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
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.
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.