“Winged Words”

Scriptures and Classics as Iconic Texts


  • William A. Graham Harvard University




scripture, classic (both “cultural” and “religious”), categories/genres of literature/texts, cultural


We consider first some difficulties of facilely differentiating “religious” from “cultural” phenomena, and similarly “scriptures” from (“religious” or “cultural”) “classics.” Texts in the latter three categories can be identified by their “iconic” status within a given tradition or context, but only on the basis of their social function, not by their form or content. We then consider how it may be possible to study “scriptural” texts constructively in shared discourse with scholars of differing religious backgrounds. Such a common discourse would be facilitated by a heuristic model of scripture as a text extending functionally in two directions, towards the human through interpretation and towards an Absolute or Transcendent ontologically (allowing it to participate in or mediate something of the Absolute to contingent human beings). Finally, we consider whether this model is applicable to “classics” as well as “scriptures” and conclude that on balance it is not. The model thus confirms one of the differences between classics and scriptures.


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How to Cite

Graham, W. A. (2012). “Winged Words”: Scriptures and Classics as Iconic Texts. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 6(1-3), 7–22. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v6i1-3.7