Abrahamica: Introduction

"Abrahamica" addresses the three major faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, their origins, character, and interaction. Collectively these are known as the Abrahamic religions. Of necessity this endeavor focuses on the canonical scriptures honored by the three: the Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh; known to Christians as the Old Testament); the New Testament; and the Qur’an. In addition, there is some attention to noncanonical texts, such as the so-called Intertestamental Writings; Mishnah and Talmud; noncanonical gospels; and the Muslim Hadith collections.

The study highlights motifs (precepts, doctrines, personalities, and legends) connecting the scriptures of all three traditions (intertextuality).

In an inquiry of this kind, recourse to the critical-historical approach is indispensable. This method, which has gone from strength to strength over the last 150 years, has demonstrated that many truisms believers cherish about their faiths are undemonstrable, some being simply false.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding is the nexus linking monotheism, intolerance, and violence.

Optimistic proposals for reconciling the three faiths, such as Henry Corbin’s Harmonia Abrahamica project, have turned out to be naive and ill-founded.  Still, one cannot simply throw the Abrahamic heritage out, bag and baggage, as the New Atheists would have us do. Abrahamic motifs have been--and still are--too important to Western civilization, as they are to every part of the modern world, except for East Asia and the Hindu-Buddhist realms of South and Southeast Asia.

For many years I emphasized the positive contributions of this religious heritage in my college classes in art history, a realm where its concerns and themes have nourished and helped to define countless works of art. Yet further research, conducted during the years of my retirement, has revealed how problematic the role of the Abrahamic faiths has been.

The Abrahamic religions arose in decidedly unpromising settings: tribal (Judaism and Islam) and urban-marginal (Christianity). Why then do they still flourish--mightily so--in more complex societies, including our own? Perhaps the following texts will offer some useful information in addressing this issue.

[Abrahamica] [Contents] [Introduction] [Chapter 1] [Chapter 2] [Chapter 3] [Chapter 4] [Chapter 5] [Chapter 6] [Bibliography]