Books that are considered sacred by the followers of a (typically fictional) religion or 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 figures of legend, and are frequently venerated as holy men or women themselves.
What it means to be a "sacred" text may vary (as it does in real life). In the most basic definition of sacredness, the information contained is the sacred thing, and paraphrasing, adapting or translating this text is still considered unproblematic as long as the core message gets across. Other times, the literal text is sacred, and translating or adapting it becomes a sensitive matter. This is owed to the fact that within the religions built upon such a text, even minute details can carry substantial weight for the practices and teachings of this 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. Finally, the physical books or scrolls containing holy texts may be sacred objects in themselves, the handling of which is tied to certain dos and don'ts.
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.
Apart from the cases when a real life text serves as a sacred text in-universe, an instance of Fictional Document.
- 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.
- The MacGuffin in Raining In The Mountain (1978) is a sacred Buddhist scroll, regarded as priceless by the two rival conspirators trying to steal it. However the Abbot of the monastery where the scroll is kept regards it as just a tattered parchment, worthless except for the message it contains. At the end of the movie, his successor burns the scroll to prevent any more trouble, after having the contents copied for distribution. The new Abbot makes a point of gifting one of these copies to the surviving conspirator, who doesn't look happy but is hardly in a position to admit why.
- The Action Prologue of Star Trek Into Darkness featured Kirk stealing the holy scripture from an indigenous tribe in order to lead them away from an exploding volcano. They later abandon it in favor of worshiping the Enterprise.
- In The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow, during a pan over various case-related Fictional Documents, the viewer can see that the film's Occult Detective has managed to secure a copy of a Mystery Cult's holy book, with its telltale batwinged Caduceus embossed on the leather. The investigator is sorting through case documents attempting to connect the cult to the disappearances of children.
- The Last Jedi: Luke keeps the Jedi's ancient texts in a sacred tree on Ahch-To. Yoda mocks their continued importance and calls down lightning to burn down the tree with the texts in it, noting that at the end of the day they're just a bunch of millennia-old mumbo-jumbo. It turns out, though, that Rey had already stolen the books and has them with her at the end of the movie. It should also be noted that Luke never actually read the texts; apparently they're not exactly page-turners.
- The Orange Catholic Bible from Frank Herbert's Dune universe. This one is interesting because it combines some traditional holy books (books of the Bible, the Qur'an, the Hadith, most Hindu and Buddhist scriptures, the Dao De Jing, the Analects, the Zoroastrian Avestas), plus a number of other fictional texts.
- 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 Testament of Offler; The Cenotine Book of Truth; The Scrolls of Wen the Eternally Surprised; and The Living Testament of Nuggan (the only holy book to be published in a ring binder for frequent updates).
- Parodied in The Eldest Curses: when Magnus created a demon cult called the Crimson Hand as a joke, he also wrote the Red Scrolls of Magic and declared it a sacred text. The book contained a whole lot of nonsense like passages about how handsome he is, how poor fashion is an offence to their religion and commands to always have liquor, cigars and bonbons present.
- Gulliver's Travels mentions that the Lilliputians have "the Brundecral (which is their Alcoran)."
- Bits and pieces are occasionally quoted in Tales of the Branion Realm, from the texts of the two competing religions.
- In the Kushiel's Legacy series, the worshippers of the goddess Namaah consider sex an act of worship, which is why they consider Trois Milles Joies ("Three Thousand Pleasures"), an in-universe version of the Kama Sutra, a sacred book.
- Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle has the Books of Bokonon, sacred text of the new religion Bokononism, which start with the handy warning: "All of the true facts I am about to tell you are shameless lies."
- In the short story "The Return" by H. Beam Piper and John J. McGuire, a pair of explorers from a last outpost of scientific civilzation in what used to be the United States several generations after World War III find a settlement of the descendants of a U.S. Army platoon from The War. They are relatively advanced, though they show considerable religious fervor for "the Slain and Risen One" that their sacred books (bequeathed to them by the "First 'Tenant of the Old 'Toon") speak of, and yet "logic, not faith, seems to be their supreme religious virtue...skepticism is a religious obligation instead of a sin". At the very end of the story, the explorers finally learn that "the Books" are the collected stories of Sherlock Holmes.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: The Faith of the Seven's holy book is called The Seven Pointed Star.
- The Initiate Brother has the Scrolls of Botahara, which are in the keeping of the Botahist Brotherhood. There are numerous copies, but the original scrolls have gone missing, leading them to show fakes to Sister Morima of the Botahist Sisterhood. Their fate is only revealed at the very end of the story, by which time it is apparent that the Brotherhood isn't what it should be - brothers who keep to the true way have been slowly smuggling the scrolls away to safety.
- In MARZENA we have The Transhuman Seeder, a collection of books written by Anika From Bremen (Narrator), which demonstrates how the brain works and establishes how this knowledge will create a biological technological and spiritual revolution. The book itself is considered holy by the members of the Transhuman Army.
- David Weber's Safehold series has the Holy Writ, written by the Archangels as part of their attempt to enforce the Medieval Stasis trope. It includes lots of practical advice and practical warnings, set in the form of divine miracles and divine curses so as to steer the reader away from investigating further. It also includes, The Book of Schuler, a manual for Cold-Blooded Torture, as a further inducement to not investigate further. And the rules for Baseball, because Baseball is Serious Business.
- The Gift Legends in The Red and the Rest are presented as not necessarily truer than any competing holy book, but they sure do a lot for Worldbuilding, giving one religious explanation for the various Standard Fantasy Races and Differently Powered Individuals.
- Quintaglio Ascension: Both the main Quintaglio sect, basing its doctrines on the teachings of Larks, and the small one which prevailed earlier (worshiping the Five Original Hunters) have different Sacred Scrolls.
- A Memoir by Lady Trent: Segulism's holy text is simply called "Scripture", and seems to be broadly similar to The Torah, though the characters' names are different, there are twelve commandments instead of ten, and Scripture recounts the overthrow of the Draconean civilization, which has no equivalent in the Torah.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- The Rules of Acquisition of the Ferengi. Actually they are a set of business guidelines, but they are said to be divinely inspired, and therefore sacred. But in "Body Parts" Quark meets the First Grand Negus in a dream — he tells Quark that this was just a marketing ploy. "Would you buy a book called Suggestions of Acquisition?"
- Not to mention, various religious texts from Bajor about the Prophets, the Emissary, and prophecies with interpretations about them.
- And some Klingon scrolls about Kahless the Unforgetable.
- The Russian translation of Deep Space 9 calls the Ferengi text the Commandments of Money-grubbing and makes the rules sound like the Ten Commandments.
- 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 "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky" the Book of the People, which contains all knowledge on the Fabrini. Only the High Priestess plus their husband is allowed to view it. Anyone else trying to will be killed by the Oracle. It turns out to just be a manual on how their world ship's computer (the Oracle) works.
- 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 5:
G'Kar: Do not thump the Book of G'Quan. It is disrespectful.
- 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 Interstellar President is sworn in.
- G'Kar is a follower of the Book of G'Quan. As it turns out, G'Quan lived during the previous Shadow War, and wrote of the Narns' struggle to force the Shadows off of their homeworld. Learning of this, Garibaldi borrows it to see if they can devise any useful strategies from it. Later, he walks into the room excitedly tapping the book declaring that it has everything they need to know.
- When Kosh intervenes in G'Kar's mental assault on Londo, G'Kar experiences an inner enlightenment. While under arrest, he writes a philosophical book, which is eventually treated by some Narns as a new holy book. This leads to some comedy, as Narn holy books must replicate the original in every detail — so when Garibaldi accidentally puts his cup of coffee on the original and leaves a ring-shaped stain on it, every copy of the new book has to have that stain as well. It also causes some problems for G'Kar as a spiritual leader because it was released before he finished it, so his followers keep bringing up sections he wrote early in his spiritual awakening and had since reconsidered.
- The Book of Pythia served this in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica. With the circular nature of existence between humans and Cylons, however, it sometimes seemed that each race was the "god" to whom inspiration was found to write the passages and prophesies, in part. God was present, but not in a way that either side fully understood or appreciated—seemingly Pandeism, monotheism, and polytheism all rolled into a syncretic mess.
- One of the fake infomercials [adult swim] airs at 4 AM is The Book of Christ, which touts a newly discovered book of The Bible supposedly written by Jesus himself. It turns out to be a big pile of Mistaken for Profound (along with awful recipes and hit-and-run donkey accident confessionals):
To throw things at a bird is no sin. - TBoC 567:87
If your camel spits on me, then I will spit on you in return. This is fair in the eyes of God. - TBoC 34:21
You must worship the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And also God's Lungs, and the Four Big Men, and the Immortal Bug.
This is to be called the Holy Hendecogy. - TBoC 510:51
- Farscape: In "Jeremiah Crichton", the people on a remote isolated planet start worshipping Rygel as their god. He immediately demands to see the "sacred text" they live by and discovers the "Sacred Language" is actually an ancient form of his native Hynerian. Turns out the colonists were sent out to spread word of the Hynerian Empire but one family made a power grab and took over the group.
D'Argo: How did you know about the sacred text?
Rygel: Where were you brought up? Every religion's got one.
- In Dungeons & Dragons, the vast majority of the 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.
- 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, to only name two.
- Mutant Chronicles has two, the Chronicles of the Brotherhood, and the Book of Law. The Book of Law is a "how-to" manual for all religious rites, from baptisms to assaulting Dark strongholds. The Chronicles aren't a book, since they are carved into the walls of the Brotherhood Cathedrals, but they are the holiest of the Brotherhood's writings and tell the history of the rise of the Brotherhood and its struggle against the Darkness. Making new Books of Law is the duty of an army of scribes, since something so important can't be entrusted to a machine. Attempting to duplicate a single sentence of the Chronicles will get you immediately shot by the guards posted by them.
- Pathfinder has books for all of it's many gods, with a few interesting variations. The holy book of Erastil is largely a collection of farming and hunting tips, while Cayden Cailean's is a set of short sayings meant to be conveniently carved into wooden placards for display in bars.
- The Dragon Age has two prime examples:
- The Elder Scrolls
- In Morrowind, the Tribunal Temple has a few, including the 36 Lessons of Vivec, where each book is a "sermon" telling part of the story, and Saryoni's Sermons, written by Temple Archcanon Tholer Saryoni, which is a collection Hierographa regarding Vivec. The original manuscript for Saryoni's Sermons is one of the most valuable items in the game, coming in at 50,000 septims.
- The Redguards of Hammerfell, a dark-skinned Proud Warrior Race of Men, have swords and swordsmanship as holding great cultural value. Naturally, their most sacred text is a treatise on sword techniques. It is The Book of Circles, written by Frandar Hunding, a great ancient hero and spiritual leader of the Redguards. It is said to include "thirty-eight grips, seven hundred and fifty offensive and eighteen hundred defensive positions, and nearly nine thousand moves essential to sword mastery". Every household in Hammerfell contains an alcove above their hearth to store and display the book.
- The Alessian Order was a rabidly anti-Elven religious sect which established a Theocracy that wielded nearly as much power as the Emperor at its height. Their sacred scripture was known as the Alessian Doctrines, 77 rules outlining the Order's principles. The nature of the Doctrines has been lost to history, but contemporary accounts describe them as banal, strict, and sometimes outright cruel. One known rule was that "All are guilty until they have proven themselves innocent."
- In the RPG Mechanics 'Verse comic Erfworld every library comes with a set of books supposedly written by the Titans (creator gods) themselves. These are a mix of everything from motivational guides on the nature of duty to more traditional religious rules, and one book we see quoted directly is literally just patch notes explaining some of the more arcane mechanics (specifically an Obvious Rule Patch preventing a repeat of a trick used in the prequel story). One of the more religious characters mentions being rather disturbed by some of the contradictions he noticed, like the dead interacting with the living being stated to be impossible in one book and being forbidden as a sin in another.
- In Kill Six Billion Demons, the tenets of the Atru faith are contained in three texts: the Psalms, the Spasms and the Song of Maybe. The Psalms are mostly the contradictory teachings of YISUN, recounted as YISUN's conversations with the Multiplicity. The Spasms are mostly allegorical poems, most of which are fairly incomprehensible. Finally, the Song of Maybe contains various legends and parables, such as the deeds of the gods and certain mighty mortals, and is by far the most easy to understand part of the Atru canon.
- Unsounded: The Songs of Ssael are the core scripture of the Ssaelit religion, penned by the legendary spellwright who, according to the faith, killed and replaced the Creator Gods after his own death. The volumes he wrote while noticeably senile lay out some increasingly bizarre commandments. The final volume appeared after his death, written on unidentifiable material, and detail his deicide and his plans for the world.
- 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.
- See our works index for Sacred Literature.