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Abrahamic religion

An Abrahamic religion (also referred to as desert monotheism) is any religion derived from an ancient Semitic tradition attributed to Abraham, a great patriarch described in the Torah, the Bible, and the Qur'an. This group of largely monotheistic religions, which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, comprises about half of the world's religious adherents. Muslims refer to adherents of most Abrahamic religions as People of the Book, "the Book" symbolizing divine scripture, such as the Bible, Torah, and Qur'an.

Apart from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a number of other religions in the Semitic tradition are generally, but not universally, considered Abrahamic. Other religions sometimes considered Abrahamic religions include Mandaeanism, 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. Many believe that Judaism in Biblical Israel was renovated and reformed to some extent in the 6th century BC by Ezra and other priests returning to Israel from the exile. Samaritanism separated from Judaism in the next few centuries.

Christianity originated in Israel, at the end of the 1st century, as a radically reformed branch 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 denominations. A major split in the 5th century separated various Oriental Churches from the Catholic church centered in Rome. Other major splits were the East-West Schism in the 11th century, which separated the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th 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 branch of either Judaism or Christianity, it explicitly claimed to be a continuation and replacement for them, and echoed many of their principles. For example, Muslims believe in a version of the story of Genesis and in the lineal descent of the Arabs from Abraham through Ishmael, but they teach that Ishmael was through Abraham's wife, instead of his servant. Muslims reject the Jewish Bible because they think it has been intentionally corrupted, in part to erase any mention of the coming of Muhammad; but nevertheless revere it as having had divine origins.


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 Rabbinic tradition was written by Moses sometime in the 2nd millennium BC, with many estimates arriving at 1500 BC. According to Genesis, the principles of Judaism were revealed gradually to a line of patriarchs, from Adam to Jacob (also called Israel); however the religion was only established 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 to support or refute 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 exist some inscriptions which some scholars believe to confirm the Biblical record, such as the Tel Dan Stele.


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 and Judaism consider Adam and Noah to be prophets and recognize that there were possibly other prophets who are unknown today. Judaism historically accepted that each people had its own beliefs, of which theirs was simply the most correct. (Jews who chose another faith, however, are considered heretics). Many strains of Christianity and Islam consider followers of all other faiths to be worshipping false gods.

So rather than being the sole "founding figure", Abraham is more correctly described as the first figure in Genesis that (a) is clearly not of direct divine origin such as Adam and Eve are claimed to be; (b) is accepted by the three major desert monotheistic faiths 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, in Arabic) 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, who was later called Israel. 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 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 The Bab, Bahá'u'lláh and the prophets of non-Abrahamic religions.

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 Shamanism) and Unitarian Universalism.

The Supreme Deity

Judaism and Islam visualize God in strictly monotheistic terms, whereas most Christians believe that God is an indivisible Trinity, with three distinct persons.

An Abrahamic religion (also referred to as desert monotheism) is any religion derived from an ancient Semitic tradition attributed to Abraham, a great patriarch described in the Torah, the Bible and the Qur'an. This group of largely monotheistic religions, which includes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, comprises about half of the world's religious adherents. Muslims refer to adherents of most Abrahamic religions as People of the Book, "the Book" symbolizing divine scripture, such as the Bible and Torah.

Apart from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, a number of other religions in the Semitic tradition are generally, but not universally, considered Abrahamic. Other religions sometimes considered Abrahamic religions include Mandaeanism, 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.


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. Additionally, it usually has a basis in its Oral Law, as recorded in the Mishnah and Talmuds.

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

The word "Elohim" has the Hebrew plural ending "-īm", which some Biblical scholars have taken as further 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 theory is not accepted by most Jews. Jews point out other words in Hebrew that are used in the same manner according to the rule of Hebrew Grammar. Jewish Biblical scholars and historical commentary on the passage point out that Elohim being in the plural points to God in conjunction with the heavenly court, i.e. the angels.

Judaism rejects Jesus as a false Messiah and ascribes no divinity to him.


Historically, Christianity has professed belief in a single deity, an indivisible Trinity or Godhead, comprising three divine "persons": the Father, creator of the universe; the Son, begotten by the Father, who incarnated in Jesus; and the Holy Spirit, emanating from both. Christians believe that this is the same God worshipped by the Jews, and believe that God's trinitarian nature was not fully revealed until the time of Jesus. This theology is stated in the Christian Bible (which comprises the Old and New Testaments), as in John 10:30, and was elaborated upon 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 rarely use the name "Yahweh" (based on conventional pronunciations of the tetragrammaton "Y-H-W-H" or "Y-H-V-H"); more often, they use the title "Father" or "Lord". The Son also bears the divine name (Phil 2:9), but is usually referred to as "the Son of God" or "the Word of God" in his pre-incarnate state, or as "Jesus Christ", "the Lord", the "Savior", the "Messiah", the "Redeemer", or the "Lamb of God" since his incarnation.

This "trinitarian monotheism" has been rejected by several Christian denominations and Christian-based religions, such as Arianism, Unitarianism, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Most of these non-trinitarian 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 personages.


Allah is the standard Arabic translation for the word "God". Islamic tradition also describes the 99 Names of God.

Muslims believe that the Jewish God is the same as Allah and that Jesus is 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 and viewed Islam as a continuation of and a replacement for these two religions.



Lineage is covenant between Abraham and God, passed from Father to Son, much as the crown would have been passed from a King to a Prince.


In Genesis, Abram entered into a covenant with God, and was renamed Abraham.


The first born son of Abraham. Jewish tradition holds that he was born out of wedlock. Islamic tradition holds that he was the first legitimate son of Abraham born as a result of the marriage of Abraham to Hagar.


Born to Abraham's first wife. Isaac was the second son of Abraham. Jewish tradition holds that he was the first son of Abraham born in wedlock. Islamic tradition holds that he was the second son of Abraham born in wedlock.


Jacob, descendant of Isaac, renamed Israel.

Twelve Tribes

The descendants of Jacob(Israel) formed twelve tribes. Before Jacob died he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh, two sons of Joseph and formed two more tribes under the house of Joseph.

Asher, Benjamin, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Joseph, Joseph/Ephraim, Joseph/Manasseh, Judah, Levi, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, Zebulun

Jewish Lineage

The Jews believe that the covenant was passed from Abraham to Issac, the first son of Abraham to be born in wedlock, and eventually down to Jacob(Israel). The Jews believe they are primarily of the tribes found in the Kingdom of Judah, Judah, Benjamin, and Levi (the ten other tribes were lost after the Assyrian invasion of the Kingdom of Israel - see Lost Ten Tribes). The word "Jew" is derived from Judah.

Muslim Lineage

Muslims believe that the covenant was passed from Abraham to Ishmael, as he was the first born son. As the Islamic tradition holds that Ismael was born in wedlock no issue of his illegitimacy arises. Jews and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are of the view that Ishmael was illegitimate and this precluded Ishmael from having the covenant passed to him.

Christian Lineage

The Christians believe that the covenant was passed from Abraham to Isaac, the first son of Abraham to be born in wedlock, through Jacob(Israel), Judah, and David the King, and eventually to Jesus the Messiah of Israel.

Rastafarian lineage

Rastafarians believe that Haile Selassie is God, because he is the King of kings, the Lord of lords and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Haile Selassie claimed to have the root of David, and to be the 225th direct descendant of King David, a figure that mathematically is not credible. This connection to Ethiopia was made through the consummation of King Solomon with the Queen of Sheba. Rastafarians also believe that they, the black races, are the true children of Israel. They accept Jesus as a former incarnation of Haile Selassie.

Religious scriptures

All three religions rely on 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 comprised of the Tanakh, a Hebrew acronym which stands for "Torah","Nevi'im" (Prophets), and "Ketuvim" (Writings). 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 transcribing 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. Together these comprise the Christian Bible, which are usually considered to be divinely inspired in some sense. Thus Christians consider the fundamental teachings of the Old Testament, in particular the Ten Commandments, as valid; however they believe that the coming of Jesus, as told in the New Testament, has shed light on the true relationship between God and mankind — by restoring the emphasis of universal love and compassion (as mentioned in the Shema) above the other commandments, by de-emphasising the more "legalistic" and 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, although some believe that the Septuagint should be preferred, as it was the Bible of the early Christian Church and because they believe its translators probably knew Biblical Hebrew better than any person living today. In the same sense that the Jewish mystics viewed the Torah as something living and existing prior to any written text, so too do the Christians view the Bible and Jesus himself as God's "Word" (or logos in Greek) that transcends written documents.

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


Islam has only one sacred book, the Qur'an, comprising 114 Chapters (surat). According to the Qur'an itself, these were revealed by Archangel Gabriel to Prophet Muhammad on 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 Qur'an 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 revealed directly by Allah (through Gabriel) to Muhammad and codified in the Qur'an.

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

Like the Rabbinic Oral Law to the Hebrew Bible, the Qur'an is complemented by the Hadith, a set of books by later authors that record the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The Hadith interpret and elaborate Qur'anic precepts. There is no consensus within Islam on the authority of the Hadith collections but Islamic scholars have categorized each Hadith at one of the following levels of authenticity or isnah: genuine (sahih), fair (hasan), or weak (da'if).

By the ninth century six collections of Hadiths were accepted as reliable:

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

In the 20th century, however, a new loosely organized group of Muslims calling themselves simply Submitters (the english translation of muslim) was first formed. One of their central beliefs is that the Qur'an is the only authorized scripture, and that the Hadith and Sunnah are fabrications that have no divine basis. This sets them apart from many other Muslims as many religious practices of traditional Muslims are derived from the Hadith and Sunnah and not from the Qur'an. For example, whereas traditional Muslims believe that the 1st pillar of Islam is "There is only one God and Muhammad is his prophet", Submitters cut the reference to Muhammad out entirely and instead declare, "There is only one God", believing that referring to Muhammad in religious practices is tantamount to idol worship.


The Rastafarians use the King James version of the Bible as their main scripture, though they claim that they only have half of it, and that the other half is written in the heart of human beings. Both the teachings of Marcus Garvey and the Holy Piby are also important documents, as are the life and sayings of Haile Selassie.

The coming

Main article: Millennialism

In the major Abrahamic religions, there exists the await of an individual which will herald 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 both the second coming of Jesus (in order to complete his life and die, since he is said to have been risen alive and not crucified) and the coming of Mahdi (Sunnis in his first incarnation, Shi'as the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi). Rastafari awaits the second coming of Haile Selassie.



Judaism's views on the afterlife are quite diverse. This can be attributed to the fact that Judaism is primarily focused on life, and not what happens after. This is not to say that Judaism has no afterlife, rather it tends to label it as unimportant, and it only shows itself in advanced thought, usually Kabbalistic in nature.

One main agreement is that the Jewish afterlife is a process of purification before admittance to the "world to come". The body will be punished in Sheol, or the grave, and the soul is purified in Gehenna (also Gehinom) or purgatory. In purgatory all souls are purified by reviewing their life and learning from the wrong they have done. This is done with a maximum time of one year as that is supposedly the maximum amount of time to clean the blackest of souls. An alternative train of thought is that the most evil people's souls are completely obliterated in Abbadon. What happens after this process of purification, beside ascending to Gan Edan, or the garden of eden, and closeness with God, is up to debate.


Afterlife is one of the most fundamental concepts of Christian theology. The most serious ("mortal") sins condemn the immortal soul to terrible punishment (called "Hell", "Damnation", and many other names) and separation from God — often for eternity, or at least until the second coming. Conversely, a just life earns the soul's admittance to an eternal state of bliss, close to God ("Heaven", the "Kingdom of God", "Salvation", etc.). Some Christian theologies also admit a purgatory, analogous to Jewish Gehenna, where souls guilty of lesser sins will spend some time before being admitted to Heaven.

The concept of an afterlife where people are rewarded or punished for their deeds in life has had a pervasive influence in Christian thinking and ritual. In many faiths, people can obtain forgiveness for their sins by sincere repentance, accompanied by prayer, good deeds, or physical self-punishment. In Catholicism, forgiveness requires confession of the sin to a priest, who will prescribe prayers as a symbolic punishment; and this is one of the seven fundamental Sacraments of Catholic ritual. In other denominations, public confession may be required. Over centuries, many Christian communities have developed traditional self-punishment ceremonies, ranging from pilgrimage to a holy location to extreme self-mutilation.

The dispensing of forgiveness in exchange of donations to the Church, in late Mediaeval times, was one of the perceived aberrations that led to the Protestant schism.

The concepts of afterlife and its eternal salvation or damnation are clearly stated in the New Testament, but only in an abstract sense. The precise nature of Hell and Heaven has been a major subject of theological speculation, and views have varied enormously among sects and epochs. The very literal "Fire and Brimstone" view expressed in Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy (14th century), where Hell is a place of intense and continuous physical suffering, has been a very popular one throughout history.

Christian theology generally excludes interference of the souls of deceased persons on the living world, e.g. through reincarnation, possession, or ghostly appearances. While several Christian faiths accept the concept of posession by spirits (see exorcism), these are seen as malign demons, never as departed souls. Several sects also admit that the souls of particularly holy deceased people ("Saints") may occasionally appear in visions to the living, to give them advice and support; and they may also be addressed in prayers as intermediaries between men and God.


Islam prescribes a literal, burning Hell for those who disobey God and commit gross sin. Those who worship and remember God are promised eternal abode in Heaven. Heaven is further divided into seven levels (hence the term 'Seventh Heaven') with the highest level reserved for those who die in the cause of faith. Upon repentance to God, any sin can be forgiven as God is said to be the most Merciful. Beyond repentance however, the Qur'an states that God will certainly not forgive shirk; attributing relationship to God such as the Christian view of Jesus being the Son of God.


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

Judaism and Islam prescribe infant circumcision as a token symbol of inclusion in the faith. Christianism replaced that custom by a baptism ceremony that varies according to the denomination, 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. Halaal restrictions can be seen as a subset of kashrut dietary laws, so many kosher foods are considered halaal; especially in the case of meat, which Islam prescribes must be slaughtered in the name of God. 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 organizations 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, Christo-Islamic, Religions of the world, Vedic religions, Major world religions

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