Today’s religious beliefs, governmental structures, laws and traditions of social behavior find their roots in the development of three main belief systems – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Although other religious movements have developed throughout the years, these three belief systems have had the most impact on civilizations of the West. To better understand this impact, it is important to trace the development of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and review the relationships between them. While each belief system is unique, there are many similarities due to their common beginnings.
The philosophies and traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam most prominently begin with the founder of the Hebrews known as Abraham ca 1800 BCE Historically, these teachings were also subscribed by nomadic tribes, which settled in present day Palestine, near Mt. Sinai. The people of these tribes did not label themselves as Hebrews, and referred to God as the god of Abraham.
This came about as God promised Abraham a son, and in the course of the events doubting that is old wife could give him a son, he had Ishmael with his maid, Hagar, and then later God’s prophecy would be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac, by his wife Sarha. Due to their belief system, the tribe proliferated the idea that Isaac and his descendants were chosen by God to carry forward Abraham’s holy lineage. Isaac was the forefather of what was to become the 12 tribes of Israel, while Ishmael and his descendents were to constitute a different Semitic tribe and follow Arabic traditions.
The term Judaism came about after the establishment of the state of Israel when the tribes divided into two, the northern and Judas kingdoms, ca 922-587 BCE The customs and belief systems of these nomadic tribes to be later identified as Arab tribes were very similar to the Hebrews’; however, the Arab tribes developed in some subtle ways. They remained nomadic, whereas the Hebrews tended to follow the teachings of the Holy Scriptures to the achievement of The Promised Land. As for the Arab nomadic tribes because of this development, a centralized governing agent who organized the religion did not develop as it did with the Hebrews.
In approximately ca 1290-1250 BCE, Moses further supplemented both traditions with a covenant between God and his believers. Moses married Zipphora, from a different Semitic tribe, (Ishmael descendants?) as they referred to God as the God of Abrahim; this would indicate the strong similarity of beliefs and customs between the Hebrew and Arab tribes at that time.
In approximately 600 CE, a somewhat modified revival of the beliefs and traditions of Abraham occurred, due to the persuasions of Mohammed. He disagreed with the commonly held belief that Isaac and his descendents were the chosen ones. He taught instead that Ishmael was the chosen one, and therefore, Ishmael?s descendants, the Arabs, carried forth Abraham’s holy lineage. Mohammed redefined the Arabic religious tradition on this point into the tradition of Islam. Islamic belief centered on "submission to the will of Allah by fulfilling the five duties know as the Pillars of Islam".
Within the organized movement of Islam, ca 570-632 BCE, a written tradition, as well as a central controlling agent of the Arab tribes, developed through compilation of the Qur’an. The Qur’an, although in some ways similar to the teachings in the Hebrew Holy Scriptures, totally and distinctly separated the Islamic belief system as a new, and competing, tradition from that of Judaism.
Another offspring of Judaism was Christianity. The belief that a Messiah would appear amongst the Jews by the end of the millennium came to life with the crucifixion of Jesus in Jerusalem ca 29 B.C.E. Jesus was believed by many followers of Judaism to be the long-awaited Messiah, and served to divide Judaism once again. In contrast to Judaism, Christians believe that the appearance and teaching of Jesus represents a new covenant superseding the previous covenant between God and Moses. The Jews that chose to believe in this new covenant began the Christian movement.
A focused Christian movement began based on the documentation of his teachings by men who lived during the two to three generations following Jesus’ death. The written tradition was called the New Testament, and was considered an addition to the Hebrew Holy Scriptures. Developments of Christianity are chiefly attributed to Paul, for his contributions to the New Testament, and Peter, the leader of the Roman Church. The influence of the Christian belief system is great – the socio-economic traditions of the western world revolve around traditions derived from Christianity (Catholicism).
Naturally, as both Christianity and Islam originated from Judaism, many of their teachings, beliefs and traditions are similar to Judaism. All three religions are similar in their description of the relationship with God and his followers, as the Holy Scriptures are part of the teachings of Christianity. There can be seen a great influence by the Tanakh and the Gospels in the Qur’an: "Praise be to God, the Lord of the universe, the merciful, the compassionate, the authority on judgment day"…. He has created the heavens and the earths in accordance with the requirements of wisdom. Exalted is he above all that they associate with him."
While women played a key role in all three of these religious systems, they have been historically mistreated and overshadowed by their male counterparts. In Hebrew society, women were excluded from the priesthood, for the exception of a few, who played an active role in the religious observances and politics of the times. For example, Deborah was responsible for claiming territory for her tribe due to the defeat of the Canaates in 1125 BCE Throughout the history of Christianity, women were also restrained from achieving equality amongst men, with few exceptions, such as St. Catherine of Siena, who lived between 1347-1380 BCE She became involved with Church policy at the highest level, thus, playing a very important role in Church politics. In Islamic society, women were important in the home and yet subordinate to men. They could neither claim nor inherit what their husbands won in the battlefield and had no right to divorce. "Baby girls were regarded with such disdain that in some instances they were buried alive at birth." Although Mohammed tried to improve their treatment, women enjoyed no equality with men. Despite any differences between Judaism, Christianity and Islam, one incredible belief has remained – the decreased value and respect of women. This belief regarding women is responsible for the current status of women in modern society. Despite advancements in knowledge and technology, women are not currently recognized as equal to men in western civilization. This is attributed to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures, the New Testament, and the Qur’an, which reinforce the subordination of women to men. A very unfortunate impact of these belief systems is the substantiation of a discriminating god, which benefits and empowers only men.
Just as there are similarities, there are many distinctions between the three belief systems. One of the main distinctions of Islam from Judaism and Christianity is the emphasis of Islam’s last great prophet Mohammed – not acknowledged by either Judaism or Christianity. While both Islam and Christianity recognize Jesus as a prophet, Christianity further exalts Jesus as the Messiah. Judaism does not recognize Jesus as a significant person.
Since the establishment of Catholicism and Islam, Jews have been a migrating minority and in spite of the many wars and battles fought amongst Catholics and Muslims during the Crusades, Jews seem to be a prime target of discrimination from both Catholics and Muslims of the times.
The differences between Islam and Christianity flared during one period of history, primarily due to reasons of influence and power. The expansion of Islam looked with favor on commerce and developed trading routes, which extended from the Pacific to the Atlantic and from central Africa to Russia. The Islamic world brought expanded economic opportunities to Europe and also benefited Muslim culture in science, medicine and philosophy. This created a sense of competition between followers of Islam and the Christians, who had established huge followings and social-economic monopolies. Pope Urban II transformed the competition into hatred in 1095, who depicted Muslims as a wicked race, and so the Crusades began one of the bloodiest and destained conflicts to occur between followers of Christianity and Islam.
Most of the disagreements within these three religions have been used to gain political power and the control of trading routes in the West. Manifestations of these disagreements are the great influence that Catholicism has had on Western Civilization regarding law and behavior, the current control of black gold in Saudi Arabia, and the entire issue of the state of Israel, which inevitably affects the world economically.
Key figures were responsible for the development and proliferation of each of the religions herein discussed. Moses was a key individual in the development of the Jewish faith, Mohammed was the key proponent of the Islamic traditions, and Peter and Paul were the major figures that progressed Christianity. Although the key figures are different, it is noticeable that organization is the most important factor in the development of all of these movements.
These three movements are also linked by a need to justify and resolve issues of morality, as well as to assert an identity with a God. The essential need to believe and describe in the existence of a higher force or Supreme Being has been present in all western civilizations from the time of Mesopotamia to this day. All three religions place importance on a grand occurrence – a representation of God will come and rescue them from the evils of society, leading them to eternal life. Believers of Judaism await the coming of the Messiah. Christians await the Second Coming of Christ, and followers of Islam await the return of Mohammed. The importance placed on a future occurrence is one of the strongest factors responsible for the continuance of these religions, as it reinforces the need to follow the customs, ethics, morals of the particular belief system, and helps to stimulate conversions to each of the belief systems. Another major difference is the competition of Islam and Christianity for converts, whereas Judaism carefully evaluates a family lineage as to establish the relation to Judaism or in cases of conversions one must adhere to a detailed set of covenants in order to be accepted. Islam and Christianity actively seek converts, whereas Judaism doesn’t.
The final outcome of all of these religious beliefs is continuance of the structures they prescribe, and their profound impact on the development of western civilization. Judaism currently manifests itself as the final achievement of the state of Israel, and the catalyst for the basis of the influential world religions of Islam and Christianity. Christianity influenced western culture through establishment and continuance of the Roman Catholic Church, its powerful infrastructures, which controlled the Roman Empire and to present-day influences of it are still strong. Islam created distinctive civilizations such as Damascus, Bhagdad, Cairo, Cordiva, and Delhi and has substantially impacted the people of Europe and Asia through their systems of trade and culture. Through their unique and combined interactions, the entire socio-political ideologies of western civilization have been affected.
Importance should be placed on both the disagreements and agreements between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As the current socio-economic status of western civilization, as well as eastern civilization, revolves around influences of the leaders that subscribe to one the above religions, it is extremely difficult to change outdated beliefs such as subordination of women and discrimination of humans due to their belief systems, specifically in current world events such as the situation of Israel in the Middle East and the wars taking place in former Yugoslavia.
Judaism comprises less than two per cent of western society, and yet has contributed in field after field. They have ranked the contribution of their day as Marx, Freud, Einstein, and Fermi have within this century. Furthermore, Jewries have been outcast and prosecuted more than any other society from as early as history could be recorded and survived against all odds. The Irony of all is that most of the persecuting has been done from movements which prescribed to either Christianity or Islam which in essence would have not existed without Judaism?
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B. Ness, Class notes, Oct. 05, 1994.
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Civ. of the West, V I Brief Edition. Grieves, R., R. Zaller, J.T. Roberts. (Harper Collins, 1994). Pg. 90.
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B Ness, Class handout, Qu?ran, Mecca Chapters, Nov. 22, 1994.
B. Ness, Class handout, Nevi?im, Judges, Deborah, Oct. 04, 1994.
.Civ. of the West, V I Brief Edition. Grieves, R., R. Zaller, J.T. Roberts. (Harper Collins, 1994). Pg 119.
.Civ. of the West, V I Brief Edition. Grieves, R., R. Zaller, J.T. Roberts. (Harper Collins, 1994). Pg. 114.
.Civ. of the West, V I Brief Edition. Grieves, R., R. Zaller, J.T. Roberts. (Harper Collins, 1994). Pg. 155-156.
.Civ. of the West, V I Brief Edition. Grieves, R., R. Zaller, J.T. Roberts. (Harper Collins, 1994). Pg. 179.
.Civ. of the West, V I Brief Edition. Grieves, R., R. Zaller, J.T. Roberts. (Harper Collins, 1994). Pg. 91.