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THE KORAN OF THE MOHAMMEDANS.
The name Koran is derived from an Arabic word guard, to "read," and this from the older Shemitic, meaning to "cry aloud," to "pronounce," "utter," "dictate." It is supposed to have obtained its name from the claim made, that it was dictated to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel. This Mohammed was born at Mecca about 570 A.D. and died at Medena 632.
In his fifteenth year (610) he claimed that he received a visit from the Angel Gabriel in the wild solitude of Mount Hira near Mecca. He was frightened and attempted to commit suicide, but his wife predicted that he would be the prophet of Arabia. The angel appeared to him again in a vision, saying "I am Gabriel, and thou art Mohammed, the prophet of God. Fear not." His public career as a reformer now began. The revelations of Gabriel, now like the sound of a bell and again like the voice of a man, continued from time to time for more than twenty years and are deposited in the Koran. Mohammed dictated his revelations leaf by leaf as occasion demanded. A year after his death, Zayd. his chief amanuensis collected the scattered fragments "from palm leaves, and tablets of white stone and from the breast of men" but without regard to chronological order.
The Koran has 114 chapters. These vary greatly in their length, from 40 octavo pages to a short paragraph containing a verse or two. Besides this there is an artificial division into sixty-five equal parts, and each of these again subdivided into four equal parts. There are seven principal editions or ancient copies of the Koran, but they all agree in the same total of words which are 77,639 and the same total of letters 323,015.
The Koran admits the Divine authority of the Jewish Scriptures, makes the fear of a personal God the groundwork of its religion. It promulgates the doctrine of Allah's sovereignty, of his immutable throne, of his eternal decrees, and of his continual personal providence. It teaches a great judgment to come, a resurrection-day of final account, "the book" in which each man shall read the true value of the life lived by him in this preparatory world, the meeting with his sins that have gone before him, and a sublime vigorous doctrine of prayer. But it has no reference to the doctrine of the cross or any hint of the mediatorial idea. Besides it has three great positive deformities—the doctrine of polygamy, of slavery and the sensual aspect it gives to the happiness of Paradise. The Koran is the most positive rival of the Bible, but infinitely below it in purity, interest and value. The one is of the earth, earthly; the other is from heaven, heavenly. The Koran is sectional: the Bible is universal.
THE THREE VEDAS OF THE HINDOOS.
The word Vedas is derived from the Sanscrit Va'dahaz "to know." The three Vedas are in Sanscrit, in prose and hymns, The hymns, numbering about 1000, and though formerly one work, they are divided into four parts; these are the sacred writings of the Hindoos, of great antiquity, but of uncertain date. They are regarded as containing the true knowledge of God, of His religion and of His worship. These Vedas vary greatly in age, represent many stages of thought and worship, the earliest being the simplest. The Vedas have their origin in the wonder with which early man regarded the universe and the operations going on in it. They consist, therefore, largely of highly figurative addresses to the great powers of nature under seemingly different representations, between whom, however, a great power (OM) is divinely recognized. Gradually these powers became more and more endowed with personality, and ultimately came to be regarded as real divinities, to whose number more were gradually added.
The hymns of the Vedas embrace the earliest known lyrics of the Aryan settlers of India. Dr. Monier Williams thinks they were probably composed by a succession of poets at different dates, between 1500 and 1000 B.C. The third division of each Veda is not earlier than 600 B.C. and shows the working of the Aryan mind upon religious and philosophic problems. Writers upon this subject mark the beginnings of certain Vedic works with 1200, 1000, 800 and 600 years B.C.
THE ZENDA VESTA OF THE PERSIANS.
Zendavesta, a Persian compound word, meaning (the living word, or commentary and text), is the collective name of the Sacred books of the Parsees containing the doctrines of the ancient Persian religion founded by Zoroaster. It is supposed he was born in Bacria, his father's name being Pournsaspa. This is all that is known of his personal life. The time in which he lived is utterly uncertain, some placing him 500 years before Christ, and others 6000 years before Plato.
The religious system which he developed is a complete dualism, Ormuz being the creator and ruler of all that is good and bright, Ahriman the chief of that which is dark and evil.
To each of these supreme beings belongs a member of subordinate spirits and all that exists is divided between these two realms. Man has to choose and according to his choice he will after death go to Ormuz or to Ahriman. The way to the first is pure thought, pure speech and pure actions. The only object of worship was fire. The priests who maintained and conducted the worship were the Magi.
THE EDDAS OF THE SCANDINAVIANS.
The two Eddas (or Great grandmothers) is a name given to the books by Bishop Svejusson, to indicate that they are the mothers of all Scandinavian poetry, but, they are attributed to Frodi, a priest in Iceland, retiring between 1054 and 1133 A.d. The older one consists of old mythic poems. It contains a system of old Scandinavian mythology with narratives of the exploits of the gods and heroes, and some account of the religious doctrines of the ancient Scandinavians. Saemund, one of the earlier Christian priests in Iceland who was born about the middle of the eleventh century, and died in 1133 A.D., having a fondness for Paganism collected certain old pagan songs of unknown authorship, written at different periods between the sixth and eighth centuries, mostly of a religious character. This collection is called The Elder or Poetic Edda, and embodies thirty-nine poems. The younger or prose Edda is a collection of prose of a similar character. This is the work of Gnorro Sturleson, educated by Saemund's grandson, and nearly a century after him, put together. He also wrote a kind of prose synopsis of the whole mythology elucidated by new fragments of traditionary verse. This Sturleson was born in Iceland in 1178 and was assassinated there in 1241 on his return from Norway.
THE TRI-PITAKA OF THE BUDDHISTS.
Pitaka (literally basket) is with the Buddhists a term denoting a division of their sacred literature, and occurs in combination with tri, "three,"—Tripitaka meaning the three great divisions of the canonical works, the Veiaya (discipline), abhidharma (metaphysics), and Sutra (aphorisms in prose), and collectively therefore the whole Buddhist's code. Gantama Broddha, the alleged founder of Booddhism was born 624 or 556 B.C. in Northern India. The story of his life is a tissue of montrous falls, but after a life of severe asceticism, he began to publish abroad the deep things his meditations had revealed. His doctrines were proclaimed orally but not written. After his death about 543 five hundred of his disciples held a council and each recited what he had heard, then the whole assembly repeated aloud what had been thus gathered up. By a second and third council these teachings were formulated; but it is not proved that any written statement of them is earlier than B C. 100-88, although some are of opinion that the Buddhist Canonical Scriptures as they now exist were fixed two and a half centuries before the Christian era. It is yet unsettled whether the original language was Sanscrit or Pali, probably the latter.
THE FIVE KING OF THE CHINESE.
In the five cannonical or classical books called "King" are the sacred writings of the chinese. "King" means "web of cloth" or the warp that keeps the threads in their place. They contain the best sayings of the best sages on the duties of life. These sayings cannot be traced to a period higher than the eleventh century. Confucius collected them from various sources in the sixth century B.C., and in this collection they have been pretty faithfully handed down to us. In these books are the oldest monuments of Chinese poetry, history, philosophy and jurisprudence, some portions of which belong to the most ancient uninspired writings of the human race.
Next to the five King in value are the Sse-Shee or the four books. These were written by Confucius and his disciples, and must be regarded as the most trustworthy source of insight into the intellectual and political life of the Chinese.
THE SCRIPTURES OF THE CHRISTIANS.
The Bible (Greek Ta Bablia) "The Books" is the name given by Chrysostom in the fourth century A.D. to that collection of sacred writings recognized by Christians as the documents of their divinely inspired religion. In language and contents they are divided into two parts—the Old and New Testament.
The Old Testament is a collection of thirty-nine books written partly in the Hebrew and partly in the Chaldaic language, and containing all that remains of Hebrew-Chaldaic literature down to the middle of the second century B.C. A period of about four hundred years elapsed between the writing of the last book in the Old Testament and the writing of the first book in the New. The New Testament is a collection of twenty-seven books containing the history and doctrines of Christianity written mostly in the Greek language by eight authors and covering a period of about sixty years.
The books of the Holy Bible were written in different ages from Moses to John (B.C. 1650 to A.D. 90 a period of more than 1700 years) by men specially prepared for the work by direct inspiration from the Divine source of all knowledge.
The Douay Bible so-called because it was translated by English Roman Catholic divines connected with the colleges at Rheims and Douay in France. Both Testaments were translated from the Vulgate or Latin which was the version authorized in the [Roman Catholic Church. The New was published at Rheims in 1582 and the Old at Douay in 1609-16. Among the most notable changes are those in the Ten Commandments. The second is omitted and the tenth divided into two.