|The Role of Scripture|
|We have already seen how symbols, metaphors, parables, myths and rituals
create a bridge between the sacred and the ordinary. In this chapter we explore
another form of religious communication and expression: sacred scripture.
Scripture literally means "writing." It has come to refer to a writings that are considered to be divinely inspired and therefore that are authoritative. A canon (literally a "rule" or "measure") is a collection of sacred texts that a religious community has established as the authoritative guide for the community.
The Pervasive Role of Sacred Scripture
While all of the major world religions have sacred scriptures, Livingston notes that there are significant differences in the nature of these texts as well as how they are understood and used.
Three examples of "secondary" scripture are found in Islam, Judaism and Hinduism.
In Islam, the Qur'an is the authoritative scripture of Islam. However, another collection known as the Hadith is also a guide for believers. The Hadith contain sayings of and stories about Muhammad. These sayings and stories exemplify how one should apply the revelations of the Qur'an. The Night Journey of Muhammad is contained in the hadith.
Judaism has both a written Torah as well as one that was transmitted orally (the Mishnah). The written Torah (law/instruction) was given to Moses on Mount Sinai in written form. It contains the commandments and guides that the faithful Jew must follow. Yet, as situations change, how does one apply these laws? Moreover, how does one interpret even a simple law such as the prohibition of work on the Sabbath (what do we mean by work?). These questions are addressed in the mishnah. The Mishnah was a second law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. It was not written down, but transmitted orally from one generation to the next. It was finally compiled and committed to writing in the 2nd Century AD. It became the basis for the Talmud, a huge compendium of learning and commentary. It includes such information as how the Passover should be observed.
Hinduism has both scripture (sruti - that which is heard) and sacred texts (smirti - that which is remembered). The oldest collections known as the vedas constitute the most authoritative scriptures. The term sruti suggests that these scriptures were "heard" by the sages in ancient times; that is, they were given by the gods themselves. The smirti are texts (usually narratives) that are passed down from one generation to the next (i.e., "remembered"). Interestingly, the texts that are classified as sruti are considered more authoritative than smirti, even though the smirti are probably far more popular. For example, the Bhagavad-Gita is among the most popular sacred texts in Hinduism, although it is classified as smirti. The Gita is considered to be a summary and illustration of the teachings of the Vedas.