a strong willingness to accept and to include them in his exegesis. This procedure is usually attributed to a lack of philological skills.
In my paper, I would like to propose a new approach to the understanding of Augustine's attitude towards different Latin renderings by discussing significant passages which indicate that Augustine's practice of dealing with variants might be better evaluated through the lense of his sign theory than by applying standards of modern philology.
Two examples will suffice here: Augustine establishes a connection between these topics by embedding his longest continuous discussion regarding biblical manuscripts and their versions into his thoughts on different categories of signs in the second book of his De doctrina christiana. Furthermore, many instances can be found throughout Augustine's works where he explicitly or implicitly attributes the function of signs to biblical translations. It can be deduced from these passages that he views biblical translations (even though they vary regarding their specific wordings) as signs (signa) pointing to the same underlying concept (res), i.e. the divine truth.

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