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.)

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Sanctifying Power of Texts

The power of texts to sanctify buildings is admirably summed up by this Indystar headline: "It isn't synagogue without the Torah." The story describes ritual transfer of torah scrolls when an Indianapolis synagogue moved to a new site.

A building is not actually a synagogue, says Rabbi Arnold Bienstock, unless it contains the Torah scrolls. "According to Jewish law, when the Torah scrolls are removed and taken out of the synagogue, the synagogue loses its holiness," Bienstock said. "What really defines the synagogue per se, and what defines Judaism, is the Torah."

... Some congregants wanted to walk the scrolls to their new home, as is custom, but the distance and the perils of December weather led planners to opt for a bus transfer. Even so, each scroll, containing a complete Torah, will be carried individually on the journey.

Texts convey such sanctifying power in Sikhism, Ethiopian Christianity and many branches of Buddhism. In the Christian and Buddhist contexts, texts and relics function in exactly the same way as loci of holiness. Studies of the religious significance and function of relics therefore hold out great promise for understanding the power of iconic texts.

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