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Internet Sacred Text Archive (ISTA)

J.B. Hare
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Reviewed by:
Jack Cheng
Independent Scholar
April 2004

This archive is a repository for public domain materials relating to religions, myths, and folklore worldwide. This is an excellent source for teachers and student reports that might involve the Torah, New Testament, Koran, Bhagavad Gita, or works of Buddhism or ancient religions. The site also incorporates contemporary “folklore” such as UFOlogy, new religious movements such as Neopaganism, and even agnostic or atheistic works under the umbrella of “Sacred Texts.” Because of the broad approach, I would not recommend teachers send students to the site for research, but rather choose relevant documents and make them available to the class. The last thing you want from an assignment on a major world religion is an examination of crop circles or an essay on Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

One decision that the website’s compiler has made is to only include materials that are public domain in the U.S., that is, anything published prior to 1922 or things published between 1922 and 1964 for which the copyright was not renewed. Practically every text on the site was published before 1922, and many were published in the mid- to late 19th century. That makes this website essentially a time capsule of late 19th- and early 20th-century thought. Given advances in linguistics and literary criticism, many translations on the website have been rendered obsolete. There are almost no references to contemporary scholarship. A valuable classroom activity would be to compare modern renditions to the site’s documents.

The second choice that the website’s compiler has made is to archive sacred texts from as many cultures and time periods as possible. Breadth in and of itself is not a problem, but there are no obvious criteria at work for identifying a “sacred text.” Indeed one wonders at the inclusion of both Robin Hood and the Rig Veda. In what ways are the two comparable? Works under the heading “Age of Reason“ include texts that debunk or criticize sacred texts by Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, and Albert Einstein, among others.

This website also lacks contextualization. For each culture or religion that the site treats, the website’s compiler has written a few paragraphs. Primary texts are distinguished from secondary sources, but individual texts are rarely introduced.

The site is relatively easy to navigate and a few clicks will get the reader to the appropriate text. The big caveat is that the categories are somewhat inconsistent in scale. Some texts are grouped by continent, (Asia, Australia), others by book (The Bible) or by religion (Islam, Judaism). In addition, there are catchall categories like “Women“ or “Legends/Sagas.” The Internet Sacred Text Archive is a valuable resource for important documents in world and religious history. The quality of the translations varies, however, and the general inclusiveness of the site can be confusing.

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