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The Scriptures

“We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them.” Qur’an 3:84

The God of Abraham was perceived through divine revelation, the accounts of which comprise the written Scriptures of each faith and likewise serve for each as a record of its sacred history. Scriptures of the three Abrahamic faiths generally began as orally transmitted accounts. Over time, these oral accounts and memories were written down, and sometimes combined and re-edited. They finally evolved into fixed texts, though different recensions of each faith’s sacred Scripture may still display minor variations.

Early Jewish and Christian texts were written by hand on scrolls, sheets of prepared animal skins sewn together to form a textual unit. During the early centuries of the Common Era, Christian communities developed the codex or book form, which was more conducive to textual comparisons and easier to carry. The codex form was later adopted by Jews and Muslims as well, though for certain Hebrew biblical texts, such as the Torah and the Book of Esther, the handwritten scroll format is still mandated when these are used for liturgical purposes. The advent of printing in the West in the mid-15th century ushered in a decline in the ancient scribal practice of writing sacred texts by hand, though in the Islamic tradition, the printed Qur’an became popular only in the early 20th century. Elaborately decorated manuscripts continued to be produced as luxury items for a relatively small group of wealthy patrons in all three faith traditions.

Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a collection of twenty-four books divided into three discrete units, Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets),and Ketuvim (Writings), collectively known by the acronym Tanakh. The first five books, the Torah or Pentateuch, are traditionally believed to have been dictated by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. They begin with the biblical account of creation and the life of the Patriarch Abraham. The Torah continues to tell the story of Abraham’s descendants and their evolution into the Jewish nation. The descent into slavery, the Exodus from Egypt, the Revelation at Sinai, the wanderings in the wilderness, and the comprehensive corpus of divine commandments and prohibitions comprise the remaining portions of the Torah, culminating with the death of Moses. Nevi’im and Ketuvim contain a series of books whose authorship is ascribed to divinely inspired prophets, kings, and scribes, that are by turns poetic, historical, and ethical in nature.

Christian Bible
Christians differ among themselves on the contents of the Old Testament, a term used to denote sacred scriptures that preceded Christianity. Most of the Orthodox Churches of the East as well as the Catholic Church derive their Old Testament from a Greek rendering of Hebrew manuscripts completed in Alexandria by the second century BCE. For Protestants, the Old Testament is nearly identical to the Tanakh. Although Christians consider the Old Testament genuine revelation, they add, as a New Testament, their own collection: the four Gospels, or lives, of Jesus; the Acts of the Apostles, a history of the early Christian community strongly focused on Paul; Paul’s own letters (epistles) as well as a few from Jesus’ early disciples; and a Book of Revelation, an apocalyptic view of the imminent End Time. All these works are identified as the product of human authors, writing under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed by God to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, first at Mecca and later at Medina, over a 22-year period. The Qur’an, consisting of 114 chapters, each known as a sura, is seen as the culmination of a series of divine messages. In sometimes vastly different forms, it includes narrative elements that can also be found in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Muhammad is revered as the Messenger of God and as the final Prophet.

Images: Hebrew Bible (Xanten Bible). Joseph ben Kalonymus, scribe. Xanten, Lower Rhineland, AM 5054 (1294 CE). Digital ID 1244077. NYPL, Spencer Collection.

Full-page miniature of St. John in the "beast-headed" Evangelist tradition. In: Gospels (Harkness Gospels), in Latin. Landévennec, Brittany, before 917. Digital ID 426711. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division.

Qur’an. Probably Turkey, AH 734 (1333 CE). NYPL, Spencer Collection.