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Judaism - Christianity - Islam

Although Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are distinct religions, they are also regarded as a family of religions, particularly as the >families of Abraham=@ (Ludwig 338). It must also be acknowledged that their Atraditions took shape within the network of cultures we call the West=@ (Corrigan xi). Among other things, this Western coloring means that They share a linear view of history, a belief that God created the world from nothing, and that creation is progressing toward its fulfillment. And their common background includes their influences upon one another: Christianity emerged out of Judaism, and Islam is deeply indebted to both Judaism and Christianity. As we undertake the study of these traditions, we should bear in mind that our sensitivity to similarities will amplify our capability to see differences. That is, the more fully we appreciate the various historical convergences among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the better equipped we will be to identify divergences, or the truly distinctive features of each religion. (Corrigan xi)

In the following pages, more specific focus on how these three religions Acompare and contrast@ will occur. By taking a cue from the most recently cited work, the format for such focus is fivefold: Scripture and Tradition, Monotheism, Authority, Worship and Ritual, and Ethics.

Scripture and Tradition

In Judaism, the sacred writings or scriptures are variously referred to as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish Bible, and Athe Tanak, an acronym formed from the first letters of the three sections of the text in Hebrew - torah (>law, instruction=), nevi=im (>prophets=), kethuvi=im (>writings=)@ (Young 265). The torah is also called the Pentateuch. In fact, AJews hold the Pentateuch, the >five books of Moses= which appear at the beginning of the Tanakh, as the most sacred part of the scriptures@ (Fisher 217).

According to the rabbis, at Sinai God handed down a two-part revelation: The part Moses wrote down and passed on publicly in Israel as the Torah; and the oral part, preserved by the great heroes and prophets of the past and handed on to the rabbis who finally wrote it down (the Talmud). And by studying and living according to the whole Torah, one is conforming to the very will and the way of God. (Ludwig 355)

In Christianity, the sacred writings consist of both the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, and the twenty-seven books called the New Testament. In fact, Athe Bible of the early church was the Jewish Bible. Christians read the prophets Isaiah, Micah, and Zechariah and saw in them predictions of the life of Jesus. [It was only] as the years passed [that] specifically Christian literature began to be developed@ (Hopfe 236).

These writings are commonly broken down into gospels, epistles, and apocalypse. The gospels Aoffer a composite picture of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the Christian community@ (Fisher 265). The epistles and apocalypse were responses to various problems and challenges which the early Christians faced as Christianity spread in the Graeco-Roman world.

In Islam, the sacred book is the Koran. AUnlike the Judaeo-Christian Bible, the Koran is not a collection of diverse material from over a thousand years. It was all delivered in a period of no more than twenty-two years through one man in communications from God through his angel@ (Ellwood 338).

The Aholy writings of these religions have proven astonishingly durable, as each succeeding generation has applied its own criterion of truth to its investigation of the meaning and worth of its stories@ (Corrigan xii).


Monotheism means that there is one God, Aone all-powerful personal God who has created and sustains the cosmos@ (Young 445). Even though all three of these religions are monotheistic in orientation, their conceptualization and presentation of this shared position differs. AIn Judaism, we find monotheism closely interwoven with messianism. Among Christians, the Trinity - three persons in one God - is the distinguishing feature. And in Islam, emphasis on the unity of God is paramount@ (Corrigan xiii).

AHear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is One@ (Deut. 6:4). ANothing in Jewish life is more hallowed than the saying of these words@ (Ludwig 366). This belief in the oneness of God is Athe unifying feature among all Jews,@ and Judaism itself, in fact, is built around the belief that this one God Aworks in and through historical events and has in some manner chosen the Jewish people as his agents@ (Hopfe 185).

But saying that God is one is not just a matter of arithmetic. The Hebrew word for Aone@ (ehad) also means >unique,= the one who is unlike any other. God is different from anything humans might name as gods or create as gods. From this sense of God=s uniqueness arose the strict prohibition against making any images or likenesses of God - for God is not like anything else.

All else is made; God is not. All else changes; God does not. All else has rivals and comparables; God does not. (Ludwig 366) Having developed out of Judaism, Christianity=s view of God is very similar. However, the essential difference lies in the revelation of that God. AFor Jews, the way to really know God is in the covenant relationship, especially in the Torah given by God in love. For Christians, the way to really know what God is like is through the revelation in Jesus Christ; here God=s divine face is shown for all to see@ (Ludwig 418). Indeed, Ain the belief that Jesus Christ is the clearest portrayal of the character of God all the rest of Christian doctrine is implied@ (Noss 487).

The basic belief of Islam Ais that there is only one God, who is called Allah, the same God worshiped by other religions under other names@ (Hopfe 265). This God has revealed himself to other prophets (Moses, Jesus, etc.) in the past, but his last revelation was to the prophet Muhammad. AMuslims [=one who submits=] believe that the words of Allah to Mohammad are recorded as they were heard in the holy Quran [Koran]. As with the other monotheistic religions, the revelation of God laid forth an ethical lifestyle for the faithful to follow@ (Young 353).


The authority within each of these religions lies, obviously, in their sacred scriptures. However, authority is also represented in other Aimages@ or ways. Here we will note some of the representations of authority which comprise these three religions (individuals, activities, places). In the brief space allotted to the Aimages@ in this paper, we will see that Aauthority exists not as an item of merchandise passed along from one hand to another, but as the product of the ongoing efforts of communities to define themselves@ (Corrigan xiii).

In Judaism, for example, the rabbis were Ateachers, religious decision-makers, and creators of liturgical prayers . . . [who] in addition to delving into the meanings of the written Torah [also] undertook to apply the biblical teachings to their contemporary lives, in very different cultural circumstances than those of the ancients, and to interpret scripture in ways acceptable to contemporary values@ (Fisher 232-233).

Many other authoritative activities or practices also occur within Judaism. Sabbath observance, festivals and holy days, and other traditions represent the authority of Judaism (Hopfe 216-219; Young 284-288; Ellwood 254-259; Fisher 251-259). They also impact ethical considerations which will be considered later.

In Christianity, ministers or clergy and specially trained scholars are among the authoritative figures. Though diverse in orientation, history, and profile, these various figures speak with varying degrees of weight along lines of ecclesiology, eschatology, education, and evangelism.

Also, depending upon which rung of the liturgical ladder one sits (Western or Eastern tradition), observation of special days and occasions are also emphasized and carry varying degrees of power.

In Islam, the ulama are Athe recognized scholars of religion@ (Noss 607). There is also a distinction between Athe religious courts and those established by civil governments@ (Noss 607). Islam also has its own distinctive calendar (Hopfe 282).

Worship and Ritual

For all three of these religions, worship is not so much an Aan activity limited to certain places or certain times@ as it is Aa way of life . . . the recognition of the interwovenness of God, the community, and the individual@ (Corrigan xiv).

Nevertheless, there are certain rituals and practices geared toward worship. In Judaism, for instance, Aa ritual of worship was developed that became more and more elaborate with the passing of years@ (Noss 420). Though too numerous to here explore, the Jewish worship and rituals Aprovide a rhythm of return to the source of sacred power, daily, weekly, and seasonally@ (Ludwig 377). An overview of these particulars is strongly recommended (Cronback 894-903; Davies 879-883; Ludwig 377-383; Fisher 251-259; Corrigan 215-234).

Christian worship is also replete with rituals. Prayers, the Lord=s Supper, other sacraments, pilgrimages, art, and music are among the many components (Corrigan 235-255; Richardson 883-895; Ludwig 430-436). Since Christian worship is more familiar to those in this culture, this will only here be referenced.

In Islam, specified patterns for worship are known as AThe Five Pillars of Islam@ (Fisher 352). These five pillars Aor obligations are repetition of the creed, daily prayer, almsgiving, the fast during the month of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca@ (Hopfe 279). They are regarded as Athe minimum duties of Muslims in ritual worship of God [and] are obligatory on all adult Muslims insofar as they are not excused because of sickness or other such reasons@ (Ludwig 484). Since they are a combination of both physical activity and spiritual reflection, they are beneficial for the Awhole person@ (Ludwig 484).


All three of these Western religions are concerned with Aproper action, the pursuit of good in one=s everyday life@ (Corrigan xiv). In this section, we focus on some of the ethical guideposts by which proper action is measured and determined.

In Judaism, the term halakhah is used Ato designate that code of laws that prescribes how a Jew should live every aspect of life@ (Ludwig 385). It is based upon the Torah and Talmud and has traditionally been regarded as the revealed will of God in both moral law and ritual practices. AAlthough legalistic in content, the Halachah is designed to bring all human occupations into relations with the service of God and to establish the supremacy of the divine will as the measure of all directions and strivings of human life@ (Epstein 512).

In Christianity, at least from an ideal standpoint, AChristians do not live the ethical life because it is >commanded= [but] because of love and gratitude to God. Since the springs of motivation are touched by Christ, ethical behavior is not so much a discipline leading to transformation as an expression of transformation@ (Ludwig 439).

Based on the law of love, numerous principles for ethical behaviors are taught by Christianity. By means of biblical exegesis and appropriation of moral standards from other disciplines (psychology, sociology, philosophy), the will of God is sought pragmatically. Christian ethics may be regarded as bifocal: it looks to the social sciences for Awhat is@ data, and to the Bible for Awhat ought to be@ data (Barnette 27).

In Islam, the ethical life is more closely related to Judaism than Christianity. Muslims are expected to follow the guidance of the law (Shari=ah), a compilation of Areligious legislation that governs all aspects of Muslim life@ (Ludwig 493). Based upon both the Quran and the Hadith (the collection of sayings and activities of Muhammad), this law does not address all situations directly, but it does provide sufficient perspectives to aid one in decision-making so that one=s highest potential may be realized.

This select look at how these three religions Acompare and contrast@ is only suggestive at best. However, it is hoped that it is provocative enough to stimulate further investigation on a larger scale.

Dr. Morris Murray, Jr.

Works Cited

Barnette, Henlee. Introducing Christian Ethics. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1970.

Corrigan, John, Frederick M. Denny, Carlos M.N. Eire, and Martin S. Jaffee.

Jews, Christians, Muslims. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Cronback, Abraham. AJewish Worship in NT Times.@ Vol. 4 of The Interpreter=s

Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. 5 vols. Nashville:

Abingdon Press, 1962, 894-903.

Davies, G. Henton. AWorship in the OT.@ Vol. 4 of The Interpreter=s Dictionary

of the Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. 5 vols. Nashville: Abingdon

Press, 1962, 879-883.

Ellwood, Robert S. Many Peoples, Many Faiths. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 1996.

Epstein, I. AHalachah.@ Vol. 2 of The Interpreter=s Dictionary of the Bible. Ed.

George Arthur Buttrick. 5 vols. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962, 512.

Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice

Hall, 1997.

Hopfe, Lewis M. Religions of the World. Beverly Hills: Glencoe Press, 1976.

Ludwig, Theodore M. The Sacred Paths. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ:

Prentice Hall, 1996.

Noss, David S., and John B. Noss. A History of the World=s Religions. 9th ed.

Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1994.

Richardson, C.C. AChristian Worship in NT Times.@ Vol. 4 of The Interpreter=s

Dictionary of the Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. 5 vols. Nashville:

Abingdon Press, 1962, 883-894.

Young, William. The World=s Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues.

Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1995.


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