Religious texts, also known as Scripture, Scriptures, Holy Writ, or Holy Books, are the Texts which various Religious traditions consider to be sacred, or central to their religious tradition. Many religions and spiritual movements believe that their sacred texts are divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired.
History of religious texts
The oldest known religious text is the Kesh Temple Hymn of Ancient Sumer, the oldest version of which dates to around 2600 BCE. The earliest form of the Phoenician alphabet found to date is the inscription on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos (The Sumerian Temple Hymns) circa 1000 BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumer, with origins as early as 2150-2000 BCE,:41–42 is also one of the earliest literary works that includes various mythological figures.:41–42 The Rigveda of Hinduism is proposed to have been composed between 1700–1100 BCE making it possibly the world’s oldest religious text still in use. The oldest portions of the Zoroastrian Avesta are believed to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form, and although widely differing dates for Gathic Avestan have been proposed, scholarly consensus floats at around 1000 – 600 BCE.
The majority of scholars agree that the Torah’s composition took place over centuries. From the late 19th century there was a general consensus around the documentary hypothesis, which suggests that the five books were created c.450 BCE by combining four originally independent sources, known as the Jahwist, or J (about 900 BCE), the Elohist, or E (about 800 BCE), the Deuteronomist, or D, (about 600 BCE), and the Priestly source, or P (about 500 BC).
The first scripture printed for wide distribution to the masses was the Diamond Sutra, a Buddhist scripture, and is the earliest recorded example of a dated printed text, bearing the Chinese calendar date for 11 May 868 CE.
Attitudes to sacred texts differ. Some religions make written texts widely and freely available, while others hold that sacred secrets must remain hidden from all but the loyal and the initiate. Most religions promulgate policies defining the limits of the sacred texts and controlling or forbidding changes and additions. Some religions view their sacred texts as the “Word of GOD”, often contending that the texts are inspired by GOD and as such not open to alteration. Translations of texts may receive official blessing, but an original sacred language often has de facto, absolute or exclusive paramountcy. Some religions make texts available free or in subsidized form; others require payment and the strict observance of copyright.
References to scriptures profit from standardisation: the Guru Granth Sahib (of Sikhism) always appears with standardised page numbering while many other religions (including the Abrahamic religions and their offshoots) favour chapter and verse pointers.
Terms like “Holy Writ”, “Holy Scripture” or “Sacred Scripture” are often used by adherents to describe the canonical works of their religion to denote the text’s importance, its status as divine revelation, or, as in the case of many Christian groups, its complete inerrancy. Christianity is not alone in using this terminology to revere its Sacred Book; Islam holds the Qur’an in similar esteem, as does Hinduism the Vedas and Bhagavad Gita and Buddhism the sutras.
The Bible (the Old Testament and the New Testament). Some denominations also include the Apocrypha.
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 and 4 Esdras 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.
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.
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.
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
Cover page of The Book of Mormon from an original 1830 edition, by Joseph Smith, Jr.
(Image from the U.S. Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division.)
The Bible (The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures is their preferred translation.)
Latter Day Saint movement
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
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.
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.
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 Moses), the Zabur (revealed to David) and the Injil (Gospel) (revealed to Jesus).
Hadith, reports of the deeds and sayings of Muhammad.
The Tanakh i.e. Hebrew Bible
The Tanakh with several Jewish apocrypha