Proclaiming Holy Scriptures

A Study of Place and Ritual

David H. Pereyra

In this book, I provide a comprehensive study on the proclamation of Holy Scriptures as an enacted celebration, as well as its function as a performance within sacralized theatrical spaces. Scripture is integral to religious life within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and these traditions have venerated the reading of texts from an appointed place as a sacred act. Thus, the study of how we conducted these readings illuminates some vitally essential aspects of this widespread worship act.

Book cover of the book "Proclaiming Holy Scriptures: a study of place and ritual" by David Pereyra.

I intend to contribute to an underexplored area of scholarship. The book offers an overview of scripture reading in the three Abrahamic faiths and then focuses on where and how the “Word of God” is presented within the Christian tradition. It gathers and summarizes research on the origins of a defined place for the proclamation of holy writings, giving a thorough architectural analysis and interpretation of the various uses and symbols related to these spaces over time.

Finally, I consider the proclamation of scriptures as a complex process that encompasses human action, location, and in some cases, the presence of the reader and the holy book together with the choreography needed for the proclamation and the morphology of ritual and worship space.

The ritual reading of scripture not only poses an aesthetic challenge but also requires a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the act of proclamation and the very space within which it occurs.

At this point in time, as we physically distance and isolate in response to COVID-19, there is no shortage of those who, provocatively, are considering new opportunities through virtual celebrations, replacing the human voice with the voice of artificial intelligence and supplanting paper texts with electronic and digital technologies. There have also been attempts to make touchscreen ambos. At the bottom of these initiatives, coming from different environments and sensitivities, certain efforts can be detected toward understanding the singular power of the ritual action. This is why it is also a time to be inspired by the opportunity to preserve various elements of the traditional ritual and place of proclaiming Holy Scriptures, and more specifically, to find new ways to enhance the symbolic value of reading and reciting scriptures specifically intended for the liturgy.

Re-enacting the word of God during worship has the power, as Karen Armstrong writes, for men and women to “discover the divine within themselves and the world in which they live.” And it is a way to repeat the experience of many of our ancestors, as happened to St Augustine when he wrote, “You called and cried out loud and broke through my deafness. You flamed and shone and banished my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me: and I drew in my breath, and I pant for you. I have tasted you: and now I hunger and thirst for more.” Proclaiming and reciting Holy Scriptures is a transcendental experience.

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