Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor


Website Review

The Internet Sacred Texts Archive

Reviewed by Bonnie R. Schutzman
Bonnie R. Schutzman

The Internet Sacred Texts Archive (ISTA) bills itself as "a quiet place in cyberspace devoted to religious tolerance and scholarship."  Its mission is to provide electronic texts of books of religion, mythology, legends, and folklore as well as occult and esoteric topics.  John B. Hare started the site in 1999.  He and a team of volunteers have scanned, redacted, and added more than 300 texts since then.

You will find an impressive listing of available e-texts in the ISTA.  The complete listing of works at the site runs 50 printed pages and ranges from the Zetetic (flat-earth) astronomy of Samuel Rowbotham to the King James Bible, from the first thousand lines of the human chromosome to multiple versions of the Qur'an, from reproductions of some of the Ardeche cave paintings to The Internet Book of Shadows.  It even includes some classics of fantasy writing, such as Spenser's The Faery Queen and Eddison's The Worm Ourobouros.  Notable recent additions include The Lusiad, a Portuguese epic poem about the voyage of Vasco de Gama; Lewis Spence's Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine; and a 1913 translation of Lucian's De Dea Syria (The Syrian Goddess), a text that played a seminal role in the development of modern neopaganism.

The site is organized by topic with some books referenced from more than one section.  The listings include a certain amount of introductory material that highlights major scholarly issues and orients the reader to both the original text and its more modern uses.  But no attempt is made to provide full scholarly critiques.

The texts display as HTML. A few are available in zip files for download.  Most of the site is also available on CD/ROM (USD49.95, with free worldwide shipping when ordered directly from the website).  The CD might be a good option if you make heavy use of the texts and don't have a high-speed internet connection.

Many of the texts are scarce and hard to find in print form, such as the extensive collections of African, Pacific, and Native American legends and folk tales, translations of the Vedas, the Shinto texts, and the Lotus Sutra.  Primary texts are included in their original language as well as in translation.  Many secondary texts are also available.  If you want to build a world that isn't just another medieval European or Celtic clone, you'll find plenty of material here.

Most of the texts are in English, though primary source texts such as the Qur'an and the Bible are available in the original languages.  All the texts at the site are either in the public domain or made available with the consent of the copyright holders.  This means that you are free to use the texts as you see fit, but it also means that few of them are recent.  You may need to supplement these sources with more current research and scholarship.

Another shortcoming of the site is its lack of texts from newer religions, such as Scientology or the Unification Church, which don't have any public domain books about them (and jealously guard their copyrights).

The site is not affiliated with any religious organization, academic institution, or corporate entity.  It is funded primarily through sales of the CD/ROM.