Sacred text from British Library
Sacred text from British LibraryThe British Library

The British Library, the largest national library in the world by number of items cataloged, has for the first time ever put some of its rarest and most ancient religious texts online for the general public to be able to access them from around the world.

The unparalleled online collection titled ‘Discovering Sacred Texts’ includes some which subsequently became the authoritative texts for Jews around the world. They include one of the only copies of the Talmud that somehow escaped the public burnings suffered by most of the other Jewish law books during the Middle Ages and was left unmutilated or uncensored, the first complete printed text of the Mishnah, and the Gaster Bible, one of the earliest surviving Hebrew biblical codices, thought to have been created in Egypt around the 10th century CE.

Some of these over 250 texts, many available to the public for the first time, include Johann Gutenberg’s Bible, probably the most famous Bible in the world and the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using movable type, the earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus, which dates from the 4th century, and the Ma'il Qur'an, one of the very earliest Qur'ans in the world, dating back to the 8th century.

Discovering Sacred Texts provides access to the richness and diversity of the texts from the world’s great faiths. Designed for Religious Education students, teachers, lifelong learners, and the general public, it features nine faiths: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, the Baha’i Faith and Zoroastrianism.

The project has been generously supported by Dangoor Education since its inception and by Allchurches Trust, alongside other funders.

"I am delighted to be involved in such an important and innovative project which will bring to the public for the first time some of the world's oldest and most sacred texts," said David Dangoor, head of Dangoor Education. "These texts form the bedrock of our human civilization and when compared and contrasted by their viewers will demonstrate that our sacred texts all speak a similar language of humanity, compassion and the norms of a fair and equitable society. They all have much to teach us and it is extremely welcome that they are now more accessible."

A curated selection of the spectacular collection items representing these faiths will be on physical display in the British Library’s free, permanent Treasures Gallery to coincide with the launch of Discovering Sacred Texts.

"We are thrilled to be launching Discovering Sacred Texts, a new website drawing on the strength and diversity of the British Library’s faith collections," Alex Whitfield, Head of Learning at the British Library, commented. "This site gives free access to an incredible range of texts, videos and curated articles relating to some of the world’s major faiths, which we hope will provide an invaluable tool for students, teachers and lifelong learners all over the world."

Karen Armstrong, one of the world’s leading authorities on faith and scriptures, will explore the relationship with holy texts in the modern world in a special event at the British Library on 17 October 2019 tied to the launch of the new resource.