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The Commentaries

Among the many texts that constitute each faith tradition’s sacred Scriptures, some sections are clear, direct, unambiguous pronouncements, plainly understandable by anyone who reads them. Other portions, however, are shrouded in metaphor, allusion, and poetics, or recorded in language that can seem imprecise and confusing. Since these Scriptures represent for believers the true expression of God’s own will, it has always been important to elicit the meaning of the written word to the best of one’s capabilities. For this reason, each of the sacred Scriptures has become the subject of numerous commentaries and exegetical expositions.

All three religious traditions have also turned to retelling the stories of Scripture for both moral edification and increased accessibility. The Aramaic Targum undertakes to paraphrase accounts in the Hebrew Bible in the current vernacular of the day, while the Jewish exegetical forms known as aggadah and midrash elaborate further. In Christianity, many of the Gospels labeled “apocryphal” are in effect retellings, often fanciful and with a doctrinal point in mind, of the four canonical versions. The liturgical homily, too, is often simply a retelling of a Gospel story with the moral point emphasized. In Islam, the “Tales of the Prophets” elucidate the Qur’an’s many stories of the biblical prophets.

Images: Bible, in Latin, with marginal commentary. William de Brailes and followers, illuminators. England, ca. 1230–1240. Digital ID 1261404. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division.