The Economy of Texts

“What’s an apparatus, and who would want one?”

Most modern Bible translations of the Bible are based on the modern critical text(s). The standard text of the Bible is an ‘eclectic’ manuscript. That is, it isn’t a simple reproduction of a particularly good early manuscript that has been found. Rather, it is the product of work done to evaluate various available manuscripts to reconstruct what is thought to be the best reflection of the original canon/autographs.

In other words, textual critics have sifted through manuscripts (and manuscript fragments, citations within the writings of the fathers, lectionaries, and all sorts of very early translations [Syriac, Latin, etc.]) to obtain a better picture of which text was most likely the earliest and original. The Greek text itself is the product of that scholarship; the apparatus shows how and why the product ended up like it did.

What I’m trying to single out with this term [apparatus (‘dispositif’)] is, first and foremost, a thoroughly heterogeneous set consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short the said as much as the unsaid. Such are the elements of the apparatus. The apparatus is the network which can be established between these elements . . .

by the term ‘apparatus’ I mean a kind of formation, so to speak, that at a given historical moment has as its major function the response to an urgency. The apparatus therefore has a strategic function. . . . The apparatus is precisely this: a set of strategies of the relations of forces supporting, and supported by, certain types of knowledge.

– Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge

Over the past three years, I have found myself increasingly involved in an investigation that only know is beginning to come to an end, one that I can roughly define as a theological genealogy of economy. In the first centuries of Christian history – let’s say between the second and sixth centuries C.E. – the Greek term oikonomia develops a decisive theological function. In Greek, oikonomia signifies the administration of the oikos (the home) and, more generally, management. We are dealing here, as Aristotle says (Politics 125b21), not with an epistemic paradigm, but with a praxis, with a practical activity that must face a problem and a particular situation each and every time. Why, then, did the Fathers of the Church feel the need to introduce this term into theological discourse? How did they come to speak about a “divine economy“?

What is at stake here, to be precise, is an extremely delicate and vital problem, precisely the decisive question in the history of Christian theology: the Trinity.

Giorgio Agamben, What Is An Apparatus?

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