Religious text

"Sacred Texts" redirects here. For the web site, see Internet Sacred Text Archive.
The Septuagint: A page from Codex Vaticanus.

Religious texts (also known as scripture, or scriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning "a writing" ) are the texts which various religious traditions consider to be sacred, or central to their religious tradition. Religious texts may be used to evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey spiritual truths, promote mystical experience, foster communal identity, and to guide individual and communal spiritual practice. Many religions and spiritual movements believe that their sacred texts are divinely or supernaturally revealed or inspired. The monotheistic faiths view their texts as the "Word of God" and divine revelation.

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.[1] 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.[2] The Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumer, with origins as early as 2150-2000 BCE,[3]:41–42 is also one of the earliest literary works that includes various mythological figures.[3]:41–42 The Rigveda of Hinduism is proposed to have been composed over several centuries between 1700–1100 BCE[4] making it probably the world's oldest religious text still in use. Oberlies gives an estimate of 1100 BC for the youngest hymns in book 10. 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.[5][6]

The majority of scholars agree that the Torah's composition took place over centuries.[7] 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).[8]

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.[9]


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.

Other terms

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.

In contemporary English usage, the term "scripture" describes any religious sacred text. However, when capitalized in English, the word "Scripture" often refers to the sacred texts of the Bible, also referred to as Holy Scripture.


Hierographology (Ancient Greek: ἱερός, hieros, "sacred" or "holy"; γραφή, graphe, "writing"; λόγος, logos, "word" or "reason") (archaically also 'hierology') is the study of sacred texts.

Increasingly, sacred texts of many cultures are studied within academic contexts, primarily to increase understanding of other cultures, whether ancient or contemporary. Sometimes this involves the extension of the principles of higher criticism to the texts of many faiths. It may also involve a comparative study of religious texts.

Sacred texts of various religions


Aetherius Society




Aztec religion

Bahá'í Faith

Main article: Bahá'í literature

Books by Bahá'u'lláh



Ancient style of scripture used for the Pāli Canon
See also: Buddhist texts
Theravada Buddhism
East Asian Mahayana
The Chinese Diamond Sutra, the oldest known dated printed book in the world, printed in the 9th year of Xiantong Era of the Tang Dynasty, or 868 CE. British Library.
Tibetan Buddhism




Christian Bible, 1407 handwritten copy
Traditional Christianity
The Bible (left) and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (right) serve as the pastor of the Christian Science church.
Christian Scientists
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.)
Jehovah's Witnesses
Latter Day Saint movement
Native American Church (Christian-leaning factions)
See below.
Rastafari movement
See below.
Seventh-day Adventists
See below.
Unification Church
See below.





Ancient Egyptian religion

Pyramid texts from Teti I's pyramid.
Old Kingdom
First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom
Second Intermediate Period

Etruscan religion

The Cippus of Perugia, 3rd or 2nd century BCE

Ancient Greece



Main article: Hindu texts
The Bhagavad Gita is Lord Krishna's counsel to Arjuna on the battlefield of the Kurukshetra.
In Purva Mimamsa
In Vedanta (Uttar Mimamsa)
In Yoga
In Samkhya
In Nyaya
In Vaisheshika
In Vaishnavism
In Saktism
In Kashmir Saivism
In Pashupata Shaivism
In Shaiva Siddhanta
In Gaudiya Vaishnavism
In Lingayatism
In Kabir Panth
In Dadu Panth


11th Century North African Qur'an in the British Museum
Main article: Islamic holy books


Main article: Jain Agamas


A Sefer Torah opened for liturgical use in a synagogue service
Rabbinic Judaism
See also: Rabbinic literature
Karaite Judaism
Beta Israel




Maya religion

Meher Baba

Native American Church

New Age religions

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



Rastafari movement


Amritbani Satguru Ravidass Ji Ki-Holy Book of Ravidassia Religion



Science of Mind




Illuminated Guru Granth folio with Mul Mantar(basic religion mantra) with signature of Guru Gobind Singh.
Main article: Sikh scriptures




The New Church
The General Church




Unarius Academy of Science

Unification Church







Yasna 28.1 (Bodleian MS J2)


  1. Biggs, Robert D., Zeitschrift für Assyriologie und Vorderasiatische, Archäologie , Volume 61 (2), de Gruyter – Jan 1, 1971 - Springerprotocols
  2. Princess, priestess, poet: the Sumerian temple hymns of Enheduanna - Enheduanna, Betty De Shong Meador - Google Boeken. Retrieved 2013-03-30.
  3. 1 2 Stephanie Dalley (ed.). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-953836-2.
  4. The oldest mention of Rigveda in other sources dates from 600 BCE, and the oldest available text from 1,200 BCE. Oberlies (1998:155) gives an estimate of 1100 BCE for the youngest hymns in book 10. Estimates for a terminus post quem of the earliest hymns are far more uncertain. Oberlies (p. 158) based on 'cumulative evidence' sets wide range of 1700–1100. The EIEC (s.v. Indo-Iranian languages, p. 306) gives 1500–1000. It is certain that the hymns post-date Indo-Iranian separation of ca. 2000 BC and probably that of the Indo-Aryan Mitanni documents of c. 1400 BCE. Philological estimates tend to date the bulk of the text to the second half of the second millennium. Compare Max Müller's statement "the hymns men of the Rig-Veda are said to date from 1500 B.C." ('Veda and Vedanta'), 7th lecture in India: What Can It Teach Us: A Course of Lectures Delivered Before the University of Cambridge, World Treasures of the Library of Congress Beginnings by Irene U. Chambers, Michael S. Roth. Some writers out of the mainstream claim to trace astronomical references in the Rigveda, dating it to as early as 4000 BC, a date corresponding to the Neolithic late Mehrgarh culture; summarized by Klaus Klostermaier in a 1998 presentation
  5. George Erdosy. The Indo-Aryans of Ancient South Asia: Language, Material Culture and Ethnicity. Walter de Gruyter. p. 160.
  6. Cyrus Abivardi. Iranian Entomology: An Introduction, Volume 1. Springer. p. 448.
  7. McDermott, John J., "Reading the Pentateuch: a historical introduction" (Pauline Press, 2002)p.21. October 2002. ISBN 978-0-8091-4082-4. Retrieved 2010-10-03.
  8. Gordon Wenham, "Pentateuchal Studies Today," Themelios 22.1 (October 1996): 3-13.
  9. British Library Archived February 5, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Archived February 18, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Eastern Orthodox also generally divide Baruch and Letter of Jeremiah into two books instead of one. The enumeration of the Books of Ezra is different in many Orthodox Bibles, as it is in all others: see Wikipedia's article on the naming conventions of the Books of Esdras.
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