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.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Copying Qur'an sparks arts development

The heavily financed effort to make a copy of the Qur'an using Malaysian motifs has sparked an Islamic arts revival, according to NSTOnline, which chronicles the large investments of money and effort involved in this undertaking.

Ten Commandments Stamp

The Ten Commandments movement in the U.S. is now targeting the Post Office, asking for a second time that it publish a Ten Commandments Stamp.

Oaths of Office

From the files of the Iconic Book Project: The use of “sacred” books in taking oaths of office seems to be a nearly universal practice in the 21st century, at least by heads of state and other high officials. Compare images of inaugurations in the United States, Liberia, Israel, and Malawi, in which oath takers lays their hands on a Bible, with those from Indonesia (scroll down) where a Qur’an is held over the head of the oath taker, and those from Russia and (apparently) Venezuela where the oath is taken on the country’s constitution. Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko took his oath of office on both Bible and constitution simultaneously (scroll down) but then kissed the Bible. Some Indonesian oath ceremonies (e.g. for cabinet members) accomodate religious pluralism by having every oath taker accompanied by clergy and the books of their respective faiths. Of course, the taking of religious oaths of office (and various other kinds of oaths) feature the same kinds of rituals, from which the political ceremonies no doubt derive.

Monday, May 28, 2007

"An Extraordinary Bible"

Arion Press offers a "monument to the scriptures" with the introduction of its "Folio Bible," a lecturn edition that "seeks to preserve all that is best in the English Bible as it has been known and used throughout the years." Andrew Hoyem (pictured), the publisher of the Folio Bible, remarks that the text is embedded into the paper: "What you are seeing here is rather like a stone inscription, cut into stone with a three-dimensional effect." Another artisan involved in the publication of the Folio Bible comments that “It reminds me of building a cathedral because it's hard physical work, such as moving the heavy galleys and all the other lifting.”

It's not for bargain hunters, which begs the question of "What's an icon worth, anyway?"

KJV USB Flash Bible

It seems inevitable that the latest technologies are put into service for proliferating the text of a sacred book, but those of us interested in the iconic aspect of the Bible should find this USB flash drive version of the KJV Bible interesting. That it looks like a Bible ought to look is an important selling point: according to one sales pitch, it has a "High quality leather look and feel with gold detail and chain."

Book of Kells Article

The New York Times article "Irish Classic is Still a Hit (In Calfskin, Not Paperback)" discusses the application of new technologies to the Book of Kells. The anticipated results of the study include better understandings of the medieval technologies of bookmaking, including identifying the DNA in the calfskin pages and the origins of the inks.

The Saint John's Bible

In the words of Saint John's Abbey and University, the Saint John's Bible "illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium." This massive project combines a handwritten Bible with colorful art including traditional and modern elements in a conscious effort to revive the medieval manuscript tradition and make it appealing to people of the 21st century. The FAQ clarifies their mission and goals, and the iconic qualities are readily apparent in their image gallery.

There is also a traveling museum exhibit showing the Saint John's Bible and the work going into it; some portion of this exhibit will appear in connection with the San Diego Natural History Museum's Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit, which quite conveniently takes place at the same time as the 2007 AAR/SBL Annual Meeting.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Scripture as Talisman, Specimen, and Dragoman

"Scripture as Talisman, Specimen, and Dragoman" is the title of Dr. Edwin Yamauchi's Presidential Address to the Evangelical Theological Society on November 16, 2006. Dr. Yamauchi's address now appears in the latest issue of the conservative Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 50/3 (March 2007): 3-30. Dr. Yamauchi, an internationally known scholar of the ancient Mediterranean, maintains a long-standing research interest in the uses (and abuses) of Scriptures for magical purposes in the ancient world. Yamauchi highlights several case examples of how the Bible was used as a magical talisman for "prophylactic purposes," and discusses some cultural consequences of this functional purpose. The author also considers how the Bible functions as a "specimen" for scholars, where the text is of interest only for academic criticism and analysis, and notes additional consequences of this function. Finally, Yamauchi argues that the Bible functions as a "dragoman," a word the author adopts to suggest that the Bible acts as an "interpreter" in the way that a diplomat from the Ottoman Empire would interpret the ruler's decrees. Scholars of iconic books will likely find the "Talisman" portion of Dr. Yamauchi's article to be of the most use, as it is the only section where the author explicitly considers material aspects of the Bible, although even here Yamauchi's focus is more on material configurations of the content of the Bible and less on magical uses of the Book itself.

Funerals for scriptures

The proper way of disposing of worn-out copies of the Sikh scriptures, the Guru Granth Sahib, is by burning them. This ceremony takes the form of a funeral, reports the NewIndPress. I assume this practice stems from the Sikh belief that the holy book is the Guru.

Concern over proper disposal of Qurans is prompting legislative action in Pakistan, according to the Daily Times. On the same theme, Time magazine produced a photoessay some time back about a Pakistani man who tries to preserve and, sometimes, redistribute old Qur'ans. His Qur'an "cemetary" has itself become a shrine.

Copying Scriptures (2)

Members of a synagogue may participate in the completion of a new Torah scroll, most of which is hand-copied by a professional scribe. TwinCities.com reports on the feelings produced in a Minnesota congregation by this tradition. The Dallas Morning News describes how the congregation's participation helps underwrite the considerable expense of having a new scroll copied.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Theorizing Scriptures

Congratulations to Vincent Wimbush on the publication announcement for a forthcoming volume of essays, Theorizing Scriptures from Rutgers University Press!

The Early Christian Book

At last, the papers from the Early Christian Book Conference held at the Catholic University of America in 2002 have been published. Papers that are particularly relevant to early Christian iconic books are Claudia Rapp, "Holy Texts, Holy Men and Holy Scribes: Aspects of Scriptural Holiness in Late Antiquity;" John Lowden, "The Word Made Visible: The Exterior of the Early Christian Book as Visual Argument;" and Caroline Humfress, "Judging by the Book: Christian Codices and Late Antique Legal Culture."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Legal oaths on any sacred text

Now in the aftermath of the precedent set by Rep. Keith Ellison's use of a Qur'an to take his Congressional oath, the North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that any sacred text may be used by witnesses and jurors, according to AP. Apparently the words "Holy Scriptures" in the state constitution no longer specifically designate the Bible.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sikh scripture conflict

Conflicts between Sikhs over whether any living human can aspire to be a successor to the original ten gurus, and thus in competition with the Guru Grant Sahib (the Sikh scriptures), seems to be boiling up again in Punjab. For an analysis of the social as well as religious issues behind the conflict, see the article by Ajay Bharadwaj.