The Abrahamic religions recognize Abraham as the first to arrive at the truth of monotheism and live out the ideal relationship with God. He is the archetype of the stalwart religious individual willing to abandon everything in the journey to realize the truth of God. Yet while the Abrahamic religions all recognize his vital role, each understands his nature differently. In Judaism Abraham represents unfailing obedience to the divine command, while in Christianity he is the epitome of Christian faith. And in Islam Abraham was the first to submit fully and without reservation to the divine will. Because the religions that revere Abraham differ, so do their Abrahams. Thus, not only does Abraham serve as a symbol of common aspirations, he is also a source of disagreement and interreligious polemic, and a fulcrum for leveraging spiritual difference and claims to religious superiority.
The modern concept of the Abrahamic religions has roots in Christian theology, the academic study of the Near East, and the study of Islam. In the nineteenth century, Protestant theologians built on the idea of the ‘Abrahamic covenant’ in developing the idea of a spiritual connection among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. At the same time, students of the Near East understood the three religious traditions as sharing a common genealogical bond. Such recognition was enhanced by Islam’s own sense of the religion of Abraham, which was communicated to a broader public by western Islamicists. Although the concept of the Abrahamic religions does not preclude the privileging of one religion over the others, it has provided both scholars and laypeople with a useful way of exploring the common ground of the three faiths.
In the Old Testament, apocalyptic literature (or simply ‘apocalyptic’, as the genre is often called) might not seem to occupy a prominent place. Only the book of Daniel falls into this category. Despite its poor representation in the Bible, apocalyptic literature is not a fringe activity; nor are its contents peripheral to an understanding of Judaism (or Christianity, for that matter). This article focuses on the book of Daniel, the main Old Testament exemplar, and the book of 1 Enoch, which contains the earliest and in many respects most important Palestinian Jewish apocalypses.
Apocalyptic phenomena and discourses run as a thread through Jewish, Christian, and Muslim history, playing a lead role during times of transition and ferment. Apocalyptic phenomena announce not only ‘the end’ but the completion of history and an essentially better world to come, and may therefore be seen as radical optimism, the product of a profound discontent with present conditions. Although Apocalypticism frequently played a role in political upheavals, apocalyptic discourse has been used also by conservative elements; theologically, apocalyptic arguments can pose a solution for problems of theodicy. In the Abrahamic traditions, apocalyptic discourse frequently concerns a messiah as well as a counter-messiah as lead figures in the events of the eschaton. Apocalypticism continues to this day, as most of the groups usually labelled religiously radical or fundamentalist in the Abrahamic traditions see themselves as actors in an apocalyptic drama.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all claim that God has given humans a revelation. Divine revelation may be either of God, or by God of propositional truth. Traditionally Christianity has claimed that the Christian revelation has involved both of these. God revealed himself in his acts in history; for example in the miracles by which he preserved the people of ancient Israel, and above all by becoming incarnate (that is human) as Jesus Christ, who was crucified and rose from the dead. And God also revealed to us propositional truths by the teaching of Jesus and his church. Some modern theologians have denied that Christianity involves any propositional revelation, but there can be little doubt that from the second century until the eighteenth century, Christians and non-Christians were virtually unanimous in supposing that it claimed to have such a revelation, and so it is worthwhile investigating its traditional claim. This article is concerned with the Christian claim to have a propositional revelation. The first section describes the process by which Christians of past centuries have come to believe that certain propositions have been revealed. The second assesses alternative philosophical accounts of what constitutes a belief that such-and-such propositions have been revealed, being a ‘justified’ belief (or a ‘warranted’ or ‘rational’ one).
This chapter examines such current expressions as ‘the three monotheisms’, ‘the three religions of Abraham’, and ‘the three religions of the book’, points to their falsity and the dangers inherent in their use, and argues they mask real differences underneath a surface harmony. Concerning monotheism, it points to the fact that not only the Abrahamic traditions are monotheists, and the Abrahamic traditions frequently do not recognize each other as such. Concerning Abraham, it argues that while a person with this name indeed appears in the scriptures of all these religions, this figure is rather a source of disagreement than of concord, interpreted in widely differing ways; furthermore, each religion believes only its version of Abraham to be the true one. Concerning ‘religions of the book’, it claims that the character of the three religions’ scriptures are highly diverse, and each religion has a very different relationship with its own ‘book’.
David M. Freidenreich
This survey of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic dietary law finds no recognition within pre-modern sources of the biblical or familial affinities implied by the contemporary term Abrahamic. The profound diversity of norms regarding animal species, blood, meat and dairy, and alcohol demonstrates that it is misleading to focus on the fact that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are rooted in a common scripture. Pre-modern sources about the food of religious foreigners, moreover, do not express a sense of Abrahamic kinship among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. These sources instead employ classificatory methods that reinforce ideas particular to each tradition’s approach to claiming superiority over foreigners. The term Abrahamic offers a convenient label for the juxtaposition of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sources that bypasses the diverse and ideologically driven categories native to these traditions; the more one focuses on the term’s meaning, however, the less useful it becomes.
How does Christianity explain the existence of the two rival Abrahamic faiths, Judaism and Islam? What place does it allow in Christian society for Jews and Muslims? The responses to these questions are many; this chapter examines a few prominent examples. Rather than a survey of Christians’ attitudes towards Jews (or Judaism) and Muslims (or Islam), it examines how Christian law accommodated Jews and Muslims as residents of Christian societies and at the roles that Christian thinkers assigned to Judaism and Islam in a Christian scheme of history. The emphasis is on a few salient examples from the fourth century (when Christianity obtains social and intellectual predominance in the Roman Empire) to the nineteenth (when Christianity loses that predominance in Europe).
Mark R. Cohen
Islam arose in the seventh century in Arabia through the preaching of the prophet Muhammad (d. 632). Nineteenth-century Jewish historians of the ‘Wissenschaft des Judentums’ school painted the experience of medieval Jewry in the world of Islam in idyllic, almost mythic terms and in stark contrast to the sorrowful, oppressive, persecutory history of Jews living in medieval Christendom. This rosy comparison between the ‘Golden Age’ under Islam and the era of persecution under Christendom, sketched against the background of the political agenda of nineteenth-century Central European Jewish intellectuals, was carried forth into the twentieth century, reinforced by the brutal Nazi persecution of the Jews culminating in the Holocaust. On the other hand, the Arab-Jewish dispute over Palestine generated a fresh political issue which impacted on the historiography of medieval Jewry in the world of Islam.
The intensification of religious life, and the contact with what is conceived of as a spiritual sphere, are two main general features of mysticism, present in all of the Abrahamic traditions. Intensification is nevertheless applied to different particularistic ways of religious behaviour. This chapter attempts to explore some of the common denominators of the different mystical literatures and experiences while doing justice to the specific background of the various religions within which they emerge and to interactions between these mystical traditions. In all of the Abrahamic traditions, we find the use of similar mystical techniques, such as use of the divine name, as well as the common influences of sacred scripture and Hellenistic culture. Furthermore, all of them have an intense interest in mystical union and in personal redemption.