Lord Shang Revisited 1

E Bruce Brooks, University of Massachusetts
Philology in an Old Key: Lord Shang Revisited
WSWG 17, Leiden University, 17 September 2003

This lecture inaugurated the WSWG 17 Conference at Leiden University. It is here reproduced substantially as given on that occasion.

Joseph Scaliger


My talk today is offered in homage to Joseph Scaliger, a hero to philologists, and the star of this University's faculty beginning in the year 1593. I wish to suggest that the art of philology is still growing, and can still be of service to history. For the historian can hardly use some text as evidence unless its value as evidence has been determined, and that determination is the proper work of philology. As an extended example, I will return to the first work of Professor Duyvendak, another of Leiden's founding figures: his 1928 study of the Shang-jywn Shu, or SJS as I shall abbreviate it. And finally, at the end, I will return briefly to Scaliger. I am advised by my hosts that philology is no longer as exciting a subject as it was in 1593, or even in 1928. Of course I hope to dispute that judgement, but in doing so, I will try to keep things moving. I don't in any case have a full solution of SJS to share with you. Instead, I offer some highlights from a work in progress. If someone wishes to return later, to a point I have too briefly discussed, or omitted altogether, I understand there will be time to do so.

1. Philology

By philology, I mean using linguistic and historical knowledge to understand a problematic text. The usual view is that there are two phases of this: (1) In "text criticism," manuscripts are compared, scribal errors and additions are removed, and the author's original is recovered. (2) In "higher criticism," the recovered original is interpreted like any other literary text. Note the presumption that what text criticism recovers is in fact the author's original manuscript. But not all ancient books are author productions in the first place. As Jang Sywe-chvng long ago pointed out, some classical Chinese texts are really school accumulations; they come into being over time, and the difference in time may well produce internal inconsistencies, which are nevertheless original to the final text. In such cases, text criticism which assumes a consistent original, and corrects inconsistencies accordingly, may operate to deface the text, not to recover it. Eldon Epp, in the New Testament field, has recently recognized this problem. If to long-established methods of dealing with text corruption, we add an awareness of the possibility of text growth, we get a revised canon of procedure. My suggestions for that procedure would be the following:

And apart from theory, one should be open to advances in technique. Technique can never be good enough.


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Go to Part #2 of Lord Shang

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