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Religious texts, also known as scripture, are the texts which various religious traditions consider to be sacred, or of central importance to their religious tradition. Many religions and spiritual movements believe that their sacred texts are divinely or supernaturally inspired.

History of religious texts

The oldest known religious texts are Pyramid texts of Ancient Egypt that date to 2400-2300 BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumeria is also one of the earliest literary works dating to 2150-2000 BCE, that includes various mythological figures . The Rigveda of Hinduism is proposed to have been composed between 1700–1100 BCE[1] 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 (the language of the oldest texts) have been proposed, scholarly consensus floats at around 1000 BCE.

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.[2]


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

Other terms are often by adherents to describe the canonical works of their religion. In the United States, terms like 'Holy Writ' and others are used by some Christian groups (including the King-James-Only Movement) to describe the Christian Bible or, less often, by Muslim groups to describe the Qur'an.

Another term is 'Holy Scripture' or 'Sacred Scripture', used 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. The hierographology of the Qur'an can be particularly controversial, especially when questioning the accuracy of Islamic traditions about the text.

List of sacred texts of various religions


Bahá'í Faith




Ancient style of scripture used for the Pāli Canon

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.


Christian Bible, 1407 handwritten copy

Unless mentioned otherwise, all texts are from the Bible

File:NagHammadi 1.jpg

Nag Hammadi texts

  • Gnosticism:
    • Nag Hammadi library (not from the Bible)

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 Five Classics
  • The Four Books
  • The Thirteen Classics


  • The Principia Discordia
  • The Apocrypha Discordia


  • Rasa'il al-hikmah (Epistles of Wisdom)

Ancient Egyptian religion

Pyramid texts from Teti I's pyramid.

Etruscan religion

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

  • Cippus Perusinus
  • Liber Linteus
  • Pyrgi Tablets
  • Tabula Cortonensis


  • Hermetica, Emerald Tablet and associated writings


The Bhagavad Gita is Lord Krishna's counsel to Arjuna on the battlefield of the Kurukshetra.

  • Śruti
  • Smriti
  • In Purva Mimamsa
    • Purva Mimamsa Sutras
  • In Vedanta (Uttar Mimamsa)
  • In Yoga
    • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
  • In Samkhya
    • Samkhya Sutras of Kapila
  • In Nyaya
    • Nyāya Sūtras of Gautama
  • In Vaisheshika
    • Vaisheshika Sutras of Kanada
  • In Vaishnavism
    • Vaikhanasa Samhitas
    • Pancaratra Samhitas
  • In Saktism
  • In Kashmir Saivism
    • 64 Bhairavagamas
    • 28 Shaiva Agamas
    • Shiva Sutras
  • In Pashupata Shaivism
    • Pashupata Sutras of Lakulish
    • Panchartha-bhashya of Kaundinya (a commentary on the Pashupata Sutras)
    • Ganakarika
    • Ratnatika of Bhasarvajna
  • In Shaiva Siddhanta
    • 28 Saiva Agamas
    • Tirumurai (canon of 12 works)
    • Meykandar Shastras (canon of 14 works)
  • In Gaudiya Vaishnavism
    • Brahma Samhita
    • Jayadeva's Gita Govinda
    • Krishna-karnamrita
    • Chaitanya Bhagavata
    • Chaitanya Charitamrita
    • Prema-bhakti-candrika
    • Hari-bhakti-vilasa
  • In Kabir Panth
    • poems of Kabir
  • In Dadu Panth
    • poems of Dadu


11th Century North African Qur’an in the British Museum


  • Svetambara
    • 11 Angas
      • Secondary
        • 12 Upangas, 4 Mula-sutras, 6 Cheda-sutras, 2 Culika-sutras, 10 Prakirnakas
  • Digambara
    • Karmaprabhrita, also called Satkhandagama
    • Kashayaprabhrita
  • Nonsectarian/Nonspecific
    • Jina Vijaya
    • Tattvartha Sutra
    • GandhaHasti Mahabhashya (authoritative and oldest commentary on the Tattvartha Sutra)


A Sefer Torah opened for liturgical use in a synagogue service


  • Siddhanta Shikhamani
  • Vachana sahitya
  • Mantra Gopya
  • Shoonya Sampadane
  • 28 Agamas
  • Karana Hasuge
  • Basava Purana


  • The Ginza Rba
  • Book of the Zodiac
  • Qolusta, Canonical Prayerbook
  • Book of John the Baptizer
  • Diwan Abatur, Purgatories
  • 1012 Questions
  • Coronation of Shislam Rba
  • Baptism of Hibil Ziwa
  • Haran Gawaita


  • The Arzhang

Meher Baba

File:God speaks.jpg

Cover of God Speaks

  • God Speaks

New Age religions

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

  • A Course in Miracles
  • Conversations with God
  • Oahspe
  • The Gnostic Gospels
  • The Urantia Book
  • Isis Unveiled


Rastafari movement

  • The Bible
  • the Holy Piby
  • the Kebra Negast
  • The speeches and writings of Haile Selassie I
  • Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy




The Satanic Bible


Scientology is commonly considered a commercial enterprise, rather than a religion. However, adherents believe that the following are "religious" texts.


  • The Kojiki
  • The Nihon Shoki or Nihongi


Illuminated Guru Granth folio with nisan (Mool Mantar) of Guru Gobind Singh. Collection of Takht Sri Harimandir Sahib, Patna


  • The Spirits Book
  • The Book on Mediums
  • The Gospel According to Spiritism
  • Heaven and Hell
  • The Genesis According to Spiritism


File:Holybooks sm.jpg

Cover of The Holy Books of Thelema by Aleister Crowley.

  • The Bible
  • The works of Emanuel Swedenborg



  • Holy Books of Thelema especially The Book of the Law

Unification Church


English editions of the Divine Principle, 1973 and 1996.

  • Divine Principle


  • Yazidi Black Book
  • Yazidi Book of Revelation


Yasna 28.1 (Bodleian MS J2)

  • Primary religious texts, that is, the Avesta collection:
    • The Yasna, the primary liturgical collection, includes the Gathas.
    • The Visperad, a collection of supplements to the Yasna.
    • The Yashts, hymns in honor of the divinities.
    • The Vendidad, describes the various forms of evil spirits and ways to confound them.
    • shorter texts and prayers, the Yashts the five Nyaishes ("worship, praise"), the Sirozeh and the Afringans (blessings).
  • There are some 60 secondary religious texts, none of which are considered scripture. The most important of these are:
    • The Denkard (middle Persian, 'Acts of Religion'),
    • The Bundahishn, (middle Persian, 'Primordial Creation')
    • The Menog-i Khrad, (middle Persian, 'Spirit of Wisdom')
    • The Arda Viraf Namak (middle Persian, 'The Book of Arda Viraf')
    • The Sad-dar (modern Persian, 'Hundred Doors', or 'Hundred Chapters')
    • The Rivayats, 15th-18th century correspondence on religious issues
  • For general use by the laity:
    • The Zend (lit. commentaries), various commentaries on and translations of the Avesta.
    • The Khordeh Avesta, a collection of everyday prayers from the Avesta.


  1. 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 [[Mehrgarh#Mehrgarh Period II and Pefock}riod III|late Mehrgarh culture]]; summarized by Klaus Klostermaier in a 1998 presentation
  2. British Library

External links

Template:History of religions