Judaism, Christianity and Islam
“I could be wrong,now – but I don’t think so!” (From “It’s a Jungle Out There”) The following is for those seeking understanding on the traditions of three of the world’s main religions. Most of what follows is history and not meant to open up a discussion but mainly to help those who don’t really understand the differences in the three main religions of the world nor the sub-groups within each one. This came about because I have many friends who believe that a Jew is a Jew and a Moslem is a Moslem (Muslim is the plural of Moslem) and a Christian is a Christian. Each one has many shades and colors of meaning and this is just my attempt to explain the grouping to my friends and neighbors.
I’ve given a bit of thought to the problem of explaining the world’s three mainline religions to my friends. This paper follows their origins along with some thoughts about the breakdown of each one into its main components. One of the problems in this dissertation is that I have not found a way to post anything in Hebrew, Greek nor Aramaic so most of this will be Julian dates and a (best as I can do) transliteration of the Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words into pronounceable words in English. Also, this article is directed to those not terribly familiar with all three religions but mostly with one or the other.
Judaism is the oldest and more established of the three main religions of this paper. Born when Avram (later Avraham) was called out of Ur (supposedly located in Iraq between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers) and later established by Moshe when he led the Children of Israel out of Egypt and G-d gave him the Torah to give to the Children. Judaism seems to be (or is) composed of four (or five) main branches: Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed and Hassidic. All believe in the ONE G-D and that there is no other G-d or gods. Outside of that, they seem to be all over the map in what they believe. My Rabbi once told me that there is a Jewish proverb that wherever there are two Jews you will have three opinions; the first Jew’s opinion, the second Jew’s opinion and G-d’s opinion. He also told me that the original characters for a Jew as three yuds; two side by side and one in the middle just above them showing that two Jews are united under one loving G-d and father over all. But, you can’t show that in the early printing so the third yud was dropped.
- Orthodox and Hassidic are similar in observances in that both believe that the Masoretic Text (bretween 600 and 1000 AD – 4550 to about 4750 on the Jewish calendar), closely observe all of the 621 laws in HaTorah. HaTorah (The Law) is the first five books of the bible – Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. (Bereshis, Shemos, Va-Yikra’, Be-Midbar and Devarim in Hebrew.) Some of those laws, most dealing with sacrifice and civil penalties, cannot be observed until the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem or until the nation of Israel moves from a secular collection of of Jews (by birth) becomes the nation of Judah, a nation observant to HaTorah. Pretty much, they believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of G-d. More on the Hassidic later.
- Reformed are the “left wing” of Judaism in that they are observe a “big tent” where you can believe almost anything and still be a Reformed Jew. (Seriously! Almost anything!) This “latter day” movement started in Eastern Europe in the early 1800′s and spread to the USA and the UK in the early 1900′s. There is in a short document in Wikepedia on Reformed Judaism that recounts most of the highlights of the movement. Suffice it to say that that Reformed Judaism does not follow the letter of the “Law” of the Torah nor many of the practices of traditional Judaism.
- But what about Conservative or Masorti Judaism? Conservatism is neither Orthodox nor Reformed, but seems (to me) to be an attempt to reconcile between the two main branches and is neither fish nor fowl. While more liberal than Orthodoxy and more traditional than Reformed, they seem closer to the Orthodox in that they (for the most part) do believe that the Masoretic Bible is the revealed Word of G-d and has been preserved down through the ages.
Christianity came about with the birth and death of Y’Shua (Jesus) who was thought to be the son of a certain Joseph and Mary. However, Christians believe that G-d himself “caused” Mary to become the mother by a miracle and this was revealed to Joseph in a dream from an Angel of G-d. Others believe that Y’Shua was a priest (or rabbi) from a little known sect of Jews called Essenes, a minor movement compatible with the Pharasees and the Saducees. When he was crucified by the Romans he is believed to have risen from the dead after three days (if you believe in a Thursday crucifixion rather than Friday) and ascended into Heaven bodily after a period of about 40 or 50 days and was seen by hundreds during that time. Present day Julian calendars are denoted as BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini – Year of the Lord).
Christianity can be broken down into three main groups as well: Conservative (Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Reformed Methodists, Bible Churches, Four Square, Church of Christ, Orthodox – Eastern, Russian, Coptic, etc – and Nazarene.), the Liberal (Presbyterians, Episcopaleans, most Methodists, most Lutherans, Church of England, Roman Catholic, etc.), the Charismatic churches such as Assembly of God and others who hold to the belief that God still gives the gifts of tongues and healing today and the Cultic churches such as Mormans, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the like. You will find that most of the “TV Churches” are of the Charismatic variety but there are still a sprinkling of the conservative and liberal. However, all except the cult groups (to be discussed later). All except the Cults and a few non-trinitarian churches hold that Jesus was the only son of G-d and was, in fact, very G-d himself. The Trinity is explained as three parts of the ONE G-d and not three separate gods, which would be heresy.
- Conservatives, for the most part, believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of G-d, baptism is part of the salvation process and only those who believe in their heart and confess with their mouth that Jesus (Y’Shua) was the Son of G-d will be allowed into Heaven. Some have closed communion (commemoration of the Last Supper) some are open but all seem united in certain causes such as anti-abortion to preserve the life of the unborn baby and yet favor the death penalty for certain crimes. Some will not allow divorce except for adultery or desertion while others recognize divorce as a sin to be forgiven. All seem to favor baptism by immersion but some (just a couple) will accept baptism by other congregations of the same denomination but only if they were immersed. Why so many denominations? Usually because of splits over methods of baptism, whether communion should be observed every week or monthly or quarterly or annually, titles in the church, etc.
- Liberals are diverse group who usually do not believe in the inerrancy of the bible (much like the Reformed Jews) and hold to permitting abortion, are strongly anti-death-penalty for anything, don’t really seem to have a firm conviction of who will go to heaven and who won’t and usually vote for the more liberal political party. Except for the Roman Catholic who are liberal EXCEPT for being strongly anti-abortion and strongly anti-divorce, even more so than their conservative counterparts. Christianity is, indeed, a multi-colored coat that embraces almost anything.
- Charismatic churches are pretty much orthodox christianity EXCEPT that they believe that G-d still gives the gifts of healing and tongues in today’s churches. For many years they were outcasts but recently they have been included into the mainstream churches and even some of the conservative and liberal churches have begun to accept this point of view while not preaching it from the pulpit. Again, rather strange behavior but the churches seem to be bent on keeping their members even if they have to bend their faith a bit.
- Cults are the hardest to explain to the outsider. While the Mormons do believe in the King James Version of the bible as the inerrant word of G-d (so far as it is interpreted correctly) they add several books to the bible that were give to them by Joseph Smith, their founder and first prophet. These are the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price and The Doctrines and Covenants. They are also polytheistic in that they believe that Jesus was the G-d of THIS world but that there are other worlds and other g-ds of those worlds. One of their main doctrines is that “As Man is, G-d once was and as G-d is man may become.” Also they seem to hold that Jesus and Lucifer were both sons of G-d and that only Jesus was chosen to redeem mankind. Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, hold that Jesus was a man and only a man which is as heretical in the Christian way of thinking as believing that HaShem was only one of many gods in Judaism. But, both Mormonism and JW’s are growing at fanatical rates, especially outside the USA where they were first developed.
Islam is broken into two main groups: The Shite (pronounced Shee’-ite with a soft ‘t’) and the Sunni (pronounced Su’-nee) and, to my understanding, has more to do with a political breakup after the death of Mohammad. Some followed the sons of Mohammad and others followed the then leaders of Islam. Even today, while Iraq is mostly Sunni with Shite in political control, Iran is mostly Shite with very few Sunni. The Arab states (Arabia to most of us) is almost all Sunni with a sprinkling of Sunni. Islam (the Koran) recognizes the other two main religions of Judaism and Christianity as “People of the Book” since, by their way of thinking, the Jews have the Old Testament and the Christians have the New Testament. Both are allowed to co-exist with Islam under certain conditions – usually that they don’t preach nor convert anyone from Islam to their faith. In practice, neither are allowed to co-exist unless Islam is not in power. Even then, Islamists seem to push for Shari Law and other concessions that they would never allow in a country controlled by Islamists.
I have tried to understand the Islamists point of view and have read an English translation of the Koran. I do find certain points of view acceptable but, according to the Koran, any other faith other than Islam is not allowed unless the non-believer confesses that Allah is G-d and that his only prophet is Mohammed. This no believing Christian or Jew could do and still be following their faith. Frankly, I don’t see any kind of co-existence possible UNLESS we can all recognize that while we have different faiths we have to abide by a civil law that is an amalgamation of all of these different faiths. And if we do that, then none of us can live by their professed faith. Truly it is a problem for which the only solution is to have countries that are Muslim, others that are Christian and others that are Judaic. But, if we did that, the Catholics would want their own country and the Baptists would want theirs, etc., etc.
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