Too bad The Three Faiths exhibition at the New York Public Library closes this Sunday, February 27. The exhibition covers the development of the three great Abrahamic religions–the variations within the beliefs, the great chasms, and the complementary intertwining between them. It’s big on context and the lived experience of each faith. The library has included the first texts with “footnotes” that extrapolate and explain the how the text “should” be read “correctly”; private devotional books and the intricate bindings and cases used to carry them; and details that illustrate the manner in which translation changed the text and meaning, as the texts traveled with missionaries.

Some of the earliest texts are from Ethiopia, Egypt–intricately crafted, gorgeously illustrated. In the remote Tigré area of northeastern Ethiopia, the monastery of Gunde Gundie was home to a dissident group of monks who produced this beautiful illuminated work in the 15th century. Above, the Evangelist Matthew faces the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus.

Then there are these modern Christian drawings from Ethiopia:

The Qur’an in Spain and North Africa “during the 13th and 14th centuries follow a distinctive local tradition that includes some archaic details,” including green and yellow dots to signify vocalisations, and the use of horizontal elongations in some letters, producing a “block effect” that is visually pleasing for its regularity and order, while simultaneously creating an open and “airy” quality on the page:

A Coptic Lectionary for Holy Week, from 1948–Coptic, an “Afroasiatic language of pre-Islamic Egypt remains to this day the liturgical language of the Christian minority population of Egypt”:

In the 19th Century, scribes working in present day northern Nigeria produced loose-leaf religious texts protected by leather bindings; the text is recorded in a distinctive local script, and is augmented by abstract ornamentation. This particular text is in honour of the Prophet Mohammed:

There were also translations of the bible into West African languages by American Christian missionaries, including Matthew’s Gospel translated into the Grebo language, spoken by people in modern-day Liberia “whose members were among the earliest converts to Christianity in modern times.”

Finally, here’s the Epistles of James, Peter, John and Jude, translated into the Mpongwe language (Gabon):

The Three Faiths exhibition runs through Sunday, February 27, 2011 in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Gottesman Exhibition Hall. Click here for a here for a map and directions.—Neelika Jayawardane.


Further Reading