Holy Books of the World


The Analects A collection of Confucius' teachings thought to have been recorded by his students. They are considered the only sayings that can safely be attributed to him.

Bhagavad Gita A Sanskrit poem that is part of the Indian epic known as the Mahabharata . It describes, in a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna, the Hindu path to spiritual wisdom and the unity with God that can be achieved through karma (action), bhakti (devotion), and jnana (knowledge). The Bhagavad-Gita was probably written sometime between 200 B.C. and A.D. 200.

Five Classics Five works traditionally attributed to Confucius that form the basic texts of Confucianism. They are the Spring and Autumn Annals, a history of Confucius's native district; the I Ching (or Book of Changes ), a system of divining the future; the Book of Rites , which outlines ceremonies and describes the ideal government; the Book of History ; and the Book of Songs , a collection of poetry. Together they promulgate a system of ethics for managing society based on sympathy for others, etiquette, and ritual. Although the dates of these books are uncertain, they were probably written before the third century B.C.

Koran (Arabic, al-Qur'an) The primary holy book of Islam. It is made up of 114 suras, or chapters, which contain impassioned appeals for belief in God, encouragement to lead a moral life, portrayals of damnation and beatitude, stories of Islamic prophets, and rules governing the social and religious life of Muslims. Believers maintain that the Koran contains the verbatim word of God, revealed to the prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel. Some of the suras were written during Muhammad's lifetime, but an authoritative text was not produced until c. A.D. 650.

New Testament The second portion of the Christian Bible, which contains 27 books that form the basis of Christian belief. These books include the sayings of Jesus, the story of his life and work, the death and resurrection of Jesus now celebrated as Easter, the teachings and writings of the apostles, and instruction for converting nonbelievers and for performing baptisms, blessings, and other rituals. The New Testament is believed to have been written c. A.D. 100, some 70 to 90 years after the death of Jesus.

Old Testament The Christian name for the Hebrew Bible. It is the sacred scripture of Judaism and the first portion of the Christian Bible. According to Jewish teachings, it is made up of three parts: the Law (also known as the Torah or Pentateuch), comprising the first five books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), which describes the origins of the world, the covenant between the Lord and Israel, the exodus and entry into the promised land, and the various rules governing social and religious behavior; the Prophets , including the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel 1-2, Kings 1-2) and the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 minor prophets), which describes the history of the Israelites, the stories of heroes, kings, judges, and wars, and the choosing of David as leader of the Israelites; and the Writings (including Psalms, Job, Song of Solomon, and Ruth, among others), which describes the reactions of the people to the laws and covenants, as well as prayers and praises of the covenant. Some books of the Old Testament regarded as sacred by the Jews are not accepted as such by Christians; among Christians there are differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants about the inclusion of some books, the order of the books, and the original sources used in translating them. Scholars generally agree that the Old Testament was compiled from c. 1000 B.C. to c. 100 B.C.

Talmud A compilation of Jewish oral law and rabbinical teachings that is separate from the scriptures of the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. It is made up of two parts: the Mishna , which is the oral law itself, and the Gemara , a commentary on the Mishna . The Talmud contains both a legal section (the Halakah ) and a portion devoted to legends and stories (the Aggada ). The authoritative Babylonian Talmud was compiled in the sixth century.

Tao-te-ching (The Way and Its Power) The basic text of the Chinese philosophy and religion known as Taoism. It is made up of 81 short chapters or poems that describe a way of life marked by quiet effortlessness and freedom from desire. This is thought to be achieved by following the creative, spontaneous life force of the universe, called the Tao. The book is attributed to Lao-tzu, but it was probably a compilation by a number of writers over a long period of time.

Upanishads The basis of Hindu religion and philosophy that form the final portion of the Veda . The 112 Upanishads describe the relationship of the Brahman , or universal soul, to the atman , or individual soul; they also provide information about Vedic sacrifice and yoga. The original texts of the Upanishads come from various sources and were written beginning c. 900 B.C.

Veda The sacred scripture of Hinduism. Four Vedas make up the Samhita , a collection of prayers and hymns that are considered to be revelations of eternal truth written by seer-poets inspired by the gods. The Rig-Veda , the Sama-Veda , and the Yajur-Veda are books of hymns; the Atharva-Veda compiles magic spells. These writings maintain that the Brahman , or Absolute Self, underlies all reality and can be known by invoking gods through the use of hymns or mantes. The Vedic texts were compiled between c. 1000 B.C. and c. 500 B.C., making them the oldest known group of religious writings.

 



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