Religious texts (also known as scripture, or scriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning "a writing") are texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their religious practice or set of 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 supernaturallyrevealed 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.
It is important to note that in defining what constitutes a religious text, one necessitates a definition of religion, which is an extremely varied and indefinite topic. As the religious scholar Bradley Herling states in his book entitled A Beginner’s Guide to the Study of Religion, “the study of religion spans the breadth of human experience and the full range of cultures, from ancient times to our present day. It is an exploration of some of the most powerful ways human beings discover meaning, significance, and depth”. Scholar Paul Griffin offers an equally broad definition of religion and religious texts, stating that they must be a comprehensive, unsurpassable, central account of belief in order to qualify as religious. The same expansiveness of thought and definition must be applied to the understanding of religious texts, as religious texts take as many different forms as religions themselves. It is not possible to create an exhaustive list of religious texts, especially considering the fact that there is no singular definition of which texts may be recognized as religious. There is an immense quantity of scholarly debate surrounding this topic, creating a variety of discourses within the field.
A complication is presented when studying the history of religious texts because many religious traditions existing within oral tradition instead of within written tradition. Oral tradition includes many of the same elements included in written religious texts. Again, there may have been texts printed which are not widely considered as religious or did not survive throughout history, as well as texts whose religiosity is debated. Furthermore, scholarly debate surrounding the timeline of known religious text creates discrepancy, but some texts commonly believed to among the oldest in existence are given as follows:
Of written tradition, 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.
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 very which there were relatively limited quantities in circulation.
Canon is a term specific to the religious texts of Abrahamic faiths - apart from use with reference to the Chinese Buddhist canon, the Tibetan Buddhist canon, the Pāli Canon, the Taoist canon, and the like. The word "canon" comes from the Sumerian word meaning "standard". The 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, a ProtestantBible will have a specific series of Biblical stories which may differ slightly from the content of a Catholic Bible.
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.[need quotation to verify] There is an argument which describes "scripture" (in lower case) as applicable to any religious writing, and "Scripture" (capitalized) as specifically Abrahamic, but most sources associate scripture with Abrahamic writing.
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.
For Protestantism, this is the 66-book canon - the JewishTanakh 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.
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)
^Goody, Jack (1987). The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. Cambridge University Press. ISBN0521332680 – via Google Books.
^Kramer, Samuel (1942). "The Oldest Literary Catalogue: A Sumerian List of Literary Compositions Compiled about 2000 B.C.". Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. 88: 10–19 – via JSTOR.
^Sanders, Seth (2002). "Old Light on Moses' Shining Face". Vetus Testamentum. 52: 400–406 – via EbscoHost.
^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.