Illumination from Medieval Manuscripts

By Fields, Suzanne | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 20, 2012 | Go to article overview

Illumination from Medieval Manuscripts


Fields, Suzanne, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Byline: Suzanne Fields, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When tragedy strikes, as in Newtown, Conn., prayer resides mostly in the shadows of those personally affected. The public ritual requires politicians to assure survivors of their thoughts and prayers - what one cynical commentator calls political T&P. The media are saturated with discussions of what to do about guns and how to put more money in mental health programs. These are appropriate for a secular society in search of public solutions. Solace is harder to find.

If we look at a larger world picture, we focus mainly on the divisions between the three major religions. They're easy to find. The Internet, with its speedy technology, animates conflicts in the Middle East in real time, and we all become witnesses to the different ways the Arab Spring skipped summer and soured into Arab Autumn. It's hard to avoid the fear that accompanies the knowledge that Iran continues to develop a bomb, animated by the rhetoric of its leaders vowing to wipe Israel off the map.

In the Middle East, where Judaism, Christianity and Islam identify their roots, current events focus on conflict, not harmony. Although Pope Benedict XVI tweets and writes a book about the ways the holiness of love encompasses universality, that we're all related in God's image, we're increasingly aware of the shifting relationships between the three major religions. The shifts cloud the image.

The three religions have rarely enjoyed true love for long in one another's company, but now the Jewish Museum in New York City offers an oasis for the contemplation of beauty in the Middle Ages, when a conversation could be conducted through sacred texts. The exhibition is called Crossing Borders: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting Place of Culture, and its website of digital images could usefully be required reading for high school students and adults - or anyone eager to see both the medium and the sacred messages of another time, another place, before the invention of the printing press revolutionized communication.

Style and substance are both important in the manuscripts, which were inscribed in the period from the end of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages up to the beginning of the Renaissance.

There's legal commentary in Arabic with Hebrew letters from the 12th century, written by the Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides.

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