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Adam and Noah are said to be the ancestors of all humanity (though as named characters they are specific to the Biblical/Qur'anic tradition)

Abrahamic religion

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Symbols of the three main Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Symbols of the three main Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam
Map showing the prevalence of Abrahamic (purple) and Eastern (yellow) religions in each country.
Map showing the prevalence of Abrahamic (purple) and Eastern (yellow) religions in each country.

Abrahamic religion is a term commonly used to designate the monotheistic religionsChristianity, Islam, Judaism, and Baha'i [1][2]—which claim Abraham (Hebrew: Avraham אַבְרָהָם ; Arabic: Ibrahim ابراهيم ) as a part of their sacred history. Other, smaller religions that identify with this tradition—such as the Druze faith — are sometimes included.[3] Abrahamic religions account for more than half of the world's total population. Today, there are around 3.8 billion followers of various Abrahamic religions.[4] Eastern religions form the other major religious group, encompassing the "Dharmic" religions of India and the "Taoic" East Asian religions—both terms being parallels of the "Abrahamic" category.

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[edit] Origin of the expression

Abrahamic religions is a term of Islamic origin.[1][2] The view of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as three traditions with a single origin also has a tradition in the West, beginning with Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan the Wise (1779). The English expression "Abrahamic religions" arises in the 20th century, in ca. the 1960s (e.g. James Kritzeck, Sons of Abraham, 1965).

It is the choice of Abraham as a common label that makes them Abrahamic. It stems from his reputation as the "Father of many", which is the literal meaning of his name.[dubious ] He is claimed by Jewish tradition as the ancestor of the Israelites through his son Isaac (Is'haq in Arabic, Yitzchak in Hebrew). By Muslim tradition his other son Ishmael (Isma'il in Arabic, Yišmaʿel in Hebrew) is the ancestor of the Arabs including Muhammad, thus making Abraham an ancestor to all later prophets, since all, except Muhammed, were descended from Israelites. Christians refer to Abraham as a "father in faith" (see Romans 4); the phrase may also be meant to suggest that all three religions come from one source.[dubious ]

Adam, Noah, and Moses are also common to all three religions. As for why we do not speak of an "Adamic," "Noachian," or "Mosaic" family, this may be for fear of confusion. Adam and Noah are said to be the ancestors of all humanity (though as named characters they are specific to the Biblical/Qur'anic tradition). Moses is closely associated with Judaism and, through Judaism, Christianity. Moses is regarded as a Prophet in Islam, but the term "Mosaic" may imply a genealogical lineage which the first Muslims, being Arab, did not share (e.g., descending from Ishmael). Thus, the scope suggested by the first two terms is larger than intended, while the third is too small.

Conversely, there are religions that share characteristics of the Abrahamics but have different origins. The separate origins are generally accepted to preclude them from Abrahamic classification.[attribution needed] For example, Zoroastrianism has monotheistic, prophetic, ethical, revelatory, historical orientation, desert-origin attributes. However, it is Indo-Iranian rather than Semitic, and does not identify with the characters and events of the Bible and Qur'an. Similarly Sikhism has monotheistic, ethical, revelatory, and arguably prophetic attributes, though its origins are Indic rather than Middle Eastern.[citation needed]

[edit] Common aspects

A number of commonalities between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam exist:

  • A prophetic tradition. All three religions recognize figures called "prophets," though their lists differ, as do their interpretations of the prophetic role.
  • Semitic origins. Judaism and Islam originated among Semitic peoples – namely the Jews and Arabs, respectively – while Christianity arose out of Judaism.
  • A basis in divine revelation rather than, for example, philosophical speculation or custom.
  • An ethical orientation. All three religions speak of a choice between good and evil, which is conflated with obedience or disobedience to God.
  • A linear concept of history, sometimes coined as eschatology, beginning with the Creation and the concept that God works through history.
  • Association with the desert, which some commentators believe has imbued these religions with a particular ethos.

[edit] Overview

The tomb of Abraham, a cenotaph above the Cave of the Patriarchs traditionally considered to be the burial place of Abraham
The tomb of Abraham, a cenotaph above the Cave of the Patriarchs traditionally considered to be the burial place of Abraham

The Abrahamic religions are related to (or even derived from) Judaism as practiced in ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah prior to the Babylonian Exile, at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC.

  • Many believe that Judaism in Biblical Israel was renovated and reformed to some extent in the 6th century BC by Ezra and other priests returning to Israel from the exile.
  • According to The Oxford Companion To World Mythology (David Leeming, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 118), "It seems almost certain that the God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El, who was in all likelihood the 'God of Abraham'...If El was the high god of Abraham - Elohim, the prototype of Yahveh - Asherah was his wife, and there are archeological indications that she was perceived as such before she was in effect 'divorced' in the context of emerging Judaism of the seventh century B.C.E. (See 2 Kings 23:15)".Bartbandy
  • Samaritanism separated from Judaism in the next few centuries.
  • The Noachide faith - see also Noahide Law - is also based upon the faith of Abraham as revealed in the Torah and Bible, yet Noachides are not necessarily descendants of Abraham, although a Noachide might be of Abrahamic lineage through any of the children of Abraham. Because there is no way of tracing this accurately, the Noachides are determined by their ancestral connection to Noah, who was Abraham's ancestor. It is taught that Noah, and his son, Shem, who was Abraham's grandfather and also taught Abraham's son Yitzhak (Isaac), was also monotheistic, but there is no evidence to show that they attempted to influence any one other than family members regarding the elements of their faith.
  • Some Christian religions teach that Christianity began with Adam, but that its teachings were rejected and were temporarily replaced with what we now call Judaism, to be restored at the coming of the Messiah. Others believe that Christianity actually originated in Judea, at the end of the 1st century A.D., as a radically reformed branch of Judaism (see Early Christianity). Regardless, the Christianity of the common era spread to ancient Greece and Rome, and from there to most of Europe, Asia, the Americas, and many other parts of the world. Over the centuries, Christianity split into many separate churches and denominations. A major split in the 5th century separated various Oriental Churches from the Catholic church centered in Rome. Other major splits were the East-West Schism in the 11th century, separating the Roman Catholic Church from the Eastern Orthodox Churches; and the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, that gave birth to hundreds of independent Protestant denominations.
  • Islam originated in the 7th century, in the Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina. Although not a dissident branch of either Judaism or Christianity, Muslims believe it to be a continuation of and replacement for them. The Qur'an, the holy book of Islam, held itself to be the final word of God and its message was that of all the prophets. As an example of the similarities between the faiths, Muslims believe in a version of the story of Genesis and in the lineal descent of the Arabs from Abraham through Ishmael, who was conceived through Abraham's servant Hagar.
  • The Druze of northern Israel and southern Lebanon hold to an Abrahamic faith of the Noachide covenant through their ancestor Yitro (Jethro), the father-in-law of Moshe (Moses) (Judaism's greatest prophet). However, its origins are Islamic, developing out of the belief of some Ismaili Shi`a Arab tribes that the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah was an incarnation of God.
  • Mormonism developed in the United States in the 19th century, and comes from an indisputably Abrahamic religious lineage, developing out of the various Protestant Christian denominations of the time. However, its position in the tradition is disputed by some: many Christians argue that Mormonism has departed from the true Abrahamic roots, while some argue that Mormonism is merely an unusually radical sect of Christianity.

[edit] The significance of Abraham

  • For Jews he is primarily a revered ancestor or Patriarch (referred to as "Our Father Abraham") to whom God made several promises: that he would have numberless descendants, and that they would receive the land of Canaan (the "Promised Land"). Somewhat less divisively, according to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the first post-flood person to reject idolatry through rational analysis. (Shem and Eber carried on the Tradition from Noah), hence he symbolically appears as a fundamental figure for monotheistic religion.
  • For Christians, Abraham is a spiritual forebear rather than a direct ancestor.[5] For example, Christian iconography depicts him as an early witness to the Trinity in the form of three "angels" who visited him (the Hospitality of Abraham). In Christian belief, Abraham is a model of faith,[6] and his intention to obey God by offering up Isaac is seen as a foreshadowing of God's offering of his son, Jesus.[7] A longstanding tendency of Christian commentators is to interpret God's promises to Abraham, as applying to Christianity (the "True Israel") rather than Judaism (whose representatives rejected Christ). See also New Covenant.
  • In Islam, Ibrahim is considered one of a line of prophets beginning with Adam (Genesis 20:7 also calls him a "prophet") and extending down to Muhammad, as well as the "first Muslim" – i.e., the first monotheist in a world where monotheism was lost. He is also referred to in Islam as ابونا ابرهيم or "Our Father Abraham", as well as Ibrahim al-Hanif or Abraham the Monotheist. Islam holds that it was Ishmael (Isma'il) (Muhammad's ancestor) rather than Isaac whom Ibrahim was instructed to sacrifice. In addition to this spiritual lineage, the northern Adnani Arab tribes trace their lineage to Isma'il (and thus to Abraham).

[edit] Origins

11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum
11th century manuscript of the Hebrew Bible with Targum

Judaism had its origins in the Canaanite/Israelite culture of the late 2nd and early 1st millenia BC. Israelite culture was Canaanite in origin, sharing with other West Semitic cultures a common pantheon made up of gods including El, Asherah and Baal, as well as the worship of solar and lunar deities and ancestors and common practices including necromancy and child sacrifice. Yahweh originated as a war-god in Edom/Midian, and was gradually assimilated into the highland Canaanite pantheon. This process was marked by two major phases: In the period of the Judges and the early monarchy, convergence saw the coalescence of the qualities of other deities, and even the deities themselves, into Yahweh: Thus El became identified as a name of Yaweh, Asherah ceased to be a distinct goddess, and qualities of El, Asherah and Baal (notably, for Baal, his identification as a storm-god) were assimilated into Yahweh. In the period from the 9th century BC through to the Exile certain features of the Israelite religion were differentiated from the Yahweh cult, identified as Canaanite, and rejected: examples include Baal, child sacrifice, the asherah, worship of the sun and moon, and the cults of the "high places". The driving forces in this process were the royal household of Judah, which identified Yaweh as their tutelary deity, and the prophetic schools of the north. The religious reforms of Josiah, dated by the bible to around 622 BC, and apparently a reaction to the political crisis through which Judah was then passing, marked the decisive step from henotheism to Yahweh-centred monolatry (the insistence on the exclusive worship of one patron god for Israel, without denying the existence of other gods); the development of full-blown monotheism, the concept that yahweh was god not just of Israel but of the world, is more difficult to date, but seems to have developed during the Exilic and post-Exilic periods, in the hands of the Yahwist priesthood.

Judaism's origins—along with those of the ancestral Abrahamic religion—are still obscure. The only source generally agreed by all to be canonical that bears on that question is the Genesis book of the Hebrew Bible, which according to Rabbinic tradition was written by God and received by Moses after the Exodus from Egypt, sometime in the 2nd millennium BC. (Other, newer movements—such as Reform Judaism and Secular Humanism—believe perhaps Moses and certainly others wrote the Bible over a period of time themselves.) According to Genesis, the principles of Judaism were revealed gradually to a line of patriarchs from Adam to Jacob (also called Israel); however the Judaic religion was only established when Moses received the Commandments on Mount Sinai, and with the organization of its priesthood and institution of its temple services.

Archaeologists so far have found no direct evidence to support or refute the Genesis story on the origins of Judaism; in fact, there are no surviving texts of the Hebrew Bible older than the Dead Sea Scrolls (2nd century BC or later). However, archaeology has shown that peoples speaking various Semitic languages and with similar polytheistic religions were living in Canaan and surrounding areas by the 3rd millennium BC. Some of their gods (such as Baal) are mentioned in the Bible, and the supreme god of the Semitic pantheon, El, is believed by some scholars to be the God of the Biblical patriarchs. For example, El is a common segment in Hebrew names, such as Daniel, Ezekiel, Elijah, etc. (See also, List of names referring to El.) There exist a number of inscriptions that some scholars believe to confirm the Biblical record, such as the Tel Dan Stele.

One school of thought, Sigmund Freud and Ahmed Osman being among the proponents, asserts that historically, Abrahamic monotheism began with Akhenaten, the "heretical" pharaoh of Egypt who, in the fourteenth century BCE, founded the world's first (quasi-)monotheistic religions devoted to the sun disk, or Aten. Egyptologist Jan Assmann has argued that monotheism entered Abrahamic thought through a process of traumatic memory of this episode of Egyptian religious history.

There is also a school of thought that credits the religion known as Zoroastrianism for its influence of Abrahamic religions in the concepts of individual judgment (free will), Heaven and Hell, the future resurrection of the body, the general Last Judgment, and life everlasting for the reunited soul and body (Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979).

[edit] Patriarchs

There are six notable figures in the Bible prior to Abraham: Adam and Eve, their two sons Cain and Abel, Enoch, and his great-grandson, Noah, who, according to the story, saved his own family and all animal life in Noah's Ark. It is uncertain whether any of them (assuming they existed) left any recorded moral code: some Christian churches maintain faith in ancient books like the Book of Enoch — and Genesis mentions the Noahide Laws given by God to the family of Noah. For the most part, these 'patriarchs' serve as good (or bad, in the case of Cain) role models of behavior, without a more specific indication of how one interprets their actions in any religion.

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham is specifically instructed to leave Ur of the Chaldees so that God will "make of you a great nation". Burton Visotzky, an ethicist, wrote Genesis of Ethics to explore the detailed implications of these adventures for a modern ethics.

According to the Bible, the patriarch Abraham (or Ibrahim, in Arabic) had eight sons by three wives: one (Ishmael) by his wife's servant Hagar, one (Isaac) by his wife Sarah, and six by another wife Keturah. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Bahá'u'lláh and other prominent figures are all claimed to be descendants of Abraham through one of these sons.

Jews see Abraham as the progenitor of the people of Israel, through his descendants Isaac and Jacob. Christians view Abraham as an important exemplar of faith, and a spiritual, as well as a physical, ancestor of Jesus — a Jew considered the Son of God through whom God promised to bless all the families of the earth. In addition, Muslims refer to Sabians, Christians and Jews as People of the Book ("the Book" referring to the Tanakh, the New Testament, and the Qur'an). They see Abraham as one of the most important of the many prophets sent by God. Thus Abraham represents for some, a point of commonality whom they seek to emphasize by means of this terminology.

So, rather than being the sole "founding figure", Abraham is described as the first figure in Genesis who (a) is clearly not of direct divine origin, such as Adam and Eve are claimed to be; (b) is accepted by three major monotheistic faiths as playing some major role in the founding of their common civilization; and (c) is not claimed as the male genetic forebear of all humans on the Earth (as Noah is, in more literal interpretations).

Judaism treats Adam and Noah as minor prophets, while, along with Islam, it recognizes that there were possibly other prophets who are unknown today.

[edit] The Supreme Deity

Main articles: Tetragrammaton, Trinity, and Allah

Islam and Judaism worship a Supreme Deity which they conceive strictly monotheistically as one being; Christianity agrees, but the Christian god is at the same time (according to most of mainstream Christianity) an indivisible Trinity, a view not shared by the other religions. A sizable minority of Christians and Christian denominations do not support the belief in the doctrine of the Trinity, and sometimes suggest that the Trinity idea was founded in Roman religious culture, specifically suggesting that it was formulated due to Rome's absorption of elements of Zoroastrian and Pagan ideology as part of their homogenized culture, and was not part of the original, primitive Christianity.

[edit] Judaism

Further information: Judaism
The Shield of David (or Magen David) is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish Community and Judaism.
The Shield of David (or Magen David) is a generally recognized symbol of Jewish Community and Judaism.

Jewish theology is based on the Hebrew Bible, where the nature and commandments of God are revealed through the writings of Moses, the Torah, and the writings of the prophets, psalmists and other ancient canonized scriptures, together with the Torah known as the Tanakh. Additionally, it usually has a basis in its Oral Law, as recorded in the Mishnah and Gemora which form the Talmud.

This Supreme Being is referred to in the Hebrew Bible in several ways, such as Elohim, Adonai or by the four Hebrew letters "Y-H-V (or W) -H" (the tetragrammaton), which observant Jews do not pronounce as a word. The Hebrew words Eloheynu (Our God) and HaShem (The Name), as well as the English names "Lord" and "God", are also used in modern day Judaism. The latter is sometimes written "G-d" in reference to the taboo against pronouncing the tetragrammaton.

The word "Elohim" has the Hebrew plural ending "-īm", which some Biblical scholars have taken as support for the general notion that the ancient Hebrews were polytheists in the time of the patriarchs; however, as the word itself is used with singular verbs, this hypothesis is not accepted by most Jews. Jews point out other words in Hebrew that are used in the same manner according to the rule of Hebrew Grammar, and denotes respect, majesty and deliberation, similar to the royal plural in English and ancient Egyptian, and the use of the plural form "vous" for individuals of higher standing in modern French. Jewish Biblical scholars and historical commentary on the passage also suggest that Elohim in the plural form points to God in conjunction with the heavenly court, i.e. the angels. The pre-Christian era and early CE period Kabbalistic and later in the European Chasidic movements after the Baal Shem Tov, such as Breslov and Chabad, all point to the use of Elokim as denoting the multidimensional existence of God on, in, and through every possible dimension of the created existence. See Likutei Moharan and the Tanya, as well as the Zohar, Bahir, and the Kabbalistic texts of Sefer Yitzirah, Sefer Refayim, and Sefer Malachim, to name a few. Including the writings of the Ramchal (R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto), Drech HaShem and others such as the Rashbi (R. Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar) all explain the use of the Elokim as a pluralistic singularity, one essence sustaining all levels of creation from the mundane physical to the sublime and Holy spiritual.

[edit] Christianity

Further information: Christianity
The Christian cross is the best-known religious symbol of Christianity; this version is known as a Latin Cross.
The Christian cross is the best-known religious symbol of Christianity; this version is known as a Latin Cross.

Christians believe that the god worshiped by the faithful Hebrew people of the pre-Christian era has always revealed himself as he did through Jesus; but this was never obvious until the Word of the Lord, the revelation of God, became flesh and dwelt among us (see John 1). Also, despite the fact that the Angel of the Lord spoke to the Patriarchs, revealing God to them, it has always been only by the Spirit of God granting them understanding, that men have been able to perceive afterward that they had been visited by God himself. After Jesus was raised from the dead—according to Christian scriptures—this ancient Hebrew witness of how God reveals himself as Messiah came to be seen in a very different light. It was then that Jesus' followers began to speak widely of him as God himself (see John 20:28), although this had already been revealed to certain individuals during his Ministry, for example, the Samaritan woman in Shechem, and his closest apostles.

This belief was gradually developed into the modern formulation of the Trinity, which is the doctrine that God is a single entity (YHWH), but that there is a real threeness in God's single being that has always been evident but not understood. This mysterious threeness has been described as, for want of better terms, hypostases in the Greek language (subsistences), and as "persons" in English. In the traditional Christian conception, God the Father has only ever been revealed through his eternal Word (who was born as Jesus, of the Virgin Mary), and his Spirit (who after the resurrection was given to men, establishing the Christian church).

[edit] Islam

Further information: Islam
Symbol of Islam, the name of Allah.
Symbol of Islam, the name of Allah.

Allah is the standard Arabic translation for the word "God." Islamic tradition also describes the 99 names of God. These 99 names describe attributes of God, including Most Merciful, Most Just, and The Peace and Blessing, and the Guardian. Islamic belief in God is distinct in that it accepts no partners or progeny of God. This belief is summed up in the Qur'anic chapter of Al-Ikhlas, which states "God is One, He is the Eternal, the Absolute. He does not beget nor was he begotten. And there is none like Him." See also: Islamic concept of God

Muslims believe that the Jewish god is the same as their god and that Jesus is a divinely inspired prophet, but not God. Thus, both the Torah and the Gospels are believed to be based upon divine revelation, but Muslims believe them to have been corrupted (both accidentally through errors in transmission and intentionally by Jews and Christians over the centuries). Muslims revere the Qur'an as the final uncorrupted word of God or the last testament brought through the last prophet, Muhammad. Muhammad is regarded as the "Seal of the Prophets" and Islam is viewed as the final monotheist faith for all of humanity.

[edit] Bahá'í Faith

Main article: Bahá'í Faith
Nine Pointed Star, symbolic of the number nine, a holy number in the Baha'i Faith.
Nine Pointed Star, symbolic of the number nine, a holy number in the Baha'i Faith.

The belief in the Oneness of God is central to the Bahá'í Faith. According to Bahá'í doctrine, God is one being, and has created all the creatures and forces in the universe. He is also imagined by Bahá'ís as omnipotent and omniscient. Bahá'ís believe that God sends his messengers to educate humanity. These messengers are known in Bahá'í literature as "Manifestations of God," the most recent of whom Bahá'ís believe was Bahá'u'lláh. According to Bahá'í doctrine, these Manifestations reveal the nature and will of God in their teachings and through sacred texts, which (for Bahá'ís) include the Torah, the Bible, the Qur'án, the Bayan, the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Book of Certitude, Hindu, Zoroastrian and Buddhist scriptures. Bahá'ís maintain that the older texts contain allegories that should be interpreted in view of the most recent revelations. However, Bahá'í doctrine teaches that the Supreme Deity is too great to be fully understood by humans.

[edit] Religious scriptures

All these religions rely on a body of scriptures, some of which are considered to be the word of God — hence sacred and unquestionable — and some the work of religious men, revered mainly by tradition and to the extent that they are considered to have been divinely inspired, if not dictated, by the divine being.

[edit] Judaism

Main article: Tanakh

The sacred scriptures of Judaism are the Tanakh, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Torah (Law or Teachings), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). These are complemented by and supplemented with various originally oral traditions: Midrash, the Mishnah, the Talmud, and collected rabbinical writings. The Hebrew text of the Tanakh, and the Torah in particular, is considered holy, down to the last letter: transcribing is done with painstaking care. An error in a single letter, ornamentation or symbol of the over 300,000 stylized letters which make up the Hebrew Torah text renders a Torah scroll unfit for use, hence a Torah scribe is a specialist skill and takes considerable time to write and check.

[edit] Christianity

Main articles: Old Testament and New Testament

The sacred scriptures of most Christian groups are the Old Testament, which is largely the same as the Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament, which comprises four accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus (the Four Gospels, traditionally attributed to his apostles Matthew and John and to Mark the Evangelist and Luke the Evangelist) and several writings by the apostles and early Fathers such as Paul. They are usually considered to be divinely inspired in some sense and together comprise the Christian Bible. Thus Christians consider the fundamental teachings of the Old Testament, in particular the Ten Commandments, as valid. However, they believe that the coming of Jesus as the messiah and savior of mankind as predicted in the Old Testament would shed light on the true relationship between God and mankind by restoring the emphasis of universal love and compassion (as mentioned in the Shema) above the other commandments, also de-emphasising the more "legalistic" and material precepts of Mosaic Law (such as the dietary constraints and temple rites). Some Christians believe that the link between Old and New Testaments in the Bible means that Judaism has been superseded by Christianity as the "new Israel," and that Jesus' teachings described Israel not as a geographic place but as an association with God and promise of salvation in heaven.

A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. This Bible was transcribed in Belgium in 1407 for reading aloud in a monastery.
A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England. This Bible was transcribed in Belgium in 1407 for reading aloud in a monastery.

The vast majority of Christian faiths (generally including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Anglicans and most forms of Protestantism, but not Restorationism) derive their beliefs from the conclusions reached by the First Council of Nicaea in 325, in a document known as the Nicene Creed. This describes the beliefs that God (as a Trinity of distinct persons with one substance) became human on earth, born as Jesus pursuant to the Old Testament scriptures, was crucified by humanity, died and was buried, only to be resurrected on the third day to rise and enter the Kingdom of Heaven and "sit at the right hand of" God. Christians generally believe that faith in Jesus is the only way to achieve salvation and to enter into heaven, and that salvation is a gift given by the grace of God.

Christians recognize that the Gospels were passed on by oral tradition only to be set to paper decades after the death of Jesus, and that the extant versions are copies of those originals. Indeed, the version of the Bible considered to be most valid (in the sense of best conveying the true meaning of the word of God) has varied considerably: the Greek Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, the English King James Version, and the Russian Synodal Bible have been authoritative to different communities at different times. In particular, Christians usually consult the Hebrew version of the Old Testament when preparing new translations, although some believe that the Septuagint should be preferred, as it was the Bible of the Early Christian Church, and because they believe its translators used a different Hebrew bible to the ones that make up the current Masoretic Hebrew text as there are some variant readings of the Dead Sea Scrolls that are confirmed by the Septuagint. In the same sense that the Jewish mystics viewed the Torah as something living and existing prior to any written text, so too do Christians view the Bible and Jesus himself as God's "Word" (or logos in Greek), that transcends written documents.

The sacred scriptures of the Christian Bible are complemented by a large body of writings by individual Christians and councils of Christian leaders. Some Christian churches and denominations consider certain additional writings to be binding; other Christian groups consider only the Bible to be binding.

[edit] Islam

"Muhammad" in a new genre of Islamic calligraphy started in the 17th century by Hafiz Osman.
"Muhammad" in a new genre of Islamic calligraphy started in the 17th century by Hafiz Osman.[8]

Islam's holiest book is the Qur'an, comprising 114 suras ("chapters of the Qur'an."). However, Muslims also believe in the religious texts of Judaism and Christianity in their original forms and not the current versions which they believe to be corrupted. According to the Qur'an (and mainstream Muslim belief) the verses of the Quran were revealed from God through the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad on separate occasions. These revelations were written down during Muhammad's lifetime and collected into one official copy in 633 AD, one year after his death. Finally the Quran was given its present order in 653 AD by the third Caliph.

The Qur'an mentions and reveres several of the Israelite Prophets, including Jesus, among others (see also: Prophets of Islam). The stories of these Prophets are very similar to those in the Bible. However the detailed precepts of the Tanakh and the New Testament are not adopted outright; they are replaced by the new commandments revealed directly by God (through Gabriel) to Muhammad and codified in the Qur'an.

Like the Jews with the Torah, Muslims consider the original Arabic text of the Qur'an as uncorrupted and holy to the last letter, and any translations are considered to be interpretations of the meaning of the Qur'an, as only the original Arabic text is considered to be the divine scripture.

Like the Rabbinic Oral Law to the Hebrew Bible, the Qur'an is complemented by the Hadith, a set of books by later authors that record the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The Hadith interpret and elaborate Qur'anic precepts. There is no consensus within Islam on the authority of the Hadith collections, but Islamic scholars have categorized each Hadith at one of the following levels of authenticity or isnad: genuine (sahih), fair (hasan), or weak (da'if). Amongst Shia Muslims, no hadith is regarded as Sahih, and hadith in general are only accepted if there is no disagreement with the Qur'an.

By the ninth century, six collections of Hadiths were accepted as reliable to Sunni Muslims. Shia Muslims however, refer to an alternate tradition of authenticated Hadiths.

The Sunni Collections:

The Hadith and the life story of Muhammad (sira) form the Sunnah, a scriptural supplement to the Qur'an. The legal opinions of Islamic jurists (fiqh) provides another source for the daily practice and interpretation of Islamic tradition.

The Qur'an has repeated references to the 'religion of Abraham' (see Suras 2:130,135; 3:95; 6:123,161; 12:38; 16:123; 22:78). In the Qur'an this expression refers specifically to Islam, sometimes in contrast to Christianity and Judaism, as for example in Sura 2:135: "They say: "Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (To salvation)." Say thou: "Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with God." In the Qur'an Abraham is declared to have been a Muslim (a hanif), 'not a Jew nor a Christian' (Sura 3:67).

[edit] Rastafari movement

Some Rastafarians use the King James Version of the Bible as their main scripture, while many others disdain it. A great many nowadays make special efforts to study the Orthodox Amharic version. Rastas often claim that the Bible only has half of God's Word, and that the other half is written in the heart of mankind. The teachings of Marcus Garvey and the Holy Piby are among other important documents, as are the writings and speeches of Emperor Haile Selassie I.

[edit] The coming

Main article: Eschatology

In the major Abrahamic religions, there exists the expectation of an individual who will herald the time of the end, and/or bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth, in other words the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. Judaism awaits the coming of the Jewish Messiah (the Jewish concept of Messiah differs from the Christian concept in several significant ways despite the same term being applied to both). The Jewish Messiah is not a "god" but a mortal man who by his holiness is worthy of that description, he will make his appearance only during an era of peace and holiness and his coming may not end history. Christianity awaits the Second Coming of Christ. Islam awaits both the second coming of Jesus (in order to complete his life and die, since he is said to have been risen alive and not crucified) and the coming of Mahdi (Sunnis in his first incarnation, Shi'as the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi). The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that both Mahdi and Second Coming of Christ were fulfilled in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Conversely, members of the Bahá'í Faith believe that these were fulfilled in the persons of Báb and Bahá'u'lláh. Rastafari awaits the return of Haile Selassie.

[edit] Afterlife

Most Abrahamic religions agree that a human being comprises the body, which dies, and the soul, which need not do so. The soul, capable of remaining alive beyond human death, carries the essence of that person with it, and God will judge that person's life accordingly after they die. The importance of this, the focus on it, and the precise criteria and end result differs between religions.

Reincarnation and transmigration tend not to feature prominently in Abrahamic religions. Although as a rule they all look to some form of afterlife, Christianity and Islam support a continuation of life, usually viewed as eternal, rather than reincarnation and transmigration which are a return (or repeated returns) to this Earth or some other plane to live a complete new life cycle over again. Kabbalic Judaism, however, accepts the concept of returning in new births through a process called gilgul neshamot, but this is not Torah-derived, and is usually studied only among scholars and mystics within the faith. It is a mainstream belief of Hassidic Jews and many Orthodox Jews.

[edit] Judaism

Main article: Olam Haba

Judaism's views on the afterlife ("the World to Come") are quite diverse and its discussion is not encouraged. This can be attributed to the fact that even though there clearly are traditions in the Hebrew Bible of an afterlife (see Naboth and the Witch of Endor), Judaism focuses on this life and how to lead a holy life to please God, rather than future reward, and its attitude can be mostly summed up by the rabbinical observation that at the start of Genesis God clothed the naked (Adam and Eve), at the end of Deuteronomy he buried the dead (Moses), the Children of Israel mourned for 40 days, then got on with their lives.

Many feel that there is some sort of afterlife, maybe a return of the soul to God, some say that there is some sort of reward for the righteous in Gan 'Edhen (the Garden of Eden) and (less agreed upon) punishment in Ge-Hinnom. Popularly it is claimed that the maximum time of punishment for all but the most evil is one year. The mystically inclined also claim the souls (or sparks of souls) may be reincarnated, through Gilgul. If there is an afterlife all agree in Judaism that the good of all the nations will get to heaven and this is one of the reasons Judaism does not normally proselytize.

[edit] Islam

In Islam, God is said to be "Most Compassionate and Most Merciful" (Quran 1:1, as well as the start of most suras). However, God is also "Most Just"; Islam prescribes a literal Hell for those who disobey God and commit gross sin. Those who obey God and submit to God will be rewarded with their own place in Paradise. While sinners are punished with fire, there are also many other forms of punishment described, depending on the sin committed; Hell is divided into numerous levels, an idea that found its way into Christian literature through Dante's borrowing of Muslim themes and tropes for his Inferno.

Those who worship and remember God are promised eternal abode in a physical and spiritual Paradise. In Islam, Heaven is divided into numerous levels, with the higher levels of Paradise being the reward of those who have been more virtuous, For example, the highest levels might contain the Prophets, those killed for believing, those who help orphans, and those who never tell a lie (among numerous other categories cited in the Qur'an and Hadith).

Upon repentance to God, many sins can be forgiven as God is said to be supremely merciful. Additionally, those who ultimately believe in God, but have led sinful lives, may be punished for a time, and then ultimately released into Paradise. If anyone dies in a state of Shirk (the association God in any way, such as claiming that he is equal with anything or worshiping other than him), then it is possible he will stay forever in Hell; however, it is said that anyone with "one atom of faith" will eventually reach Heaven, and Muslim literature also records reference to even the greatly sinful, Muslim and otherwise, eventually being pardoned and released into Paradise.

Once a person is admitted to Paradise, this person will abide there for eternity.

[edit] Bahá'í Faith

The Bahá'í Faith regards as symbolic the conventional description of the afterlife (heaven and hell) as a specific place.[9] Instead the Bahá'í writings describe heaven as a "spiritual condition" where closeness to God is defined as heaven; conversely hell is seen as a state of remoteness from God.[9] Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, has stated that the nature of the life of the soul in the afterlife is beyond comprehension in the physical plane,[9] but has stated that the soul will retain its consciousness and individuality and remember its physical life; the soul will be able to recognize other souls and communicate with them.[9]

For Bahá'ís, entry into the next life has the potential to bring great joy.[9] Bahá'u'lláh likened death to the process of birth. He explains: "The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother."[10] The analogy to the womb in many ways summarizes the Bahá'í view of earthly existence: just as the womb constitutes an important place for a person's initial physical development, the physical world provides for the development of the individual soul. Accordingly, Bahá'ís view life as a preparatory stage, where one can develop and perfect those qualities which will be needed in the next life.[9] The key to spiritual progress is to follow the path outlined by the current Manifestations of God, which Bahá'ís believe is currently Bahá'u'lláh.

The Bahá'í teachings state that there exists a hierarchy of souls in the afterlife, where the merits of each soul determines their place in the hierarchy, and that souls lower in the hierarchy cannot completely understand the station of those above.[9] Each soul can continue to progress in the afterlife, however the soul's development is not dependent on its own conscious efforts, but instead on the grace of God, the prayers of others, and good deeds performed by others on Earth in the name of the person.[9]

[edit] Worship

Worship, ceremonies, and religion-related customs differ substantially between the various Abrahamic religions. Among the few similarities are a seven-day cycle in which one day is nominally reserved for worship, prayer, or other religious activities; this custom is related to the biblical story of Genesis, where God created the universe in six days, and rested in the seventh. Islam, which has Friday as a day for special congregational prayers, does not subscribe to the 'resting day' concept.

Jewish men are required to pray three times daily and four times daily on the Sabbath and most Jewish holidays, and five times on Yom Kippur. Before the destruction of the Temple, Jewish priests offered sacrifices there; afterwards, the practice was stopped. Jewish women's prayer obligations vary by sect; traditionally (according to Torah Judaism), women do not read from the Torah and are only required to say certain parts of these services twice daily. Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, and the Reconstructionist movement have different views.

Christianity does not have any sacrificial rites as such, but its entire theology is based upon the concept of the sacrifice by God of his son Jesus so that his blood might atone for mankind's sins. However, offerings to Christian Churches and charity to poor are highly encouraged and take the place of sacrifice. Additionally, self-sacrifice in the form of lent, penitence and humbleness, in the name of Christ and according to his commandments (cf. Sermon on the Mount), is considered a form of sacrifice that appeals God.

The followers of Islam, Muslims, are to observe the Five Pillars of Islam. The first pillar is the belief in the oneness of God and in Muhammad as his final prophet. The second is to pray five times daily (salat) towards the direction (qibla) of the Kaaba in Mecca. The third pillar is Zakah, is a portion of one's wealth that must be given to the poor or to other specified causes, which means the giving of a specific share of one's wealth and savings to persons or causes that God mentions in the Qur'an. The normal share to be paid is two and a half percent of one's saved earnings. Fasting during the Muslim month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam, to which only able-bodied Muslims are required to fast. Finally, Muslims are also urged to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one's life. Only individuals whose financial position and health are insufficient are exempt from making Hajj. During this pilgrimage, the Muslims spend several days in worship, repenting and most notably, circumambulating the Kaaba among millions of other Muslims. At the end of the Hajj, sheep and other permissible animals are slaughtered to commemorate the moment when God replaced Abraham's son, Ishmael with a sheep preventing his sacrifice. The meat from these animals is then distributed around the world to needy Muslims, neighbors and relatives.

Baha'is do not have a strict worship regimen but do, however, follow guidelines for prayer passed on by Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. Baha'is are to perform ablutions before prayer and to recite at least one of three obligatory prayers (written by Bahá'u'lláh) daily. Prayer often takes the form of a a private activity during which Baha'is may choose to face the Qiblih (the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh). Many Baha'is also host devotional meetings in their homes where prayers and holy writings are read, sung, chanted or recited. Baha'i Devotional meetings are commonly open to people of any faith. A Bahá'í pilgrimage was laid out by Bahá'u'lláh, but political conditions in Iraq and Iran prevent most Baha'is from visiting these locations. Originally, Baha'is were to visit either the House of Bahá'u'lláh in Baghdad or the House of the Bab in Shiraz, Iran. Currently, Baha'i references to 'pilgrimage' generally apply to a nine-day journey that visits Baha'i holy places in Haifa, Bahji, and Akka, Israel. It should also be noted that aside from prayer and pilgrimage, Baha'is put emphasis on grounding worship in daily life. Work is considered a form of honoring God as is scriptural study.

[edit] Circumcision

Both Judaism and Islam prescribe circumcision for males as a token symbol of dedication to the religion. Islam also recommends this practice as a form of cleanliness. Western Christianity replaced that custom by a baptism ceremony that varies according to the denomination, but generally includes immersion, aspersion or anointment with water. Because of the decision of the Early Church (Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem) that circumcision is not mandatory, it continues to be optional, though the Council of Florence[11] prohibited it and paragraph #2297 of the Catholic Catechism calls non-medical amputation or mutilation immoral.[12][13] Many countries with majorities of Christian adherents have low circumcision rates (with the notable exception of the United States[1], and the Philippines). Coptic Christianity and Ethiopian Orthodoxy still observe circumcision. See also Aposthia.

[edit] Food restrictions

Main articles: kashrut, halaal, and ital

Judaism and Islam have strict dietary laws, with lawful food being called kosher in Judaism and halaal in Islam. Both religions prohibit the consumption of pork; Islam also prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages of any kind. Halaal restrictions can be seen as a subset of the kashrut dietary laws, so many kosher foods are considered halaal; especially in the case of meat, which Islam prescribes must be slaughtered in the name of God, hence in Morocco muslims used to consume kosher food. Protestants have no set food laws. Catholic Christianity however developed ritual prohibitions against the consumption of meat (but not fish) on Fridays, and the Christian calendars prescribe abstinence from some foods at various times of the year; but these customs vary from place to place, and have changed over time, and some sects have nothing comparable. Some Christians oppose the consumption of alcoholic beverages, while a few Christians also follow a kosher diet, sometimes identified as a "What Would Jesus Eat?" diet.[citation needed] Some approaches to practice have developed in Protestant denominations, such as the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which strongly advise against certain foods and in some cases encourage vegetarianism or veganism. Adherents to the Bahá'í Faith are prohibited from drinking alcohol. They are also prohibited from using opiates and other recreational drugs, unless prescribed by a competent physician.

[edit] Sexuality in Abrahamic religions

It may be that a distinguishing characteristic of the Abrahamic religions is their generally negative stance on homosexuality and, often, sexual activity outside of marriage. This contrasts the Abrahamic traditions strongly against the backdrop of the views of their immediate neighbors. In the regions surrounding the geographical homelands of Abrahamic religions (i.e. the Near east and Aegean), sexuality was considered in a more positive light (positive in the sense that it was not recommended by their Non-Abrahamic religions to legislate death punishments for the practices of homosexuality or prostitution.)

It seems to be a mark among some versions of the rise of Abrahamic traditions that all sexuality was eliminated from the concept of the divine. Notable exceptions include Judaism (i.e. Song of Songs, Kabbalah, Hassidism), and within Islam.

By the time of the triumph of Christianity, in the late 4th century AD this was generally true throughout the realms of the declining Roman Empire. For example, within territories where Christianity and Judaism held political power the presence of femininity in local deities as well as the Godhead was eliminated. Contrastingly, the Non-Abrahamic religions accepted female high-priestesses. They also believed in the existence of many powerful female divinities like Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, and Isis, who was worshiped as the archetypal wife and mother. In general Abrahamic Religions negate the possibility of sexual openness with respect to the divine nature.

[edit] Homosexuality

Many of the sacred texts of the Abrahamic Religions refer to homosexual behavior as an abomination, deriving from the Holiness Code of the book of Leviticus and an interpretation of the account of Sodom and Gomorrah. By the first century, the writings of Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus evolved it into a fully developed form. Thus the condemnation of homosexuality in all Abrahamic religions has a single Old Testament source in addition to any separate reference in other holy books. While the Abrahamic religions unequivocally condemn male homosexuality, lesbianism is nowhere explicitly mentioned in the Old Testament or the Qur'an. However some scholars have argued the passage in Romans 1:26-27, "...God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly," is a New Testament reference to it.

The enforcement of this prohibition took different forms in each religion. Early Judaism referenced Leviticus and later Talmudic law in prescribing the death penalty. However, high legal hurdles, such as requiring two witnesses of the act following a previous warning by at least two people, made executions extremely rare. Early Christian emperors also advocated the death penalty: Theodosius I ordained death by the sword, and the Byzantine emperor Justinian, in his summary on Roman law, prescribed burning at the stake. Islamic jurists prescribe a death by stoning or crushing with a wall; however, this specific form of punishment has almost never been enforced.

[edit] Proselytism

Christianity encourages evangelism, as Jesus did — convincing others to convert to the religion; many Christian organizations, especially Protestant churches, send missionaries to non-Christian communities throughout the world. See also Great Commission.

Forced conversions to Catholicism have been documented at various points throughout history. The most prominently cited allegations are the conversions of the pagans after Constantine; of Muslims, Jews and Eastern Orthodox during the Crusades; of Jews and Muslims during the time of the Spanish Inquisition where they were offered the choice exile, conversion or death; and of the Aztecs by Hernan Cortes. Many Hindutva organizations in India allege that some Christian missionaries in India are converting the illiterate Dalits (the so-called low castes of the Hindus) by "fraudulent means" (sic). Forced conversions are condemned as sinful by major denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, which officially state that forced conversions pollute the Christian religion and offend human dignity, so that past or present offenses are regarded as a scandal (a cause of unbelief).[14]

W. Heffening states that in Qur'an "the apostate is threatened with punishment in the next world only" however "in traditions, there is little echo of these punishments in the next world ... and instead, we have in many traditions a new element, the death penalty."[15] Heffening states that Shafi'is interpret verse 2:217 as adducing the main evidence for the death penalty in Qur'an. The Qur'an has a chapter (Sura) dealing with non believers (called "Al-Kafiroon") (Q 109). In the chapter there is also an often quoted verse (ayat) which reads, "There is no compulsion in religion, the path of guidance stands out clear from error" [2:256] and [60:8]. This means that no one is to be compelled into Islam and that the righteous path is distinct from the rest. According to this verse, converts to Islam are ones that see this path. The Muslim expansion during the Ummayad dynasty held true to this teaching, imposing Jizya (defense tax) and affording second-class citizenship to People of the Book instead of forced conversion. Nevertheless, it should be noted that pagan Arab tribes were given the choice of "Islam or the sword."[16] Another notable exception is the en masse forced conversion of the Jews of Mashhad in 1839.[17] In the present day, Islam does not have missionaries comparable to Christianity, though it does encourage its followers to learn about other religions and to teach others about Islam.

Judaism accepts converts, but has no explicit missionaries as such. And Judaism states that non-Jews can achieve righteousness by following Noahide Laws, a set of seven universal commandments that non-Jews are expected to follow. In this context the Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides, one of the major Jewish teachers) commented, "Quoting from our sages, the righteous people from other nations have a place in the world to come, if they have acquired what they should learn about the Creator." Because the commandments applicable to the Jews are much more detailed and onerous than Noahide laws, Jewish scholars have traditionally maintained that it is better to be a good non-Jew than a bad Jew, thus discouraging conversion. Most often, converts to Judaism are those who marry Jews; in the United States, the number of such converts is estimated at 10,000-15,000 per year. See also Conversion to Judaism.

The Bahá'í Faith puts special emphasis on not proselytizing. It is actually prohibited. Baha'is do accept converts from all religious and ethnic backgrounds and actively support personal investigation into faith. Baha'is have special "pioneers" and "traveling teachers" that will move to areas where Baha'i communities are small to help strengthen and expand them. Believers of other faiths are held in high regard and seen in many ways as spiritual equals. While Baha'is view the Baha'i laws and revelation as unique, they do not discourage believers of other faiths in their spiritual endeavors and are leaders of interfaith efforts.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ a b J.Z.Smith 1998, p.276
  2. ^ a b Anidjar 2001, p.3
  3. ^ Why Abrahamic? Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions at the University of Wisconsin
  4. ^ Preston Hunter, Major Religions of the World Ranked by Number of Adherents
  5. ^ Romans 4:9-12
  6. ^ Hebrews 11:8-10
  7. ^ MacArhur, John (1996). The MacArthur New Testament Commentary : Romans. Chicago: Moody Press, 505.
  8. ^ Ali, Wijdan. "From the Literal to the Spiritual: The Development of Prophet Muhammad's Portrayal from 13th Century Ilkhanid Miniatures to 17th century Ottoman Art". In Proceedings of the 11th International Congress of Turkish Art, eds. M. Kiel, N. Landman, and H. Theunissen. No. 7, 1–24. Utrecht, The Netherlands, August 23-28, 1999, p. 7
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h Masumian 1995
  10. ^ Bahá'u'lláh (1976). Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette, Illinois, USA: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, pp. 157. ISBN 0-87743-187-6.
  11. ^ Ecumenical Council of Florence (1438-1445). The Circumcision Reference Library. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  12. ^ Catechism of the Catholic Church: Article 5 — The Fifth commandment. Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  13. ^ Father John Dietzen. The Morality of Circumcision. The Circumcision Reference Library. Retrieved on 2007-07-10.
  14. ^ Pope Paul VI (December 7, 1965). Declaration on Religious Freedom. The Holy See. Retrieved on 2007-07-10. “It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.”
  15. ^ W. Heffening, in Encyclopedia of Islam
  16. ^ Watt, Montgomery. "A Historical Overview." Introduction to World Religions. Ed. Christopher Partridge. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005. 360.
  17. ^ Patai, Raphael (1997). Jadid al-Islam: The Jewish "New Muslims" of Meshhed. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-2652-8.

[edit] Bibliography

[edit] External links

1 comment:

  1. according to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the first post-flood person to reject idolatry through rational analysis. (Shem and Eber carried on the Tradition from Noah), hence he symbolically appears as a fundamental figure for monotheistic religion.

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