William
A. Graham’s “Scripture” explores the concept of the “scripture” by discussing
the definition of the term from a relative and general standpoint as well as
giving an insight to the historical origins and how it has developed into
something that possesses identifiable key roles and attributes. He begins his
article by describing the general definition and the relational one, where the
former is described as “texts that are revered as
especially sacred and authoritative” whereas the latter is defined by the way
“a text becomes a ‘scripture’ in living, subjective relationship to person and
to historical tradition”, (Graham 8195). Graham raises the point that even
defining this concept is complicated as there is a “considerable ambiguity and
complexity” in what qualifies as a scripture, as some consider only holy books,
which in turn excludes other incredibly venerated pieces of work (8195). What this
paper will study is how despite this “complexity” in defining what is
considered a “scripture”, it is through the historical development, the key
roles and the key characteristics that Graham manages to explain the commonality
between all scriptures, while avoiding the “ambiguity” on his journey to create
an inclusive definition while addressing a myriad of religions and the
similarities as well as differences amongst them.

            In “Scripture”,
Graham discusses the origination for the common concept of a scripture being a
book or piece of text as being tied to three different backgrounds: 1) The idea
of a heavenly book, 2) the idea of a sacred book and 3) the semantic background
(8196). The first he explains is something that originates as a book that
contains “divine knowledge or decrees” (8196), where he cites Islamic, Jewish,
and Christian traditions as examples of where this idea can be shared across
religions (8196). Similarly, the second idea follows this line of thinking as
he describes the “book religions” which are those religions, like the three
aforementioned, that maintain the belief that there is a level of ultimate
authority held within their ‘sacred book’ (8197). The third background provides
a more semantic insight by revealing that a scripture originally meant “a writing,
something written” as derived from Indo-European languages (8197). This
definition gradually became associated with “sacred, authoritative writings”,
where Graham points out how different religions, such as in the New Testament
or in Egyptian hieroglyphic literature, began to add different adjectives
emphasize the holiness and sacredness of the scriptures (8198). Different terms
such as “holy scripture”, “sacred books”, “sacred writings”, and more became
common by the 19th century, where modern Western language and even
internationally use the word “scripture” in the connotation as something
related to sacred or holy texts (8198).

            When
Graham describes the different key qualities and roles of a scripture, he does
so in order to make light of the versatility of how scripture cannot be limited
to just the original definition of “something written”, as the four attributes
and five fundamental parts that he lists often transcend the physical level
(8198). The five key roles demonstrate the reason that this limited definition
cannot work, where only the first fits the original definition, as it is holy
writ, or more literally, the written manuscript, which symbolizes or embodies
the holy authority (8198). However, the other four roles (the spoken word, the
public ritual, the devotional and spiritual life, and the magical and superstitious
life), all rely on the reading out loud or on the recitation of the texts in
various public or private acts of worship in order to fulfill their functionality
which is to practice piety and devotion (8200). The four attributes (power,
authority and sacrility, unicity, and inspiration and eternality/antiquity) (8202)
can be linked to the five roles he discusses, as they each demonstrate the
common qualities that all scriptures share, regardless of which religion it follows
(8202). He further demonstrates the importance of the scripture by describing it
in relation to the development in forming a canon formation for other sacred
scriptures, in developing a set of interpretations/translations of the
scriptures, and finally in influencing culture and the arts in a broader sense,
where this influence and effect can still be seen and heard across the world,
even until today (8203).  

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With a focus on the key roles, Graham goes
in depth into expanding the concept of the scripture by discussing this idea of
it in use by the people who give it meaning (8199). What this means is that, although
there is significance in the holy writ or the physical text itself which
contains some of the key attributes of a scripture (i.e. authority, antiquity/eternality),
it is the other key roles that allow the scripture to be a source of power and
inspiration for its’ followers (8199). This can be seen in Graham’s example of how
Islamic and Buddhist traditions focus on the recitation of the scripture, where
he describes it as “even more central to religious practices, despite the frequently
massive importance of veneration of the written text in the same traditions”
(8199). Even with religions, such as Islam and Buddhism, where they hold their holy
works as incredibly valuable texts, the act of reciting and reading from the
texts or even from secondary religious texts can be even more significant in the
religion as this act of reading from it demonstrates a form of devotion and piety
for the followers in their spiritual life (8200). Additionally, the use of the scripture
itself transcends that from being limited in it’s physical form, where Graham
brings up the way in public rituals, the texts can be used as a means of
preaching and in different religious traditions as well as festivals. This use
of the scripture outside of the holy writ functionality demonstrates that as
sacred and valued the texts are, it is through the practice of using it in
action, such as praying or reciting, that connects the different believers from
across different faiths (8200). By providing the historical and semantic
background information prior to this exploration of the key roles of a scripture,
it is clear that the point that Graham makes in his article is that despite the
debate and complex nature of defining the “scripture”, there are many qualities
that overlap across religions that demonstrate a need to expand the definition
instead of limiting it, for limiting it only further serves as a means of
alienating instead of uniting.

            To
conclude, William A. Graham’s “Scripture” explores the origins and development
of the scripture in various religions across history in order to attempt to
create a comprehensive definition that avoids excluding certain texts or
devaluing the significance of others, simply because they do not follow a
certain form or certain classification. By analyzing the key roles and
characteristics of scriptures across religions in order to come to what are
similar between them, Graham creates an inclusive idea of what can categorize as
a ‘scripture’. This is significant as it demonstrates his effort in trying to
understand instead of alienate certain religions in addition to expanding this
concept in order to create a broader appreciation for the various religions
across the world. He summarizes the importance of this in this line: “What is
ultimately significant about scripture as a concept and a reality is its role
in expressing, focusing, and symbolizing the faith of religious persons and
their communities around the globe, both for the faithful themselves and for
the outsider who seeks a glimpse into another world of faith and discourse.”
(8205). By understanding the commonality between all these religions,
understanding how they all desire the need to express their love and faith in
different ways, one can begin to understand more about themselves as a believer
as well as an outsider, which in turn allows a more insightful understanding of
the world as a whole.

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