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Beginning with the Word: communicating faith

Lines of thought

Western and Eastern religious traditions have tended to follow similar lines that rarely converge. What they share in common are the ways in which religious books of all faiths are used. Some texts, such as the fourteenth-century private prayer book of Alice de Reydon, are the richly decorated focus of private devotion. Others guide the faithful through complex theological debates with a commentary, printed or hand-written, in the margins.

The translation of religious texts has always been central to the transmission of faith across barriers of religion and culture, but could be a perilous activity. William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament ultimately cost him his life. His pioneering translation survived, however. In 1611 the team of Cambridge scholars and theologians tasked with helping to prepare the text of the authoritative King James Bible drew heavily on Tyndale’s work.

Today’s academics are exploiting digital technology to unearth new secrets from documents penned in antiquity. Cutting-edge multispectral imaging allows us to read texts erased from a seventh-century manuscript of the Gospel of Saint Luke, whilst dispersed collections of fragments of manuscripts from a Cairo synagogue are being painstakingly reunited in the digital realm.

Subject curator William Hale, Rare Books Specialist, discusses the theme of Religion in this specially commissioned film.

He was also interviewed for Cambridge TV in a film which can be viewed from the Behind the Scenes page.