Sacred Hands

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Greek Epistle to the Romans

A selection of items from Sacred Hands, an exhibit which was on display in the Library's Audubon Room from January 13 - March 4, 2012. The exhibition catalog can be viewed online and downloaded in full from the HathiTrust Digital Library

It seems appropriate to use the term “sacred” to describe the hands that wrote the manuscripts containing the text of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But the meaning of this word travels beyond the traditional limits of the religious sphere. “Sacred” designates whatever is unique, exclusive, and venerable. It is indeed one of the extraordinary ironies of the manuscript tradition that for centuries scribes were meticulously copying well-known texts, such as the Jewish Scriptures, the Gospels, and the Qur’ān, to turn them into unique, exclusive, and venerable objects. Sometimes we know the names of those scribes, either because they humbly mentioned it or because they became so skillful in their craft that patrons requested their precious services. As the manuscripts on display show, these scribes left us unique witnesses not only of how a text was transmitted in a particular language (Greek, Hebrew, Coptic, Armenian, Latin and Arabic) and at a particular time (second through nineteenth century C.E.), but also of how texts were presented to readers. We hope that visitors to this exhibit, and readers of this catalog, will appreciate the illuminations, the elaborate initials, the elegant script beautifully arranged on the page, or the scholarly notes persistently embracing the sacred text. Even the early bare fragments written on papyrus or animal skin will reveal the subtle elegance of the scribe.

Curated by Pablo Alvarez, Evyn Kropf, Arthur Verhoogt