Age of Reason
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Book of Shadows
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Sacred Books of the East
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Index of Translators
The Sacred Books of the East (SBE) series, comprising fifty volumes, was issued by the Oxford University Press between 1879 and 1910. It has translations of key sacred texts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, and Islam. The series was edited by the famous linguist Max Müller, who also produced many of the translations. The SBE has been designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as part of the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works.
This series was the one of the inspirations for the sacred-texts website. As most of the SBE texts are in the public domain worldwide (and all of them in are public domain in the US), we have a long term project of converting the entire series to etexts. This page is a progress report on this project, and a way of centralizing known bibliographic information on the SBE.
A few of the texts in this series were already available on the Internet, albeit without any bibliographic information, footnotes or introductions. Others have been scanned at sacred-texts for the first time, notably the Upanishads.
At this point, 36 of these volumes have been converted into electronic versions; 32 of these etexts have been posted initially at the Internet Sacred Text Archive and prepared by volunteers for this site.
The difficulties of turning these books into etexts are enormous, and requires great care and diligence. The typography is, in a word, substandard; not to diminish the fact that it must have been a substantial accomplishment for its time. The system of transliteration of non-western alphabets uses specialized italics and diacritics. The result is that every one of the SBE volumes gives optical character recognition (OCR) software the fits. It is not unusual to have to spend up to 100 hours proofing each volume. One volume (vol. 5.) took over six months of work, primarily due to the thousands of italicized words and letters.
More recently, improvements in OCR technology and the development of our Sacred Texts markup language (STML) have reduced the amount of time required to prepare an SBE etext to days, rather than months. In particular, OCR programs--with some tweaking--can now recognize circumflex vowels with high accuracy. However these volumes still represent some of the most difficult work in the field of etext preparation, and exacting care is still necessary in the editing phase. Each page requires up to four passes: one to correct gross formatting and spelling errors, one to insert STML markup and mark 'dotted' consonants, a third pass where it is read for comprehension (in parallel with the printed page) to eliminate additional errors such as 'specks' and missing quotes, and a final pass in the case where the text has individual words and phrases italicized, to mark these using macros.
The SBE texts suffer from the usual disease of Victorian scholarly texts; they are replete with extensive (and often superfluous) introductory matter and footnotes. The footnotes in a typical SBE volume can comprise from one-half to two-thirds of the bulk of the text. As the scholarly apparatus is set in a smaller typeface it is very difficult to OCR and proofread. For this reason, only more recent SBE etexts originated at sacred-texts include the footnotes and introductions.
In some cases these are the only available translations of a particular text, or the principal reference version. The source material which was used over a century ago to compile the SBE volumes is for the most part extremely rare and highly inaccessible.
The original Oxford University Press printing was very small, and is today very rare. A very few of the more important volumes have been reproduced by Dover publications. The Dover versions are inexpensive but very high quality trade paperbacks. Unfortunately, some of the SBE reprints in the Dover line are now out of print; they turn up often in used bookstores, though.
The Indian publishing firm of Motilal Banarsidass has reprinted the entire set in hardcover (ISBN 8120801016). This is the version available at most large public and academic libraries. The Banarsidass SBE lists for 9000 Rs or approximately US$ 200, with separate volumes priced at 200 Rs, or about US$ 4.50. These are the prices listed on their website, and presumably reflect the retail price in India.
Be prepared to pay a lot more if you order the Motilal Banarsidass SBE set through a bookstore in the US. The books are not available through normal channels and must be shipped from India; the size of the set (as well as its specialized nature) makes it unreasonable for American or European distributors or bookstores to keep it in stock. For this reason, the US list price of the Banarsidass reprint set is $2,250! Used sets have been listed from $600 to $1,250. Individual used volumes are typically between $20 to $40.
NOTE: I was quoted $495.95 (in February 2003) for the set if you order it direct from Motilal Banarsidass and have it shipped to the US. So that might be your best bet if you want the whole set. No word on how long it might take to get from India to the US, though.
In spite of all these difficulties, the translations are uniformly of high quality and are essential for scholars of religion. For this reason, we feel that it is important that this material be published on the Internet.
The original transliteration used in the Sacred Books of the East
can be viewed by clicking on the links below. Each of these files
is a large jpg image:
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We have evolved the following conventions in our etexts of the SBE series. Many of these conventions have been used for other texts scanned at sacred-texts. Refer to the Sacred-texts transcription standards document. Because these conventions have been developed gradually, not all SBE etexts presented here will adhere to all of these guidelines. We are actively engaged in updating the older texts to more recent standards.
Table of Contents of the Sacred Books of the EastAn asterisk indicates the text was scanned at sacred-texts.com. Dover editions (that we know of) are noted.
All volumes of the SBE were originally published in the UK prior to the 1923 cutoff for the public domain in the US (by the 1998 US copyright law). This means that the SBE is in the public domain in the US in its entirety. Since sacred-texts is hosted in the United States by a US citizen, this site follows US copyright law, and all of the SBE texts are candiates for conversion to etext. If you are a US citizen, you can use any of the works in the SBE freely, for any purpose, without asking anyone's permission or paying anyone a fee.
The situation is a bit different in the UK and EU. UK and EU copyrights last 70 years after the death of the author. This means that as of 2005, works of authors who died prior to 1935 are now in the public domain. As can be seen from the table below, this means that the vast majority of the SBE texts are in the public domain (or will enter it in the next few years) according to the stringent UK and EU copyright laws. The remaining volumes not in the public domain in the UK and EU are those authored by Herman Jacobi, deceased 1937 (22 and 45), Junjiro Takakusu, deceased 1945 (co-author of 49) and Moriz Winternitz, deceaseed 1937 (vol. 50, the index).
Another point is that the Motilal Banarsidass reprints have always had a formal copyright notice. Whether this is enforceable is dubious. The Indian copyright term is 60 years, which means all of these texts will be the public domain in India as of the end of 2005 (since the last SBE author died in 1945).
Other countries typically use 50 to 100 years after the decease of the author, Canada, Australia and others use a 50 year rule. Mexico gets the award for the worst public-domain-unfriendly copyright laws worldwide. Mexico recently extended its term to 100 years, which means over two-thirds of the SBE have a restored and enforcable copyright in Mexico! Most countries use a 70 year term. So depending on what country you reside in, your rights to view some of these etexts may vary.
Click here to search for 'Sacred Books of the East' at Amazon.com
This is a list of editions of SBE texts currently in print and available through Amazon.com. By purchasing a book through these links you can help sacred-texts continue its work. Note that some of the Legge books are reprints of a series of Chinese Classics which significantly overlap the work he did for the SBE. Also, we have not actually seen some of the versions below; they may be edited or abridged versions of the SBE texts. All of the Dover versions, however, are exact reproductions of the originals. Reprints of some other SBE volumes are available in out of print Dover versions; they can often be found at used bookstores.