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.
This chapter examines the distinctive character of philosophy among Muslims, Jews, and Christians in the medieval Islamic world. It relates philosophy to theology, but also to other competing intellectual projects such as Sufism and Ismaʿīlī esotericism and shows how philosophers argued for the religious legitimacy of their project, among others by portraying religious founders like Abraham as accomplished philosophers. The chapter also addresses methodological issues, most importantly the question how to capture the complicated relations between religious identity, intellectual commitments, and cultural exchange in this period. It ends with a sketch of similarities and differences between philosophy and theology in the Muslim world and in the Latin West.
This chapter consists of two parts. The first examines the historical-phenomenological relationship between the Qur’an and Judaism (the Qur’an and Judaism), while the second examines perspectives expressed by the Qur’an toward Judaism (the Qur’an on Judaism). The former includes perspectives offered by pre-modern and contemporary non-Muslim researchers regarding the Qur’an and its relationship to the religion and culture of Judaism; the latter considers how the Qur’an itself appears to evaluate Judaism. Both are considered within an explicit evaluative framework of assessment that reflects on the problematic of tension inherent in the relationship between established religion and emergent religion
David Nirenberg and Leonardo Capezzone
This chapter explores the place of love—of human towards humans or towards God, and of God towards humans—in the Abrahamic traditions. Christianity frequently presented itself as a religion of love, as opposed to ‘loveless’ Judaism and Islam. However, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all used love to imagine, contest, and represent relations both proper and improper between and among created beings and divine creator; and all three religions have also used love to imagine their relation to each other (as well as to other religions), and to represent the stakes in their competing claims to truth. Although claims of love animate many Abrahamic ethical, social, and onto-theological ideals, the same claims underpin many of the sectarian dynamics and discriminations through which religious communities distinguished themselves from one another. The chapter focuses on various types of love from the Hebrew Bible and Quran to medieval Jewish and Islamic philosophers.
Was Abraham religious? The question seems out of place in a volume on ‘Abrahamic Religions’. Yet, it is precisely the juxtaposition of strictly anachronistic terms (Abraham, religion) at a time when ‘the religious’ proliferates, that should initiate a sustained interrogation. By considering the ways in which Abraham was never religious, by thinking with Kafka, with Ronell and Derrida, about ‘another Abraham’, this chapter asks about the persistence of an all-too Christian religio and reads Abraham (Sarah and Hagar too) toward another question, another juxtaposition, a different disputation.