Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Books Known Only by Title: Exploring the Gendered Structures of First Millennium Imagined Libraries


Active 2020/2021 Humanities - Theology


References to books ascribed to figures known from the extended biblical narrative are abundant in Jewish, Christian, Manichean, Muslim, and other texts from the first millennium. One intriguing category of such references that remains largely unexplored is books known only by title. Books known only by title are postulated books surviving neither as extant documents, nor as excerpts or quotations of any substantial length - these books are claimed books, known as named entities through the medium of other writings. Books that fall into this category are found, for instance, in lists of apocryphal books; in annotations added by later hands in the margins of surviving manuscripts; as well as in literary accounts across the language traditions of the Middle East and the Mediterranean area. In a preliminary study of books known only by title, we discovered - much to our surprise - that several of these books are ascribed to female figures, such as Eve, the daughters of Adam, and the mysterious figure of Noriah. Until now, these postulated books ascribed to female figures of the biblical narrative have not attracted the attention they deserve. The practice of ascribing potentially fictitious books to female figures has neither been mapped, nor analyzed or systematically explored as a historical, literary and socio-rhetorical phenomenon.

Drawing on and combining theoretical perspectives developed in Book History and Gender Studies, this project aims at mapping the occurrences of books known only by title and associated with female figures from the broadly conceived, and evolving, biblical narrative - from Qumran to the Qur'an. The project will explore the gendered patterns in the imaginations of such books. We will 1) discuss and contextualize the known examples of postulated books ascribed to female figures, 2) search for other still overlooked occurrences, 3) explore and analyze the rhetorical, literary, and potential social functions of these books, 4) contribute to the further knowledge building and theorizing about the gendered dynamics of postulated books, and 5) critically engage the dominant academic imagination of first millennium literary culture. Accordingly, based on a largely untapped source material, and focusing on a phenomenon that remains unexplored, this project aims to change conventional ideas about book culture, imagined libraries, and gender in the first millennium.


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