Understanding Sacred Literature
This article explores some of the barriers to religious understanding such as the origins of sacred texts and the limitations of ancient languages with respect to reliable translation. Using the goal orientation strategies applied by Yourdon (1977, 1997) to software development & project problems, some striking parallels are found amongst the world's religions. By applying the subject oriented reading strategy used in all other forms of literature study to sacred literature, and subjecting more detailed interpretation to constraint by religious maxim where present in the canon under study, many ambiguities are either resolved or rendered redundant. My literature survey of religious maxims finds a common focal theme shared by a significant proportion of major religions may redefine religion as a social expression of empathy.
Religious tradition and theological discourse as passed down from one generation to another has travelled by a number of vectors. Although considered accurate by some, oral tradition has proven the most prone to error, as comparisons of common stories as portrayed by Genesis, Libellvs, the Emerald Tablet, & Gilgamesh Epic bear out. Written tradition has also proven to be fraught with uncertainty. Ironically, some such traditions are imposed as "the Word of God". Perhaps this pattern of behaviour evolved to avoid the questioning of such traditions. In exploring interpretive constraint, the word maxim is used with its root meaning, "most important proposition" as derived from the Latin root, propositio maxima.
A Question of Origins
The Pentateuch is oral tradition and parts find themselves scattered and moulded to the various civilisations through which they passed down. The creation myths of Libellvs I:11-12 bear striking resemblance to the first chapters of Genesis while the flood tradition of Gilgamesh also makes an appearance later in Genesis. However, as we read a translation of an ancient text, we read little of how that text came into being. Was it written by the author, dictated by the author, notes of the author's audience, or perhaps the faintest memory of an author's companion, who long after the author's death gives account of the authors sayings in the presence of those with a means of writing down notes? Although the Pentateuch/Torah/Talmud are available in writing, all of these were once passed down as oral traditions and are thus well known as an oral tradition. The New Testament was originally an oral tradition whose accounts were eventually written down in scattered locations. In time these documents were copied and gathered and in 496 A.D. a canon was established by the Catholic Church based on what is currently described as the simple message of "love thy neighbour". However, in truth the canon established in 496 tends to portray a much more complicated picture than this, and is perhaps more a self portrait of the Catholic Church at the time. The Qu'ran is even more fragmented, being written down from witness accounts some 40 years after the death of Mohammed. It would seem that the "Word of God" as it appears is subject to tremendous human censorship.
Limitations of Ancient Languages
Language differences comprise a barrier that becomes even more formidable in the translation of texts in ancient languages. The problem is that modern languages have a far greater vocabulary than older languages. How do you translate from an ancient language of some 300 words into modern English with common usage vocabulary that is typically ten times this amount?
Ancient Greek does not differentiate between "within" and "among", with the consequent confusion over the translation of Luke 17:21. Aramaic has no word for, "Sally-Port", but the ancient equivalent was a narrow twisted passageway used to allow travellers entry at night without compromising town security. This was referred to in the metaphor of the eye of the needle. For centuries, people have assumed that it was impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle, but understanding that in Ancient Aramaic, this also means something close to, "sally port" portrays the richness of the expression. Likewise, Aramaic has no word for fundamentalism or apostasy, and so when fundamentalism is portrayed as the cause of apostasy, the author of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John must tell a detailed story just to make the point that concludes with John 6:66, "and they fell away".
Tracing monotheism back to it's origins is also fraught with linguistic limitations. Ancient Greek fails to differentiate "God" and "god" and so the forms "the divine" and "a divine" are used to differentiate between God and those who are considered holy. Even Christ addresses this point reciting the definitively monotheistic Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34-36. We see the evolution of monotheism in a polytheistic culture portrayed by the lengths to which ancient authors would go to place an idea of one God above all other gods. The Gilgamesh epic had a "Chief" god". Even in the purportedly "Atheist" Therevada Canon of Buddhism, the "King of gods" is named Indra, and ironically not refuted ().
In Genesis, the word translated as, "day", actually means "period" and has no specification beyond this. Adam is not necessarily "a man" as translated incorrectly in Genesis, but the word is also used to refer to groups of people. In Genesis 5:2, it is clearly stated that when God made Adam He made them male and female. Thus the names and "generations" of such ancient texts are just as likely to be a reference to the tribes and their origins.
A translation of the Bible (as opposed to an interpretation of the Bible), has more translation footnotes than translated text due to the tremendous number of possible alternative translations. Understanding the meaning intended by ancient texts often demands investigation of metaphorical usage. Many metaphors have survived to this day. The symbols in such things as a level road, a hearing, the difference between possession and use of a sense, a wall, a house, a lamp, etc. continue to refer to the same things they once did. However, some symbols lost their meaning as they fell out of use. The eye of the needle lost it's meaning as trade features of city wall architecture gave way to an emphasis on military purposes.
Axiomatic Constraint: In Search of the Scriptural Maxim
Subject Oriented Reading
When one reads a book, the reading is done on the understanding that the book is written in a particular subject and as such, the use of some words is specific to that subject. Balena (2006) discusses children and parents, but you can be sure he is not discussing anything related to parenting or childcare. This is because his book, "Visual Basic 2005: the language", is about programming in the object oriented environment defined by the .NET framework and not about nurturing children. As we know this from the subject and title of the book, we can call this unspoken strategy subject oriented reading. Subject oriented reading is how we determine that a chess manual's employment of the phrase, "uses a fork", has nothing to do with etiquette or for that matter, mark-up duplicated with subtle differences tailored to more than one browser. Nevertheless, this discipline we all unconsciously adhere to in trying to gain an understanding of non-religious literature appears to be forgotten the moment God has anything to do with the text.
In a highly unusual example, many creationist authors such as Bowden (1991) totally ignore the subject of a particular peer-reviewed scientific paper. Funkhouser & Naughton (1968) used a study of radioisotopes to engage in some radiometric dating. In the title of their article, "Radiogenic Helium and Argon in Ultramafic Inclusions from Hawaii", it is obvious that the study concerns ultramafic inclusions (IE xenoliths or enclaves that predate the surrounding material) and not the lava, as the abstract clearly confirms. However, by completely ignoring the subject of the article Bowden (1991) makes the claim that Funkhouser & Naughton (1968) determines a range of conflicting million year old radiometric dates for the relatively modern Hawaiian lava the ultramafic xenoliths were retrieved from, when it is clear even from the title, that the paper is not about the lava but about enclaves of ultramafic material that predate the lava. Is it any wonder that such authors are prone to communicate the idea that a religious compilation concerning spirituality and empathy, such as the Bible, exists to answer purely materialistic questions about the origins of biological life?
Axiomatic Constraint: Interpretation Limited by Maxim
Overshadowing the subject of any written work is the influence of the most important proposition or propositio maximus from which the term maxim is derived. The idea of axiomatic constraint is that no interpreted meaning attributed to a literary source may conflict with that source's documented maxim without invalidating the entire interpretation.
Creationists claim that the earth could not be more than six thousand years old on the pure assumption that:
- Genesis is a complete account of "generations"
- "Generations" are of individual life span rather than life span of a tribe
- Genesis is a correct account and not just a record of popular mythology at the time of origin
Never mind that Genesis' inclusion in sacred literature is about improving the human condition, and barring certain anthropological implications, is not relevant to matters that fall within the scientific discipline; this speculative interpretation bears no relevance whatsoever to the biblical Maxim. Although this may seem self explanatory for those familiar with the study of literature, a lack of referral to statements explicitly defining subject of sacred literature is often described as an argument ex nihilo or argument from nothing by proponents of scriptural infallibility. In this case, statements defining the applicable maxim are denied by creationists without any attempt at explanation of the denial whatsoever. In one of the few places Christ actually asserts a direct imperative (and so it cannot be parable), creationists, who claim to be Christian (as opposed to anti-Christian) claim that in this instance, Christ doesn't actually mean what he is saying. They don't know what Christ is intending, but apparently can't be what he is asserting!
The Literary Maxims of Some Major World Religions
Statements in sacred and religious literature can go beyond the explicit designation of spirituality as the general subject. This does not mean such statements have something to say beyond the subject of spirituality. Often an analogy is drawn from outside the subject to emphasis the information structure common to the analogues under discussion. This can be done by parable and by metaphor and is distinct from deliberately imperative statements.
In several bodies of sacred literature one can find a key that constrains the myriad interpretations to something approximating the author's overall objectives. A statement I refer to as the maxim of the religion because more than indication the agenda of the author, it constitutes the author's most important proposition. In the simplest and most direct example, the Covenant of Baha'u'llah contains, "The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity and dissension". This simple statement sums up the whole point of the body of sacred literature attributed to Baha'u'llah. As such, it offers a key to understanding this body of literature.
This can become more difficult in older or otherwise poorly documented religions. The Babi Faith lacks any maxim that can be used to summarise or otherwise set an objective, goal or mission beyond the religion's cosmology & self propagation imperatives. The same problem is endemic to Islam, although some statements in the Qu'ran allude indirectly to a maxim via a means to "spiritual salvation" that is otherwise unrelated to religious organisational solipsism (Eg. Sura 2:62, 5:69).
The Maxim of Shintoism
The heart of the person before
you is a mirror. See there your own form. [...] Be charitable to all
beings, love is the representative of God."
(Ko-ji-ki Hachiman Kasuga)
The metaphor of the inner mirror, also found in Buddhism, communicates through the use of reflection in this example, the concept of empathy. Taken with the imperative to be charitable to all beings in context of the assertion that love is the representative of God, gives this metaphor great significance. Not only does this representative of God infer the assumption of a position above all other things, concepts, philosophies and principles other than God, but we witness on this auspicious occasion, the emergence of God from amongst the gods for the purpose of this inference. Perhaps one might wonder at the possibility that monotheism arose as a metaphorical means of establishing the unequalled importance of a principle or idea. This makes the Shinto expression of the Empathic Principle, perhaps the most interesting implementation of a maxim.
The Maxim of Hinduism
One should not behave towards others in a way which is disagreeable to
oneself. This is the essence of morality. All other activities are due to
(Mahabharata, Anusasana Parva 113.8)
In the Mahabharata, the proscriptive variant of the Empathic Principle is portrayed as the essence of morality. In philosophy this means that unless it conforms to the Empathic Principle, it is not morality. This definition is confirmed with the statement that "All other activities are due to selfish desire."
The Maxim of Judaism
What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law;
all the rest is commentary.
(Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
This is the Golden Rule or Empathic Principle in the proscriptive variation, and it is asserted as "the entire law" for a religious tradition founded by Moses around 1300 BC. Relegating all other statements to meagre commentary, this proscription renders the vast body of legal detail subject and corollary to the Empathic Principle. In other words, the many laws of this tradition are only examples of this proscriptive variation of the Empathic Principle, and as such can be lawfully executed only if said execution does not contravene the Empathic Principle. This is what makes the statement of Talmud (Shabbat 31a) the Maxim of Judaism.
The Maxim of Brahmanism
This is the sum of duty: do not do to others
what would cause pain if done to you.
The proscriptive variation of the Empathic Principle is described by the Mahabharata as the sum of duty; the one principle that defines all duty. As such this defines the maxim for Brahmanism, to which all understanding of Brahmin scripture defers.
The Maxim of Zoroastrianism
And this, too, was thus considered by them [those of the primitive faith,
the ancients of those acquainted with the religion - From 94:1], that that
nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for
its own self;
and that wisdom only is good when it thoroughly understands how to utilise the advantage of that happiness which has occurred, and shall not suffer vexation on account of harm which has not occurred;
and that intellect only is good which understands that it does not understand that which it does not understand.
(Dadestan-i Denig ['Religious Decisions'] 94:5)
Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to
The clause, "That that nature only is good...", as applied to the essence of the Empathic Principle communicates the idea that nothing else is good but that essence of Empathic Principle, and in doing so dictates the point of the body of literature to which the verse can be said to apply. The continuity of this maxim from the "primitive faith" into the contemporary is confirmed by the appearance of the Empathic Principle in other contexts within Zoroastrian Scriptures.
The Maxim of Buddhism
A state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that
(Samyutta Nikaya v. 353)
The Buddha's rhetoric on the subject of empathy avoids being specifically proscriptive or prescriptive and lends it attribute of being absolute. Thus the rhetoric implies no exception, such that the Empathic Principle applies universally regardless of circumstance and application or lack thereof of other principles. In this way, all other Buddhist concepts must defer to the Empathic Principle; after all, the Buddha would not ask, "How could I...?" if he knew of a more important principle that defined an exception.
The Maxim of Confucianism
Tsekung asked, "Is there one word that can serve as a principle of conduct
for life?" Confucius replied, "It is the word shu [reciprocity]: Do not do to
others what you do not want them to do to you."
Perhaps the most clearly identified maxim of religious literature is that of the Confucian Analects. Not only does Confucius explicitly offer the Empathic Principle as a universal maxim implying by which all others may be derived, he does so with the concision of one word, "Shu" translated as reciprocity - the singular word used to describe the Empathic Principle.
The Maxim of Christianity
In all things, do unto others as you would have others do unto you; for this
is the law and the prophets.
Christian sacred literature, finding origins in an ancient language of limited vocabulary, has a similar maxim to the Judaism. Once again, we see the Empathic Principle, but this time it is the prescriptive variation. In this example, it would not be unreasonable given the origin of Christianity in Jewish religious culture, to propose that Christ was paraphrasing the existing Judaic Maxim.
Once again, the implications are staggering. Here we read Christ's assertion that the Empathic Principle is the "law and the prophets" that came before him and therefore that the Empathic Principle in Christ's estimation is the whole point of the "law and the prophets". However, Christ goes further than this to also apply the Empathic Principle to all of his teachings by starting his statement with, "In all things". This can be taken to include not only the past dispensation but the future as well due to the absence of any stated exception to the rule. In fact, by beginning with, "In all things, [...]", Christ is asserting that there is no exception to this rule; past present or future. As such, this is the Christian Maxim against which all interpretation of Christian sacred literature can be measured.
In Search of an Islamic Maxim from the Qu'ran
Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for
(Forty Hadiths of Al-Nawawi:13)
The qualification that "None of you is a believer until [...]" projects this prescriptive rendition of the Empathic Principle across all circumstances and contexts in absence of any stated exceptions. However, it's relegation to the less credible "Hadith" instead of the Qu'ran, robs it of the authority to stand alone in constraining the interpretation of Suras from the Qu'ran. However, inclusion of concepts extended from the Empathic Principle such as Sura 83:1-3 and 59:9. While the former lacks any indication of priority, the latter Sura defines "Those who entered unto the Faith before them [(the fugitives)...]" as those who prefer the welfare of the fugitives to their own. In this sense, Sura 59:9 confirms the authority of the Hadith quoted above. This is corroborated by Suras 2:62 and 5:69.
In Islam, the idea that all who believe in God, the "last day" (arguably of religion and thus a possible allusion to the fallibility of religious believers), and doeth "right" (or "righteousness", IE. "justice") have nothing to fear or regret in the context of "their reward is with their lord". The Empathic Principle can be said to describe the doing of "justice" and by extension the doing of "right". In this sense, it is not unreasonable to say whoever abides in the Empathic Principle has a lot going for them by Suras 2:62 & 5:69. This forms a parallel with the structure of statements defining the Christian equivalent of institutionally non-solipsistic salvation. As per the "Lord's Prayer" as well as Matthew 6:14 and Luke 6:37, this amounts to obtaining God's forgiveness through one's forgiveness of transgressions against oneself. There is here, a striking parallel between the structure of this idea and that of the Empathic Principle, making it almost a corollary statement to the Empathic Principle. From a strongly demonstrable Qu'ranic perspective, if one believes in God and accepts the fallibility of believers and thus by unstated extension one's own fallibility, then doing "right" or "justice" as can be done by a fallible human being such as oneself can only be achieved fallibly through ample forgiveness; as per the authentically Christian perspective. In this indirect sense, one can make a fairly strong argument for the Empathic Principle as the maxim of the Qu'ran.
The Maxim of the Baha'i Faith
The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity
(Kitab-i-Ahd or Book of the Covenant)
The single most important literary work of Baha'u'llah (the founder of the Baha'i Faith), is the Book of the Covenant. This book is written with the intent of preserving the Baha'i Faith against schism and serves as an expected repository for the Baha'i maxim. The statement of what religion is for, constrains the legitimacy of religious practice thereof.
Although love and unity can be interpreted in a number of ways, the presence of the Empathic Principle elsewhere in Baha'i Scripture suggests that this too may form the basis for the Baha'i concept of love and unity.
Religious Commonality of Maxim and the Emergence of the Empathic Maxim
That the Empathic Principle forms a common scriptural maxim to the largest proportion of sacred canons speaks to the universality of this principle such that it would not be unreasonable to propose it as a universal maxim: The Scriptural Maxim.
One of the pitfalls of seeking axiomatic constraint over the interpretation of philosophical and sacred literature is the possible conflict inherent in multiple maxims. There can only be one maxim and the presence of more than one maxim in the absence of any discrete and clearly defined literary hierarchy totally discredits the body of literature and may render older canons impossible to interpret. The more complex the proposition of a scriptural maxim, the more likely the existence of competing maxims with equal internal support within the body of literature.
Hierarchical Resolution of Axiomatic Dissonance of Baha'i Maxims
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him
Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who
representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of
creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is
deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous
deed. It behoveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit
of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of
the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the
other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
(Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Page: 19)
The key statement that, "Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed.", redefines the author's concept of good and evil in terms of recognition of the current scriptural authority. This stands in stark contradiction the higher, "covenantal" maxim and illustrates the perils of having more than one "most important proposition".
With the exception of the Book of the Covenant, the Most Holy Book (Kitab-i-Aqdas) comprising the documentation of Baha'i Law, is possibly the highest work in the literary hierarchy of Baha'i Scripture. In spite of the sweeping nature of both conflicting statements, the structure of this literary hierarchy is key. The statement that "the religion of God is for love and unity" exists outside the laws of religion in both a structural and conceptual sense, defining religion on the achievement of what it is for. Failing this, the opening paragraph of the Kitab-i-Aqdas is a moot point because regardless the claim, any failure of the Baha'i Faith to meet this standard revokes the Faith's status as a "religion of God" in the first place.
Within the context of "the religion of God is for love and unity"; the statement of solipsism, "Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed." serves to redefine recognition and obedience within the limitations of the maxim. One could argue thus that "none have achieved this duty" until "they have attained unto all good", but the following statement, "and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed." is arguably irreconcilable unless "Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation" is redefined as the faculty by which "love and unity" may be defined (empathy). Failing this, axiomatic dissonance robs Baha'i Scripture of any semblance of literary integrity because of internal contradictions at the highest level.
Resolution by Scope of Christian Axiomatic Dissonance
I am the way, the truth, and the life; none come to the Father except by
This can be dismissed as religious solipsism, on the grounds that the terms of organisationally solipsistic statements are defined by non-solipsistic maxims because the former lacking external meaning gain such from the latter. In this case, the first person is a clear metaphorical reference to the body of teaching and not the body doing the speaking, after the metaphorical style of John 6:51 that lead to the apostasy of John 6:66 (cf. Revelation 13:18). As the maxim of this teaching is its most important proposition, John 14:6 does not withstand this maxim expressed in Matthew 7:12. Rather, the meaning of John 14:6 is constrained by Matthew 7:12 such that a person living by the Empathic Principle embraces in doing so, "the way, the truth, and the life" that is "the Son"; regardless their knowledge of the relevant historical and scriptural details. This point is further corroborated by 2 John 1:9 which states that whoever abides in the teaching of Christ has [on her/his side] both the Father [God] and the Son [Christ].
However, ambiguity as opposed to breadth of application subjects a potentially conflicting maxim to interpretation in line with or by the less ambiguous maxim. In this case, John 14:6 has a broader scope of interpretation than Matthew 7:12 and there is only one compatible pair of interpretations. In another example, statements such as Revelation 14:10 that assert the damnation of all who receive the mark of the beast are highly ambiguous owing to the deeply metaphorical nature of their immediate context. Once again, damnation for bearing the mark of the beast must necessarily refer to something that inherently contradicts the maxim given that the maxim is the most important proposition. Comparison with the cause of John 6:66 (fundamentalism), leads to a plausible interpretation that the mark of the beast is fundamentalism and as fundamentalism inherently denies the existence of a non-solipsistic maxim and thus allows for almost any behaviour provided that it is give the correct scriptural spin, it presents a suitable anti-maxim. This is how scope can be used to resolve conflicts between the maxim and apparent maxims.
Implications of Multiple Authorship & Topical Dissonance
The idea of religious maxim can seem to be be problematic in that a body of religious literature often contains diverse works by various authors. How then can such a heterogeneous body of literature be subject to a single maxim if it is comprised of contributions from diverse authors of diverse philosophical tendency? The answer becomes apparent in the expectation that a canon or body of religious literature must document the singular philosophical model endemic to the religion in question regardless of internal heterogeneity of diverse authors, stenographers, translators, and theologians. This can only be true so long as there is not more than one maxim. After all, only one proposition can be the most important, just as only one god can be the "King of gods".
However, even works attributed to the same author can show marked variations in ideas important to the author. For example, `Abdu'l-Baha's statements regarding the evolution of life are purported to support the idea in some cases and in others to refute the idea. This is in spite of the fact that some of the writings of Baha'u'llah not only emulate the Hermetic style, but Baha'u'llah (1988, pp. 147-148) also explicitly endorses the Emerald or "Chrysolite" Tablet of Hermes regarding the "secrets of creation". Said tablet after the translation by Dobbs (1988, p. 183) approximates a good synopsis of evolution in a single phrase; "so all things have their birth from this one thing by adaption". In one example, `Abdu'l-Baha uses the Hermetic "origin from one" (Abbas, 1908, p. 181), while Abbas (1908, p. 198) objects to the idea that the soul is evolved into being, stating that the soul exists with the potential for humanity regardless of its expression. It is easy to see how such an intricate stance on evolution can be portrayed in such a confusing and contradictory way once other people begin to take notes. For example, Straun (1912) could be taken to suggest that Abbas completely rejected the idea of evolution. As other authors add their testimony, perspectives begin to shift and arguably the literary maxim could shift as well.
However, as a literary maxim reflects something of the author's most important values, one would hope that it is preserved in the body of literature associated with the author. Although the Qu'ran lacks a direct maxim statement after only 40 years between the death of Mohammed and the assembly of the canon that became the Qu'ran; Christianity and Judaism have preserved maxim statements after centuries of either oral tradition or scattered documentation until a canon could be established. The literature of Shintoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Brahmanism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Christianity directly set the Empathic Principle as the common maxim of each of the applicable canons, while the Qu'ran only alludes to the assignment of the same Empathic Principle as a maxim, which assignation is downgraded to hearsay by its relegation to the Hadith.
In spite of the disparate authorship and foci endemic to religious literature and canon, there is a strong commonality of philosophical maxim that emerges from the literature of Shintoism, Hinduism, Judaism, Brahmanism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity, the Baha'i Faith, and less directly from the Qu'ran. This is only possible if the Empathic Maxim is clearly and unambiguously stated by the founder, and although later revision may serve to weaken directness of the statement, it is far too obvious to be recognised as a threat to unsupervised interpretive authority. The scripture of various religions throughout history therefore suggests that religion has always been preoccupied with equity and love even if protagonists are more than often preoccupied with other less distinguished agendas. It is likely therefore, that statements confirming or otherwise suggesting literary maxim on the part of original authors have survived because of the diversity and sometimes disparity of contribution.
Can literary maxims apply as an interpretive constraint across a disparate body of literature? When such statements are recorded in the most authoritative or otherwise most credible texts, they can be safely said to condense the point of the literature and thereby offer guidance on interpretive constraint. Failing this, we fall back on the commonality of philosophical perspective endemic to derivation of religious canon to discover that within such a limited scope, there can only be a single maxim.
The careful and meticulous wording of the Empathic Principle such that it survived both oral transfer and translations plagued by the uncertainties of linguistic evolution is noteworthy. What is interesting in this respect, is that the maxim is so important that by way of early confirmation, statements defining God as love evolve from the Empathic maxims in both Christianity (1John 4:8,16; cf. Matthew 7:12) and the Baha'i Faith (MacNutt, 1912; McKinney, 1912; Abbas, 1912; Abbas, 1913; Holley, 1945a; Holley, 1945b; cf. Kitab-i-Ahd; & Ninth Ishraq). That the Empathic Principle is both explicitly and implicitly the common theme or maxim of the sacred literature of most major religions suggests that religion may be an attempt to socialise empathy and reciprocity. If this is the case, then it is empathy that most meaningfully constrains the interpretation of religious literature.
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Abbas, `Abdu'l-Baha, 1913, "The Four Kinds of Love, 4th January Talk at 97 Cadogan Gardens, London", Paris Talks (compilation of talks given by `Abdu'l-Baha Abbas), Baha'i Publishing Trust, pp. 179-181
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MacNutt, H., 1912, "30th May Talk at Theosophical Lodge, Broadway & Seventy-ninth Street, New York", Promulgation of Universal Peace (compilation of talks given by `Abdu'l-Baha Abbas), Baha'i Publishing Trust, pp. 155-161
Ninth Ishraq, "The Ninth Splendour", Tablets of Baha'u'llah, Baha'i Publishing Trust, p. 129.
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