The British Library, the eighties shibboleth on the Euston Road that served as the Tory equivalent of the Millennium Dome and proved rather more useful, has the first in a planned series of exhibitions on interfaith manuscripts and books. With some time in hand, "Sacred" proved an interesting and free exhibition, sponsored by the Duke of Edinburgh and the King of Morocco.
There were some magnificent examples of illuminated manuscripts from the Eastern and Western Churches alongside the non-representational styles of the Jewish and Islamic faiths. The exhibition was designed to show how the influences of these styles could modify the books and munuscripts used for religious practice so that you could view a Coptic book of psalms that looked like the Qu'ran or a Jewish Torah from Paris that would not have looked out of place in a mediaeval monastery. But the similar styles only served to command the power of faith: Copts surviving in Islam, Jews thriving in Christian Europe and Aethiopia maintaining a tradition of Christianity unique to itself (perhaps the most fascinating insight of the displays: could we have an exhibition on Aethiopian history?).
The tension that ran through the exhibition concerned the eexegetical tradition, inspired by philology, that has excavated, deepened and renewed our knowledge on the early Church and the development of the Jewish faith. The contingent construction of the Bible and the Torah was reflected in the descriptions accompanying the text, yet this context was sorely lacking in the approach to the Qu'ran. Early Islamic texts were rough copies of an oral tradition, set out in early Arabic, and without the distinguishing marks that aid pronunciation - presumably all important for Islamic religious practice. One could read between the lines and see how a centralised political authority, the Caliphate, provided the authority for one version of the Qu'ran, but we will never know what the other variants were, and this exhibition omits discussion of this fact. When the Qu'ran is described, the aesthetics of calligraphy and display are clarified, but content is never broached. There are no heretical Islamic texts on display and the failure to analyse the Qu'ran on the same terms as the Bible is clearly demonstrated.
The exhibition shows that some texts are more sacred than others, as the interfaith agenda overrides the central message of the research.