The Jataka tales are some of the earliest examples of Buddhist literature, dating from around the fourth century B.C.E. They are believed to be precursors to the famous biographies of Buddha, which were composed later.
Some of the Jataka tales are contained in the Pali canon of Buddhist literature. There are 35 tales that were collected for the purpose of teaching and they make up the "Carriya Pitaka," or “Basket of Conduct.” The Theravada Jatakas are made up of 547 poems that include commentaries to give context to the verses.
There are many variations of the Jatakas, all with their own emphasis. In the Sanskrit and Tibetan Jatakas, for instance, the stories maintain their teachings of Buddhist morality, whereas the Persian retellings often contain more cultural amendments.