Fortress Press

What Is Scripture?: A Comparative Approach

What Is Scripture?

A Comparative Approach

Wilfred Cantwell Smith (Author)


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"Scripture" is no longer an absolute. In the last two centuries, as Westerners have become more keenly conscious of the flatly historical character of their own biblical documents, they have also realized the normative function of scripture in other traditions.

W. C. Smith's vastly erudite work asks how it is that certain texts have so seeped into human life — in a rich, complex, and powerful way — as to be deemed sacred. Examining the history and use of scripture in the world's major religious traditions, he shows how and why scripture continues to carry momentous and at times appalling power in human affairs.

In the end, Smith's creative proposal is valuable not only for showing what it means to hold a text as sacred, or to treasure another's scripture, but also for the light it sheds in a troubled culture on what it means to be human.

  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9780800626082
  • Dimensions 5.31 x 8.5
  • Pages 400
  • Publication Date July 1, 1994


"Scriptures rightly understood can bring humanity together and, indeed, release the Western so-called scientific mind from the mundane to which it has sunk. Such observations are the fruit of W. C. Smith's lifelong quest for truth in scrutiny of the near universal tendency to structure canons of reflection on the human experiment."
— James A. Sanders, Claremont School of Theology

"A major contribution to the entire field of the historical and comparative study of religion...impressively substantial scholarship that is brought to bear on highly significant issues facing contemporary religious communities worldwide. It is a remarkable achievement."
— George Rupp, President, Columbia University

Table of Contents


  1. Introduction: Presenting the Issue
  2. A Particular Example, to Illustrate
  3. Scripture as Form and concept: Historical Background
  4. The True Meaning of Scripture: the Qur'an as an Example
  5. The Bible in Jewish Life?
  6. The Hindu Instance
  7. The Buddhist Instance
  8. The Classics: Chinese and Western
  9. Brief Further Considerations
  10. Conclusion: Scripture and the Human Condition