Religious text

The Septuagint: A page from Codex Vaticanus

Religious texts (also known as scripture, or scriptures, from the Latin scriptura, meaning "writing") are texts which religious traditions consider to be central to their practice or 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 supernaturally revealed 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 by itself. A core function of a religious text making it sacred is its 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.

It is not possible to create an exhaustive list of religious texts, because there is no single definition of which texts are recognized as religious.

History of religious texts

One of the oldest known religious texts is the Kesh Temple Hymn of Ancient Sumer,[1][2] a set of inscribed clay tablets which scholars typically date around 2600 BCE.[3] 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.[4] 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, though no actual evidence of this text exists prior to the 13th century AD.

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,[5] followed by administrative documentation from temples of the 5th and 6th centuries BCE,[6] with another common date being the 2nd century BCE.[6] 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,[7] before which all religious texts were hand written copies, of which there were relatively limited quantities in circulation.

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