Trope Workshop:Sacred Scripture

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The description below, although edited quite a bit from the original, still needs work. It contradicts itself and rambles somewhat. Many cultures have sacred works that do not include explicit moral guidelines and laws or which are primarily histories or pseudo-histories, though. The generalization below that all sacred texts are explicit books of law is inaccurate, and the characterization of believers as "a little bit too enthusiastic" is disrespectful. We should probably also have a bit here on the role of sacred texts in worldbuilding by authors. Oh, and the Erfworld example references a "variant" of the trope that isn't mentioned anywhere else.

In order for society to function properly in fiction, a few rules are usually established in the form of a common belief or inventing a new religion. And the most practical way of recording them is to write them down in one place, which for most civilizations has been a book, scroll or other portable medium; and these books can become so important that they can be considered to be the only thing holding society together. And every now and then, someone reads or, in some cases, writes these rules and claim that it's the recorded commands of a divine being, or in some cases that a divine being actually wrote them. And then there's also the issue of one dooming the world or appointing one to save it.

But in order for a document to be considered "sacred" in this context, it needs several things:

  • A following that openly reveres it, and feels that its teachings are, if not actually infallible, preeminent guidelines for living.
  • It has to be important to the society, or at least a large subset of that society.
  • A strong need for preserving it accurately. This can range from generations of scholars ensuring accurate translations to requiring all copies to only be published in its original language to insisting every copy be perfect hand-made replicas of the original book.

But in the context of actually writing a story, this trope mainly serves to provide some insight in how a specific group thinks. Such as explaining why the Ferengi from Star Trek are obsessed with commerce or how the villains are planning to destroy the world. Other times, it also serves as explaining the fallout from a significant event and showcasing what they thought about it..

If it's related to morality, this can be a Tome of Eldritch Lore or one of the Tomes of Prophecy and Fate. Expect someone who regularly quotes these to use As the Good Book Says... for an excuse for solving a lot of scenarios in a certain manner.

Note that examples should be scriptures unique to their culture or setting. However, the existence or use of The Bible in a predominantly Christian setting is People Sit on Chairs territory, even if that setting is an Alternate Universe or Timeline.

MOD: The possible varieties of scriptures include: Creation Myths, stories about what the gods and/or their representatives get or got up to, Just-So Stories, explicit laws and commandments (Don't do this or you'll get smote), moral teachings (Do this to be a better person), histories and/or pseudo-histories, genealogies or pseudo-genealogies, prophecies, general sucking up to the Divine (praise, worship, etc.), stuff that got added by mistake or because it was in the same pile when the book was being compiled (the Song of Solomon is a likely example). (Are there any others?) Not all holy scriptures include all of these subtypes.

Examples of Sacred Scripture include:

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The Crime Bible from the DC Comics universe is an account of the life and acts of Cain after murdering his brother, in association with Lilith. It is used as a guide to living a life in the ways of evil, and has appeared in the hands of many different villains and supervillains; as of the time of Final Crisis, it is the central scripture of the Religion of Crime.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, there's an group of children known as "The Lost Tribe" who believe that a discarded slide-viewer is an accurate recollection of the past. They eventually regard whatever comes out of a phonograph as an divine command.
  • Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi initially exiled himself to find the first Jedi Temple and its texts on the planet Ahch-To. In the spirit of the movie's theme of clinging onto the past, Luke is pretty defensive of what they say until Yoda destroys them to prove a point.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Faith of the Seven from A Song of Ice and Fire claimed, when Olenna Tyrell sarcastically asked for an explanation, that their gods demand justice, and that the deities' message comes from their holy text, the Seven-Pointed Star.
  • The Servants of Naamah in Kushiel's Legacy is essentially a religious order of prostitutes with a certain set of standards. Additionally, one of the prerequisites for joining them is studying erotic literature; they believe that having sex is a method of worshiping their patron goddess and being deficient in that field means that one is incorrectly praying to her.
  • Dune has the Orange Catholic Bible, which is an amalgamation of every religious text known to humanity. And it also serves as a set of laws for the remnants of society.
  • Gulliver's Travels features a feud between the Lilliputians and a neighboring country over how they interpreted the Brundecal, which is an ancient book written by a famed monk. And it turns out that cracking open an egg based on what the Brundecal says is worth starting a war over.

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Ferengi from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have "The Rules of Acquisition." Despite being a list of guidelines for running a business, the series' Proud Merchant Race claims that it's divinely inspired and it's often quoted on the show.
  • To his surprise and muted horror, Ambassador G'Kar from Babylon 5 discovers that his journals from the Shadow War have become regarded as a holy scripture on his home world, and his fellow Narns are using them as a guide by which to live their lives. Its devotees require that every copy be an exact facsimile of the original, right down to a ring-shaped coffee stain on one page caused by G'Kar setting his mug down on the manuscript.

Oral Tradition, Myths and Legends[edit | hide]

Please note that not every religion in the world has a (surviving) scripture that corresponds to this trope. A general body of myth may well be more focused on telling stories (or sharing gossip) about the gods and their adventures than laying out guidelines for living one's life, mainly because that's all that survived to reach the modern day. Particularly in the case of Classical Mythology much of what we've retained has been works of entertainment -- epic poems and plays, among other forms -- and may well, for all we know, suffer from Adaptation Decay. Other "mythologies" are little more than local adjuncts to Christianity. Thus not every mythos for which we have a page will be listed below.

  • The Abrahamic sacred texts are perhaps infamous for just how densely-packed they are with commandments, laws, rules and guidelines.
  • Celtic Mythology (Welsh and Irish) is an aversion in that they had a cultural taboo against consigning knowledge to writing, and thus had no holy scriptures. At all. All existing volumes of Celtic lore were compiled well after the fall and assimilation of the Celtic nations.
  • The sacred works of Hindu Mythology sometimes interweave philosophical guidance with the action; even when that's not the case, the stories are used as moral allegory to convey spiritual truths.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The Maar Zon religion from Traveller has a book called Maar Ki Zon or Book of the Way which has guided the Syleans through a period of interplanetary anarchy.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • The Imperium of Mankind reveres several books, but their importance can vary widely. For instance, the Lex Imperialis is literally the law of the Imperium and it actually takes more than a lifetime to read it in its entirety, but that doesn't stop the Judges of Adeptus Arbites from enforcing it.
    • The main religion for the Imperium comes from the Lecitito Divinitatus, which proclaims that the Emperor of Mankind really was a god and serves as a guide on worshiping him. It was penned by Logar of the Word Bearers, who was convinced that his father was of divine origin, even though the Emperor refused to being worshiped like this.
    • And speaking of the Word Bearers, faced with the God-Emperor of Mankind destroying everything that they stood for (forcing people to worship the Emperor), they've begun using the Book of Logar as a replacement for their faith.
    • On the other hand, The Imperial Infantryman's Uplifting Primer is generally considered to be an waste of paper on account how inaccurate it is, despite being issued to nearly everyone who joins the Imperial Guard.
    • The Codex Astartes, penned by Roboute Guiliman, was originally intended to prevent the nine remaining Space Marine Legions from going rogue by limiting how they fight. While most of them went along with it in order to prove their loyalty, the Ultramarines took it a step farther and started worshiping it after Guiliman fell into a life-threatening coma.
  • The Mutant Chronicles has The Book of Law, which provides instructions on conducting anything that's related to religion and certain facets of life, and Chronicles of the Brotherhood, the physical documentation of the Brotherhood's origins. Both of these are so valued that any unauthorized attempt at duplicating them is grounds for execution.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Super Paper Mario:
    • The main conflict is caused by Count Bleck and his followers acting out the ancient text of the Dark Prognosticus, which is a series of predictions that might cause the end of everything that exists.
    • On the other hand, the Light Prognosticus only provides vague advice to counteract Bleck's actions. But this doesn't stop the supporting cast from relying on it.
  • Elder Scrolls:
    • The Redguards of Hammerfall place a lot of spiritual value in a book on swordsmanship known as The Book of Circles. Mainly because they're collectively a Proud Warrior Race and the book was written by a legendary warrior.
    • One of the leaders of Alessian Order had written down a strict moral code called the "Alessian Doctrines", which eventually became the basis of a theocracy which was influenced by the code's "guilty until proven innocent" teachings.
    • The religiously-themed Tribunal Temple from Morrowind has quite a few widely-read tomes that explain the past in the form of a sermon.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Partially because the Chantry is a theocracy, the Chant of Light is more than a collection of religious texts and the history of the continent of Thedas. In fact, it's a way of life for most of the populace. Although it's prone to having the occasional verse of a rebellion removed from it and reviles anything that isn't human.
    • And to a lesser extent, the Tome of Koslun fills a similar role for the Qunari. While its contents haven't been revealed, it's important enough for them to make an attempt to retrieve after it was stolen.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • The Covenant of Primus is the Transformers take on the Bible, considering how it foretells cataclysmic events. Certain members of the Autobots interpret its predictions as a symbol of an impending conflict.
  • The Enchiridion from Adventure Time is essentially an ancient guide on being a hero, which places a high value on it since the populace of the Land of Ooo reveres most acts of heroism.

Other Media[edit | hide]