The oldest known religious texts are Pyramid texts of Ancient Egypt that date to 2400-2300 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 ). 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 ZoroastrianAvesta are believed to have been transmitted orally for centuries before they found written form, and although widely differing dates for GathicAvestan (the language of the oldest texts) have been proposed, scholarly consensus floats at around 1000 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.
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.
^ abStephanie Dalley (ed.). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, the Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press. ISBN978-0-19-953836-2.
^The oldest mention of Rigveda in other sources dates from 600 BCE, and the oldest available text from 1,200 CE. 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[dead link]
^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.