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textual criticism

A B C D E G H I J K L M N O P R S T Ü V W

Textual criticism, the technique of restoring texts as nearly as possible to their original form. Texts in this connection are defined as writings other than formal documents, inscribed or printed on paper, parchment, papyrus, or similar materials. The study of formal documents such as deeds and charters belongs to the science known as “diplomatics”; the study of writings on stone is part of epigraphy; while inscriptions on coins and seals are the province of numismatics and sigillography.

The objective of the textual critic’s work is to provide a better understanding of the creation and historical transmission of the text and its variants. This understanding may lead to the production of a critical edition containing a scholarly curated text. If a scholar has several versions of a manuscript but no known original, then established methods of textual criticism can be used to seek to reconstruct the original text as closely as possible. The same methods can be used to reconstruct intermediate versions, or recensions, of a document’s transcription history, depending on the number and quality of the text available.

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