Religious text

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A scripture of Islam, The Quran - National Museum, New Delhi, India
The Rigveda (Vedic chant) manuscript in Devanagari, a scripture of Hinduism, dated 1500–1000 BCE. It is the oldest religious texts in any Indo-European language.
A page from Codex Vaticanus in the Greek Old and New Testament

Religious texts, including scripture, are texts which various religions consider to be of central importance to their religious tradition. They often feature a compilation or discussion of beliefs, ritual practices, moral commandments & laws, ethical conduct, spiritual aspirations, and admonitions for fostering a religious community.

Within each religion, these sacred texts are revered as authoritative sources of guidance, wisdom, and divine revelation. They are often regarded as sacred or holy, representing the core teachings and principles that their followers strive to uphold.[1][2][3]

Etymology and nomenclature[edit]

According to Peter Beal, the term scripture – derived from "scriptura" (Latin) – meant "writings [manuscripts] in general" prior to the medieval era, then became "reserved to denote the texts of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible".[4] Beyond Christianity, according to the Oxford World Encyclopedia, the term "scripture" has referred to a text accepted to contain the "sacred writings of a religion",[5] while The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions states it refers to a text "having [religious] authority and often collected into an accepted canon".[6] In modern times, this equation of the written word with religious texts is particular to the English language, and is not retained in most other languages, which usually add an adjective like "sacred" to denote religious texts.

Some religious texts are categorized as canonical, some non-canonical, and others extracanonical, semi-canonical, deutero-canonical, pre-canonical or post-canonical.[7] The term "canon" is derived from the Greek word "κανών", "a cane used as a measuring instrument". It connotes the sense of "measure, standard, norm, rule". In the modern usage, a religious canon refers to a "catalogue of sacred scriptures" that is broadly accepted to "contain and agree with the rule or canon of a particular faith", states Juan Widow.[8] The related terms such as "non-canonical", "extracanonical", "deuterocanonical" and others presume and are derived from "canon". These derived terms differentiate a corpus of religious texts from the "canonical" literature. At its root, this differentiation reflects the sects and conflicts that developed and branched off over time, the competitive "acceptance" of a common minimum over time and the "rejection" of interpretations, beliefs, rules or practices by one group of another related socio-religious group.[9] The earliest reference to the term "canon" in the context of "a collection of sacred Scripture" is traceable to the 4th-century CE. The early references, such as the Synod of Laodicea, mention both the terms "canonical" and "non-canonical" in the context of religious texts.[10]

History of religious texts[edit]

One of the oldest known religious texts is the Kesh Temple Hymn of ancient Sumer,[11][12] a set of inscribed clay tablets which scholars typically date around 2600 BCE.[13] The Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumer, although only considered by some scholars as a religious text, has origins as early as 2150 BCE,[14] and stands as one of the earliest literary works that includes various mythological figures and themes of interaction with the divine.[15] The Rigveda, a scripture of Hinduism, is dated 1500 BCE. It is one of the oldest known complete religious texts that has survived into the modern age.[16][17]

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,[18] followed by administrative documentation from temples of the 5th and 6th centuries BCE,[19] with another common date being the 2nd century BCE.[19]

High rates of mass production and distribution of religious texts did not begin until the invention of the printing press in 1440,[20] before which all religious texts were hand written copies, of which there were relatively limited quantities in circulation.

Main scriptures of religions[edit]


Quran: The Quran is the most important scripture in Islam.[21]It was revealed by the great Creator Allah to the last prophet of Islam, Muhammad, for the entire humanity. It consists of 30 sections (Juz) and 114 chapters (Surah). It is the primary and most fundamental source of Islamic law.[22][23][24]

Hadith: Hadith, also known as Sunnah, is the second most important source of knowledge in Islam.[25]After the Quran, this branch of knowledge is given the most importance in Islam. Hadith or Sunnah is the words, actions and approvals of Prophet Muhammad. In a word, everything related to his prophetic life is Sunnah. It is the second primary source of Islamic law.[26][27][28][29][30]

Hikmah: Hikmah is a word that refers to the acceptance and application or creation of any subject of knowledge or science by verifying its truth or reliability through reasoning, strategy, thought and research. The Quran and Hadith encourage and approve of Hikmah. Islam encourages Muslims to reach appropriate or correct decisions through thought and research. Here, collective decisions or original research or decisions are also accepted on the basis of merit. Through this, the acceptance, promotion or discovery of anything beneficial is allowed. However, innovation, i.e. the discovery, support or propagation of new forms of worship or methods of worship and superstitions is strictly prohibited in Islam.[31]

Previous Heavenly Books: In Islam, it is obligatory to believe in all previous heavenly books along with the Quran. Believing in over 100 previous heavenly books, including the Torah, Psalms and Gospel is one of the most fundamental aspects of Islam.[32] Apart from this, there is no prohibition in Islam to accept the previous divine signs existing in the world if they are not contradictory to the Quran and authentic Hadith. However, Muslims believe that the previous heavenly books are not currently in their original form on earth, and that previous nations have made additions, deletions or changes to them for personal gain. Moreover, the Quran, Hadith and Hikmah are considered sufficient in Islam for guiding the life of humanity.


Bible: The Bible is the holy book of Christianity. It is divided into two testaments: the Old Testament and the New Testament.[33]


Torah: The Torah, also known as the Tawrat, is the holy book of Judaism. It is believed by Muslims, Jews and Christians to have been revealed by God to Moses.[34]

Authority of religious texts[edit]

The relative authority of religious texts develops over time and is derived from the ratification, enforcement, and its use across generations. Some religious texts are accepted or categorized as canonical, some non-canonical, and others extracanonical, semi-canonical, deutero-canonical, pre-canonical or post-canonical.[7]

"Scripture" (or "scriptures") is a subset of religious texts considered to be "especially authoritative",[35][36] revered and "holy writ",[37] "sacred, canonical", or of "supreme authority, special status" to a religious community.[38][39] The terms sacred text and religious text are not necessarily interchangeable in that some religious texts are believed to be sacred because of the belief in some theistic religions such as the Abrahamic religions that the text is divinely or supernaturally revealed or divinely inspired, or in non-theistic religions such as some Indian religions they are considered to be the central tenets of their eternal Dharma. In contrast to sacred texts, many religious texts are simply narratives or discussions pertaining to the general themes, interpretations, practices, or important figures of the specific religion.

In some religions (e.g. Christianity), the canonical texts include a particular text (Bible) but is "an unsettled question", according to Eugene Nida. In others (Hinduism, Buddhism), there "has never been a definitive canon".[40][41] While the term scripture is derived from the Latin scriptura, meaning "writing", most sacred scriptures of the world's major religions were originally a part of their oral tradition, and were "passed down through memorization from generation to generation until they were finally committed to writing", according to Encyclopaedia Britannica.[37][42][43]

In Islam, the Sunnah are the traditions and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad that constitute a model for Muslims to follow. The sunnah is what all the Muslims of Muhammad's time evidently saw and followed and passed on to the next generations.[44] According to classical Islamic theories,[45] the sunnah are documented by hadith (the verbally transmitted record of the teachings, deeds and sayings, silent permissions or disapprovals attributed to Muhammad), and alongside the Quran (the book of Islam) are the divine revelation (wahy) delivered through Muhammad[45] that make up the primary sources of Islamic law and belief/theology.[46][47] However sects of Islam differ on which hadiths (if any) should be accepted as canonical (see Criticism of hadith).

Religious texts also serve a 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.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Charles Elster (2003). "Authority, Performance, and Interpretation in Religious Reading: Critical Issues of Intercultural Communication and Multiple Literacies". Journal of Literacy Research. 35 (1): 667–670., Quote: "religious texts serve two important regulatory functions: on the group level, they regulate liturgical ritual and systems of law; at the individual level, they (seek to) regulate ethical conduct and direct spiritual aspirations."
  2. ^ Eugene Nida (1994). "The Sociolinguistics of Translating Canonical Religious Texts". TTR: Traduction, Terminologie, Rédaction. 7 (1). Érudit: Université de Montréal: 195–197., Quote: "The phrase "religious texts" may be understood in two quite different senses: (1) texts that discuss historical or present-day religious beliefs and practices of a believing community and (2) texts that are crucial in giving rise to a believing community."
  3. ^ Ricoeur, Paul (1974). "Philosophy and Religious Language". The Journal of Religion. 54 (1). University of Chicago Press: 71–85. doi:10.1086/486374. S2CID 144691132.
  4. ^ Peter Beal (2008). A Dictionary of English Manuscript Terminology: 1450 to 2000. Oxford University Press. p. 367. ISBN 978-0-19-926544-2.
  5. ^ "Scriptures". The World Encyclopedia. Oxford University Press. 2004. ISBN 978-0-19-954609-1.
  6. ^ John Bowker (2000). "Scripture". The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-280094-7.
  7. ^ a b Lee Martin McDonald; James H. Charlesworth (5 April 2012). 'Noncanonical' Religious Texts in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. A&C Black. pp. 1–5, 18–19, 24–25, 32–34. ISBN 978-0-567-12419-7.
  8. ^ Juan Carlos Ossandón Widow (2018). The Origins of the Canon of the Hebrew Bible. Brill Academic. pp. 22–27. ISBN 978-90-04-38161-2.
  9. ^ Gerbern Oegema (2012). Lee Martin McDonald and James H. Charlesworth (ed.). 'Noncanonical' Religious Texts in Early Judaism and Early Christianity. A&C Black. pp. 18–23 with footnotes. ISBN 978-0-567-12419-7.
  10. ^ Gallagher, Edmon L.; Meade, John D. (2017). The Biblical Canon Lists from Early Christianity: Texts and Analysis. Oxford University Press. pp. xii–xiii. ISBN 978-0-19-879249-9.
  11. ^ 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 (88): 10–19. doi:10.2307/1355474. JSTOR 1355474. S2CID 163898367.
  12. ^ Sanders, Seth (2002). "Old Light on Moses' Shining Face". Vetus Testamentum. 52 (3): 400–406. doi:10.1163/156853302760197520.
  13. ^ Enheduanna; Meador, Betty De Shong (1 August 2009). Princess, priestess, poet: the Sumerian temple hymns of Enheduanna. University of Texas Press. ISBN 9780292719323.
  14. ^ Stephanie Dalley (2000). Myths from Mesopotamia: Creation, The Flood, Gilgamesh, and Others. Oxford University Press. pp. 41–45. ISBN 978-0-19-953836-2.
  15. ^ George, Andrew (31 December 2002). The Epic of Gilgamesh: The Babylonian Epic Poem and Other Texts in Akkadian and Sumerian. Penguin. ISBN 9780140449198.
  16. ^ Sagarika Dutt (2006). India in a Globalized World. Manchester University Press. p. 36. ISBN 978-1-84779-607-3
  17. ^ Kumar, Shailendra; Choudhury, Sanghamitra (1 January 2021). Meissner, Richard (ed.). "Ancient Vedic Literature and Human Rights: Resonances and Dissonances". Cogent Social Sciences. 7 (1): 1858562. doi:10.1080/23311886.2020.1858562. ISSN 2331-1886.
  18. ^ "The Yahwist". Contradictions in the Bible. 23 December 2012. Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  19. ^ a b Jaffee, Martin S. (19 April 2001). Torah in the Mouth: Writing and Oral Tradition in Palestinian Judaism 200 BCE-400 CE. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198032236.
  20. ^ "The History Guide". Retrieved 6 December 2016.
  21. ^ "Qur'an | Description, Meaning, History, & Facts | Britannica". 16 April 2024. Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  22. ^ "The Holy Quran". Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  23. ^ "The Quran | World Civilization". Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  24. ^ sara (20 April 2022). "What is the Quran?". Madinah Media. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  25. ^ "Hadith | Definition, Meaning, & Examples | Britannica". 2 April 2024. Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  26. ^ "Definition of HADITH". Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  27. ^ "'ilm al-hadith | Meaning, Importance, & Types | Britannica". Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  28. ^ "The Qur'an and the Hadith | Definition, Overview & Differences - Lesson". Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  29. ^ "What is Hadith". Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  30. ^ "Hadith". obo. Retrieved 22 April 2024.
  31. ^ hend (15 July 2018). "Calling to God with Hikmah and Basirah". Da`wah Skills. Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  32. ^ "Six Major Beliefs In Islam | The Basics to Islam". Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  33. ^ "Bible | Description, History, Books, & Facts | Britannica". 4 April 2024. Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  34. ^ "Hebrew Bible - Torah, Prophets, Writings | Britannica". Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  35. ^ Charles Elster (2003). "Authority, Performance, and Interpretation in Religious Reading: Critical Issues of Intercultural Communication and Multiple Literacies". Journal of Literacy Research. 35 (1): 669–670.
  36. ^ John Goldingay (2004). Models for Scripture. Clements Publishing Group. pp. 183–190. ISBN 978-1-894667-41-8.
  37. ^ a b The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2009). Scripture. Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  38. ^ Wilfred Cantwell Smith (1994). What is Scripture?: A Comparative Approach. Fortress Press. pp. 12–14. ISBN 978-1-4514-2015-9.
  39. ^ William A. Graham (1993). Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion. Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–46. ISBN 978-0-521-44820-8.
  40. ^ Eugene Nida (1994), The Sociolinguistics of Translating Canonical Religious Texts, vol. 7, pp. 194–195
  41. ^ Thomas B. Coburn (1984). ""Scripture" in India: Towards a Typology of the Word in Hindu Life". Journal of the American Academy of Religion. 52 (3). Oxford University Press: 435–459. doi:10.1093/jaarel/52.3.435. JSTOR 1464202.
  42. ^ William A. Graham (1993). Beyond the Written Word: Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion. Cambridge University Press. pp. ix, 5–9. ISBN 978-0-521-44820-8.
  43. ^ Carroll Stuhlmueller (1958). "The Influence of Oral Tradition Upon Exegesis and the Senses of Scripture". The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 20 (3): 299–302. JSTOR 43710550.
  44. ^ Qazi, M. A.; El-Dabbas, Mohammed Saʿid (1979). A Concise Dictionary of Islamic Terms. Lahore, Pakistan: Kazi Publications. p. 65.
  45. ^ a b Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought, 1996: p.7
  46. ^ Abou El Fadl, Khaled (22 March 2011). "What is Shari'a?". ABC Religion and Ethics. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  47. ^ "What is the Difference Between Quran and Sunnah?". Ask a Question to Us. Retrieved 20 June 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]