Created By: LordGroJuly 23, 2012 Last Edited By: LordGroAugust 9, 2012
Troped

Sacred Scripture

A holy text of a fictional religion.

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Trope
Rolling Updates. Alternative title suggestions: Fictional Sacred Book, Holy Book, Fantastic Holy Book, Fantastic Sacred Scripture
Books that are considered sacred by the followers of a fictional religion, or sometimes philosophy.

The most holy of books are attributed to a god, or just plain God, although a prophet serving as a transmitter for the Word of God is usually taken for granted. A more modest claim is that the author/prophet was inspired by a deity. Finally, the authors may not be considered prophets outright, but chroniclers of divine acts or sacred events, or teachers of perfect wisdom. The authors of sacred scriptures are often Shrouded In Myth, but they are usually themselves figures of veneration within their religion.

What it means to be a „sacred“ text may vary (just as it does in real life). Sometimes, it is only the text that is holy; other times, the physical books or scrolls containing holy texts are sacred objects in themselves, the handling of which is tied to certain dos and don'ts.

In real life, it is often a sensitive matter to translate or adapt a Sacred Scripture, as within the religions built upon such a text, even minute details can carry substantial weight for the practices and teachings of a religion. A few religions go so far as to teach that their holy book cannot be „correctly“ translated at all, and is only perfect in the original text, which means it is written in a Sacred Language. When a fictional sacred book isn't written in a Sacred Language, it's probably Eternal English.

A common twist in Speculative Fiction is an isolated community basing a religion or cult on a sacred book which reveals itself as a mundane text from another culture at closer inspection.

May overlap with Tomes Of Prophecy And Fate, or even Tome Of Eldritch Lore if we are speaking of a Religion Of Evil. Characters quoting from a Holy Book is As The Good Book Says.

Examples:

Franchise
  • Transformers has the Covenant of Primus, which is a combination of historical records and list of prophecies.
  • Planet Of The Apes had the Sacred Scrolls, written by the deified Lawgiver.

Film
  • Not a paper book, but the tribe of children from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome paid comparable homage to a collection of photos they could examine with an old toy slide-viewer. When someone showed them how to work an old phonograph record, they repeated its words as if they, too, were sacred.

Literature
  • The Orange Catholic Bible from Frank Herbert's Dune universe.
  • A jeweled manuscript Bible appears in several important occasions in the Deryni works, most often in the form of oaths of fealty or allegiance sworn on the Bible.
  • The prophecies from The Belgariad may count. Certainly, there are religious scriptures mentioned, belonging to the various races.
  • Discworld has many. These include The Book of Om; The Vengeful Testement of Offler; The Cenotine Book of Truth; The Scrolls of Wen the Eternally Surprised; and The Living Testement of Nuggan (the only holy book to be published in a ring binder for frequent updates).
  • Gullivers Travels mentions that the Lilliputians have "the Brundecral (which is their Alcoran)."
  • The Kushiels Legacy series: The Trois Milles Joies is an erotic sacred text. It translates to "Three Thousand Pleasures", and is the in-universe version of the Kama Sutra.

Live-Action TV
  • The Rules of Acquisition of the Ferengi in Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Actually they are a set of business guidelines, but they are said to be divinely inspired, and therefore sacred.
  • Came up more than once in Star Trek The Original Series:
    • In "The Omega Glory", the Yangs have a sacred text, but nobody can read it properly. When Kirk finally reads it out loud we discover it's identical to the US Constitution.
    • In "A Piece of the Action" our heroes discover a planet has been using a book about gangs in 1920's Chicago (left by a previous Federation vessel) as their holy book.
  • In Red Dwarf, the Cat race writes its holy scriptures in smells on blank paper. Lister finds a copy, and discovers that he is the Cats' god.
  • In Babylon Five, a sort of meta-holy book is created from the first page of every known holy book of all the sentient races, on which the President is sworn in.

Tabletop Games
  • In Dungeons And Dragons, the vast majority of the rather large number of gods have a holy book attached to their faith.
  • In Traveller, Maar Ki Zon is the sacred scripture of the Maar Zon, the national religion of the Sylean people.
  • Tabletop Game/{{Warhammer 40,000}} is stuffed with these: The Lectitio Divinatatus penned by Lorgar (which later formed the basis of the Imperial faith), the Codex Astartes by Guilliman, the Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer, to name only a few.

Video Games
  • The Chant of Light in the Dragon Age series is the holy text of the Chantry.

Western Animation
  • From Adventure Time: The hero's handbook, The Enchiridion, is a legendary book that tells you how to be a hero. It's never called "holy", but it's kind of a big deal.

Real Life
Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • July 23, 2012
    LordGro
    I drafted this as a literature category/index, but maybe it could double as a trope, if we get enough fictional examples.
  • July 23, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    So you want instances where a holy book appears in fiction (swearing on the bible in court, religious ceremonies, etc.)?
  • July 23, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^And maybe fictional holy books of fictional religions. Such as the "Orange Catholic Bible" of Dune, I suppose. Anyone remember any from the Bajoran religion in Star Trek Deep Space Nine?
  • July 23, 2012
    LordGro
    ^^ What NimmerStill said. The Bible and other 'holy books' from the real world are not tropes, IMO, as they are not storytelling tools.
  • July 23, 2012
    NimmerStill
    The "Rules of Acquisition" from Ferengi society in Star Trek Deep Space Nine probably counts.
  • July 23, 2012
    spellraiser
    Buddhism has the Sutras. Although opinions vary on just how 'sacred' they are, they are definitely canonical.
  • July 23, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^There's also the Pali Canon for Theravadan Buddhism specifically.
  • July 23, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
  • July 23, 2012
    Koveras
    • The Chant of Light in the Dragon Age series is the holy text of the Chantry.
  • July 24, 2012
    LordGro
    Updated the examples.

    @spellraiser and NimmerStill: I'd prefer to only list works that already have pages on the wiki in the 'real life' part. There are far too many examples in real life.
  • July 24, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    OK NimmerStill

    Literature:
    • A jeweled manuscript Bible appears in several important occasions in the Deryni works:
      • Kelson had his hand on one when he swore his coronation oath in Deryni Rising.
      • Liam did the same when swearing his oath of fealty to Kelson in The King's Justice, and later in the same novel another such book is used by Mearan nobility swearing renewed allegiance to Kelson.
      • Kelson glimpses a similar book on the altar in the Torenthi (Orthodox) Church in King Kelson's Bride. His companion, a Torenthi priest, confirms that it is a Bible.

    @ LordGro Might I suggest an additional remark about using the holy text to to swear an oath, either by using a physical copy of the book (as in my example and in courtroom testimony, oaths of office and the like) or stating in more causal conversation that the speaker is willing to swear on a Bible (or on a stack!) to demonstrate the truth of a statement. I believe the point is to call on the divine to bear witness to the oath and the oathtaker's sincerity.
  • July 24, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Star Trek The Original Series, "The Omega Glory:" The Yangs have a sacred text, but nobody can read it properly. When Kirk finally reads it out loud we discover it's identical to the US Constitution
  • July 24, 2012
    robinjohnson
    In Red Dwarf, the Cat race writes its holy scriptures in smells on blank paper. Lister finds a copy, and discovers that he is the Cats' god.
  • July 30, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Should physically using a holy book to swear an oath and/or stating a willingness to do so be its own trope?
  • July 30, 2012
    LordGro
    Updated the works list. Sorry for not answering.

    I think physically "swearing on the book" is it's own trope, although the existence of a holy book in a fantasy setting is this trope. I accordingly included the Deryni example, but omitted the specific instances where the book is used -- these would be more fit for a "Swearing on the Book" trope (we don't currently have it, but I guess it's a legitimate trope).

    I actually think it might be better to split this page in two: One a works index for real life sacred books, and the other a trope page for (fictional) holy books in speculative fiction. Only problem is to find two titles that are not too similar and express this difference.
  • July 30, 2012
    robinjohnson
    • In Babylon Five, a sort of meta-holy book is created from the first page of every known holy book of all the sentient races, on which the President is sworn in.
  • July 30, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    ^^Well, what about Fantastic Sacred Book for the speculative fiction ones? To me, that would be a logical extension, but others might call "snowclone".

    I'd offer to start the YKTTW for "Swearing on the Book", but the last time I did that (over the whole Counterspell/Dispel Magic distinction), the trope dropped out of sight.
  • July 30, 2012
    jatay3
    In Traveller Maar Ki Zon is the sacred scriptures of the Maar Zon the national religion of the Sylean people.
  • August 5, 2012
    LordGro
    ^^ I'm not sure whether the trope should be narrowed down to Fantastic Sacred Books. Then again, maybe real sacred books featured in fiction aren't a trope. I'm not sure right now ...

    I thought about naming the works index "Sacred Literature".
  • August 5, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    Well, I suggested the "fantastic" in line with Fantastic Racism, Fantasy Counterpart Culture, et. al. I know some people don't care for snowclones, but if similar names makes the relationship between Sister Tropes clear, then I think they're useful.

    As for your doubts about the use of real sacred texts in fiction not being tropeable, I don't know about that. Whether it's someone swearing an oath on a book (or simply expressing a willingness to do so), or citing passages from the text, there's an appeal to an accepted higher/divine wisdom involved. Swearing on a book is supposed to call upon the divine to witness the affirmation (literally, if such is your belief). Citing texts (in the story and/or in epigraphs associated with books or chapters) tends to imply fate or inevitability, or else a kind of recognition of a familiar recurring pattern in human affairs.
  • August 5, 2012
    Alvin
    In the Star Trek The Original Series episode 'A Piece of the Action' our heroes dicovera planet has been using a book about gangs in 1920's Chicago (left by a previous Federation vessel) as this.
  • August 6, 2012
    LordGro
    ^^ As mentioned before, I'd consider Swearing On the Book a separate, if related trope. Swearing On the Book would clearly include the Bible.

    You're probably right with the "Fantastic" thing. The fact is, I would have liked to keep the alliteration of "Sacred Scripture". -- I moved the real life examples to another YKTTW: Sacred Literature. (Please give hats if you think it's good.)
  • August 6, 2012
    MrInitialMan
    The prophecies from The Belgariad may count. Certainly, there are religious scriptures mentioned, belonging to the various races.
  • August 6, 2012
    LordGro
    ^ Are these "prophecies" a distinct book? Not all Tomes Of Prophecy And Fate are Sacred Books (though some are).
  • August 7, 2012
    DaibhidC
    • Discworld has many. These include The Book of Om; The Vengeful Testement of Offler; The Cenotine Book of Truth; The Scrolls of Wen the Eternally Surprised; and The Living Testement of Nuggan (the only holy book to be published in a ring binder for frequent updates).
  • August 7, 2012
    Omeganian
    In Gullivers Travels, it is mentioned that the Lilliputians have "the Brundecral (which is their Alcoran)."
  • August 7, 2012
    LordGro
    Updated examples. Any opinions on the title? Improvements to the description? If you think it's fine, consider giving hats.
  • August 7, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    I'd want to go with Fictional Holy Book, since "fantastic" might get mistaken for applying to the fantasy genre only. Or possibly Fictional Scripture, which rolls off the tongue a bit.
  • August 7, 2012
    NoirGrimoir
    • Not exactly holy, but in Adventure Time the hero's handbook, The Enchiridion, is a legendary book that tells you how to be a hero. It's kind of a big deal.
  • August 7, 2012
    SharleeD
    • On the creepy side of the fence, the Necronomicon and other books of forbidden lore sometimes serve this purpose for corrupted cultists in the works of HP Lovecraft.

    • Not a paper book, but the tribe of children from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome paid comparable homage to a collection of photos they could examine with an old toy slide-viewer. When someone showed them how to work an old phonograph record, they repeated its words as if they, too, were sacred.
  • August 8, 2012
    LordGro
    ... I switched the name back to Sacred Scripture, mainly to keep the alliteration. The description also includes real life instances of this trope, and the link in the real life section makes it sufficiently clear that this page collects only fictional examples. The other titles can become redirects.

    @Sharlee D: I'm not sure if the Necronomicon should be considered a sacred book. It's some time ago that I read Lovecraft myself, but I don't remember it treated as a sacred text. The Necronomicon is very rare and most of the cultist of Cthulhu or other Great Old Ones can't read anyway. So it doesn't seem to have a 'sacred' status for Great Old Ones worshippers.

    I think it's pretty much ready for launching -- please give hats if you agree.
  • August 8, 2012
    HawkofBattle
    • Warhammer40k Is stuffed with these; The Lectitio Divinatatus penned by Lorgar (which later formed the basis of the Imperial faith), the Codex Astartes penned by Guilliman, the Imperial Infantrymans Uplifting Primer, to name only a few.
  • August 8, 2012
    chicagomel
    Planet Of The Apes had the Sacred Scrolls, written by the diefied Lawgiver.
  • August 9, 2012
    beamerpook
    Kushiel's Legacy Series - The Trois Milles Joies is the erotic sacred text featured. It translates to "Three Thousand Pleasures", and is the in-universe version of the Kama Sutra. To quote: "Place your hands on the waist of your beloved, drawing them upward slowly, gathering and lifting your beloved's hair so that it floats like chaff above the threshing floor, letting it fall like soft rain."
  • August 9, 2012
    LordGro
    I know that Tropes Are Flexible, but please only post examples that fit the description. The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer doesn't sound like the title of a sacred book to me. The Kama Sutra isn't a sacred book, so an "in-universe version of the Kama Sutra" doesn't sound like one either. I don't have the ability to check all these examples, so please read the description. A book that's merely "important" isn't automatically a sacred book. If you know any of the examples listed isn't actually the trope, please remove it.
  • August 9, 2012
    beamerpook
    Actually, in the Kushiel universe, they worship Namaah, who is unkindly called by foreign nations "the Goddess of Whores." Sex is an act of worship to this diety, and thus the book detailing the apparently three thousand ways to worship her should be considered sacred text, but that may just be my interpretation. Sorry.
  • August 9, 2012
    LordGro
    OK, that's a fair example. I'll add the explanation in when I launch this trope.
  • August 9, 2012
    ArkadyDarell
    ^^^ [1] [2] "A small book issued to all guardsmen in the Imperial Guard that is full of prayers and descriptions of basic tasks an infantryman must perform." *shrug*?

    (I mean, heck, the D&D pantheon has, among others, a holy book called "Murlynd's Early Adventures & Subsequent Ventures". Nobody said fictional holy books couldn't have silly or boring names.)
  • August 9, 2012
    LordGro
    No, that's not a holy scripture. Even if it contains prayers -- a mere prayerbook is usually not sacred. Mark that "(...) disgruntled regiments may refer to these books as 'toilet-paper'."

    But thanks for providing the links, much appreciated.
  • August 9, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    Recommend a No Real Life Examples Please flag.

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