About

It is remarkable that the sacred texts of religions have maintained their degree of importance and popularity for so many thousands of years. We can attribute this to the fact that these texts clearly speak to us—to some deep universal part of the human psyche. The way we think about the authorship of sacred books has changed a lot over time. New historical findings reveal to us that the legendary authors to which we attribute certain texts could not have possibly written all of their parts, and in some cases, perhaps did not exist at all. Of course, this need not have any effect on the value we attribute to the content itself, but it should change the way we think about sacred books. Namely, that they were written by human beings like us. Their contents may have been revealed by God or some other divine source of authorship, but the fact is that one or more human beings had to translate such revelations into written language that could be comprehended by other human beings thousands of years into the future. In order to accomplish this, they of course could not rely solely on ordinary language but instead had to resort to teaching through indirect means like storytelling.

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Quotations

The New Testament
Christian scripture
Christianity

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

The New Testament
Christian scripture
Christianity

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

Robert Wright
American journalist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“For, though the Bible was composed over many centuries, the earliest parts of it passed through the hands of later editors who decided which books and verses to keep and which to discard—and who seem to have had a bias against polytheism.”

Marcus J. Borg
New Testament scholar and theologian
Christianity

“Like the earlier paradigm, the emerging paradigm sees the Bible as sacred scripture. But unlike the earlier paradigm, the emerging paradigm sees the Bible’s status as sacred, as ‘Holy Bible,’ as the result of a historical process, not as the consequence of its divine origin. The process is known as canonization. The documents that now make up the Bible were not sacred when they were written, but over time were declared to be sacred by ancient Israel and early Christianity. The process took about five centuries for the Hebrew Bible and about three centuries for the Christian Testament. By declaring these writings to be sacred, our spiritual ancestors declared them to be the most important documents they knew.”

C.S. Lewis
Christian theologian and writer
Christianity

“In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single isolated glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America… In other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now.”

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture
Islam

“It is He who has sent this Scripture down to you [Prophet]. Some of its verses are definite in meaning–these are the cornerston of the Scripture–and others are ambiguous. The perverse at heart eagerly pursue the ambiguities in their attempt to make trouble and to pin down a specific meaning of their own: only God knows the true meaning. Those firmly grounded in knowledge say, ‘We believe in it: it is all from our Lord’–only those with real perception will take heed.”

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture
Islam

“We sent to you [Muhammad] the Scripture with the truth, confirming the Scriptures that came before it, and with final authority over them: so judge between them according to what God has sent down. Do not follow their whims, which deviate from the truth that has come to you. We have assigned a law and a path to each of you.”

The Qur'an
Islamic scripture
Islam

“We also gave Moses the Scripture, and made it a guide for the Children of Israel.”

Gershom Scholem
Jewish philosopher and historian
Judaism

“This new Revelation, to himself or to his spiritual master, the mystic tries to link up with the sacred texts of the old; hence the new interpretation given to the canonical texts and sacred books of the great religions. To the mystic, the original act of Revelation to the community—the, as it were, public revelation of Mount Sinai, to take one instance—appears as something whose true meaning has yet to unfold itself; the secret revelation is to him the real and decisive one. And thus the substance of the canonical texts, like that of all other religious values, is melted down and given another form as it passes through the fiery stream of the mystical consciousness. It is hardly surprising that, hard as the mystic may try to remain within the confines of his religion, he often consciously or unconsciously approaches, or even transgresses, its limits.”

Sefer Ha-Aggadah
Collection of Jewish writings
Judaism

“‘My teaching shall drop as the rain’ (Deut. 32:2). Even as one rain falling on various trees gives to each a special savor in keeping with its species-to the vine the savor of grapes, to the olive tree the savor of olives, to the fig tree the savor of figs-so the words of Torah are one, yet within them are Scripture and Mishnah, Halakhot and Aggadot.

Sefer Ha-Aggadah
Collection of Jewish writings
Judaism

“The world endures because of three activities: study of Torah, divine worship, and deeds of loving-kindness.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Baha'i leader
Baha'i

“The Heavenly Books, the Bible, the Qur'án, and the other Holy Writings have been given by God as guides into the paths of Divine virtue, love, justice and peace. Therefore I say unto you that ye should strive to follow the counsels of these Blessed Books, and so order your lives that ye may, following the examples set before you, become yourselves the saints of the Most High!"

Universal House of Justice
Baha'i governing body
Baha'i

“It is hoped that Bahá’í authors will provide a constant stream of new works. Introductory books, commentaries, dissertations on various aspects of the Revelation, text books, histories, reviews, audio-visual materials are all needed to stimulate study of the Faith and to promote the vital teaching work.”

Swami Vivekananda
Hindu monk
Hinduism

“First, [Vedanta] does not believe in a book — that is the difficulty to start with. It denies the authority of any book over any other book. It denies emphatically that any one book can contain all the truths about God, soul, the ultimate reality. Those of you who have read the Upanishads remember that they say again and again, ‘Not by the reading of books can we realise the Self.’”

Chuang Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

“The Book of Poetry has the Tao of the will, the Book of History has the Tao of events, the Rites has the Tao of conduct, the Music has the Tao of harmony. The Book of Changes has the Tao illustrating the yin and yang and the Spring and Autumn Annals has the Tao of titles and procedures. These teachings are found across the face of the whole world, and in China they are mentioned by many of the hundred schools of philosophy of the Tao.”

Martin Palmer
Translator
Daoism

“The custom in many cultures of the past was to ascribe a book to a great figure from the past. By doing so you were not necessarily trying to claim that they had written every word. But neither were you too worried if people thought so, so long as they read it! Indeed Chuang Tzu himself comments upon the tendency to claim that one’s own words are those of some great figure of the past as a way of gaining an audience. He saw nothing inherently wrong in this[…]So it was that around sayings or writings of a key figure, other writings which were felt to complement or expand those of the Master would be gathered. Eventually these would be edited and the entire collection known as the writings of, for example, Lao Tzu or Chuang Tzu. A similar process took place in Judaism at roughly the same time. Thus, for example, the five books of the Torah (Genesis to Deuteronomy) were ascribed to Moses, despite the fact that they record his death! That this happened to the book we know as Chuang Tzu is without doubt. We even know who did the final editing job which produced the text as we have it with three sections. It was Kuo Hsiang, who died in 312 AD.”

Lao Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

“Lao-tzu was expected. According to Taoist records, Master Yin Hsi was studying the heavens far to the west at the royal observatory of the state of Ch’in at a place called Loukuantai. One evening he noticed a purple vapor drifting from the east and deduced that a sage would soon be passing through the area. Since he knew that anyone traveling west would have to come through Hanku Pass, he proceeded to the pass[…]In any case, when Lao-tzu appeared, Yin Hsi recognized the sage and asked for instruction. According to Ssu-ma Ch’ien, Lao-tzu then gave Yin Hsi the Taoteching and continued on to other, unknown realms.”

Lieh Tzu
Daoist sage
Daoism

Taoist texts contain philosophy that is meant to be lived. When we read the books of Taoism, we are hoping the teachings can awaken us, enlighten us, and guide us in our lives. More than any other text, the Lieh-tzu presents a philosophy of practical living whose message is best understood if we listen to the text rather than read it.”

Eva Wong
Chinese translator
Daoism

“When Taoism reached the height of its development in the T’ang dynasty (between the seventh and tenth centuries), the Lieh-tzu, Lao-tzu, and Chuang-tzu were acknowledged as the three classics of Taoism.”

Gustav Meyrink
Austrian novelist
Art & Literature

“Each questioner is given the answer best suited to his needs; otherwise humanity would not follow the path of their longings. Do you think there is no rhyme or reason why our Jewish books are written with consonants alone? Each reader finds for himself the secret vowels that go with them and which reveal a meaning that is for him alone; the living word should not wither into dead dogma.”

Gustav Meyrink
Austrian novelist
Art & Literature

“I had read the book right to the end and was still holding it in my hands, and yet I felt as if I had been searching through my brain and not leafing through a book! Everything the voice had said to me I had carried within myself all my life, only it had been obscured and forgotten, had kept itself hidden from my thoughts until this day.”

Jiddu Krishnamurti
Philosopher and speaker
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“What you learn or find in a book will not be the real. But you can experience it, you can watch yourself in action, watch yourself thinking, see how you think, how rapidly you are naming the feeling as it arises—and watching the whole process frees the mind from its centre. Then the mind, being quiet, can receive that which is eternal.”

Pascal Boyer
Cognitive anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“Literate guilds promote texts as the source of guaranteed truths. They tend to downplay intuition, divination, personal inspiration, orally transmitted lore and ‘essential’ persons because all these naturally fall outside the guild's control. The use of texts as authority strengthens the notion that true descriptions of supernatural agents come in the form of a stable and general doctrine, rather than on-the-hoof, contextual solutions to specific problems. A typical question in local religious activities is ‘Will the ancestors be satisfied with this pig and help this child recover?’ A typical one in literate religion would be ‘What animals must be sacrificed for what types of illnesses?’ and the answer to that is a general one. Also, the use of texts tends to make religious doctrines more coherent, in the sense that all the elements that compose the description of supernatural agents can be brought together for consideration much more efficiently than when they are stored in individual people's memories, in the form of particular episodes.”

Pascal Boyer
Cognitive anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist
Science, Psychology, & Philosophy

“For anthropologist Jack Goody, literacy does result in a different cognitive style. The use of literacy does change cognitive operations, in the sense that the written text is used as an external memory. For instance, literacy allows complex mathematical operations during which some intermediate results must be stored. It allows long arguments because it makes it possible to make long lists of elements that prove a particular point. It allows people to think of various conceptual structures as visual templates. In this way the ‘sketch-pad’ aspect of writing is every bit as important as its long-term ‘storage’ function. Some features of literate religion support this interpretation. For instance, enumerating the 613 mitzvoth of Jewish law or the thousands of omens recorded in Sumerian and Egyptian texts would obviously require literate aids. Complex theologies, ritual prescriptions for thousands of different occasions, collected texts of various wise men, compilations of oracles and moral rules—all this was a side effect of using scripts to store and retrieve data.”

Zhu Xi
Confucian scholar
Confucianism

“Start with an open mind, then read one theory. Read one view before reading another. After you have read them again and again, what is right and wrong, useful and useless, will become apparent of itself. The process can be compared to trying to discover whether a person is good or bad. You observe him wherever he goes, notice what he says or does, and then know if he is good or bad.”

Sri Aurobindo
Indian mystic and philosopher
Hinduism

“The Bhagavad Gita is a true scripture of the human race, a living creation rather than a book, with a new message for every age and a new meaning for every civilization.”