ScriptureWhat isa “Scripture”? Vast majority of all people tend to think the meaning ofscripture is just simply a sacred written document.
Some think it is areligious text that guides our lives through the teachings enclosed to it. Anyattempt to define “scripture” raises several problematic issues contradictoryof what people think. William Graham explores different contexts to analyzedifferent concepts of scriptures of any given religious tradition withoutexcluding its importance and vital aspects. Scriptureplays a major role in the history of religion and thus through history bloomsthese definitions and ideas of what scripture is. A scriptural book is oftenreferred to as a heavenly book.
It Is consideredthe divine tablet and the book of destiny and deeds. “References to a celestialbook or tablet of divine wisdom appear in ancient Babylonia and ancient Egyptand recur in almost all subsequent Near Eastern traditions, apparently as anexpression of divine omniscience” (Graham 8195). In history, a scripture refersto a collection of wisdom and expressions from a divine entity. It is alsoconsidered as a written book of destinies which tells the assigned end of humanlives. Similarly, scripture is a book of deeds. “References to the writing downof good and bad deeds, often in connection with the last judgment, are foundamong the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Persians, and Hebrews, as well asGreek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian writers of later antiquity.” (Graham 8195).
Scripture being a book deeds means that it contains a guideline of what is goodand bad. This affects the human decision to live their life to be able toprepare for the last judgement. The history of scripture coins the meaning ofscripture most people know today. Yet, scripture is not limited to a writtenbook. Scriptureis an ambiguous and complex word.
There is more to the idea of it being a”sacred book”. The fact of radical diversity in form and content among thenotable scriptures of world religion, indeed, often within the same scripturaltext or corpus. For example, “The love lyrics of the Song of Songs in theHebrew Bible, the talismanic prayers against evil in the last two surahs of theQur’an, Krsna’s self-revelation in chapter 11 of the Bhagavadg?ta, and theBuddha’s parable of the burning house in chapter 3 of the Lotus Sutra have hadsignificant roles as scripture, yet they have little or nothing in common intheir style, form, subject matter, or intent.”(Graham, 8194). Also, the conceptof scripture being a written text, yet in most religious traditions, sacredtexts were transmitted orally in the first place. This meaning is contradictoryto what it is known to be. “The Hindu tradition, for example, presents a majorproblem for defining “scripture” in terms of the written word.
Its holiesttexts, the Vedas, have been orally transmitted for three millennia or more—formost of that time in explicit preference to (and even firm rejection of)writing them down.”(Graham 8194). Moreover, the distinction of the primarysacred text or texts of a religious tradition from others that are also sacredbut secondarily so; Grahamalso looks at the functionality of scripture in various religious tradition.
Thepower of scripture as holy writ is, however, very much a part of mosttraditions and present in which scripture had figured at all prominently. “Thewritten scriptural text symbolizes or embodies religious authority in manytraditions (often replacing the living authority of a religious founder such asMuhammad or the Buddha).”(Graham 8197). This means religious authorities seekdirectives regarding law and ritual turn to scriptural texts. The scriptureplays as a reference for principles and examples. Similarly, the oral roles ofscripture in religion is as striking as it is as a written word.
Though oralscripture may have not been written down but it still functions the same aswritten scripture. “In traditions likeIslam and Buddhism, the recitation of the sacred word is even more religiouspractice, despite the frequently massive importance of veneration of thewritten text in the same traditions” (Graham 8198). Passages from theirscriptures are recited, sometimes with rhythm. Nonetheless, it is up to themembers of the religion to decide what is considered scripture for them. Anotherrole scripture plays in the society is it being a public ritual. No matter whatform it is in, it is visible that scripture plays a huge role in publicworship, even as a private devotion and practice of diverse spiritualdisciplines. “In Islam, Qur’anic recitation (qira’ah) is a public and privateform of devotional practice that also demands mindfulness of and meditation onthe meaning of the sacred text as well as recitative technique (cf. K.
Nelson,The Art of Reciting the Qur’an Austin, Tex., 1985).” (Graham 8199). In thiscontext, the scripture seems to be a regular devotion for these traditions fortheir eternal contentment in forms of public worshipping or even privately.These functionalities of scripture work in various ways because of thecharacteristics that scripture embodies.
In aseparate context, Graham suggests that in any given religious tradition,scriptures posses various of characteristic attributes. One of the majorattributes of scripture is power. Scriptures, such as Christians’ Bible andJews’ Torah, are considered source of power inherited from god. Worshippers usethe scripture to acquire the power of a divinity. Through this belief,worshippers tend to treat the scripture as a magical notion of power that isenclosed in a copy of a sacred scripture.
According to the reading, “Even thelaying of the hand upon a copy of the Bible in swearing a legal oath oftruthfulness echoes such notions” (Graham 8201). Equivalently, scripture’sauthority and sacrality is a common attribute. The authoritative character ofscripture is the bases of some legal orders which evident in the Jewish tradition,where the written Torah is the pediment upon which the entire edifice of Jewishlife is built, and in the Islamic tradition, where the minimal legalprescriptions and much larger body of moral injunctions found in the Qur’ anare viewed as the ultimate bases of the shariah (Graham 8201). In terms of thesacrality character of scripture, there is a huge difference on how thescripture is handled and respected from all other texts.
For example, “theenshrinement of the ornate Torah scrolls in their special cabinet, the ark, inthe synagogue” (Graham 8201). There is an absolute care given to the scripturebecause of the holiness it contain. Lastly, scripture acquires eternality andinspiration. The scripture, whether it is written or spoken, is an outcome ofthe experiences that prophets and teachers who have been given God’s directrevelation. The scripture is a collection of holy words to bridge out thetranscendent and the mundane.
Therefore, reaches out to people eternally andinspires them. These characteristics of scripture hold the importance and meaningof scripture. Thereis a huge development in the meaning of scripture which extends beyond itsmeaning as a written sacred book.
It is also more influential into more widerculture or traditions. Some of these developments are tied to canon formation,interpretation and, translation and resistance to translation. In the historyof scripture, there is no process of canon formation because of the unifiedworks of literature in different traditions.
But soon enough, there are somecases that canon formation occurred. “An excellent example is the ChineseBuddhist (as also Daoist) recognition of a zang, or “basket,” of scripturaltexts on the original model of the “Three Baskets” (Tipitaka) of Paliscripture.”(Graham 8202). This is an example that recognizes a little or fewsimilarities in the rules of different traditions. Another development is theinterpretation of the context of scripture. Critical exegesis is crucial for itdepends on how clearly a context is interpreted to be able to send the messageof the scripture.
Lastly, scripture may not be translated from its original,sacred language. “Only the original form is felt to carry the inspired andexact meaning or sound”(Graham 8203). Also, members of the religious traditionare resistant in the idea of translating their sacred scripture. They thinkthat translating their scripture diminishes the meaning and sacredness of it.That is why some religious traditions like Muslims keep their Arabic textalongside the translated text of the Persian, Turkish, Swahili, Malay, or otherlanguage, since the Arabic text alone is the speech of God ipsissima verba (Graham 8302). Only the literary form is changedwhen a scripture is translated, yet, the meaning of it as a context remains.
As years pass by and newdevelopments come along, scripture as a context may also go with these changes.From its written and oral description, it may become digitalized. Additionally,its meaning and functionalities may vary more as changes come along. Work Cited”Scripture”, in Mircea Eliade et al., eds.
, The Encyclopediaof Religion (16 vols. New York: Macmillan), 13: 133-145; ibid., 2nd, rev.ed., 2005WEB