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Abrahamic mythology

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Abrahamic mythology

Abrahamic religions (also Abrahamism) are the monotheistic faiths of Middle Eastern origin, emphasizing and tracing their common origin to Abraham[1] or recognizing a spiritual tradition identified with him.[2][3][4] They are one of the major divisions in comparative religion, along with Indian religions[5] (Dharmic) and East Asian religions[5] (Taoist).

As of the early twenty-first century, it was estimated that 54% of the world's population (3.8 billion people) considered themselves adherents of the Abrahamic religions, about 30% of other religions, and 16% of no organized religion.[6][7] The Abrahamic religions originated in the Middle East.[8]

The largest Abrahamic religions in chronological order of founding are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; the Bahá'í Faith is sometimes listed as well.[9] There are other more obscure religions that are also actually Abrahamic but rarely mentioned.


It has been suggested that the phrase, "Abrahamic religion", may simply mean that all these religions come from one spiritual source.[2] Christians refer to Abraham as a "father in faith". [Rom. 4]] There is an Islamic religious term, Millat Ibrahim (faith of Ibrahim),[3][4] indicating that Islam sees itself as having practices tied to the traditions of Abraham.[10] Jewish tradition claims descendance from Abraham, and adherents follow his practices and ideals as the first of the three spiritual "fathers" or biblical Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

All the major Abrahamic religions claim a direct lineage to Abraham:

  • Abraham is recorded in the Torah as the ancestor of the Israelites through his son Isaac, born to Sarah through a promise made in Genesis. [Gen. 17:16]][11] All variants of Judaism through the early 20th century (prophetic, rabbinic, reform, and conservative) were founded by Israelite descendants.
  • The sacred text of Christianity is the Christian Bible, the first part of which, the Old Testament, is derived from the Hebrew Bible, leading to similar ancestry claims as above, though most Christians are gentiles (traditionally descendants of Shem) who consider themselves as grafted into the family tree under the New Covenant, see significance of Abraham for Christians for details.
  • It is the Islamic tradition that Muhammad, as an Arab, is descended from Abraham's son Ishmael. Jewish tradition also equates the descendants of Ishmael, Ishmaelites, with Arabs, as the descendants of Isaac by Jacob, who was also later known as Israel, are the Israelites.[12]

Other terms sometimes used include Abrahamic faiths, Abrahamic traditions, religions of Abraham, Abrahamic monotheistic religions, semitic religions, Semitic monotheistic religions, and Semitic one god religions.[13]

Adam Dodds argues that the term "Abrahamic faiths", while helpful, can be considered misleading, as it conveys an unspecified historical and theological commonality that is problematic on closer examination. While there is commonality among the religions, in large measure their shared ancestry is peripheral to their respective foundational beliefs and thus conceals crucial differences.[14] For example, the common Christian beliefs of Incarnation, Trinity, and Jesus' Resurrection are not accepted by Judaism or Islam (see for example Islamic view of Jesus' death). There are key beliefs in both Islam and Judaism that are not shared by most of Christianity (such as strict monotheism and adherence to Divine Law), and key beliefs of Islam and Christianity not shared by Judaism (such as the prophetic and Messianic position of Jesus, respectively).[15]

Origins and history

Main articles: Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Judaism regards itself as the religion of the descendants of Jacob,[n 1] a grandson of Abraham. It has a strictly unitary view of God, and the central holy book for almost all branches is the Masoretic Text as elucidated in the oral Torah. In the 19th century and 20th centuries Judaism developed a small number of branches, of which the most significant are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform.

Christianity began as a sect of Judaism[n 2] in the Mediterranean Basin[n 3] of the 1st century CE and evolved into a separate religion—the Christian Church—with distinctive beliefs and practices. Jesus is the central figure of Christianity, considered by almost all denominations to be divine, one person of a Triune God.[n 4] The Christian Bible is usually held to be the ultimate authority, alongside Sacred Tradition in some denominations (such as Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy). Since its founding, Christianity has divided into three main branches (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant), dozens of significant denominations, and hundreds of smaller ones.

Islam arose in Arabia[n 5] in the 7th century CE with a strictly unitary view of God.[n 6] Muslims (adherents of Islam) typically hold the Qur'an to be the ultimate authority, as revealed and elucidated through the teachings and practices[n 7] of a central, but not divine prophet, Muhammad. Soon after its founding Islam split into two main branches (Sunni and Shi'a), each of which now have a number of denominations. Lesser-known Abrahamic religions, originally offshoots of Shi'a Islam, include the Bahá'í Faith[n 8] and Druze.[16]

Common aspects

The unifying characteristic of Abrahamic religions is that all accept the tradition that God revealed himself to the patriarch Abraham.[17] All are monotheistic, and conceive God to be a transcendent Creator-figure and the source of moral law,[18] and their sacred narratives feature many of the same figures, histories, and places in each, although they often present them with different roles, perspectives, and meanings.


Main article: Monotheism

All Abrahamic religions claim to be monotheistic, worshiping an exclusive God, though known by different names.[17] All of these religions believe that God creates, is one, rules, reveals, loves, judges, punishes, and forgives.[14][need quotation to verify] However, although Christianity does not profess to believe in three gods — but rather three persons, or hypostases, united in one essence — the Trinitarian doctrine, which is a fundamental of faith for the vast majority of Christian denominations, conflicts with Jewish and Muslim concepts of monotheism. Since the conception of divine Trinity is not amenable to tawhid, the Islamic doctrine of monotheism, Islam considers Christianity to be variously polytheistic or idolatrous.

Jesus himself (Arabic: Isa or Yasu, among Muslims and Arab Christians respectively) is revered by Christianity, and Islam but with vastly differing conceptions, viewed as the Saviour of mankind by Christians (and God incarnate by most Christians as well), and as a Prophet of Islam[19] by Muslims. However, the worship of Jesus, or the ascribing of partners to God (known as shirk in Islam and shituf in Judaism), is typically viewed as the heresy of idolatry by Islam and Judaism. The incarnation of God into human form is also seen as a heresy by Judaism.

Theological continuity

All the Abrahamic religions affirm one eternal God who created the universe, who rules history, who sends prophetic and angelic messengers and who reveals the divine will through inspired Scriptures. They also affirm that obedience to this creator God is to be lived out historically, and that one day God will unilaterally intervene in human history on the day of judgment.


All Abrahamic religions believe that God guides humanity through revelation to prophets, and each religion recognizes that God revealed teachings up to and including those in their own scripture.

Ethical orientation

An ethical orientation: all these religions speak of a choice between good and evil, which is associated with obedience or disobedience to a single God and to Divine Law.

Eschatological world view

An eschatological world view of history and destiny, beginning with the Creation of the world and the concept that God works through history, and ending with a Resurrection of the dead and final judgment and World to Come.[20]

Importance of Jerusalem

  • Judaism: Jerusalem became Judaism's holiest city in 1005 BCE when David established it as the capital of Israel, and his son Solomon built the First Temple on Mount Moriah. Since the Hebrew Bible relates that Isaac's sacrifice took place there, Mount Moriah's importance for Jews pre-dates even these prominent events. Jews thrice daily pray in its direction, including in their prayers pleas for the restoration and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple (the Third Temple) on mount Moriah, close the Passover service with the wistful statement "Next year in built Jerusalem," and recall the city in the blessing at the end of each meal. Jerusalem has served as the only capital of all five Jewish states that have existed in Israel since 1400 BCE (the United Kingdom of Israel, the Kingdom of Judah, Yehud Medinata, the Hasmonean Kingdom, and modern Israel). It has been majority Jewish since about 1852 and continues through today.[21][22]
  • Christianity: Jerusalem was an early center of Christianity. The Pagan Romans under Emperor Vespasian, in order to end the First Jewish Revolt, used forces led by Vespasian's son and heir to the throne, Titus to lay siege to Jerusalem, sack the city, and destroy the Second Temple in 70 AD (eventually building a shrine to Jupiter Capitolinus in its place). In 135 AD, under Hadrian, as a response to another Jewish revolt against Roman rule (the Third Jewish Revolt of Simon Bar Kochba), the Romans further expelled all Jews from the area, after three revolts in 70 years, to ensure another revolt was not forthcoming. This is when the area surrounding Jerusalem, until then called Roman Judaea, first was given the name "Palestine", or "Syria Palaestina". There has been a continuous Christian presence there since.[23] William R. Kenan, Jr., professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, writes that from the middle of the 4th century to the Islamic conquest in the middle of the 7th century, the Roman province of Palestine was a Christian nation with Jerusalem its principal city.[23] According to the New Testament, Jerusalem was the city Jesus was brought to as a child to be presented at the temple [Luke 2:22]] and for the feast of the Passover. [Luke 2:41]] He preached and healed in Jerusalem, unceremoniously drove the money changers in disarray from the temple there, held the Last Supper in an "upper room" (traditionally the Cenacle) there the night before he is said to have died on the cross, was arrested in Gethsemane. The six parts to Jesus' trial—three stages in a religious court and three stages before a Roman court—were all held in Jerusalem. His crucifixion at Golgotha, his burial nearby (traditionally the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), and his resurrection and ascension and prophecy to return all are said to have occurred or will occur there.
  • Islam: Jerusalem, the city of David and Christ, became holy to Muslims, third after Mecca and Medina (even though not mentioned by name in the Qur'an). The Al-Aqsa mosque, which translates to "farthest mosque" in sura Al-Isra in the Qur'an, and its surroundings are addressed in the Qur'an as "the holy land". Muslim tradition has recorded in the ahadith identifies al-Aqsa with a mosque in Jerusalem; nothing in the Qur'an supplies this connection (nor a connection to the Dome of the Rock). The first Muslims did not pray toward Kaaba (Al-Haram Mosque), but toward al-Aqsa mosque (this was the quibla for 13 years): the qibla was switched to Kaaba later on to fulfill a wish of Muhammad of praying in the direction of Kaaba (Quran, Al-Baqarah 2:144-150). Another reason for its significance is its connection with the Miʿrāj,[24] where, according to traditional Muslim piety, Muhammad ascended through the Seven heavens on a winged mule named Buraq, guided by the Archangel Gabriel, beginning from the Foundation Stone on the Temple Mount, in modern times under the Dome of the Rock.[25][26]

The significance of Abraham

Main article: Covenant of Abraham

Even though members of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam do not all claim Abraham as an ancestor, some members of these religions have tried to claim him as exclusively theirs.[27]

For Muslims

Main article: Islamic view of Abraham

For Muslims, Abraham is a

For Jews

For Jews, Abraham is simply (with his wife, Sarah) the first Jew, the founding patriarch of the children of Israel. God promised Abraham: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you." [Gen. 12:2]] With Abraham, God entered into "an everlasting covenant throughout the ages to be God to you and to your offspring to come." [Gen. 17:7]]. It is this covenant that makes Abraham and his descendants Jews, not the chronology of the name Y'hudi. Similarly, converts, who join the covenant, are all identified as sons and daughters of Abraham (and Sarah).

Abraham is primarily a revered ancestor or patriarch (referred to as Avraham Avinu (אברהם אבינו in hebrew) "Abraham our father") to whom God made several promises: chiefly, that he would have numberless descendants, who would receive the land of Canaan (the "Promised Land"). According to Jewish tradition, Abraham was the first post-Flood prophet to reject idolatry through rational analysis, although Shem and Eber carried on the tradition from Noah.[32][33]

For Christians

Christians view Abraham as an important exemplar of faith, and a spiritual, as well as physical, ancestor of Jesus — a Jew considered the Son of God through whom God promised to bless all the families of the earth. For Christians, Abraham is a spiritual forebear as well as/rather than a direct ancestor depending on the individual's interpretation of Paul the Apostle, [Rom. 4:9–12]] with the Abrahamic covenant "reinterpreted so as to be defined by faith in Christ rather than biological descent" or both by faith as well as a direct ancestor; in any case, the emphasis is placed on faith being the only requirement for the Abrahamic Covenant to apply;[34] see also New Covenant and Supersessionism. In Christian belief, Abraham is a role model of faith, [Heb. 11:8–10]] and his obedience to God by offering Isaac is seen as a foreshadowing of God's offering of his son Jesus. [Rom. 8:32]][35]

Christian commentators have a tendency to interpret God's promises to Abraham as applying to Christianity subsequent to (and sometimes rather than (as in Supersessionism) being applied to Judaism, whose adherents rejected Jesus. They argue this on the basis that just as Abraham as a Gentile (before he was circumcised) "believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness" [Gen. 15:6]] (cf. Rom. 4:3, James 2:23), "those who have faith are children of Abraham" [Gal. 3:7]] (see also John 8:39). This is most fully developed in Paul's theology where all who believe in God are spiritual descendants of Abraham. [Rom. 4:20]] [Gal. 4:9]][36] However, with regards to [Rom. 4:20]] and [Gal. 4:9]], in both cases he refers to these spiritual descendants as the "sons of God" [Gal. 4:26]] rather than "children of Abraham".[37]

The religions

See also section Other Abrahamic religions


Judaism's oldest text is the Tanakh, an account of the Israelites' relationship with God from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 535 BCE). Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. One of his great-grandsons was Judah, from whom the religion ultimately gets its name. The Israelites were initially a number of tribes who lived in the Kingdom of Israel and Kingdom of Judah.

After being conquered and exiled, some members of the Kingdom of Judah eventually returned to Israel. They later formed an independent state under the Hasmonean dynasty in the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE, before becoming a client kingdom of the Roman Empire, which also conquered the state and dispersed its inhabitants. From the 2nd to the 6th centuries Jews wrote the Talmud, a lengthy work of legal rulings and Biblical exegesis which—along with the Tanakh—is a key text of Judaism.


Christianity began in the 1st century as a sect within Judaism initially led by Jesus. His followers viewed him as the Messiah; after his crucifixion and death they came to view him as God incarnate,[38] who was resurrected and will return at the end of time to judge the living and the dead and create an eternal Kingdom of God. Within a few decades the new movement split from Judaism.

After several periods of alternating persecution and relative peace vis a vis the Roman authorities under different administrations, Christianity became the state church of the Roman Empire in 380, but has been split into various churches from its beginning. An attempt was made by the Byzantine Empire to unify Christendom, but this formally failed with the East–West Schism of 1054. In the 16th century the birth and growth of Protestantism further split Christianity into many denominations.


Islam is based on the teachings of the Quran. Although it considers Muhammad to be the Seal of the prophets, Islam teaches that every prophet preached Islam, providing a historical back-story for the religion by independently recognizing Jewish and Christian prophets, and adding others. The teachings of Quran are presented as the direct revelation and words of Allah, and earlier scriptures are considered to have been corrupted over time. Islam (meaning "submission", in the sense of submission to Allah) is universal (membership is open to anyone); like Judaism, it has a strictly unitary conception of Allah, called tawhid, or "strict" or "simple" monotheism.[30] Early disputes over who would lead Muslims following the death of Muhammad led to a split between Sunni and Shia, Islam's two main denominations.


All the Abrahamic religions are monotheistic. In both Judaism and Islam, God is viewed as a single divine being; this view is not shared by Christianity which views God as an indivisible Trinity. While the Christians hold that the Trinity is the same as the Judaic and Islamic singular divine being view of God, the distinction is sufficiently huge as to require an overt explanation on the part of the Christians and on the part of the Islamic faith which restates the issue with an admonition in chapter 112 of the Qur'an.


Main article: God in Islam

There is only one God in Islam. 112:1]

The Qur'an also draws a similitude between Jesus and corrupted (both accidentally, through errors in transmission, and intentionally by certain Jews and Christians over the centuries).

Muslims revere the Qur'an as the final uncorrupted word of God, or 'The Final Testament' as revealed through the last prophet, 5:3]


Main article: God in Christianity

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 that this was never obvious until the Word of God (the divine Logos) 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 through the Spirit of God granting them understanding, that men have been able to later perceive 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, [John 20:28]] although this had already been revealed to certain individuals during his ministry. Examples were the Samaritan woman in Shechem and Jesus' closest apostles.[39]

This belief gradually developed into the modern formulation of the Trinity, which is the doctrine that God is a single entity (singular God), but that there is a "triunity" in God, which has always been evident albeit not understood. This mysterious "triunity" is hypostatic; that is, there are three hypostases (personae in Latin) or "persons" of the Godhead (though this is an often misleading English rendering).

In the traditional Christian concept, God the Father (the Source) has only revealed himself through his eternal Word (who was incarnated in human history as Jesus Christ). The three different hypostases are not "Gods" because they are one, and share the same Divine Nature; they are the one and the same God. The Father is the Begetter, the Son is the eternally Begotten, and the Spirit eternally proceeds from both (in Catholicism and Protestantism) or from just the Father (in Eastern Orthodoxy).

Non-trinitarian views have constructed various theological understandings, ranging from Binitarianism to Modalism. Some non-trinitarians would understand that the three are not three but one playing three different roles, in three different ages or dispensations. In the Age of the Father, as Jehovah. In the Age of the Son, as Jesus. And finally in the Age of the Holy Spirit, with a New Name, as the Second Coming of Christ. However, it should be noted that some Christian denominations reject the trinity and follow nontrinitarian beliefs, Jehovah Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostalism, some Pentecostals, and Jesus-name Baptism churches being some of the nontrinitarianism.


Main article: God in Judaism

Jewish beliefs are based on the Hebrew Bible (called the Tanakh in Hebrew), which consists of the Torah (traditionally regarded as the writings of Moses), along with the writings of the prophets, psalmists, and other ancient canonized scriptures, all of which reveal the nature and commandments of God. Additionally, Jewish faith has a basis in the Oral Law, as recorded in the Mishnah and Gemara that together form the Talmud.

The 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.[40]

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 in traditional Jewish thought. Jewish texts point out other words in Hebrew used in the same manner according to the rule of Hebrew Grammar, denoting 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 indicates God in conjunction with the heavenly court, i.e., the Angels. Some Kabbalistic texts explain the use of the Elohim as a pluralistic singularity, one essence sustaining all levels of creation from the mundane physical to the sublime and Holy spiritual.[41]

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.


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, albeit not the current versions (which they believe to be corrupted). According to the Qur'an (and mainstream Muslim belief), the verses of the Qur'an were revealed by Allah through the Archangel Jibrail to Muhammad on separate occasions. These revelations were written down and also memorized by hundreds of companions of Mohammad. These multiple sources were collected into one official copy. After death of Mohammed, Quran was copied on several copies and Caliph Uthman provided these copies to different cities of Islamic Empire.

The Qur'an mentions and reveres several of the Israelite prophets, including Moses and 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 accepted as revealed directly by Allah (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.[42]

Like the Rabbinic Oral Law to the Hebrew Bible, the Qur'an is complemented by the Hadith, a set of books by later authors recording the sayings of the prophet Muhammad. The Hadith interpret and elaborate Qur'anic precepts. Islamic scholars have categorized each Hadith at one of the following levels of authenticity or isnad: genuine (sahih), fair (hasan) or weak (da'if).[43]

By the 9th century, six major Hadith collections were accepted as reliable to Sunni Muslims.

Shia Muslims, however, refer to other authenticated hadiths instead.[44] They are known collectively as The Four Books.

The Hadith and the life story of Muhammad (sira) form the Sunnah, an authoritative supplement to the Qur'an. The legal opinions of Islamic jurists (Faqīh) provide another source for the daily practice and interpretation of Islamic tradition (see Fiqh.)

The Qur'an contains 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 in Sura 2:135, for example: 'They say: "Become Jews or Christians if ye would be guided (to salvation)." Say thou (O Muslims): "Nay! (I would rather) the Religion of Abraham the True, and he joined not gods with Allah." ' In the Qur'an, Abraham is declared to have been a Muslim (a hanif, more accurately a "primordial monotheist"), not a Jew nor a Christian (Sura 3:67).


The sacred scriptures of Judaism are the Tanakh, a Hebrew acronym standing 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 Tanakh (or Hebrew Bible) was composed between 1,400 BCE, and 400 BCE by Jewish prophets, kings, and priests.

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 300,000+ stylized letters that make up the Hebrew Torah text renders a Torah scroll unfit for use; hence the skills of a Torah scribe are specialist skills, and a scroll takes considerable time to write and check.


Main articles: Old Testament, New Testament and Bible

The sacred scriptures of most Christian groups are the Old Testament and The New Testament. The Old Testament in the Protestant King James is the same as the Hebrew Bible allowing for slight variations in grammar or slang. The Bible originally contained 73 books, however 7 books, collectively called the Apocrypha or Deuterocanon depending on one's opinion of them, were removed by Martin Luther due to a lack of original Hebrew sources. For reference, the books removed were:

The New Testament comprises four accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus (the Four Gospels, traditionally attributed to the apostle Matthew; the apostle John; Mark, a student of the apostle Peter; and Luke, a student of the apostle Paul), as well as several other writings by the apostles (such as Paul). They are usually considered to be divinely inspired, and together comprise the Christian Bible. Thus, most Christians consider the fundamental teachings of the Old Testament, in particular the Ten Commandments, as valid (see Biblical law in Christianity for details). However, some Christians believe that all "old covenant" laws have been abrogated while others (known as Dual-covenant theology) believe that non-Jewish Christians only have to follow the Noahic laws (e.g. idolatry, lying, adultery, theft).

The coming of Jesus as the Messiah and saviour of humankind 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 Great Commandment, above the other commandments, also de-emphasising the more "legalistic" and material precepts of Mosaic Law (such as circumcision and the dietary constraints and temple rites) most of which would not apply to non Jewish Christian believers. Very few 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",[45] and that Jesus' teachings described Israel not as a geographic place, but rather an association with God and promise of salvation in Heaven, a revisionist position rejected by Jews and others.

The vast majority of Christian faiths (generally including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, Anglicanism and most forms of Protestantism) 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 belief 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, then was resurrected by God on the third day to rise and enter the Kingdom of Heaven and "sit at the right hand of God" with a promise to return and establish a World to Come. Christians generally believe that faith in Jesus is the way to achieve salvation and to enter into Heaven and/or receive Eternal life, and that salvation is a gift given by the grace of God.

The vast majority of Christian faiths (including Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity, and most forms of Protestantism) recognize that the Gospels were passed on by oral tradition, and were not set to paper until decades after the death of Jesus, and that the extant versions are copies of those originals. 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 Syriac Peshitta, 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 Tanakh when preparing new translations, although some believe that the Septuagint should be preferred, as it was the Bible of the Early Christian Greek 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 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), transcending 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 (see canon law). Some Christian churches and denominations consider certain additional writings to be binding; other Christian groups consider only the Bible to be binding (sola scriptura).

End times and afterlife

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 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 seen as a "god", but as a mortal man who by his holiness is worthy of that description. His appearance is not the end of history, rather it signals the coming of the world to come.

Christianity awaits the Second Coming of Christ, though Full Preterists believe this has already happened. Islam awaits both the second coming of Jesus (to complete his life and die) and the coming of Mahdi (Sunnis in his first incarnation, Shi'a as the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi).

Most Abrahamic religions agree that a human being comprises the body, which dies, and the soul, which is capable of remaining alive beyond human death and carries the person's essence, and that God will judge each person's life accordingly after death. The importance of this and the focus on it, as well as the precise criteria and end result, differs between religions.


Main article: Islamic eschatology

In Islam, God is said to be "Most Compassionate and Most Merciful" (Qur'an 1:1, as well as the start of all suras but one). 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.

Those who worship and remember God are promised eternal abode in a physical and spiritual Paradise. Heaven is divided into seven levels, with the highest level of Paradise being the reward of those who have been most virtuous, the prophets, and those killed while fighting for Allah (martyrs).

Upon repentance to God, many sins can be forgiven, on the condition they are not repeated, as God is supremely merciful. Additionally, those who believe in God, but have led sinful lives, may be punished for a time, and then eventually released into Paradise. If anyone dies in a state of Shirk (i.e. associating God in any way, such as claiming that He is equal with anything or denying Him), this is not pardonable — he or she will stay forever in Hell.

Once a person is admitted to Paradise, this person will abide there for eternity.[46]


Main article: Olam Haba

Judaism's views on the afterlife ("the Next World") are quite diverse. This can be attributed to the fact that although 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) and the Children of Israel mourned for 40 days before getting on with their lives.


Main articles: Christian eschatology and World to Come § Christianity

Christians have more diverse and definite teachings on the end times and what constitutes afterlife. Most Christian approaches either include different abodes for the dead (Heaven, Hell, Limbo, Purgatory) or universal reconciliation in which all souls are made in the image of God. A small minority teach annihilationism, the doctrine that those persons who are not reconciled to God simply cease to exist (though the Roman Catholic Church has no official teaching on what kind of place hell is, and indeed allows that it might be a locale of oblivion).

Worship and religious rites

Worship, ceremonies and religion-related customs differ substantially among the 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—Shabbat, Sabbath, or jumu'ah; this custom is related to the biblical story of Genesis, where God created the universe in six days, and rested in the seventh.


The followers of Islam (Muslims) are to observe the Five Pillars of Islam. The first pillar is the belief in the oneness of Allah, and in Muhammad as his final and most perfect prophet. The second is to pray five times daily (salat) towards the direction (qibla) of the Kaaba in Mecca. The third pillar is alms giving (Zakah), a portion of one's wealth 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, as is commanded in the Qur'an and elucidated as to specific percentages for different kinds of income and wealth in the hadith. The normal share to be paid is two and a half percent of one's earnings: this increases if labour was not required, and increases further if only capital or possessions alone were required (i.e. proceeds from renting space), and increases to 50% on "unearned wealth" such as treasure-finding, and to 100% on wealth that is considered haram, as part of attempting to make atonement for the sin, such as that gained through financial interest (riba).

Fasting (sawm) during the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan, is the fourth pillar of Islam, to which all Muslims after the age of puberty in good health (as judged by a Muslim doctor to be able fast without incurring grave danger to health: even in seemingly obvious situations, a "competent and upright Muslim physician" is required to agree), that are not menstruating are bound to observe—missed days of the fast for any reason must be made up, unless there be a permanent illness, such as diabetes, that prevents a person from ever fasting. In such a case, restitution must be made by feeding one poor person for each day missed.

Finally, Muslims are also required, if physically able, to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in one's life: it is strongly recommended to do it as often as possible, preferably once a year. Only individuals whose financial position and health are severely insufficient are exempt from making Hajj (e.g. if making Hajj would put stress on one's financial situation, but would not end up in homelessness or starvation, it is still required). During this pilgrimage, the Muslims spend three to seven days in worship, performing several strictly defined rituals, most notably circumambulating the Kaaba among millions of other Muslims and the "stoning of the devil" at Mina.

At the end of the Hajj, the heads of men are shaved, sheep and other halal animals, notably camels, are slaughtered as a ritual sacrifice by bleeding out at the neck according to a strictly prescribed ritual slaughter method similar to the Jewish kashrut, to commemorate the moment when, according to Islamic tradition, Allah replaced Abraham's son Ishmael (contrasted with the Judaeo-Christian tradition that Isaac was the intended sacrifice) with a sheep, thereby preventing human sacrifice. The meat from these animals is then distributed locally to needy Muslims, neighbours and relatives. Finally, the hajji puts of ihram and the hajj is complete.


Judaism practices circumcision for males as a matter of religious obligation at the age of 8 days old, as does Islam as part of Sunnah (the practice is not mandated by the Qur'an)

Western Christianity replaced that custom with a baptism[47] ceremony varying according to the denomination, but generally including immersion, aspersion, or anointment with water. The Early Church (Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem) decided that circumcision is not required for Gentile Christians. The Council of Florence in the 15th century[48] prohibited it. Paragraph #2297 of the Catholic Catechism calls non-medical amputation or mutilation immoral.[49][50] Many countries with majorities of Christian adherents have low circumcision rates (with the notable exceptions of the United States[51] and the Philippines). Coptic Christianity and Ethiopian Orthodoxy still observe circumcision. See also Aposthia.

Male circumcision is among the rites of Islam and is part of the (in Arabic): fitrah, or the innate disposition and natural character and instinct of the human creation.


Orthodox Judaism practice is guided by the interpretation of the Torah and the Talmud. Before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jewish priests offered sacrifices there two times daily; since then, the practice has been replaced, until the Temple is rebuilt, by Jewish men being required to pray three times daily, including the chanting of the Torah, and facing in the direction of Jerusalem's Temple Mount.

Jewish women's prayer obligations vary by denomination; in contemporary orthodox practice, women do not read from the Torah and are only required to say certain parts of these daily services. Other practices include circumcision, dietary laws, Shabbat, Passover, Torah study, Tefillin, purity and others. Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism and the Reconstructionist movement all move away, in different degrees, from the strict tradition of the law.

All versions of Judaism share a common, specialized calendar, containing many festivals. The calendar is lunisolar, with lunar months and a solar year (an extra month is added every second or third year to allow the shorter lunar year to "catch up" to the solar year). All streams observe the same festivals, but some emphasize them differently. As is usual with its extensive law system, the Orthodox have the most complex manner of observing the festivals, while the Reform pay more attention to the simple symbolism of each one.


Main article: Christian worship

Christian worship varies from denomination to denomination. Individual prayer is usually not ritualised, while group prayer may be ritual or non-ritual according to the occasion. During church services some form of liturgy is frequently followed. Rituals are performed during sacraments, which also vary from denomination to denomination and usually include baptism and communion, and may also include confirmation, confession, last rites and holy orders.

Catholic worship practice is governed by the Roman Missal and other documents. Individuals, churches and denominations place different emphasis on ritual—some denominations consider most ritual activity optional, see Adiaphora, particularly since the Protestant Reformation.

Food restrictions

Main articles: kashrut, halal and ital

Judaism and Islam have strict dietary laws, with permitted food known as kosher in Judaism, and halal in Islam. These two religions prohibit the consumption of pork; Islam prohibits the consumption of alcoholic beverages of any kind. Halal restrictions can be seen as a modification of the kashrut dietary laws, so many kosher foods are considered halal; 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. Similarly, some foods not considered kosher are considered halal in Islam.[52]

With rare exceptions, Christians do not consider the Old Testament's strict food laws as relevant for today's church; see also Biblical law in Christianity. Most Protestants have no set food laws, but there are minority exceptions.[53]

The Roman Catholic Church believes in observing abstinence and penance. For example, all Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days.[54] The law of abstinence requires a Catholic from 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the U.S. to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing.[55] Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) embraces numerous Old Testament rules and regulations such as tithing, Sabbath observance, and Jewish Food laws. Therefore, they do not eat pork, shellfish, or other foods considered unclean under the Old Covenant. The "Fundamental Beliefs" of the SDA state that their members "are to adopt the most healthful diet possible and abstain from the unclean foods identified in the Scriptures." [Leviticus 11:1–47]] among others[56]

In the Christian Bible, the consumption of strangled animals and of blood was forbidden by Apostolic Decree [Acts 15:19–21]] and are still forbidden in the Greek Orthodox Church, according to German theologian Karl Josef von Hefele, who, in his Commentary on Canon II of the Second Ecumenical Council held in the 4th century at Gangra, notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod [the Council of Jerusalem of Acts 15] with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show." He also writes that "as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third, in 731, forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days."[57]

Acts 15:19–21.

Sabbath observance

Sabbath in the Bible is a weekly day of rest and time of worship. It is observed differently in Judaism and Christianity and informs a similar occasion in several other Abrahamic faiths. Though many viewpoints and definitions have arisen over the millennia, most originate in the same textual tradition. Though not a day of rest (creation does not make God tired and therefore He did not rest on the 7th day in Muslim belief), Islam holds Friday as a day of special prayer.



Dawah is an important Islamic concept which denotes the preaching of Islam. Da‘wah literally means "issuing a summons" or "making an invitation". A Muslim who practices da‘wah, either as a religious worker or in a volunteer community effort, is called a dā‘ī, plural du‘āt. A dā‘ī is thus a person who invites people to understand Islam through a dialogical process, and may be categorized in some cases as the Islamic equivalent of a missionary, as one who invites people to the faith, to the prayer, or to Islamic life.

Da'wah activities can take many forms. Some pursue Islamic studies specifically to perform Da'wah. Mosques and other Islamic centers sometimes spread Da'wah actively, similar to evangelical churches. Others consider being open to the public and answering questions to be Da'wah. Recalling Muslims to the faith and expanding their knowledge can also be considered Da'wah.

In Islamic theology, the purpose of Da‘wah is to invite people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, to understand the commandments of Allah as expressed in the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, as well as to inform them about Muhammad. Da‘wah produces converts to Islam, which in turn grows the size of the Muslim Ummah, or community of Muslims.


Judaism accepts converts, but has no explicit missionaries as such since the end of the Second Temple era. Judaism states that non-Jews can achieve righteousness by following Noahide Laws, a set of seven universal commandments 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. In the U.S., as of 2003 28% of married Jews were married to non-Jews.[58] See also Conversion to Judaism.


Christianity encourages evangelism. 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 of exile, conversion or death; and of the Aztecs by Hernán Cortés. Forced conversions to Protestantism have occurred as well, notably during the Reformation, especially in England and Ireland (see recusancy and Popish plot).

Forced conversions are condemned as sinful by major denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church, which officially states 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). According to Pope Paul VI, "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."[59]

Violent conflicts

Between Abrahamic religions

  • The wars between the emerging Islamic Caliphates and the Christian Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire between the 7th and the 11th centuries CE were a series of military, political and religious conflicts which led to the islamization of large territories in the Near East such as Egypt and Syria.
  • The Crusades (end of 11th – end of 13th century CE) were a series of military expeditions from Western Europe to the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean: a rather unsuccessful attempt by Western (Catholic) Christians to conquer what was perceived by all Christians as the Holy Land from its Muslim inhabitants. In passing, Crusades were also marked with conflicts between Western and Eastern (Orthodox, Syro-Jacobite and Armenian) Christians and unilateral damage inflicted by Western Christians to Jews.
  • The conquest and the following Reconquista of Spain (beginning of 8th – end of 15th century CE) were a series of wars between Muslims and Christians in the Iberian peninsula resulting in the founding of several Muslim and Christian Medieval states and the final victory of the Catholic Crown of Castile and Aragon against the Muslim Emirate of Granada.
  • The Ottoman conquest of the Balkan peninsula (mid-14th – end of 15th century CE) followed by a series of wars between the Islamic Ottoman Empire and various Christian powers and alliances (end of 14th – beginning of 20th century CE) was an important political, military and cultural process for South-Eastern Europe resulting in the fall of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire and its successor states and finally leading to the emerging of several modern nations in that region.
  • The Spanish inquisition was an attempt by the Christian Catholic church in Spain in the wake of the centuries long Reconquista to suppress or expel Jews and Muslims and to prosecute Christian heretics. Openly Jewish and Muslim people were expelled rather than killed, but many submitted to forced conversion to Catholicism to avoid expulsion. The Inquisitors often did not trust the converts, and persecuted them cruelly for being secret adherents of their original religions, which was often true but sometimes fabricated. Jewish forced converts were known as "anusim," or sometimes by the pejorative "morrano (pig)."
  • At various points in history pogroms against Jews were common in Christian Europe, and in many Islamic areas. See blood libel.
  • The Christian Reformation of the 16th century CE was an attempt towards a religious reform in the Western (Catholic) Christian Church which resulted in a series of Religious Wars between Catholic and emerging Reformist/Protestant Christian forces during the 16th and 17th centuries CE throughout Western Europe.

Between branches of the same Abrahamic religion

  • There have been many violent conflicts between the Sunni and Shi'a branches of Islam; see Shi'a–Sunni relations.

Between Abrahamic religions and non-adherents

  • Some proclaim that During the initial expansion of both Christianity and Islam, a number of pagan communities were converted by force, Muslims deny this saying that those claims are biased opinions by early historians .
  • The Catholic Inquisition, mentioned above, also targeted non-believers in the orthodox doctrines of Roman Catholicism and many accused of atheism (regardless of what they professed) lost their livelihoods or their lives.
  • Abrahamic religions have had large numbers of their adherents persecuted in the form of loss of life, seizure of property and other forms of persecution due to Communism, Fascism and Nazism.

Other Abrahamic religions

Historically, the Abrahamic religions have been considered to be Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some of this is due to the age and larger size of these three. The other, similar religions were seen as either too new to judge as being truly in the same class, or too small to be of significance to the category.

However, some of the restriction of Abrahamic to these three is due only to tradition in historical classification. Therefore, restricting the category to these three religions has come under criticism.[60] The religions listed below here claim Abrahamic classification, either by the religions themselves, or by scholars who study them.

Bahá'í Faith

Main article: Bahá'í Faith

Recently the Bahá'í Faith, which dates only to the late 19th century, has sometimes been listed as Abrahamic by scholarly sources in various fields.[27][61][62]

Though smaller and younger than the well-known Abrahamic religions, the Bahá'í Faith is significant because of its activities, distribution and numbers. The religion is almost entirely contained in a single, organized, hierarchical community, and is also recognized as the second-most geographically widespread religion after Christianity.[7][63] The Association of Religion Data Archives estimated some 7.3 million Bahá'ís in 2005[64] and the only religion to consistently surpass population growth in each major region of the planet over the last century, often growing at twice the rate of the population.[65]

Bahá'u'lláh, the founder, affirms the highest religious station for Abraham and generally for prophets mentioned among the other Abrahamic religions,[66] and has claimed a lineage of descent from Abraham through Keturah and Sarah.[67][68][69] Additionally Bahá'u'lláh actually did lose a son, Mírzá Mihdí.[70] Bahá'u'lláh, then in prison, eulogized his son and connected the subsequent easing of restrictions to his son's dying prayer and compared it to the intended sacrifice of Abraham’s son.[71]

The religion also shares many of the same commonalities of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.[66][72][73] The religion emphasizes monotheism and believes in one eternal transcendent God,[74][75][76] the station of the founders of the major religions as Manifestations of God come with revelation[74][77][78] as a series of interventions by God in human history that has been progressive, and each preparing the way for the next.[62] There is no definitive list of Manifestations of God, but Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá referred to several personages as Manifestations; they include individuals generally not recognized by other Abrahamic religions - Krishna, Zoroaster, and Buddha[79] - and general statements go further to other cultures.[80]

Ethnographic Abrahamic religions

Some small religions are Abrahamic—Samaritanism,[81] Yazidi,[82] Druzes,[83] Mandeans,[84] and Rastafari movement.[68] These religions are regional: Samaritans largely in Israel and the West Bank,[85] Yazidi among the Kurds though there has been some emigration,[86] Druze among the Syrians, Lebanese, and Israelis,[87] Mandean largely in Iraq,[88] Rastafari mostly in Jamaica.[89]

See also




Further reading

  • Freedman H. (trans.), and Simon, Maurice (ed.), Genesis Rabbah, Land of Israel, 5th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Genesis, Volume II, London: The Soncino Press, 1983. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
  • Guggenheimer, Heinrich W., Seder Olam: The rabbinic view of Biblical chronology, (trans., & ed.), Jason Aronson, Northvale NJ, 1998
  • Massignon, Louis, "Les trois prières d'Abraham, père di tuos les croyants", Dieu Vivant, 13, (1949) 20–23.
  • Scherman, Nosson, (ed.), Tanakh, Vol.I, The Torah, (Stone edition), Mesorah Publications, Ltd., New York, 2001

External links

  • ] Accessed October 21, 2012
  • ]Accessed October 21, 2012
  • Reconciling the Abrahamic Faiths Accessed October 21, 2012
  • What's Next? Heaven, hell, and salvation in major world religions A side-by-side comparison. Accessed October 21, 2012
  • Three Faiths, One God Accessed October 21, 2012

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