Post Reply
Switch to Forum Live View What makes a text sacred?
5 years ago  ::  Dec 31, 2009 - 5:03AM #1
Warriorprincessdanu
Posts: 9

Something I hear fairly often is that there is no such thing as a Pagan bible.  Yet some say that there are Pagan sacred texts, such as the various cultural mythologies.  So, what do you think makes a text sacred?

Quick Reply
Cancel
5 years ago  ::  May 29, 2010 - 2:21PM #2
Bairre
Posts: 122

I think that believers as a community decide.  Look at the Bible.  It was decided by bishops and such in 333 CE that the Bible would have such and such and other books would be left out. 


As for Paganism, I would suggest that the closest thing that could be described as a Pagan Bible to the non-Pagan would be the Prose Edda, Poetic Edda, and Havamal.  This is only from the Norse traditions however, but they have the lore and principles.  These were compiled in their modern form by Snori Sturluson in Iceland in the 1000s.  The King James Bible is considerably younger than that, so I'm not entirely worried about the timeline of it.  There are books that are about Jesus that weren't allowed in the Biblical Cannon because they were too heretical by the Council of Nicea's standards, but which predate the Gospels that are in the Bible.


As for me, I read the ancient lore in various translations.  I find these personally sacred. 

Quick Reply
Cancel
4 years ago  ::  May 31, 2010 - 11:31AM #3
Dennis
Posts: 1,433

The Christian testament was/is a political collection of what was considered the views of the orthodoxy, most from the end of the second century forward. (Some were contested after the infamous Council of Nicea.) The legend was that the individual books were composed by apostles or those who traveled with them. Modern (last three hundred years) scholarship has debunked that notion and concluded, for instance, that the gospels and most of the "letters" and the apocalypse were written later, with the names of apostles/companions later added .


Probably the best source to learn more about the legends is Eusebius, especially The History of the Church. A general book on the composition of the Christian testament is Burton Mack's Who Wrote the New Testament. There was much more that didn't make the canon than what did. (A good example of this is the Nag Hammadi codices, but there are many others.)


 One error many people make is in considering any "text" sacred. Each text, regardless of the religion or belief, was written (and inspired) by humans, with a purpose or purposes in mind, in Christianity especially, whether propagandic "good news" (the gospels) or to define proper 'church behaviors,' like the Corinthians and the Pastoral "letters."


A religion that needs books, in my opinion, is not much of a religion.


Dennis

Quick Reply
Cancel
4 years ago  ::  Jun 10, 2010 - 4:11AM #4
Bairre
Posts: 122

May 31, 2010 -- 11:31AM, Dennis wrote:


The Christian testament was/is a political collection of what was considered the views of the orthodoxy, most from the end of the second century forward. (Some were contested after the infamous Council of Nicea.) The legend was that the individual books were composed by apostles or those who traveled with them. Modern (last three hundred years) scholarship has debunked that notion and concluded, for instance, that the gospels and most of the "letters" and the apocalypse were written later, with the names of apostles/companions later added .


Probably the best source to learn more about the legends is Eusebius, especially The History of the Church. A general book on the composition of the Christian testament is Burton Mack's Who Wrote the New Testament. There was much more that didn't make the canon than what did. (A good example of this is the Nag Hammadi codices, but there are many others.)


 One error many people make is in considering any "text" sacred. Each text, regardless of the religion or belief, was written (and inspired) by humans, with a purpose or purposes in mind, in Christianity especially, whether propagandic "good news" (the gospels) or to define proper 'church behaviors,' like the Corinthians and the Pastoral "letters."


A religion that needs books, in my opinion, is not much of a religion.


Dennis





I agree with your historical analysis, however I don't feel that "a religion that needs books... isn't much of a religion"  There are various forms of religion, and therefore various modes followers can use to experience their religion. 


There are religious customs that are ancient and haven't had anything seriously written about them until this last century.  West African Traditional Religions come to mind.  They have a lived tradition that survived slavery, forced trans-oceanic migration, and centuries without having the benefit of being written down.


Likewise, there are the commonplace religions we all know; Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. all have ancient holy texts that have been a part of their religious traditions from the outset. 


There are also "dead" religions, in which I mean religions that we know about only from texts, but are no longer practiced in any contiguous way.  Kemetic and Celtic religions come to mind here.  We know more about the ancient Egyptian gods and religious practices than we do about lived traditions like Odinani, because they wrote down what they believed. 


Some of these "dead" religions are being revived, so to say.  There is Asatru and Theodism which were brought back into existance based solely on the sacred texts that were transcribed a millenia ago.  There's also the Celtic religions.  While most will be lost to history forever, unless some incredible happenstance of archeology occurs, except for the Gaelic and Welsh traditions.  Their were Christian monks who had the incite to write down their old stories and pass them off as fiction to preserve them.


To say that a religion that needs texts is no religion at all would necessitate the abolition of almost all religions from the ones that are so prevalent today; Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, etc.  to the most ancient of religions; Hellenic Paganism, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Mayan religion, etc. 


The fact that ancients wrote their beliefs down doesn't belittle the faith, it allows access to those who would otherwise not have it.  The one thing that strikes me about the Protestant Reformation was that one of the major things it wanted to do was to have Bibles written in the vernacular of the populace.  The majority of people did not speak Latin, and therefore didn't really understand the finer details of Christianity.  By making the Sacred texts available in the vernacular, it allowed anyone who could read their own language access to what the Priests and other religious Hierarchs knew.  Thus, democratizing the Christian faith.  Likewise, Christians who were recent converts or second generation converts thought it would be a good idea to preserve their former religious ideas or the ideas of their parents or grandparents.

Quick Reply
Cancel
4 years ago  ::  Jun 10, 2010 - 6:38AM #5
Dennis
Posts: 1,433

I don't think, Bairre, that when one looks at the literacy rate in antiquity, from between 1% and perhaps as high as 15%, that the "book" was important as the conduit of religion in Western antiquity. There just weren't that many... and, the "books" they had before the first century ce were extremely bulky, in scrolls or wax tablets. In fact, writing in the Greek world was largely to facilitate oral presentation/performance, not the other way around. There is a great book, rather technical, about that, by Margaret Ellen Lee and Bernard Brandon Scott, Sound Mapping the New Testament, which goes into some length about the technology and manuscripts of antiquity. In a print rich Western culture, it is difficult to envision an oral culture. Thus, my remarks, in which I am generally prone to hyperbole! It seems fairly clear that, despite the lack of literacy or "books," religions flourished. I tend to agree with Plato that literacy causes a mental laziness... With my love of books, I must be extremely lazy!


Dennis

Quick Reply
Cancel
4 years ago  ::  Jun 10, 2010 - 9:44AM #6
Bairre
Posts: 122

Literacy steadily improved from the invention of the printing press in 1440 onwards, and later largely added to Luther's movement.  Granted, the literacy rate was still appallingly low, but the Protestant Reformation pushed for the Bible to be written in common vernacular, which in turn allowed people to learn to read in their own languages, as opposed to having to learn another language, just to learn to read.


That aside, my point was that much of what we know about religions that aren't the religions we are born with and adhere to everyday, we know about because of Sacred Texts.  If you don't want to call them that, fine.  The important thing is that all religions have to be communicated in some form or another, whether by oral traditions, or by written word.  I don't think that using writing degrades the ideas proposed.  I think it is remarkable that there are living traditions, such as Orisha that have lasted into the 21st Century that are oral traditions, and I wish that the Druids could have kept it going, but they couldn't.

Quick Reply
Cancel
4 years ago  ::  Jun 10, 2010 - 10:40AM #7
Dennis
Posts: 1,433

Of course, "sacred text" merely implies (or states) that text was appropriated by a religion... We find many examples of this in the Jewish and in the Christian texts. (The story of Moses, for instance, was appropriated by the Greek story of Battus, found in, I believe, Herodotus. "Noah's ark was earlier found in the Gilgamesh Epic. The story of the "Passion of Jesus" was appropriated from Josephus' story of Jesus Ananius, not strictly "pagan," but secular, to an extent .) "Passing down" of tradition, as much as anything, signifies appropriation and inculcation of earlier "pagan" texts into the popular religion of the culture.


We can't really know the "pagan sacred texts," in anything like an original context, because the mere word "pagan" signifies "rural" or "country," where the culture was oral. What we do "receive" comes from the intellectuals who appropriated and wrote. Even then, we have very little of the "Mystery Religions," because it seems that the emphasis was on orality, with a premium given to gnosis through experience, as opposed to reading a fusty scroll or wax tablet and "believing." I think the title "pagan sacred texts" probably misses the point of the religions considered "pagan." I don't see the religions of antiquity as being "book clubs," but as groups of people concerned with experience... Even in Judaism there is very little evidence, as far as I know, about how the books were used, and even how they were collected, prior to the common era... In other religions, the evidence is even less.


Dennis

Quick Reply
Cancel
 
    Viewing this thread :: 0 registered and 1 guest
    No registered users viewing
    Advertisement

    Beliefnet On Facebook