Last edited by Capeless; 02-13-2013 at 02:44 PM.
Have you tried googling any of this? Some of the answers are definitely available with a basic google search.
Translations from the original language directly into the new language (presumably English) are to be preferred, of course. Other than that, I'm afraid there are no short-cuts. Only you can determine which is the best for yourself and your purposes - and some of what you've labelled as 'religious groups' are more defined by what they aren't than by what they are, and 'unified and organised' is part of what they aren't.
Weekend Warrior (Fantasy Division)
What you are asking for is a course on "Comparative Religions". Check to see if one is available at your local University.
There is only one official Koran (for Islam). A certain Caliph centuries ago decided which version was the correct one, and had all other ones destroyed. For the more serious reader, go on to read the Hadiths, a series of sayings attributed to Muhammed. As far as translations go, I don't have any comment. It is rather dry no matter what.
For Hinduism, there is a great variety of books to read, some of them are very entertaining. I recommend the abridged versions of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as abridged and translated by the author Narayan. They are very short and readable. The non abridged versions run to several volumes, and some translations are tricky. This is to start with. Next, read the entire Bhagavad Gita, which is an exerpt from the Mahabharata, and contains the most 'religious' of the content of that epic book. This should be available anywhere. I do not recommend any of the translations from the Hare Krishnas, (AKA Krishna Conciousness Movement) as they are a modern sect, and if your goal is general knowledge, much of the commentary and 'explainations' they add are extraneous, and specific to their own beliefs, rather than reflective of how the book is viewed among mainstream Hindus. Any decent translation of the Bhagavad Gita is short and easily readable. For more advanced studies, you should read the Rig Veda and Upanishads. The Rig Veda is the oldest of the Hindu scriptures, and possibly the oldest scripture of a religion still practiced, so old that many of the gods mentioned are no longer worshipped, but it provides interesting context. As you read these books, you should reflect that they are the foundation, not a summary of Hinduism as practiced today, which is so diverse and manifold as to defy any attempt to summarize.
As far as the Chinese classics, these are widely and well translated for the most part. The Tao Te Ching is, in my opinion, the most accessible religious work ever written. Simple, beautiful and poetic. the writings of Confucious, the Analects and the Great Learning, are dry and more scholarly, but readily available. More advanced learners will want to read Mencius (Meng Tzu). As far as Chinese 'folk' religions, again they are too diverse to properly summarize, though all have been heavily influenced by Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism.
Buddhism is also difficult. In college, I read an anthology called 'Buddhist Mahayana Texts' which contained certain versions of the story of the Buddha's life. Next I read the Pali Canon, so called because that is the language in which it is written, which is a multi volume work which collects the Buddha's sermons. Since he travelled around preaching, many of the sermons are repeatetive. However, both of these are writings of the Mahayana tradition. The Therevada tradition has its own texts, which I have not read. For Zen Buddhism, there are various collections of the writings of various Zen masters, the most prominent of whom was Joshu. I don't have much guidance to offer here. Tibetan Buddhism is also challenging. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is probably the most canonical, but there are a huge variety of other writings which I am not qualified to judge.
If you are feeling ambitious, you might try the Zend Avesta, the holy book of Zorastrianism. This is not a major religion any more, but used to be, and heavily influenced several other religions. It is very dull reading, however.
But to actually answer the question in part: There is no "best translation" of the Bible. I don't believe that there is a single best translation of the Koran or the Torah either. You might ask some clergy people which translations are best.
There are a number of different texts that could be considered the scriptures of Hinduism, but which ones are important seem to be matters of opinion. Buddhism also has several texts that are basic scriptures of different branches of it, so you probably should invedtige Buddhism.
For Chinese religions you should find the works ofLao Tse and Confucius.
Actually, it is pointless for you to bother reading the scriptures until you find out what they are. Read the articles about the various religions, then decide what you want to read about them, or whether you do. There are good books on comparative religion that would explain the basics for you. Reading the original texts can be frustrating, because they have been interpreted over the millennia.
Actually, WriteKnight had the best idea, take a college course, and, if you don't wanna, find a college course that teaches what you want to know about, and get its reading list, and read those on your own.
I don't take any theological position on translations of the Bible, not being religious myself, but I think you have to consider the King James version. It's so influential in English language and letters.
Having taken Comparative Religions in school (and another class called The Bible as History) I can tell you it's worth it. Though you'll likely only get a half dozen religions or so, you'll find all the similarities between them (all religions have, at their core, the mandate to be nice). There are plenty online now, but you can easily order the textbooks, or even many other books, for the learning you'd get.
Heck, you could spend a lifetime comparing Christianity to Christianity...
Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)
Okay, first off, there are more Sikhs worldwide that practitioners of Shinto. I think it's Sikhism, Judaism, Shinto, as far as order goes.
The Sikh "holy book" is the Siri Guru Granth Sahib. (But truthfully, it's our living Guru, so we don't actually like to call it a book, though it takes that form.) Most of the translations are pretty bad English. The most literal is by Manmohan Singh. There's a version in pretty good English online through www.sikhnet.com, I think. But I'm not sure if you can download the whole thing or just one poem at a time. (The whole thing is poetry.)
If you have questions about Sikhism, feel free to ask me. Either here or by PM or in the Comparative Religion section of the forum
"The only freedom any of us ever has is the freedom to choose how we will not be free."
For Christianity, I would actually recommend two versions. The first being the King James Version, simply because there is so much history behind it, and--as an English major myself--it contains some of the most beautiful examples of the English language in a religious context. For a more modern and easier to understand version, the New International Version has long been popular and widely accepted, at least in the USA.
On a side note--and this may be further than you want to go in your research-- the book "God's Secretaries" by Adam Nicolson provides an excellent in-depth study of the religious, political, and literary motivations behind the creation of the King James Bible. It's also a good look at England in the early 1600s, which played a big role in the development of modern Christianity in America as well as England.
"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak." Hans Hofmann
While it wasn't on the list, I'd suggest the Avesta which are the holy texts for Zoroastrianism. They can be found online at http://www.avesta.org/
Buddhist texts are all over the place, but vary considerably between the various forms of Buddhism.
And as for that general listing, calling Taoism and Confucianism Chinese folk religions is rather like calling philosophy and Christianity European folk religions.
Sometimes, what people need is to have things asked of them.
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I can't say anything about the other religions, but, for Christianity, here are some tips:
1) Avoid the King James Version. Seriously. It's antiquated, and it's more a revision of previous English translations than a translation in its own right.
2) As for a good English translation, the New American Standard Bible is readable and has plenty of footnotes for explanations or possible alternate interpretations.
3) Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Prottie Bibles differ in the ordering of books of the Old Testament and which books are included. Catholics consider most of the books of the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Old Testament done in the first century BC) canon, and Eastern Orthodoxy includes even more, though there are still some books (such as Third and Fourth Macabees) that neither denomination consider canon (although they are available, and you can read them separately). Some of the Greek versions of books are longer (added scenes, etc.), so Catholic Bibles have these "director's cut" versions.
4) Despite being Catholic, I actually don't have a Catholic Bible. When I was in Sunday school, getting ready for Confirmation, they gave us the Good News Bible in Today's English Version (a translation from circa 1960s, which has since been replaced by a new translation). It's more of a paraphrase than a literal translation, and it's very modern in some of its translation decisions. It's more, I dunno, "everyday languagey". Also, the Prottie version of the Old Testament canon is used. The additional books that Catholics consider canon (as well as the directors' cuts) are included in a section after the OT called Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha, and the Eastern Orthodox canon is included after those in a section called "Some additional books".
5) Protties have different versions of familiar hymns than Catholics. A while ago, I went to a memorial service for one of my coworkers at a generic independent church with no obvious denomination. I flipped through their music issue. I saw that they had a few familiar hymns in common with Catholics (mostly Christmas songs), but some of them had different lyrics. It blew my mind that their version of "Silent Night" has completely different lyrics than the Catholic version. Our version goes "Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright." Their version goes "Silent night, holy night, all is dark, save the light." Also, "Joy to the World" hasa completely unfamiliar verse, and another hymn (I forget which) includesa verse that seems to be stolen from "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel". Definitely bizarre.
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Just a quick note, Mark - there are many and various Protestant denominations, and just because one generic Protestant church of no obvious denomination has a hymn different doesn't mean they all do.
Unlike the Catholic church and its monolithic nature when viewed from outside, all the various Protestant churches have in common is that at one point their predecessors said 'We were Catholic and we are not any more'. There are a few things that most of them hold with in general principle, but not even all those are held by all Protestant churches, so in reality, 'Not Being Catholic Now' is about it - from that point, they've gone in radically different directions in different places and at different times. 'Protestant' covers the Anglicans, the Baptists and the Methodists (and those three were just in my home village in England). It also covers the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Adventists, the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, and so on and so forth ad almost infinitum.
As to the hymn, several different denominations of Protestantism sent people to the new World, who then split even more once there. That hymn may simply be a different translation from the original German, one that didn't catch on quite so well as the one I know from the (Protestant, Church of England) hymnbook I grew up with, which matches yours for those few lines at least.
(And this is why I said that only the OP could determine what the 'best' is. I agree with you, though, the King James is best avoided, but personally I really didn't like the Good News.)
Weekend Warrior (Fantasy Division)