What is scripture?
This question is just as challenging as the other question: what is
The dictionary is of little help, telling us only that scripture
means sacred writing. It comes from the Latin past participle
scriptus, meaning written. Much further back, we find the
Indo-European root skribh, meaning to cut or separate
(probably because the first writings were etchings in wood or
However, new light has been shed on the nature of scriptures over
the last couple of centuries, and especially during the last few
decades, by scholars in comparative religion. They have not been
able to give us a definition of scripture (as impossible as defining
sacred music), but they have made important discoveries about the
nature of existing scriptures, and about the historical and
psychosocial processes which are involved in producing holy
scripture. Because these discoveries are so little-known to the
general public, we offer a small bibliography on this subject below.
We have (temporarily) limited our scope to Mediterranean religions, mainly the
Two very important points emerge from this work. The first is
obvious, but difficult to accept for many religious believers. The
second is not at all obvious, and is perhaps even more difficult to accept for
non-believers than for believers.
1) All scriptures that have come down to us from ancient times are the product of countless generations of
rewriting and re-editing. Scholars often refer to this process as
2) Ancient attitudes toward sacred writing were radically different
from those which prevail today. For example, the typical modern reader
is somewhat scandalized, or perhaps just cynical, upon learning that
the Gospel of John was neither written nor dictated by John, nor by any
other disciple of Jesus, and that John almost certainly never even knew
of its existence. The modern mind jumps to the conclusion: therefore
the person who wrote that gospel (for simplicity, let us assume it was
one man who wrote it after John's death, though the real situation is
much more complex) was a charlatan, and the gospel is a fraud. But the
ancient mind would not have been so quick to judge. For a religious
person of two millenia ago, the question as to whether John actually
wrote it was of secondary importance. What was important was the
question: is the scribe who wrote it a member of an authentic, unbroken
lineage of disciples going back to John? And above all the question: is
this gospel truly inspired by John? Was the writer a true vehicle for
the spirit of John?
This suggests a way of
approaching all "inspired" writings and indeed, many other writings
which are not labeled in this way. This attitude of openness, which is
both ancient and new, frees us from habits of facile judgement. The
question of who actually wrote the Bible, the works of Shakespeare, or
whether Gurdieff's autobiography is really "factual" becomes of
secondary importance. The question of authenticity becomes much more
open, and the value of what is being communicated through the vehicle
of "scripture" regains its rightful place of importance.
In this spirit, we invite interested readers to offer submissions to
this web page of writings scripts, scriptures, scribblings,
essays, and poems, which turn around this subject.
[for submissions, write us here: joseph at naturalchant.com]
As the beginning essay demonstrates, this spirit of openness sees no
contradiction between scholarship and creativity, between
seriousness and playfulness.
We open the page with a document which was at the origins of our
musical project, Credo. And we provide the full notes to the CD,
which unfortunately were deleted from the album itself by the