Religious Texts

Religious texts (also known as scripture, or scriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning “writing”) are texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their practice or beliefs. Religious texts may be used to provide meaning and purpose, evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey religious truths, promote religious experience, foster communal identity, and guide individual and communal religious practice. Religious texts often communicate the practices or values of a religious traditions and can be looked to as a set of guiding principles which dictate physical, mental, spiritual, or historical elements considered important to a specific religion. The terms ‘sacred’ text and ‘religious’ text are not necessarily interchangeable in that some religious texts are believed to be sacred because of their nature as divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired, whereas some religious texts are simply narratives pertaining to the general themes, practices, or important figures of the specific religion, and not necessarily considered sacred by itself. A core function of a religious text making it sacred is its ceremonial and liturgical role, particularly in relation to sacred time, the liturgical year, the divine efficacy and subsequent holy service; in a more general sense, its performance.

It is not possible to create an exhaustive list of religious texts, because there is no single definition of which texts are recognized as religious.

History of Religious Texts

One of the oldest known religious texts is the Kesh Temple Hymn of Ancient Sumer, a set of inscribed clay tablets which scholars typically date around 2600 BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumer, although only considered by some scholars as a religious text, has origins as early as 2150-2000 BCE, and stands as one of the earliest literary works that includes various mythological figures and themes of interaction with the divine. The Rig Veda of ancient Hinduism is estimated to have been composed between 1700–1100 BCE, which not only denotes it as one of the oldest known religious texts, but also one of the oldest written religious text which is still actively used in religious practice to this day, though no actual evidence of this text exists prior to the 13th century AD.

Sacred Texts

Holy Books

There are many possible dates given to the first writings which can be connected to Talmudic and Biblical traditions, the earliest of which is found in scribal documentation of the 8th century BCE, followed by administrative documentation from temples of the 5th and 6th centuries BCE, with another common date being the 2nd century BCE. Although a significant text in the history of religious text because of its widespread use among religious denominations and its continued use throughout history, the texts of the Abrahamic traditions are a good example of the lack of certainty surrounding dates and definitions of religious texts.

High rates of mass production and distribution of religious texts did not begin until the invention of the printing press in 1440, before which all religious texts were hand written copies, of which there were relatively limited quantities in circulation.

Associated terminology

A religious canon refers to the generally accepted, uniform, and often unchanging collection of texts which a religious denomination considers comprehensive in terms of their specific application of texts. For example, the content of a Protestant Bible may differ from the content of a Catholic Bible – insofar as the Protestant Old Testament does not include the Deuterocanonical books while the Roman Catholic canon does. Protestants and Catholics use the same 27 book NT canon, as well as the same 39 book OT protocanon, also shared by Jews.

The word “canon” comes from the Sumerian word meaning “standard”.

The terms “scripture” and variations such as “Holy Writ”, “Holy Scripture” or “Sacred Scripture” are defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as terms which specifically apply to Biblical text and the Christian tradition.

Sacred texts of various religions

The following is an in-exhaustive list of links to specific religious texts which may be used for further, more in-depth study.

Adidam

  • The writings of Franklin Albert Jones a.k.a. Adi Da Love-Ananda Samraj
    • Aletheon
    • The Companions of the True Dawn Horse
    • The Dawn Horse Testament
    • Gnosticon
    • The Heart of the Adi Dam Revelation
    • Not-Two IS Peace
    • Pneumaton
    • Transcendental Realism

Aetherius Society

  • The Nine Freedoms

Ásatrú

  • Havamal
  • Eddur

Atenism

  • Great Hymn to the Aten

Ayyavazhi

  • The Akilathirattu Ammanai
  • The Arul Nool

Aztec religion

  • The Borgia Group codices

Bahá’í Faith

Books by Bahá’u’lláh

Bön

  • Bon Kangyur and Tengyur

Buddhism

More: Buddhist texts

Theravada Buddhism
  • The Tipitaka or Pāli Canon
    • Vinaya Pitaka
    • Sutta Pitaka
      • Digha Nikaya, the “long” discourses.
      • Majjhima Nikaya, the “middle-length” discourses.
      • Samyutta Nikaya, the “connected” discourses.
      • Anguttara Nikaya, the “numerical” discourses.
      • Khuddaka Nikaya, the “minor collection”.
    • Abhidhamma Pitaka
  • The Chinese Buddhist Mahayana sutras, including
    • Diamond Sutra and the Heart Sutra
    • Shurangama Sutra and its Shurangama Mantra
    • Great Compassion Mantra
    • Pure Land Buddhism
      • Infinite Life Sutra
      • Amitabha Sutra
      • Contemplation Sutra
      • other Pure Land Sutras
    • Tiantai, Tendai, and Nichiren
      • Lotus Sutra
    • Shingon
      • Mahavairocana Sutra
      • Vajrasekhara Sutra
Tibetan Buddhism
  • Tibetan Kangyur and Tengyur

The Septuagint: A page from Codex Vaticanus

Caodaism

  • Kinh Thiên Đạo Và Thế Đạo (Prayers of the Heavenly and the Earthly Way)
  • Pháp Chánh Truyền (The Religious Constitution of Caodaism)
  • Tân Luật (The Canonical Codes)
  • Thánh Ngôn Hiệp Tuyển (Compilation of Divine Messages)

Cheondoism

  • The Donghak Scripture
  • The Songs of Yongdam
  • The Sermons of Master Haeweol
  • The Sermons of Revered Teacher Euiam

Christianity

Traditional Christianity
  • The Bible (the Old Testament and the New Testament). The Apostolic churches (Catholicism and Orthodoxy) also include the Deuterocanonicals.
    • For Protestantism, this is the 66-book canon – the Jewish Tanakh of 24 books divided differently (into 39 books) and the universal 27-book New Testament. Some denominations also include the 15 books of the Apocrypha between the Old Testament and the New Testament, for a total of 81 books.
    • For Catholicism, this includes seven deuterocanonical books in the Old Testament for a total of 73 books, called the Canon of Trent (in versions of the Latin Vulgate, 3 Esdras, 4 Esdras, and the Prayer of Manasseh are included in an appendix, but considered non-canonical).
    • For the Eastern Orthodox Church, this includes the anagignoskomena, which consist of the Catholic deuterocanon, plus 3 Maccabees, Psalm 151, the Prayer of Manasseh, and 3 Esdras. 4 Maccabees is considered to be canonical by the Georgian Orthodox Church.[12]
    • The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (and its offspring, the Eritrean Orthodox Church) adds various additional books depending on the specific enumeration of the canon (see Ethiopian Biblical canon), but always includes 4 Esdras, the Book of Jubilees, 1 Enoch, 4 Baruch, and 1, 2, and 3 Meqabyan (no relation to the Books of Maccabees).
    • Some Syriac churches accept the Letter of Baruch as scripture.
Christian Scientists
  • The Bible
  • Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy. This textbook, along with the Bible, serves as the permanent “impersonal pastor” of the church.
Gnosticism
  • Nag Hammadi library and other Gnostic texts (not from the Bible)
  • Some books of the Old Testament and New Testament
    • Cerdonianism and Marcionism
  • Only the Gospel of Marcion and selected Pauline epistles accepted
Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • The Bible (The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is their preferred translation.)
Latter Day Saint movement
  • The Bible
    • The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) uses the LDS edition of the King James Bible for English-speaking members; other versions are used in non-English speaking countries.
    • The Community of Christ (RLDS) uses the Joseph Smith Translation, which it calls the Inspired Version, as well as updated modern translations.
  • The Book of Mormon
  • The Pearl of Great Price is authoritative in the LDS Church, rejected by Community of Christ.
  • The Doctrine and Covenants
    • There are significant differences in content and section numbering between the Doctrine and Covenants used by the Community of Christ (RLDS) and the LDS Church.
  • Other, smaller branches of Latter Day Saints include other scriptures, such as the Book of the Law of the Lord used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite) or The Word of the Lord used by Fettingite branches.
Seventh-day Adventists
  • The Bible
  • The writings of Ellen White are held to an elevated status, though not equal with the Bible, as she is considered to have been an inspired prophetess.

Confucianism

  • The Five Classics
  • The Four Books
  • The Thirteen Classics
  • The Three Commentaries

Discordianism

  • The Principia Discordia

Druidism

  • The Mabinogion
  • Lebor Gabála Érenn (The Book of Invasions)

Druze

  • Rasa’il al-hikmah (Epistles of Wisdom)

Dudeism

  • The Dude De Ching
  • Duderonomy

Ancient Egyptian religion

Pyramid texts from Teti I’s pyramid.

Old Kingdom
  • Pyramid Texts
First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom
  • Coffin Texts
Second Intermediate Period
  • Book of the Dead
  • Book of Caverns
  • Book of Gates
  • Amduat
  • Book of the Heavenly Cow
  • Litany of Re

Etruscan religion

  • Liber Linteus
  • Pyrgi Tablets

Ancient Greece

  • Aretalogy
  • Argonautica
  • Bibliotheca
  • Derveni papyrus
  • Ehoiai
  • Homeric Hymns
  • Iliad
  • Odyssey
  • Telegony
  • The golden verses of Pythagoras
  • Theogony
  • Works and Days
  • Epic Cycle
  • Theban Cycle

Hermeticism

  • Hermetica, Kybalion, Emerald Tablet and associated writings

Hinduism

Śruti
  • Vedas
    • Rig Veda
    • Sama Veda
    • Yajur Veda
    • Atharva Veda
  • Brahmanas
  • Aranyakas
  • Upanishads

The Bhagavad Gita is Lord Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna on the battlefield of the Kurukshetra.


Smriti
  • Itihāsas
    • Mahābhārata (including the Bhagavad Gita)
      • Bhagavad Gita
    • Ramayana
  • Puranas (List)
    • Bhagavata Purana
  • Tantras
  • Sutras (List)
  • Stotras
  • Ashtavakra Gita
  • Gherand Samhita
  • Gita Govinda
  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika
  • Yoga Vasistha
In Purva Mimamsa
  • Purva Mimamsa Sutras
In Vedanta (Uttar Mimamsa)
  • Brahma Sutras of Vyasa
In Yoga
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
In Samkhya
  • Samkhya Sutras of Kapila
In Nyaya
  • Nyāya Sūtras of Gautama
In Vaisheshika
  • Vaisheshika Sutras of Kanada
In Vaishnavism
  • Vaikhanasa Samhitas
  • Pancaratra Samhitas
  • Divyaprabandha
In Saktism
  • Sakta Tantras
In Kashmir Saivism
  • 64 Bhairavagamas
  • 28 Shaiva Agamas
  • Shiva Sutras of Vasugupta
  • Vijnana Bhairava Tantra
In Pashupata Shaivism
  • Pashupata Sutras of Lakulish
  • Panchartha-bhashya of Kaundinya (a commentary on the Pashupata Sutras)
  • Ganakarika
  • Ratnatika of Bhasarvajna
In Shaiva Siddhanta
  • 28 Saiva Agamas
  • Tirumurai (canon of 12 works)
  • Meykandar Shastras (canon of 14 works)
In Gaudiya Vaishnavism
  • Brahma Samhita
  • Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda
Krishna-karnamrita
  • Chaitanya Bhagavata
  • Chaitanya Charitamrita
  • Prema-bhakti-candrika
  • Hari-bhakti-vilasa
In Lingayatism
  • Siddhanta Shikhamani
  • Vachana sahitya
  • Mantra Gopya
  • Shoonya Sampadane
  • 28 Agamas
  • Karana Hasuge
  • Basava purana
In Kabir Panth
  • poems of Kabir
In Dadu Panth
  • poems of Dadu

Islam

More: Islamic holy books and Islamic texts

An 11th-century North African Quran at the British Museum

  • The Quran (also referred to as Kuran, Koran, Qur’ān, Coran or al-Qur’ān) – Four books considered to be revealed and mentioned by name in the Qur’an are the Quran (revealed to Muhammad), Tawrat (revealed to Musa), the Zabur (revealed to Dawud) and the Injil (revealed to Isa)
  • Ḥadīth (“Traditions”) in Islam are the record of the words, actions, and the silent approval, of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. 
    • Sunnah (sunnahsunna) is the body of traditional, social, and legal custom and practice of the Islamic community,[1] based on the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions (or disapprovals) of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, as well as various reports about Muhammad’s companions

Jainism

Svetambara
  • 11 Angas
    • Secondary
      • 12 Upangas, 4 Mula-sutras, 6 Cheda-sutras, 2 Culika-sutras, 10 Prakirnakas
Digambara
  • Karmaprabhrita, also called Satkhandagama
  • Kashayaprabhrita
Nonsectarian/Nonspecific
  • Jina Vijaya
  • Tattvartha Sutra
  • GandhaHasti Mahabhashya (authoritative and oldest commentary on the Tattvartha Sutra)

Jediism

  • Aionomica
  • Rammahgon

Judaism

Rabbinic Judaism

A Sefer Torah opened for liturgical use in a synagogue service


More: Rabbinic literature
  • The Tanakh i.e. Hebrew Bible
  • The Talmud
    • Mishnah
    • Gemara
Kabbalism
Hasidism
  • Early texts:
    • Noam Elimelech (Elimelech of Lizhensk)
    • Kedushat Levi (Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev)
  • Foundational texts of various Hasidic sects:
    • Likutei Moharan (Breslov)
    • Me’or Einayim (Chernobyl)
    • Mei Hashiloach (Izhbitza – Radzin)
    • Tanya (Chabad)
    • Vayoel Moshe (Satmar)
Karaite Judaism
  • The Tanakh
Haymanot
  • The Tanakh with several Jewish apocrypha

Kiratism

Each four Kirati people have their own Scripture.

  • The Mundhum of the Limbu ethnic group

Konkokyo

  • Konkokyo Kyōten (Sacred Scriptures of Konkokyo)
    • Oshirase-Goto Obobe-Chō
    • Konko Daijin Oboegaki
    • Gorikai I
    • Gorikai II
    • Gorikai III

Mandaeanism

  • The Ginza Rba
  • Book of the Zodiac
  • Qolusta, Canonical Prayerbook
  • Book of John the Baptizer
  • Diwan Abatur, Purgatories
  • 1012 Questions
  • Coronation of Shislam Rba
  • Baptism of Hibil Ziwa
  • Haran Gawaita

Manichaeism

  • The Evangelion (Greek: Εὐαγγέλιον, meaning roughly “good news”). Also known as the Gospel of Mani and The Living Gospel
  • the Treasure of Life
  • the Pragmateia (Greek: πραγματεία)
  • the Book of Mysteries
  • The Book of Giants
  • the Epistles
  • Manichaean Psalter
  • The Shabuhragan
  • The Arzhang
  • The Kephalaia (Greek: Κεφάλαια), “Discourses”, found in Coptic translation.

Maya religion

  • The Popol Vuh
  • the Dresden Codex
  • the Madrid Codex
  • the Paris Codex
  • countless destroyed codices

Meher Baba

  • God Speaks
  • Discourses

Christian Bible, 1407 handwritten copy

Native American Church

  • The Bible (among Christian-leaning factions only)

New Age Religions

Various New Age religions may regard any of the following texts as inspired:

  • A Course in Miracles
  • Conversations with God
  • Oahspe
  • The Urantia Book
  • Isis Unveiled

Orphism

  • Orphic Poems

Pastafarianism

  • The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Raëlism

  • The writings of Raël aka Claude Vorilhon
    • Intelligent Design: Message from the Designers
    • Sensual Meditation
    • Yes to Human Cloning

Rastafari Movement

  • The Bible (Ethiopian Orthodox canon)
  • the Holy Piby
  • the Kebra Nagast
  • The speeches and writings of Haile Selassie I (including his autobiography My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress)
  • Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy

Ravidassia

  • The Amritbani Guru Ravidass Ji

Samaritanism

  • The Samaritan Torah

LaVeyan Satanism

  • The Satanic Bible
  • The Satanic Rituals

Non-LaVeyan Satanists don’t use any specific holy book.

Science of Mind

  • The Science of Mind by Ernest Holmes

Scientology

  • Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health
  • List of Scientology texts

Shinto

  • The Kojiki
  • The Rikkokushi, which includes the Nihon Shoki and the Shoku Nihongi
  • The Fudoki
  • The Jinnō Shōtōki
  • The Kujiki

Sikhism

Illuminated Guru Granth folio with Mul Mantar(basic religion mantra) with signature of Guru Gobind Singh.

 
  • The Guru Granth Sahib
  • The Dasam Granth

Spiritism

  • The Spirits Book
  • The Book on Mediums
  • The Gospel According to Spiritism
  • Heaven and Hell
  • The Genesis According to Spiritism

Sumerian

  • The Barton Cylinder

Swedenborgianism

The New Church
  • The Bible (several books omitted)
  • The works of Emanuel Swedenborg (not considered equal to the Bible)
The General Church
  • The Bible (several books omitted)
  • The works of Emanuel Swedenborg (considered equal to the Bible)

Taoism

  • Tao Te Ching
  • Zhuangzi (book)
  • Daozang

Tenrikyo

  • The Ofudesaki
  • The Mikagura-uta
  • The Osashizu

Thelema

  • The Holy Books of Thelema, especially The Book of the Law

Unarius Academy of Science

  • The Pulse of Creation Series
    • The Voice of Venus
    • The Voice of Eros
    • The Voice of Orion
    • The Voice of Hermes
    • The Voice of Muse, Unarius, & Elysium
  • The Infinite Concept of Cosmic Creation

Unification Church

  • The Divine Principle
  • The Bible as illuminated by more recent revelation

Urantianism

  • The Urantia Book

Wicca

  • Book of Shadows
  • Charge of the Goddess
  • Threefold Law
  • Wiccan Rede

Yârsân

  • Kalâm-e Saranjâm

Yazidi

  • Yazidi Black Book
  • Yazidi Book of Revelation
  • The true core texts of the Yazidi religion that exist today are the hymns, known as qawls.

Yorùbá

  • Odù Ifá
  • Jaap Verduijn’s Odu Ifa Collection

Yasna 28.1 (Bodleian MS J2)

Zoroastrianism

 
  • Primary religious texts, that is, the Avesta collection:
    • The Yasna, the primary liturgical collection, includes the Gathas.
    • The Visperad, a collection of supplements to the Yasna.
    • The Yashts, hymns in honor of the divinities.
    • The Vendidad, describes the various forms of evil spirits and ways to confound them.
    • shorter texts and prayers, the Yashts the five Nyaishes (“worship, praise”), the Sirozeh and the Afringans (blessings).
  • There are some 60 secondary religious texts, none of which are considered scripture. The most important of these are:
    • The Denkard (middle Persian, ‘Acts of Religion’),
    • The Bundahishn, (middle Persian, ‘Primordial Creation’)
    • The Menog-i Khrad, (middle Persian, ‘Spirit of Wisdom’)
    • The Arda Viraf Namak (middle Persian, ‘The Book of Arda Viraf’)
    • The Sad-dar (modern Persian, ‘Hundred Doors’, or ‘Hundred Chapters’)
    • The Rivayats, 15th-18th century correspondence on religious issues
  • For general use by the laity:
    • The Zend (lit. commentaries), various commentaries on and translations of the Avesta.
    • The Khordeh Avesta, Zoroastrian prayer book for lay people from the Avesta.

 

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