Living Texts

Whether retold from one generation to the next, or written down from one language into another, some sacred texts have evolved while others have remained the same throughout time, enriching and informing the lives of those that read them.

A Buddhist manuscript

Translation and transmission of Buddhist texts

Article by:
T H Barrett

Professor Tim Barrett explores the translation and transmission of Buddhist texts, looking at the spread of Buddhism from its origins in India, into China and Southeast Asia.

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Discovering Sacred Texts: Buddhism

Discovering Sacred Texts: Buddhism

Find out how different Buddhist traditions practices their faith through the concept of the Three Jewels: the Buddha; Buddhist teachings (Dharma); and Sangha, the religious communities that practice Dharma.

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Manuscript written in 3 columns. Each column is in a different language. The central column has a large red Q in it in which the scribe has drawn a face.

The importance of translation in the diffusion of Christianity

Article by:
Annie Sutherland

The Latin Vulgate Bible was the most commonly used Bible in the Christian West for centuries. Dr Annie Sutherland looks at the history of biblical translations in Anglo-Saxon and later medieval England.

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Detail of Add ms 14425, f031v. A Syriac Bible

Translations of the Bible in Eastern Christianity

Article by:
Erica C D Hunter

Dr Erica Hunter explores the multiple translations of the Bible made in Eastern Christianity, including those in languages such as Syriac, Coptic, Armenian and Ge’ez.

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An image from Illustrated Life of Jesus in Chinese, or 59.b.19. vol 2 f. 030r

Spreading the Word: The missionary expansion of Christianity

Article by:
Brian Stanley

Professor Brian Stanley looks at the history of how European Christians spread their message, using key texts from around the world, including China, West Africa and New Zealand.

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Discovering Sacred Texts: Christianity

Discovering Sacred Texts: Christianity

Explore the diverse ways in which five Christian denominations – Coptic Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, and Pentecostal – worship in Britain today, and the texts that inspire them.

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Discovering Sacred Texts: Islam

Discovering Sacred Texts: Islam

Our film on Islam explores four of the five pillars of Islam – the Muslim profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), charity (zakat), and fasting during Ramadan (sawm) – and how Muslims in Britain follow them today.

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manuscript page of Yiddish writing

Jewish languages

Article by:
Daniel Isaac

The Hebrew language is central to Judaism but several other languages have also been used in biblical translations and interpretations. Daniel Isaacs looks at the languages of Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic, Djudezmo and Yiddish and their relationships to the Jewish sacred text.

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Discovering Sacred Texts: Judaism

Discovering Sacred Texts: Judaism

We explore what it means to be Jewish today through some of Judaism’s most important sacred texts including the Torah, the Talmud, and the Haggadah.

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Vyāsa (to whom the work is attributed) milking the purāṇa out Kāmadhenu, the wish-fulfilling cow of Hindu myth. Or 11387 f.10 recto

Spreading Hindu texts: Tellings and translations

Article by:
Jacqueline Suthren Hirst

Dr Jacqueline Suthren Hirst explores the Hindu sacred texts, discussing how some, the Vedic texts, remain unchanged, whilst others are open to different versions, tellings and translations, using the great Hindu epics as examples.

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Discovering Sacred Texts: Hinduism

Discovering Sacred Texts: Hinduism

Discover the diversity and richness of Hinduism, from the ancient oral tradition of the Vedic texts, the colourful stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and the ways in which gods and goddesses are worshipped today.

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Monochrome photograph by Fay Godwin of Callanish stone circle after a hailstorm; Lewis, 1980

Contemporary Paganism in the UK

Article by:
Denise Cush

Although not focused on a sacred text in a traditional sense, Professor Denise Cush looks at modern paganism, its practices and values, and the role of nature as the Pagan ‘sacred text’.

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Adinkra cloth from Ghana

African belief systems

Article by:
Dr Janet Topp Fargion

This article introduces a small number of examples of indigenous religious practices in Africa, through which people seek to communicate with ancestors, deities and nature spirits. As in other religions, texts play a central role, however in African belief systems they are primarily performed as oral traditions.

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Further themes

Buddhism

The Buddha lived over 2,500 years ago, yet his life and teachings continue to inform the lives of millions of Buddhists worldwide. Learn about the Buddha’s teachings, the different Buddhist traditions, and Buddhist meditation.

Christianity

From its origins on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean to its expansion to every corner of the globe in modern times, discover how the production of biblical texts enabled Christianity to become the diverse faith it is today.

Devotional texts

From medieval Christian Books of Hours to the Sikh empress Rani Jindan’s prayer book, explore how devotional texts have helped believers make a personal connection with their faith.

Hinduism

From its origins as an oral tradition over 4,000 years ago, to contemporary retellings of its epic stories, Hinduism is characterised by seemingly limitless diversity. Discover more about Hinduism’s sacred texts and the colourful gods and goddesses that feature in them.

Illuminated texts

The British Library’s collection comprises some of the most beautiful, handwritten and illuminated sacred texts from many of the world’s religions.

Islam

As the unadulterated Word of God, the Qur’an is sacred to Muslims everywhere. Learn more about Qur’an and its content, and Islam’s other important sacred texts, such as the Hadith and Sunna.

Jainism

Characterised by principles of asceticism and non-violence, Jainism has its roots in India in the sixth century BCE. Discover more about Jainism’s sacred texts, its cosmology, and the religious views and practices of its adherents.

Judaism

Explore how the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud inform the lives of Jews today, and how prayer books such as the Haggadah, used in worship and religious festivals, have helped sustain Jewish identity over many centuries.

Living Texts

Whether retold from one generation to the next, or written down from one language into another, some sacred texts have evolved while others have remained the same throughout time, enriching and informing the lives of those that read them.

Pilgrimage, text and place

Explore the connections between sacred spaces and sacred texts.

Sacred texts

All faiths have a rich history of texts, be they the word of God as revealed to prophets, oral stories retold by one generation to another over centuries, or written down in books. Explore the origins and developments of the world’s major faiths.

Sikhism

Discover more about the origins of the Sikh faith, the role of the Sikh Gurus in the compilation of its sacred texts, and the importance of prayer to Sikhs.

The Baha’i Faith

Emerging in the mid-19th century, the Baha’i Faith has grown rapidly from its Middle Eastern origins, and now has around 8 million adherents worldwide. Learn more about the founders of the Baha’i faith, and how they disseminated their beliefs.

Women, texts and faith

Explore the lives of women in the sacred texts of the world’s major faiths, and the changing ways in which women contribute to religious practice in contemporary society.

Zoroastrianism

With its roots in central Asia 3,500 years ago, Zoroastrianism has a rich history of interaction with the Abrahamic faiths, and of migration around the world. Learn more about this ancient religion, and the sacred texts that inform its beliefs.