Sacred texts

All faiths have their origins in 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.

The Torah being read with the aid of a 'yad' which often referred to as a Torah pointer

The Torah

Article by:
Maryanne Saunders

The Torah has central importance in Jewish life, ritual and belief. Maryanne Saunders describes what the Torah is, what it includes and how it is used in worship and ritual.

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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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An image of The Ma’il Qur’an, Or 2165, one of the earliest extrant complete Qur'an manuscripts

The Qur’an

Article by:
Mustafa Shah

The Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam, is believed to be the Word of God as revealed to the Prophet. Here Dr Mustafa Shah describes the historical context of its revelation, its transmission and codification and its shared spiritual heritage with the other main Abrahamic faiths.

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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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Detail of the start of the Book of Gensis. With historiated initial 'I'

The Christian Bible

Article by:
Scot McKendrick

Dr Scot McKendrick explores the Christian Bible, looking at the contents of the Old and New Testaments and the differences between the Jewish and Christian canon, alongside early translations of, and languages used for, the Bible.

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Detail from the illuminated Cnut Gospels.

Manuscripts of the Christian Bible

Article by:
Scot McKendrick

Dr Scot McKendrick looks at manuscripts of the Bible prior to the invention of printing, exploring their contents and uses and answering the question of why there are so few manuscripts of the whole Bible.

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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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The Star Tablet of the Bab, Or 6887. Text written in the shape of a five-point star.

Baha’i sacred texts

Article by:
Moojan Momen

The Baha’i Faith is a scriptural religion. Dr Moojan Momen explains the Baha’i beliefs about sacred texts and prophets, the transmission and distribution of their scripture and its role in the community.

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An image of the Buddha from a Japanese Lotus Sutra

The Buddha and Buddhist sacred texts

Article by:
Peter Harvey

Professor Peter Harvey recounts the life and teachings of the Buddha, as well as considering the role that the Buddha plays in the different branches of Buddhism and how his teachings have been collected.

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An image of the Buddha on a red background

The development of the Buddhist 'canon'

Article by:
T H Barrett

The Buddhist ‘canon’ is vast, complex and difficult to define. Here Professor Tim Barrett outlines some of the key works for the different branches of Buddhism.

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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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Red pattern on a Jain manuscript

Jain scripture

Article by:
Nalini Balbir

What is the source of authority in the Jain religion? Professor Nalini Balbir explores this question and outlines the Jain scriptures and their languages.

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Rāma and Lakṣmaṇa on mount Prasravaṇa. From Add. Ms 15296 (2), folio 30 recto.

Sacred texts in Hinduism

Article by:
Julius Lipner

Professor Julius Lipner discusses the distinctive nature of Hinduism and its sacred texts, drawing on the Vedas and epic compositions.

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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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Detail from avestan ms 19, folio 132r. A Zoroastrian discourse: The Menoy i khrad (‘Spirit of Wisdom’).

Zoroastrianism in late antiquity

Article by:
Ursula Sims-Williams

Dr Ursula Sims-Williams describes the history of the Zoroastrian religion during the Sasanian Empire, its interaction with the Judeo-Christian world and the development of its sacred texts into a written corpus from an oral tradition.

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A detail of Or 8212/84, The Ashem Vohu, a Zoroastrian prayer

Zoroastrianism from the early modern period

Article by:
Jenny Rose

Professor Jenny Rose discusses the development of the Zoroastrian religion in the early modern period, exploring the migration of the religion to India and the development of distinctive regional traditions and texts.

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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 their origins in 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.