True Stories and the Poetics of Textual Discovery
Keywords:Dead Sea Scrolls, Cairo Geniza, Manuscripts
As we know from the Nag Hammadi saga, there is something enchanting about telling find stories. This enchantment is part of the very reason “getting the story straight” is so difficult when it comes to manuscript discoveries: every story worth its salt will be transformed in the telling, and stories that are alive are reactive. If one way to approach these stories is to debunk those aspects that are products of embellishment and myth, another is to attend precisely to their affective power, seeing them as a narrative genre in the longue durée. Using examples from both pre-modern find stories and narratives about the discovery of the Cairo Geniza and the Dead Sea Scrolls, this essay discusses what the find story genre can tell us about how we imagine our relationship with a fragmented past. True or legendary, such stories are always imaginative products. Attending to this dimension can reveal a poetics of textual discovery that is ancient and widely shared--a vital link between modern scholarship, public interest, and ancient myth.
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