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The New Testament in Byzantium

2013 Byzantine Studies Symposium, April 26-28, 2013, Symposiarchs: Robert S. Nelson, Yale University and Derek Krueger, University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The New Testament lay at the center of Byzantine Christian thought and practice.  Scribes copied its gospels and epistles. Lectionaries apportioned much of its contents over the course of the liturgical calendar; its narratives structured the experience of liturgical time and shaped the nature of Christian preaching. Quoted, alluded to, and expounded, it inspired and fueled the genres of hagiography and hymnography. Patrons and illustrators brought scenes from the life of Christ and his apostles to manuscripts, icons, and the walls of churches.  Preachers, theologians and political theorists drew inspiration and authority from its teachings. Considering such varied legacies, this symposium assesses the impact of the New Testament on Byzantine civilization.

Following the successful symposium and volume on the Old Testament in Byzantium, we extend the investigation of the Bible in Byzantine history.  We raise the following questions: What was the New Testament for Byzantine Christians?  What of it was known, how, when, where, and by whom?  How was this knowledge mediated through text, image, and rite? What was the place of these sacred texts in Byzantine arts, letters, and thought?  We draw upon the current state of textual scholarship and explore aspects of New Testament manuscripts.  But manuscripts of complete biblical texts, collections of texts, or entire Bibles were not the only or even the most important way in which the New Testament was understood, and accordingly, we explore the transformation of the New Testament as read, heard, imaged, and imagined in lectionaries, hymns, homilies, saints’ lives, and illustrations in miniatures and monuments. We turn also to the role of the New Testament in framing theological inquiry, ecclesiastical controversy, and political thought.  Central is our conviction that liturgy, liturgical arts, and intellectual culture offered places where exegesis continued, long after the tradition of Patristic biblical commentary had ceased.  Our interdisciplinary conversation yielded fuller knowledge of the New Testament and its varied reception over the long history of Byzantium.

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