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Abrahamic religion

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An Abrahamic religion (also referred to as desert monotheism) is a religion derived from the ancient Semitic tradition of Abraham, a great patriarch depicted in the Hebrew Bible. This group of largely monotheistic religions, which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, comprises the majority of the world's religious adherents. Muslims refer to adherents of most Abrahamic religions as People of the Book, “the Book” being the Old Testament and New Testament, which the Muslims reject as corrupt but revere as having had divine origins.

Samaritanism is considered Abrahamic if it is believed to be a genuine Israelite religion, which much of Judaism does not. Gnosticism, Arianism and Mormonism are considered Abrahamic if they are believed to be Christian, which many mainstream Christians do not, though most non-Christians do. Noahides are a concept accepted by Judaism, but as it is believed to derive from the patriarch Noah and not directly from Abraham, it is sometimes not counted as an Abrahamic religion per se. Other religions sometimes considered Abrahamic religions include the Bahá'í Faith, Sikhism, Rastafarianism, and Druze. What constitutes an Abrahamic religion varies from each observer's point of view, as a universal classification system cannot be agreed by everyone.



All the Abrahamic religions are derived to some extent from Judaism as practiced in ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah prior to the Babylonian Exile, at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC. Judaism in Palestine was renovated and reformed to some extent in the 6th century BC by Ezra and other priests returning to Palestine from the exile. Samaritanism separated from Judaism in the next few centuries.

Christianity originated in Palestine, at the end of the 1st century BC, as a radically reformed sect of Judaism; it 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 sects. 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, which separated the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Protestant Reformation in the 15th century, which eventually gave birth to hundreds of independent Protestant denominations.

Islam originated in the 6th century, in the Arabian cities of Mecca and Madinah. Although not properly a dissident sect of either Judaism or Christianity, it explicitly claimed to be a continuation and replacement for them, and echoed many of their principles. In particular, Islam accepts the Genesis claim that the Arabs descend from Abraham through Ishmael.


The origins of Judaism and the ancestral Abrahamic religion are still obscure. The only documentary source bearing on that question is the Genesis book of the Hebrew Bible, which according to religious tradition was written by Moses sometime in the 2nd millennium BC, but which many scholars assign to the time of King Solomon, around 1000 BC. According to Genesis, the principles Judaism were revealed gradually to a line of patriarchs, from Adam to Jacob (also called Israel); however the religion was really established only when Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, and with the institution of priesthood and temple services, after the Exodus from Egypt.

Archaeologists so far have found no direct evidence that could support or deny the Genesis story on the origins of Judaism; in fact, there are no surviving texts of the 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 Palestine 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.


There are six notable figures in the Bible prior to Abraham: Adam and Eve, their sons Cain and Abel, Enoch and Noah, his great-grandson, who saved his own family and all animal life in Noah's Ark. These people did not however leave any recorded moral code behind -- they serve simply as good and bad examples of behaviour without specific indication of how one interprets their actions in any religion.

Islam considers Adam and Noah to be prophets, and also considers the wisest lawgivers of other nations (e.g., Confucius, Hiawatha) to be prophets as long as they claimed no divinity on their own behalf. Judaism historically accepted that each people had its own god, of which theirs was simply the most powerful. Many strains of Christianity up to the 20th century considered followers of some or all other faiths to simply be idolator s, heathens, heretics, pagans, blasphemers, or merely misguided.

So rather than being the sole "founding figure", Abraham is more correctly described as the first figure in Genesis that is (a) clearly not of direct divine origin such as Adam and Eve are claimed to be; (b) the three major desert monotheist faiths accept as playing some major role in the founding of their common civilization; (c) is not claimed as the male genetic forebear of all humans on the Earth (as Noah is, in more literal interpretations - Cain by contrast married a woman from the "Land of Nod" who was unrelated to him or Adam); and (d) is quite well-documented.

In the Book of Genesis, Abraham is specifically instructed to leave the city of Ur so that God will "make of you a great nation", and his travails thereby are well documented. 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, the Arabic version) had eight sons: one (Ishmael) by his wife's servant Hagar, and one (Isaac) by his wife Sarah, and six by a concubine named Keturah. According to this account, Jews are descended from Isaac's son Jacob, also called Israel. Biblical Judaism is based on the covenant between God and the "children of Israel" (descendants of Israel's twelve sons) at Sinai.

Christianity recognizes Jesus, who had at least a Jewish mother, as its messiah, as the son of God, and as being part of the Godhead himself. Islam recognizes Jesus and the Jewish prophets after Abraham (such as Moses) as being divinely inspired (though not divinely born), and in a crucial distinction recognizes Muhammad (the religion's founder) as a prophet - the last.

Although the Bahá'í Faith is not traditionally included among the Abrahamic faiths, it recognizes the same prophets, plus Bahá'u'llá'h.

Rastafarianism similarly recognizes Biblical authority and believes itself to be a descendant of the religion of Abraham. Most Biblical prophets are recognized, along with Emperor Haile Selassie and Marcus Garvey.

There are other religions that recognize, to a greater or lesser degree, the prophets of the Bible, including the various Voodoo faiths (a syncretic blend of Christianity and African pagan religions) and Unitarian Universalism.

The Supreme Deity

Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in the same God, but Muslims, and to some degree Jews (see below), visualize God in strictly monotheistic terms, whereas most Christians believe that God is an indivisible Trinity, of which the Jewish God is only one aspect.


Jewish theology is based on the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh, largely the same as the Old Testament of the Christians), where the nature and commandments of the Jewish supreme being are revealed through the writings of Moses and later prophets.

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

Since the word "Elohim" has the form of a plural noun, some non-Jewish scholars see as a sign that the ancient Hebrews may have been polytheists in the time of the patriarchs; however, as the word itself is used with singular verbs, this theory is not accepted by most Jews.

Jews reject Jesus Christ as a false Messiah and ascribe no divinity to him.


Historically, Christianity has professed belief in a single deity, an indivisible Trinity or Godhead, comprising three "divine persons or aspects: the Father, claimed to be the same as the God of the Jews; the Son, begotten by the Father, who incarnated in Jesus Christ; and the Holy Spirit, emanating from both. This theology is not explicitly stated in the Christian Bible (which comprises the Old and New Testaments), but was elaborated by the early Church fathers and codified in the Athanasian Creed.

When referring specifically to God the Father (e.g. in the context of the Old Testament), Christians generally use the names "Lord", "Yaweh", or "Jeovah"; the last two are based on conventional pronunciations of the tetragrammaton "Y-H-W-H". The Son is also called the "Savior", the "Messiah", the "Redeemer", the "Lamb of God", and several other names.

This "trinitarian monotheism" has been rejected by several Christian sects and Christian-based religions, such as Arianism, Unitarianism, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Most of these unitarian groups believe or believed that only God the Father is a deity; Latter-day Saints believe that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three distinct deities.


Allah is the most traditional Muslim name for God. Islamic tradition also speaks of 99 Names of God.

Islam considers that the Jewish God is the same as Allah, and Jesus as a divinely inspired prophet, but not a divinity. Thus both the theology of the Jewish Bible and the teachings of Jesus are accepted as valid in principle, although not in detail.

Religious scriptures

All three religions revolve around a body of scriptures, some of which are considered to be the word of God — hence sacred and unquestionable — and some which are 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.


The sacred scriptures of Judaism are the Books of Moses or Torah, the writings of the prophets, and other books such as Book of Proverbs and Book of Psalms. Together these consistute the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh. These are complemented and supplemented with collected rabbinical writings, Talmud. The Hebrew text of the Tanakh, and the Torah in particular, is considered holy, down to the last letter: translations or transcriptions are frowned upon, and its copying is done with painstaking care.


The sacred scriptures of most Christian sects are the Old Testament, which is largely the same as the Hebrew Bible; and the New Testament, comprising four accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus, traditionally attributed to his apostles Matthew, Mark, Luke, and, John (the Four Gospels ); and several writings by the apostles and early fathers such as Paul. Thogether these comprise the Christian Bible. Thus Christians consider the fundamental teachings of the Old Testament, in particular the Ten Commandments, as still valid; however they believe that the coming of Jesus, as told in the New Testament, has profoundly changed the relationship between God and mankind — by placing universal love and compassion above the other commandments, by voiding the more material precepts of rabbinical law (such as the dietary constraints and temple rites), and by transferring to his apostles the task of spreading the word of God.

Unlike the Jews, Christians generally do not consider a single version of their Bible as holy to the exclusion of the others, and accept good translations and re-translations as being just as valid in principle as the original. They recognize that the Gospels were only set to paper many decades after the death of Jesus and his apostles, and that the extant versions are only copies of those originals. Indeed, the version of the Bible which is 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 Bible, 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, but many believe that the Septuagint translators probably knew Biblical Hebrew better than any person living today.

The Christian Bible sacred scriptures are complemented by a large body of writings by Christian priests and scholars, which in general are not considered holy or binding; and various precepts by the religious authorities of some sects, such as the Catholic Pope, which are considered divinely inspired and binding by members of those sects.


Islam has only one sacred book, the Quran, comprising 114 Chapters (surat). According to the Quran itself, these were revealed by Archangel Gabriel to prophet Muhammad in separate occasions, and preserved as such by his disciples, until they were compiled into a single book (not in chronological order) several decades after his death.

The Quran includes several stories from the Jewish Bible (chiefly in Sura 17, The Children of Israel), and mentions Jesus many times as a divinely inspired prophet. However the detailed precepts of the Tanakh and of the New Testament are not adopted outright; they are replaced by the new commandments given directly by Allah to Muhammad and codified in the Quran.

Like the Jews, Muslims consider the original Arabic text of the Quran holy to the last letter, and any translations or "modernized" versions are considered to be dangerously misleading if not heretical.

Like the Hebrew Bible, the Quran is complemented by the Hadith, a set of books by later authors that interpret and elaborate its precets. The Hadith are considered binding by most Muslims, although some are disputed by certain sects.

The coming

Main article: Millennialism

In the three major religions, there exists the await of an individual which will herold the end of the world, and bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth. Judaism awaits the coming of the Messiah, Christianity awaits the Second Coming of Christ, Islam awaits the coming of Mahdi (Sunnis in his first incarnation, Shias the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi).



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 in God created the universe in six days, and rested in the seventh.

Judaism and Islam prescribe infant circumcision as a token of inclusion in the faith. Christianism replaced that custom by a baptism ceremony that varies according to the sect, but generally includes immersion, aspersion or anointment with water.

Judaism and Islam also 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. Christianity originally had prohibitions against the consumption of meat (but not fish) on fridays and in certain epochs of the year, but those rules have been largely abandoned or subtantially relaxed in many sects.

Christianity and Islam encourage proselytism — convincing others to convert to their religion; many Christian organized religions send missionaries to non-Christian communities throughout the world. While Judaism accepts converts, it does not encourage them, and has no missionaries as such.

See also: Monotheism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Judeo-Christian tradition, Christo-Islamic tradition, Religions of the world, vedic religions, Semitic monotheism

Last updated: 12-13-2004 16:40:36