What Is Scripture? A Comparative Approach

What Is Scripture? A Comparative Approach

What Is Scripture? A Comparative Approach

What Is Scripture? A Comparative Approach

Synopsis

""Scripture" is no longer an absolute. In the last two centuries, as Westerners have become more keenly conscious of the historical character of their own biblical documents, they have also realized the normative function of scripture in other traditions." "W.C. Smith's vastly erudite work asks how it is that certain texts have so seeped into human life - in a rich, complex and powerful way - as to be deemed sacred. Examining the history and use of scripture in the world's major religious traditions, he shows how and why scripture continues to carry momentous and at times appalling power in human affairs." "That dynamic instability, that irrepressible process, and that stubborn pluralism are not simply modern embarrassments to believers. Rather, for Smith, they provide the essential clues to what "scripture" is." "Smith first illustrates, by a fascinating look at the Song of Songs, how texts have both come into and passed out of their status as "scripture." He shows how one text has been differently deemed in Judaism and Christianity and strikingly variously interpreted in different settings and epochs. In ensuing chapters that explore the Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, and other instances, Smith lays bare the diverse strands of a complex historical process of scripture and its modern newly self-conscious phase." "In the end, Smith's creative proposal is valuable not only for showing what it means to hold a text as sacred, or to treasure another's scripture, but also for the light it sheds in a troubled culture on what it means to be human." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

For two or three thousand years now, and in many cultures and civilizations, communities have treated particular texts in a strikingly special way. the notion scripture has been called into service to cover the several instances. “Scripture” is a Western term, one that previously specified the Bible as revered by Jews and (differently) by Christians; it has as yet hardly been re-conceived to do justice to what we now know of differences among varying centuries, let alone among diverse communities, treatments, and texts. Neither the similarities nor the disparities among distinct instances have been adequately pondered. On close inquiry, it emerges that being scripture is not a quality inherent in a given text, or type of text, so much as an interactive relation between that text and a community of persons (though such relations have been by no means constant). One might even speak of a widespread tendency to treat texts in a “scripture-like” way: a human propensity to scripturalize.

What are we to make of these matters? Most communities have traditionally propounded theories to interpret what has been going on in the particular case of their own scripture. Seldom have they sought to explain other cases, or to understand the matter in general. Academics have studied the various texts carefully; rarely have they considered the human involvement with them. Many have taken for granted that of course religious communities have scriptures; few have asked: why?

One fact is clear, and is made vivid from a comparative perspective: that the role of scripture in human life has been prodigious—in social organization and in individual piety, in the preservation of community patterns and in revolutionary change, and of course in . . .

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