Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Sensing Sacred Texts


The 2017 special edition in Postscripts has now been published as an independent volume, Sensing Sacred Texts, ed. J. W. Watts; Sheffield: Equinox, 2018:

All the human senses become engaged in ritualizing sacred texts. These essays focus especially on ritualizing the iconic dimension of texts through the senses of sight, touch, kiss, and taste, both directly and in the imagination.

Ritualized display of books engages the sense of sight very differently than does reading. Touching gets associated with reading scriptures, but touching also enables using the scripture as an amulet. Eating and consuming texts is a ubiquitous analogy for internalizing the contents of texts by reading and memorization.

The idea of textual consumption reflects a widespread tendency to equate humans and written texts by their interiority and exteriority: books and people both have material bodies, yet both seem to contain immaterial ideas. Books thus physically incarnate cultural and religious values, doctrines, beliefs, and ideas.

These essays bring theories of comparative scriptures and affect theory to bear on the topic as well as rich ethnographic descriptions of scriptural practices with Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and modern art and historical accounts of changing practices with sacred texts in ancient and medieval China and Korea, and in ancient Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures.

Kennicott on the new Bible Museum in Washington, DC


Philip Kennicott, the Washington Post's Art and Architecture critic, reviewed the new Bible Museum in Washington, DC, and concludes:
The Bible Museum has come to town, in all its technical splendor, bearing with it something that most historians and museum professionals may have thought was long discredited: the “master narrative” idea of history, that there is one sweeping human story that needs to be told, a story that is still unfolding and carrying us along with it. It tells this seductive story well, in many places with factual accuracy, and always with an eye to clarity and entertainment. It is an exciting idea, and an enormously powerful tool for making sense of the world. Unless, of course, you don’t believe it.

It should be noted that the new museum is only the largest and most elaborate example of a very old tendency to reinforce faith in the Bible by displaying artifacts, models, dioramas, and reenactments.

The Museum of the Bible opened to the public on November 17, 2017.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Ireland and the Reception of the Bible


I just received my copy of Brad Anderson's and Jonathan Kearney's edited collection, Ireland and the Reception of the Bible: social and cultural perspectives (London: T&T Clark, 2018). Ireland and the Reception of the Bible

I'm looking forward to reading its 21 chapters:


Introduction: Situating Ireland and Socio-Cultural Reception of the Bible -- (Bradford A. Anderson, Dublin City University, Ireland and Jonathan Kearney, Dublin City University, Ireland)
Part One: Ireland and the Transmission of the Bible
1. The Multifaceted Transmission of the Bible in Ireland, A.D. 550-1200 CE -- (Martin McNamara, Milltown Institute, Ireland)
2. The Bible and 'the People' in Ireland, c.1100-c.1650 -- (Salvador Ryan, St Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland)
3. Translating the Bible into Irish, 1565-1850 -- (Fearghus Ó Fearghail, Mater Dei Institute of Education, Ireland)
4. 'The Little Ones Called for Bread and there was None that Would Break it for Them': Some Notes on the Use of the Bible in the Sermons of Bishop James Gallagher -- (Ciaran Mac Murchaidh, Dublin City University, Ireland)
5. Irish Catholic Bible Readers before the Famine -- (Brendan McConvery, St Patrick's College Maynooth, Ireland)
6. The Catholic Lectionary: Its Creation, Reception and Challenge -- (Kieran O'Mahony, Diocese of Dublin, Ireland)

Part Two: The Bible and Identity in Ireland
7. 'This Booke hath bred all the quarrel': The Bible in the 1641 Depositions -- (Bradford A. Anderson, Dublin City University, Ireland)
8. The Last of the Milesians: In Search of Ireland's Biblical Past, 1760-1900 -- (Brian Murray, King's College London, UK)
9. Between Ulster and the Kingdom of God: Uses of the Bible by Evangelicals in the Northern Ireland Troubles -- (Joshua Searle, Spurgeon's College, UK)
10. Dancing Like David and Overcoming Enemies: Scripture and Culture in Christ Apostolic Church Dublin -- (Rebecca Uberoi, independent scholar)
11. God's Preference for the Poor: The Bible and Social Justice in Ireland -- (Patrick Mitchel, Irish Bible Institute, Ireland)
12. How Sacred Text Becomes Religious Artefact: A Cultural Geography of the Book of Kells -- (Eoin O'Mahony, University College Dublin, Ireland)

Part Three: Ireland and Beyond: Reciprocal Influences
13. Toland, Spinoza, and the Naturalization of Scripture -- (Ian Leask, Dublin City University, Ireland)
14. Irish Travellers to the Dead Sea: The Interplay and Impact of Empirical Investigation and Biblical Exegesis -- (Thomas O'Loughlin, University of Nottingham, UK)
15. The Chester Beatty Biblical Collection: A Treasury of Early Christian Manuscripts in an Irish Library -- (David Hutchinson Edgar, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland)
16. 'Casting Bread Upon the Water': A Voyage of Discovery -- (Carmel McCarthy, University College Dublin, Ireland)

Part Four: Cultural and Artistic Appropriation: Imagery, Music, and Literature
17. The Book of Kells and the Visual Identity of Ireland -- (Amanda Dillon, independent scholar)
18. Imaging the Bible in Stained Glass: Five Stained Glass Windows by Michael Healy in St. Brendan's Cathedral, Loughrea -- (Myra Hayes, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, Ireland)
19. The Bible in Music during Dublin's Golden Age -- (Siobhán Dowling Long, University College Cork, Ireland)
20. Scripture, Music, and the Shaping of Irish Cultural Identities -- (Róisín Blunnie, Dublin City University, Ireland)
21. James Joyce and the Study of the Bible -- (Geert Lernout, University of Antwerp, Belgium)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Understanding the Pentateuch as A Scripture


Understanding the Pentateuch as a Scripture (Wiley Blackwell, 2017) applies my research on iconic books and comparative scriptures to the study of the Pentateuch/Torah, the first five books of Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Contents:

1. RITUALIZED TEXT: The Pentateuch as a Scripture

2. TEXTUAL RHETORIC: The Persuasive Shaping of the Pentateuch

3. SCROLL, TABLET, AND CODEX: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Iconic Dimension

4. READING, PERFORMANCE, AND ART: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Performative Dimension

5. TEXTUAL INTERPRETATION: Ritualizing the Pentateuch’s Semantic Dimension

6. SCRIPTURES: From Torah to Bible


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Postscripts issue on Sensing Sacred Texts


Postscripts: the Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds has published a special issue on Sensing Sacred Texts. The contents are:

"What the Book Arts Can Teach Us About Sacred Texts: The Aesthetic Dimension of Scripture"
        by S. Brent Plate

"How the Bible Feels: The Christian Bible as Effective and Affective Object"
        by Dorina Miller Parmenter

"Engaging All the Senses: On Multi-sensory Stimulation in the Process of Making and Inaugurating a Torah Scroll"
by Marianne Schleicher

"On Instant Scripture and Proximal Texts: Some Insights into the Sensual Materiality of Texts and their Ritual Roles in the Hebrew Bible and Beyond"
by Christian Frevel

"Touching Books, Touching Art: Tactile Dimensions of Sacred Books in the Medieval West"
by David Ganz

"Infusions and Fumigations: Literacy Ideologies and Therapeutic Aspects of the Qurʾan"
        by Katharina Wilkens

"Seeing, Touching, Holding, and Swallowing Tibetan Buddhist Texts"
by Cathy Cantwell

"Neo-Confucian Sensory Readings of Scriptures: The Reading Methods of Chu Hsi and Yi Hwang"
        by Yohan Yoo

"Scriptures' Indexical Touch"
by James W. Watts

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Vinyl overtakes Digital Music Sales in Britain

On a different from of material media: The Guardian reported that income from sales of vinyl records outpaced sales of digital music in Britain in the first week of December this year. Of particular interest to readers of this blog is the comment by Kim Bayley, chief executive of the Entertainment Retailers Association, that young people
now want to buy their favourite artists on vinyl and have something a bit more tangible, a bit more collectible. People have become keen to support their favourite artists by buying into that ownership concept. It’s very difficult to demonstrate your love of an artist if you don’t have something to hold on to.

Writer's Favorite Bookstores

The New York Times recently asked seven authors to write about their favorite bookstores. The article enhances the iconicity of both authors and bookstores in each other's reflection, while ignoring their economic relationship as producers and marketers of a product...
The Times alos encourages more bookstore nostalgia with its photo essay on Livrario Lello. Back in the summer, it focused on legends about the local landmark, the Strand Bookstore.
Meanwhile, the Guardian tries to take advantage of a popular internet trend with its pictures of "the most beautiful libraries in America."

Marathon bible reading in Kentucky

The Governor of Kentucky has declared 2017 a Year of the Bible to promote congregational and community events to read aloud the Bible through from January 1st through 4th. 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Christopher de Hamel on a Canterbury Psalter


In language strikingly reminiscent of Jim Watts, Christopher de Hamel, medieval librarian at Cambridge University, discusses the ways books are, and are not, like relics.

Medieval illuminated manuscripts are the holy relics of our own time. They are often preserved, like sacred treasure of the middle ages, in special boxes in institutional strong-rooms and brought out only on special occasions for the edification of the public, displayed in the half-dark under layers of security glass. Unlike most works of art only small portions of any manuscript can be seen at once. What remains unseen merely adds to the mystery and the longing to turn the pages. As with most medieval relics, which are generally tiny fragments of something once much larger, engagement with illuminated manuscripts on public show usually requires great leaps of both imagination and faith.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Tactics for Teaching the Materiality of Scripture


The journal, Teaching Theology and Religion, has published a set of "Teaching Tactics" for introducing students to the materiality of scripture.

Dorina Miller Parmenter describes a class-room exercise to simulate the oral/written transmission of Gospels.

David Dault shows how to teach bibliographic analysis using an old copy of a Jewish prayer book.

Song-Chong Lee describes a week-long assignment in which students write and ritualize their own gohonzon scroll to learn about Soka Gakkai.

Jason Larson details an class-room exercise to let students experience the challenges of copying an old manuscript.

Sarah Schwartz describes a course-long series of experiences that lead her students from calligraphy to printing to memorized recitation.

In his introductory essay, Brent Plate notes that "the contributors are not merely concerned with reconstructing what some “original” community might have done with the text, but what the classroom communities can do with a text, and how we might reflect back on our own learning experiences. ... students are challenged to become aware of the sensorial nature of sacred texts, and of communication itself. They touch, see, and hear in new ways, learning with their bodies."