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Faith Matters: The worth of written word

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, looks at a Koran in the Boyden Library at the Deerfield campus. March 28 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, in the Boyden Library at the Deerfield campus. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, unrolls a Jewish Torah Scroll in the Boyden Library at the Deerfield campus. March 28 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • A Jewish Torah Scroll, a German Bible and a Koran in the Boyden Library at the Deerfield campus. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Jan Flaska, Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy, looks at a Koran in the Boyden Library at the Deerfield campus. March 28 2018 Recorder Staff/Paul Franz



Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life at Deerfield Academy
Thursday, April 05, 2018

(Each Saturday, a faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email religion@recorder.com or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)

Tradition vouches that the source of moral authority comes from one of two cradles, that of culture, crafted to secure or suit society, or that of the divine, at a distance from humans. Biologist E.O. Wilson, as the voice for empiricism in resolving these types of questions, states that “centuries of debate on the origin of ethics come down to this: Either ethical principles, such as justice and human rights, are independent of human experience, or they are human inventions. The distinction … makes all the difference in the way we view ourselves as a species. It measures the authority of religion, and it determines the conduct of moral reasoning.”

The blurring of those claims becomes clear in the most beautiful and fragile of possessions we, as a society, can protect: ancient scriptures, expressing the earliest human words that attempted to unify people around a common social and spiritual experience. God’s word as authority, or authority affirming itself in its claim to know God?

Even if our position on the question of truth remains in the hearts of our students and not in our mission, Deerfield Academy recognizes the value of preserving culture, identity and the search for meaning in its acquisition of important scriptures to be shared and used by our community, for the purpose of honoring our human origins.

The Domazlice Torah Scroll: “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite [the Torah] to your children and talk about [these words] when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Written in the late 18th century, this scroll was used in the Jewish communities of Moravia and Bohemia, and then, as a pillar of strength during the emerging threat of Nazi Germany when that region was known as Czechoslovakia. Saved from destruction — a fate the Jews in that region themselves could not avoid — the scroll made its way to England in the 1960s, and eventually to the United States, where Deerfield acquired it on permanent loan from the UK-based Memorial Scrolls Trust.

The German Lutheran Bible: “Do I say this on human authority? Does not the law also say the same? For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Or does he not speak entirely for our sake?” 1 Corinthians 9:8-10

Published in the early 20th century, as an expression of the access to truth that many found through the European Reformation, this antique book is a visual experience, with artwork and German cursive font expressing God’s word, first mediated through prophets, and then mediated through Emmanu-el, God on earth as Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament.

His Majesty King Abdullah II bin al-Hussien’s Qur’an: “We have sent down the Book to you as a clarification of all things and as a guidance and mercy and good news for [the believers].” Quran 16:89

Used during the funeral of King Hussein bin Talal, of Jordan, in 1999, and retained by his son King Abdullah, the current King of Jordan, this Qur’an was given as a sign of friendship to Deerfield Academy by His Majesty, an alum from the Class of 1980, and as a shared commitment to honor the worth of all individuals in our respective nations and communities. The Qur’an itself is a book that has retained its enduring authenticity in the tradition of honoring the written words in Arabic as God’s exact and unchanged words to the Prophet Muhammad in 7th century Arabia.

Public display: April 15

On Sunday, April 15, from 4:30 to 5:30, Deerfield Academy will display these three texts together for the first time at the Frank L. Boyden Library at Deerfield Academy. The texts will be on display through to the end of April, but their presence in our community will be timeless, as God intended.