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Jewish sacred texts
Jews are known as the "People of the Book," an appropriate title. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the subsequent exile, sacrifices became impossible and Jewish religious life turned to study of the scriptures and prayer in the synagogue. Study of Torah and other Jewish texts has been central to religious life ever since.
The Torah, the Talmud, and other Jewish writings are precious sources of Jewish history and divine commandments (the mitzvot), both of which continue to play a dominant part in Judaism.
To remember the great things God has done for the Jewish people in history, and what he asks of them in return, selections from the Torah and the Prophets are read in the synagogue several times a week.
To assist in proper interpretation and application of the mitzvot, a great body of rabbinical writings has developed and continues to develop to this day.
Study of Torah (preferably in its original language, Hebrew) is an integral part of a Jewish child's education, and even Jewish mysticism is focused on intensive textual study.
The Jewish sacred text is the Tanakh, whose name is an acronym of Torah, Nebi'im and Ketuvim (Law, Prophets and Writings). It consists of the same books as the Christian Old Testament, although in a slightly different order and with other minor differences.
Although the word "Torah" is sometimes used to refer to the entire Tanakh or even the whole body of Jewish writings, it technically means the first five books of the Tanakh. These books are also known as the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch.
Another important Jewish text is the Talmud, a collection of rabbinical writings that interpret, explain and apply the Torah scriptures. The Talmud was written between the second and fifth century CE, but Orthodox Jews believe it was revealed to Moses along with the Torah and preserved orally until it was written down. The Talmud is thus known as the "Oral Torah," with the first five books of the Tanakh designated the "Written Torah."
A third group of Jewish literature is the Midrash, which is a large body of rabbinical material derived primary from sermons (the Hebrew word for "sermon" is d'rash). The primary collections of Midrash were compiled between the fourth and sixth centuries, but the midrashic form continues to the present day.
A further set of Jewish writings is the responsa, a vast collection (thousands of volumes) of answers to specific questions on Jewish law. If the Talmud is a law book, the responsa are case law.
An ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible dating to before the time of Jesus Christ, and used extensively by New Testament writers and the early church.
The Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendor) is the central text of Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Judaism.
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The Daode jing ??? (Book of the Way and its Virtue), a short work consisting of aphorisms attributed to Laozi (the Old Master), is the main early Taoist text. Virtually all movements and lineages within Taoism consider this as the founding scripture of the entire tradition, even though they may venerate their own texts and their own founders. These selections are concerned with the Saint and his state of "non-doing" (wuwei).
Deemed to be one of the masterpieces of Chinese literature, the Zhuangzi ?? (Book of Master Zhuang) differs from the Daode jing from the point of view of its formal features, and mainly consists of stories, anecdotes, and reflections. But in spite of differences of form and emphasis, the two texts present the same view of the Dao and its relation to the world. Virtually nothing is known about Zhuangzi, who probably lived in the late 4th century BCE and is almost certainly the author of only the seven so-called "Inner Chapters" of the text that bears his name. His work has provided Taoism with doctrines, notions, and technical vocabulary throughout its history.
The Huainan zi ??? (Book of the Master of Huainan) was compiled in 139 BCE under the editorship of Liu An, the prince of the southern kingdom of Huainan. A vast work containing twenty-one chapters (or twenty-eight, in some editions), it stands out as a work of synthesis of different traditions, including teachings based on the Daode jing and the Zhuangzi, as an exposition of the arts of government and self-cultivation, and as a description of several cosmological sciences.
With the Huangting jing (Scripture of the Yellow Court), the Laozi zhongjing ???? (Central Scripture of Laozi) is the main early text devoted to meditation practices on the inner gods. Most scholars agree in dating this work to the early 3rd century. It contains descriptions of loci of the inner body, visualizations to be performed on certain days and hours, and invocations addressed to the inner and outer gods. These practices are combined with the visualization of nutritive essences that adepts circulate through the body and deliver to the gods in the five viscera, the three Cinnabar Fields, and other inner organs and loci. The speaker of the text is the deified Laozi.
Ge Hong's Baopu zi neipian ????? (Inner Chapters of the Book of the Master Who Embraces Simplicity), completed around 320 CE, provides a personal but extended overview of several Chinese religious traditions. At one end of this spectrum of traditions, Ge Hong places the "coarse and rustic practitioners" who devote themselves to healing methods, longevity techniques, divination, and magic. At the other end of the spectrum are alchemy and meditation, which in Ge Hong's views represent the culmination of the search for transcendence. Ingesting the elixirs enables an adept to obtain immortality, communicate with the gods, and expel the noxious spirits. Meditation on the True One and the Mysterious One similarly gives access to the divine world and affords control over gods and demons.
● Masters and Texts of Taoist Internal Alchemy: This page provides direct access to translations of Neidan texts freely available from the Golden Elixir website.
by Liu Yiming (1734-1821)
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