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The contemporary framework of religion, social behaviour and global governmental structure are often traced to the inception of the three central belief systems of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Grayson, 2006, p.40). Whilst there are numerous alternative religious…
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1. Introduction The contemporary framework of religion, social behaviour and global governmental structure are often traced to the inception of the three central belief systems of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Grayson, 2006, p.40). Whilst there are numerous alternative religious organisations in the world, arguably these three monotheistic faiths have had the most significant influence in contemporary civilisation. Moreover, these three religions have distinct parallels in terms of the underlying belief system of monotheism and Busse (1998) in his discussion of the interrelationship between the three faiths asserts that:
“From the beginning, Islam was for obvious reasons closely tied to Judaism and Christianity. The Koran evolved over more than three decades, during which Muhammad was engaged in discussion with adherents of both religions. There is an abundance of documentation on this subject in the Koran, including …… narratives with a biblical background and various traditions, both written and oral, of Jewish and or Christian origin” (p.1).
Moreover, a fundamental element of the interrelationship between these three faiths was the intolerance of other religious practices and originated from Abraham. To this end, Peters (1990) comments that whilst alternative polytheistic religions are characteristically tolerant of other religious practices, “the Children of Abraham, on the other hand, though grudgingly accepting of each other, were professedly and actually intolerant of other religious systems. The One True God of Abraham was, on his own witness a jealous deity who brooked no rivals” (p.xxi).
Therefore, whilst the origins of the three faiths share the same roots; the formation of Islam, Christianity and Judaism as separate religious systems has resulted in different belief systems and the focus of this paper is to evaluate the development of Judaism from its historical roots to the contemporary manifestation of the religion.
2. Origins of Judaism: Abraham, 12 Tribes of Israel and Moses
In contrast to the assumption that Judaism’s origins are traceable to Moses; the roots of Judaism are found in the Old Testament with numerous references to the worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and YAHWEH (the Hebrew name for God) prior to Moses. This is referred to in Ben Sira’s deuterocanonical book Sirach in the “Praise of the Elders”:
“Abraham was the great father of a multitude of nations,
And no one has been found like him in glory;
He kept the law of the Most High,
And was taken into covenant with him;
He established the covenant in his flesh,
And when he was tested he was found faithful.
Therefore the Lord Assured him by an oath
That the nations would be blessed through his posterity;
That he would multiply him like the dust of the earth,
And exalt his posterity like the stars,
And cause them to inherit from sea to sea
And from the River to ends of the earth (Sirach: 44: 19-21).
Moreover, a central underlying foundation of Judaism’s development is the covenant relationship with Abraham (approximately 2,085 BC); where God decreed to Abraham and decreed that the Israelites were the chosen people by the Lord and that everyone in the world would see God through Israel. Indeed, reference to Abraham’s belief in Yahweh is highlighted in the Genesis narrative: “he believed Yahweh; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Genesis: 15:6).
Abraham’s line is then traced through Isaac to Jacob and his 12 sons, along with their descendants, who are referred to as the 12 tribes of Israel. It is believed that at the end of this period, YAHWEH manifested himself Israel catalysing the Exodus and the commandments to Moses at Mount Sinai where Moses proclaimed “O, let me behold Your Presence!” And he answered “I will make all My goodness pass before you and I will proclaim before you the name Lord [that is YHWH]……. And the Lord said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock and, as My Presence passes by, I will put a cleft in the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen” (Exodus 33:7-23).
This passage highlights the monotheistic roots of Judaism and the emphasis of the omnipresent creator, which in turn has shaped the development of Judaism into an organised religion.
3. Holy Texts of Judaism
The contemporary practice of Judaism is rooted in the Pentateuch, which comprises the five books written by Moses and is the primary religious scripture of Judaism. The Torah is regarded as the holiest writings of Judaism and is the first section in the Hebrew Bible (which is the Tanakh). Moreover, the five books of the Pentateuch are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Additionally, the Old Testament highlights the revealing of YAHWEH to the Israelites and the 39 books of the Old Testament are accepted by Judaism as Scripture.
However, interestingly whilst the Torah catalysed the movement of early Jewish beliefs into an organised system of religion through the laws proscribed by the Pentateuch; this created a conflict between the previous manifestations of Jewish teachings away from the Pharisees. Indeed, Josephus in Antiquities highlights the point that the recorded Laws of Moses in the Pentateuch resulted in “a fundamental difference in deriving the Law there followed these opposed views of the afterlife” (Antiquities, 13: 297).
4. Central Tenets of Judaism
Some commentators posit that early forms of Judaism were polytheistic and promoted idolatry, however notwithstanding these arguments, the contemporary manifestation of Judaism is a monotheistic religion highlighting the belief in one God, who is omnipresent and the creator (Schneider, 2008, p.17).

In terms of the pre-Pentateuch covenant with Abraham, this appears to be subject to the proviso of social and moral justice and concept that sin requires atonement and only through redemption will Israel see God. Moreover, the Old Testament further teaches that God will effectively bless the world through Israel and that a Messiah will redeem mankind and rule over everyone through Israel.
However contemporary Judaism is very different to the Old Testament paradigm of Judaism. For example, synagogues were institutionalised during Babylonian exile and terminated the previous sacrificial system and Levitical priesthood was replaced with law and applied to everyday life with creation of Sabbath, food preparation rules, holy days and dietary requirements.
Additionally, with regard to the Messiah prophecy, many practising Jews believe that this may not refer to an individual Messiah and may indeed refer metaphorically to a messianic age (Schoeman, 2003: 81).
Moreover, a central underlying belief in Judaism is the requirement for humans to seek redemption as a pre-requisite for God’s acceptance. However, Judaism challenges the Catholic concept of original sin, with the alternate proposition that “sin” is an act and not a state. On this basis, the Judaist perception of sin therefore proposes that man should obey the law; which in turn eradicates the saviour element of Christianity.
Moreover, the previous Pharisaic teachers became referred to as Rabbis and the rabbinic teaching tradition was formalised in the MISNAH and the Gemaras commentaries on the Mishnah and the Palestinian Talmud, which informs Jewish folklore and tradition.
The change from the sacrificial system introduced egalitarianism into Judaism and the principle that anyone could have immediate access to God through obedience to the Torah, which was fragmented into 613 precepts, 365 negative and 248 positive along with rabbinic commentaries providing guidance.
Furthermore, the contemporary framework of Judaism is fragmented into three main divisions; namely orthodox, reformed and conservative. The orthodox division has roots in Maimonides’ teachings, which assert omnipotence, omniscience, eternality and oneness of God as a central tenet of Judaism. Additionally, within orthodox branch, there is the Hasidic movement, which originated during the persecution of Jews throughout Europe.
The above analysis demonstrates that whilst the roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam can be traced back to Abraham and the evocation of monotheism, the Laws of Moses and the Pentateuch catalysed Judaism as a separate belief system asserting the primacy of the one God beyond the concept of a saviour in favour of a focus on individual redemption. Additionally, the Pentateuch moved the previous belief system into a regulated organised religion.
Nevertheless, whilst the Pentateuch introduced a regulatory code for the Jewish belief system and remains the core basis for the contemporary practice of Judaism, the relatively recent development of factions highlights the interrelationship of historical events and the socio-political framework in influencing religious practice as it was the persecution of Jews throughout Europe that fuelled the Orthodox movement.
Moreover, the divergence of Judaism, Christianity and Islam from their origins further highlights the important point about organised monotheistic religion, that whilst the core belief system may be the same; it is the manner of symbolisation and regulation that becomes contentious. This in turn results in the different framework for exercising religious belief as highlighted by Judaism in contrast to Christianity and Islam notwithstanding the underlying commonalities of these belief systems.

Busse, H. (1998). Islam, Judaism and Christianity: theological and historical affiliations. Markus Wiener Publishers.
Bruce, F.F (1990). The Epistle to the Hebrews. Wm. Eerdmans Publishing.
Grayson, F. (2006). World History. Wiley.
Peters, F. (1990). Christianity, and Islam: the classical texts and their interpretation. Princeton University Press.
Schneider, L. (2008). Beyond Monotheism: a theology of multiplicity. Routledge.
Schoeman, R. (2003). Salvation is from the Jews. The role of Judaism in Salvation. Ignatius Press. Read More
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