Before we can say what religious texts are, we have to define the concept of religion. The idea of a “religious text” is already an interpretation, unless one just says that the text in question is central to a particular tradition of faith. Texts like the Torah, the Bible, or the Vedas “anchor” religions, because they are considered to be the word of God, or based on divine inspiration, and as such the text itself can sometimes considered to be sacred.
Here are some of the oldest known religious texts:
- Pyramid texts of Ancient Egypt, 2400-2300 BCE.
- The Sumerian Temple Hymns (also the earliest form of the Phoenician alphabet) are inscriptions on the sarcophagus of King Ahiram of Byblos.
- The Epic of Gilgamesh from Sumeria is one of the earliest literary works, 2150-2000 BCE.
- The Rigveda of Hinduism, between 1700–1100 BCE. (The world’s oldest religious text still in use.
- The Zoroastrian Avesta has been transmitted orally for centuries before written down, roughly estimated around 1000 BCE.
- The Torah’s composition also took place over centuries. Scholars suggest that the five books were created c.450 BCE by combining four independent sources: the Jahwist, or J (about 900 BCE), the Elohist, or E (about 800 BCE), the Deuteronomist, or D, (about 600 BCE), and the Priestly source, or P (about 500 BC)
- The first printed scripture for wide distribution was the Buddhist Diamond Sutra, published on May 11, 868 CE
Here are some examples: