William
A. Graham’s “Scripture” explores the concept of the “scripture” and what
qualifies as a “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 fact even defining this concept is
complicated as there is a “considerable ambiguity and complexity” (8195). With
these two definitions, this paper will study the way in which Graham explores
this “complexity” where he suggests that by limiting what categorizes as a
“scripture”, it erases pieces of texts that are considered as secondary works
but hold just as much significance in a religious community, sometimes even
more. By studying the key roles and characteristics of what is considered as a
scripture, this paper will demonstrate how Graham avoids being ambiguous in his
journey to create an inclusive 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 (8196). Similarly, the second idea follows
this line of thinking as he describes the “book religions” which are those
religions, like Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, 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).

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            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 characteristic 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 proves 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
(8203).

            To
conclude, William A. Graham’s “Scripture” explores the origins and development
of the scripture in various religions across history in order to create two
comprehensive definitions that avoid 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.