New York Public Library Exhibition Explores Three of the World’s Largest Religions

The The New York Public Library Explores Three of the World’s Largest Religions in Exhibition. Three Faiths is now on view through February 27, 2011 at the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building at Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street in Manhattan.

Three of the world’s most followed religions each started from Abraham’s covenant with a single, unseeable God and are now the lived experience of half of the world’s population.

Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, The New York Public Library’s leading fall 2010 exhibition, explores these three religions through the texts they have produced. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam live side by side around the world and in New York City and continue to be part of the local dialogue, fueling discourse and debate. Three Faiths informs the discussion with four millennia of spiritual history as seen through 200 of the Library’s most inspiring sacred texts.

Showcasing materials drawn entirely from the permanent collections of The New York Public Library, Three Faiths portrays major aspects of each of the three Abrahamic faiths. Although not a strict comparative analysis of the three religions, the exhibition illustrates the most important basic commonalities among the three: Monotheism, Abraham, Revelation, and Scriptures. After introducing the founding figures of these faiths, the exhibition presents the scriptures they produced or inspired, and the ways in which those texts have been used, for centuries or millennia, in the daily lives of ordinary people. These broad themes are illustrated through focused vignettes ranging from artifacts of Jewish mysticism to revolutionary vernacular translations of the Christian Bible to depictions of the Hajj.

Accompanying the exhibition in the adjacent Wachenheim Gallery, the Three Faiths Scriptorium is an interactive gallery that illuminates the scribing traditions of these faiths, showcasing the resources — animal hides, minerals, gems, and plants — from which parchment, pigments, and inks are derived as well as the tools required to create such works. Brief videos help elucidate the artistic processes and the result of rigorous training following centuries’-old traditions. Visitors are invited to create their own illuminated works using the techniques of master scribes.

“The New York Public Library is proud to exhibit so many of its treasures in Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam. The sacred manuscripts from each of these three Abrahamic religions are stunning artworks but also invaluable documents to the followers of each faith,” says Dr. Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “The content in the materials provide the basis for dialogue and is part of the living, breathing discourse happening today in New York City and around the world. As an organization serving the public, we’re pleased to provide a historical look at the religions’ histories through their texts and welcome any interested parties to the Library to view the exhibition.”

The rare Library works on view include a Veiled Prophet manuscript from Istanbul (1594); the Scroll of Esther from Amsterdam (1686); the Harkness Gospels in Latin, from Landévennec, Britanny (circa year 900); and Two Gold Amulets and Case from Irbid, Jordan (5th-6th century). The Veiled Prophet manuscript on display is the third of six volumes that contain a Turkish translation of the Prophet’s biography; it was completed in Cairo in 1386 and presented to a local ruler. The 100 inches of the treasured 17th-century Scroll of Esther, a megillah, is displayed, described, and explained. The small amulets on display, written in Aramaic on gold foil, were discovered in Jewish tombs and likely worn as jewelry by the deceased. The Harkness Gospels is the earliest Western manuscript in The New York Public Library. The volume in the exhibition is of considerable textual and artistic importance; it comes from an abbey located in the far reaches of Brittany, near present-day Brest, which was abandoned in the midst of Viking raids in the year 919.

“At a time when attitudes toward religious beliefs worldwide have generated significant debate, the Board of Directors of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation is proud for the opportunity to support the Three Faiths exhibit at NYPL. This exhibition should be critical in promoting an informed dialogue and interreligious understanding based on the important proposition that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have more in common than not,” stated the Board of Directors of the Niarchos Foundation.

“Coexist is delighted to be sponsoring Three Faiths at The New York Public Library. This unique exhibition will enable visitors not only to see this great institution’s magnificent collection of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim treasures, but also to explore the ways in which the history, culture, art, and theology of these three religions have influenced one another through the ages,” says James Kidner, Director of the Coexist Foundation. “This is a wonderful opportunity to take a journey into these faith traditions and learn how they can coexist in society today.”

The Library has organized a dynamic schedule of events that complement the exhibition at both the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building and branches across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island. Highlights include a series titled “The 411 on Faith: Communities in Dialogue,” which engages faith leaders in dialogue with local communities. LIVE from the NYPL hosts three events, among them an evening with The Moth presenting “OMG: Stories of the Sacred.” Teen and children’s workshops range from an exploration of illuminated manuscripts to an introduction to Islamic art and architecture.

Image: ‘The Tanakh (The Xanten Bible)’ Hebrew Bible, vol. 1. Joseph ben Kalonymus, scribe. Xanten, Lower Rhineland, 5054 AM (1294 CE). The New York Public Library, Spencer Collection.

For more information on Three Faiths programming, visit

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