I have written several postings related to Various topics including the military, Voting, the economy, religion and etc in America. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional issues in these topics.
Many of the ideas for my articles just come to me when I see or hear about things from either my work or current events or even comments made by my wife. Over 35 years of advanced photography along with my 20 years as a registered nurse, and seven years as a customer service manager has honed my people observation kills. I have learned to assess not only people but situations quickly. I also have gained the ability to memorize scenes just like a camera would. I basically see the world through a camera’s view finder. It allows me to shoot rapidly, because I am always assessing what each scene would look like if taken by a camera. Well, enough of my weird skills. The whole point of this tirade is to get the reader to think of what unique skills and beliefs each person brings to the table. Some beliefs are hard to understand, many have the basis of religious dogmas. Some beliefs can be so strong that they alter the normal thought processes, including that of self preservation and the maternal and paternal instincts present in the vast majority of parents living today. I am talking about Jehovah Witness believers for one, though they are not the only religious belief systems that have “contrary” beliefs. Even though the vast majority of adults would agree that they are contrary, these “true believers” would think that they are perfectly normal.
I am going to start this article discussing briefly each of the major religions and what makes them unique, including “contrary” beliefs that have lead to countless wars, mass genocidal events, mass torture practices and have effected the decision making process of many of our leaders. Yep, this looks like another long article. I will in no way try to discuss all of the religions throughout or written history, this would take a multi-volume thesis work. However, I think this is a very important and appropriate subject and time for this article. One thing that many people did not know dogmas due not have to be based on religious belief systems or even god, they can include any organized belief system, including political systems. I will wrap up this article by discussing a few instances of these dogmas.
Among most modern religions today there is a common belief, that God is omnipotent, all knowing and inherently benevolent. Our God is willing to “forgive us our trespasses” or sins to quote a phrase from the bible. I believe that Our shared God would not ask us to sacrifice our child due some mistaken belief in the scriptures. Only a very small portion of the religious community feels differently. Working in the medical field I have had dealings with these beliefs. I am fortunate in that none of the individuals actually died due to their beliefs. Though I have heard that it happens all to frequently, especially in trauma hospitals.
However, through history the belief of a benevolent god or gods has not always been the norm. Even in Christianity, our bible is divided into testaments, the old and the new. While I don’t profess to be religious scholar, it seems that this god is bipolar. He appears to be a god of vengeance and wrath and even intolerance, while the god in the new testament is totally different. This makes me wonder about the accuracy of our scriptures. How can our god or any god be of two minds? Since as far as I am aware of we have no actual text written by our deities. They are all written by mortal beings. How can a mortal being hope to understand and accurately replicate a god’s thoughts and beliefs? By essence a god is so much more advanced than his mortal progeny. We lost a perfect opportunity to have the word of god written in the first person, so to speak, when the son of god walked the land. So what do we have? We don’t have scriptures written by the deity himself, but his apostles, and in some cases they were written decades later, from second and third person recitals. How can we trust these texts? We do trust them. Have you ever seen what happens when a story is passed through a crowd of people. By the time the story has reached the final person, it no longer is recognizable. The sooner that the story is written down the more close it resembles the original story. Take for example our President , Biden, every time he tells the story of how his wife died, the story changes. Now this may be due to dementia, or it may be due to changing it intentionally to attain certain goals, or to garner more sympathy, who knows. If it can happen with the most powerful person in the world, who is to say that it doesn’t happen all the time, or has happened in the past. Obviously, whoever took the time to write down the scriptures was a true believer, a person dedicated to maintain as much accuracy as possible. But who is to say that they did not let their own beliefs and thoughts influence them when they were writing them down. It is only human nature to portray a loved one in a more favorable manner. We also tend to gloss over the bad stuff and focus on the good things that the person or family member did, that is if we are not antagonistic towards that person. If we are not impartial, we may focus on the bad stuff. How many books have been written about our ex-president Trump by people who despised him? Should we trust those books to be totally factual? How hard is to be totally impartial and accurate? I can tell you after writing blog articles for close to 2 years, it is incredibly difficult. Even to the resources I chose to use for my references can affect the final outcome of my tale.
Am I altering the outcome of this article by the religions I chose to discuss, of course I am? Does that mean that this article will not have any merit? Only you the reader will be able to tell.
Religions and gods have developed in part to answer the unanswerable. They have also been developed to protect us from the unknown. If we have uncertainty in our lives, doesn’t it make sense to search for someone or something that can answer those questions or to make us feel safe. That is the simple reason for religions being developed. Gods were developed for each of the major things that impacted our lives. So the early religions in most cases had multiple gods, as our understanding of the universe improved, the need for multiple gods became less and less. Now only a few religions have more than one god.
I am going to start with a history of religion from one of my favorite sources Wikipedia. Since I make no money from my blog, I can be a little more liberal in my copy and paste techniques. Why re-invent the wheel?
History of Religion
The history of religion refers to the written record of human religious feelings, thoughts, and ideas. This period of religious history begins with the invention of writing about 5,220 years ago (3200 BC). The prehistory of religion involves the study of religious beliefs that existed prior to the advent of written records. One can also study comparative religious chronology through a timeline of religion. Writing played a major role in standardizing religious texts regardless of time or location, and making easier the memorization of prayers and divine rules. A small part of the Bible involves the collation of oral texts handed down over the centuries.
The concept of “religion” was formed in the 16th and 17th centuries. Ancient sacred texts like the Bible, the Quran, and others did not have a word or even a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written.
The word religion as used in the 21st century does not have an obvious pre-colonial translation into non-European languages. The anthropologist Daniel Dubuisson writes that “what the West and the history of religions in its wake have objectified under the name ‘religion’ is … something quite unique, which could be appropriate only to itself and its own history”. The history of other cultures‘ interaction with the “religious” category is therefore their interaction with an idea that first developed in Europe under the influence of Christianity.
History of study
The school of religious history called the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, a late 19th-century German school of thought, originated the systematic study of religion as a socio–cultural phenomenon. It depicted religion as evolving with human culture, from primitive polytheism to ethical monotheism.
The Religionsgeschichtliche Schule emerged at a time when scholarly study of the Bible and of church history flourished in Germany and elsewhere (see higher criticism, also called the historical-critical method). The study of religion is important: religion and similar concepts have often shaped civilizations’ law and moral codes, social structure, art and music.
The earliest archeological evidence of religious ideas dates back several hundred thousand years, to the Middle and Lower Paleolithic periods. Archaeologists believe that the apparently intentional burial of early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals as early as 300,000 years ago is proof that religious ideas already existed. Other evidence of religious ideas includes symbolic artifacts from Middle Stone Age sites in Africa. However, the interpretation of early paleolithic artifacts, with regard to how they relate to religious ideas, remains controversial. Archeological evidence from more recent periods is less controversial. Scientists generally interpret a number of artifacts from the Upper Paleolithic (50,000-13,000 BCE) as representing religious ideas. Examples of Upper Paleolithic remains associated with religious beliefs include the lion man, the Venus figurines, cave paintings from Chauvet Cave and the elaborate ritual burial from Sungir.
In the 19th century, researchers proposed various theories regarding the origin of religion, challenging earlier claims of a Christianity-like un-religion. Early theorists such as Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) emphasized the concept of animism, while archaeologist John Lubbock (1834-1913) used the term “fetishism“. Meanwhile, the religious scholar Max Müller (1823-1900) theorized that religion began in hedonism and the folklorist Wilhelm Mannhardt (1831-1880) suggested that religion began in “naturalism” – by which he meant mythological explanations for natural events. All of these theories have been widely criticized since then; there is no broad consensus regarding the origin of religion.
Pre-pottery Neolithic A (PPNA) Göbekli Tepe, the oldest religious site yet discovered anywhere includes circles of erected massive T-shaped stone pillars, the world’s oldest known megaliths decorated with abstract, enigmatic pictograms and carved-animal reliefs. The site, near the home place of original wild wheat, was built before the so-called Neolithic Revolution, i.e., the beginning of agriculture and animal husbandry around 9000 BCE. But the construction of Göbekli Tepe implies organization of an advanced order not hitherto associated with Paleolithic, PPNA, or PPNB societies. The site, abandoned around the time the first agricultural societies started, is still being excavated and analyzed, and thus might shed light on the significance it had had for the religions of older, foraging communities, as well as for the general history of religions.
The Pyramid Texts from ancient Egypt, the oldest known religious texts in the world, date to between 2400-2300 BCE.
The earliest records of Indian religion are the Vedas, composed ca. 1500-1200 Hinduism during the Vedic Period.
Surviving early copies of religious texts include:
- The Upanishads, some of which date to the mid-first millennium BCE.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls, representing fragmentary texts of the Hebrew Tanakh.
- Complete Hebrew texts, also of the Tanakh, but translated into the Greek language (Septuagint 300-200 BC), were in wide use by the early 1st century CE.
- The Zoroastrian Avesta, from a Sassanian-era master copy.
Historians have labelled the period from 900 to 200 BCE as the “axial age”, a term coined by German-Swiss philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969). According to Jaspers, in this era of history “the spiritual foundations of humanity were laid simultaneously and independently… And these are the foundations upon which humanity still subsists today.” Intellectual historian Peter Watson has summarized this period as the foundation time of many of humanity’s most influential philosophical traditions, including monotheism in Persia and Canaan, Platonism in Greece, Buddhism and Jainism in India, and Confucianism and Taoism in China. These ideas would become institutionalized in time – note for example Ashoka‘s role in the spread of Buddhism, or the role of Neoplatonic philosophy in Christianity at its foundation.
The historical roots of Jainism in India date back to the 9th-century BCE with the rise of Parshvanatha and his non-violent philosophy.
World religions of the present day established themselves throughout Eurasia during the Middle Ages by:
- Christianization of the Western world
- Buddhist missions to East Asia
- the decline of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent
- the spread of Islam throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa and parts of Europe and India
During the Middle Ages, Muslims came into conflict with Zoroastrians during the Islamic conquest of Persia (633-654); Christians fought against Muslims during the Byzantine-Arab Wars (7th to 11th centuries), the Crusades (1095 onward), the Reconquista (718-1492), the Ottoman wars in Europe (13th century onwards) and the Inquisition; Shamanism was in conflict with Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims and Christians during the Mongol invasions (1206-1337); and Muslims clashed with Hindus and Sikhs during the Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent (8th to 16th centuries).
Many medieval religious movements emphasized mysticism, such as the Cathars and related movements in the West, the Jews in Spain (see Zohar), the Bhakti movement in India and Sufism in Islam. Monotheism reached definite forms in Christian Christology and in Islamic Tawhid. Hindu monotheist notions of Brahman likewise reached their classical form with the teaching of Adi Shankara (788-820).
From the 15th century to the 19th century, European colonization resulted in the spread of Christianity to Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Americas, Australia and the Philippines. The invention of the printing press in the 15th century played a major role in the rapid spread of the Protestant Reformation under leaders such as Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564). Wars of religion broke out, culminating in the Thirty Years War which ravaged Central Europe between 1618 and 1648. The 18th century saw the beginning of secularization in Europe, a trend which gained momentum after the French Revolution broke out in 1789. By the late 20th century, religion had declined in most of Europe.
By 2001, people began to use the internet in order to discover or adhere to their religious beliefs. In January 2000, the website beliefnet was established, and by the following year, it had over 1.7 million visitors every month.
This gives us a little more information on the history of religion. Now onto the meat of this article, Dogma.
Dogma is a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. It may be in the form of an official system of principles or doctrines of a religion, such as Roman Catholicism, Judaism, or Protestantism, as well as the positions of a philosopher or of a philosophical school such as postmodernism, egalitarianism, and dark enlightenment. It may also be found in political belief-systems, such as communism, progressivism, liberalism, conservatism, and fascism.
In the pejorative sense, dogma refers to enforced decisions, such as those of aggressive political interests or authorities. More generally, it is applied to some strong belief which its adherents are not willing to discuss rationally. This attitude is named as a dogmatic one, or as dogmatism; and is often used to refer to matters related to religion, but is not limited to theistic attitudes alone and is often used with respect to political or philosophical dogmas.
The word dogma was translated in the 17th century from Latin dogma meaning “philosophical tenet” or principle, derived from the Greek dogma (δόγμα) meaning literally “that which one thinks is true” and the verb dokein, “to seem good”. The plural, based on the Greek, is “dogmata”, though “dogmas” may be more commonly used in English.
In Pyrrhonist philosophy “dogma” refers to assent to a proposition about a non-evident matter. The main principle of Pyrrhonism is expressed by the word acatalepsia, which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification. Consequently, Pyrrhonists withhold assent with regard to non-evident propositions, i.e., dogmas. Pyrrhonists argue that dogmatists, such as the Stoics, Epicureans, and Peripatetics, have failed to demonstrate that their doctrines regarding non-evident matters are true.
Epicureanism is a dogmatic philosophy teaching that truth is knowable and that there are knowable, measurable, observable truths. Its philosophical dogmatism is grounded on the Epicurean view of empiricism and based on the evidence of the senses.
In Stoicism “dogma” (δόγμα) is a principle established by reason and experience. Stoicism has many dogmas, such as the well-known Stoic dogma “the only good is moral good, and the only evil is moral evil”.
Formally, the term dogma has been used by some theistic religious groups to describe the body of positions forming the group’s most central, foundational, or essential beliefs, though the term may also be used to refer to the entire set of formal beliefs identified by a theistic or non-theistic religious group. In some cases dogma is distinguished from religious opinion and those things in doctrine considered less significant or uncertain. Formal church dogma is often clarified and elaborated upon in its communication.
In the Christian Church, dogma means a belief communicated by divine revelation and defined by the Church, In the narrower sense of the church’s official interpretation of divine revelation, theologians distinguish between defined and non-defined dogmas, the former being those set out by authoritative bodies such as the Roman Curia for the Catholic Church, the latter being those which are universally held but have not been officially defined, the nature of Christ as universal redeemer being an example. The term originated in late Greek philosophy legal usage, in which it meant a decree or command, and came to be used in the same sense in early Christian theology.
Christianity is defined by a set of core beliefs shared by virtually all Christians, though how those core beliefs are implemented and secondary questions vary within Christianity. When formally communicated by the organization, these beliefs are sometimes referred to as ‘dogmata’. The organization’s formal religious positions may be taught to new members or simply communicated to those who choose to become members. It is rare for agreement with an organization’s formal positions to be a requirement for attendance, though membership may be required for some church activities. Protestants to differing degrees are less formal about doctrine, and often rely on denomination-specific beliefs, but seldom refer to these beliefs as dogmata. The first unofficial institution of dogma in the Christian church was by Saint Irenaeus in his Demonstration of Apostolic Teaching, which provides a ‘manual of essentials’ constituting the ‘body of truth’.
Catholicism and Eastern Christianity
For Catholicism and Eastern Christianity, the dogmata are contained in the Nicene Creed and the canon laws of two, three, seven, or twenty ecumenical councils (depending on whether one is Church of the East, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic). These tenets are summarized by John of Damascus in his Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, which is the third book of his main work, titled The Fount of Knowledge. In this book he takes a dual approach in explaining each article of the faith: one, directed at Christians, where he uses quotes from the Bible and, occasionally, from works of other Church Fathers, and the second, directed both at members of non-Christian religions and at atheists, for whom he employs Aristotelian logic and dialectics.
The decisions of fourteen later councils that Catholics hold as dogmatic and a small number of decrees promulgated by popes exercising papal infallibility are considered as being a part of the Catholic Church’s sacred body of doctrine.
In Islam the Quran, Hadith, and aqidah correspond, albeit differently across cultural and theological lines, to the Latin terms dogma/dogmata.
View or position (Pali diṭṭhi, Sanskrit dṛṣṭi) is a central idea in Buddhism that corresponds with the Western notion of dogma. In Buddhist thought, a view is not a simple, abstract collection of propositions, but a charged interpretation of experience which intensely shapes and affects thought, sensation, and action. Having the proper mental attitude toward views is therefore considered an integral part of the Buddhist path, as sometimes correct views need to be put into practice and incorrect views abandoned, while other times all views are seen as obstacles to enlightenment.
Since at least the Age of Enlightenment, there have been strong, and at times vehement, criticisms of religion from certain segments of Western society. In contemporary times, these criticisms have continued from various secular-minded and atheistic groups.
I believe that many of the criticisms levelled at religion hold a significant amount of validity, especially in light of the countless atrocities committed in the name of religion throughout history, spanning everything from the Inquisition to modern-day terrorist attacks. In addition, religious belief can also be implicated in other complex types of violence, such as the perpetuation of misogyny, racism, and homophobia. Furthermore, religion can also be called to task for inflicting psychological distress on many people by way of indoctrinating them with beliefs that conflict with their values, physiological drives, or other aspects of their experience. In short, religion has by no means been a pure and unqualified source of “good” in the world.
However, with all that being said, I also believe there is a strong case to be made that religion has not been a pure and unqualified source of “bad” either. Taking a broad historical perspective, religion can be seen as having played a significant role in the civilization process of humankind. The various traditions, beliefs and laws of wide-scale religions would have played important unifying and organizing functions that allowed humans to evolve from hunter-gatherers engaged in frequent inter-tribal wars to citizens of nations, most of whom never experience a day of war in their lives.
Taking a narrower perspective, religion also offers the possibility of positive value in a multitude of everyday contexts (I say possibility because this isn’t the case for everyone, but the potential is there). The same traditions and cultural artifacts that helped civilize humanity (including myths, songs, images, rituals, ceremonies, and sacred spaces) can also provide a daily sense of richness, meaning and interconnectedness for anyone who wants to access it. This can include everything from celebrating a holiday to going to bed at night, and from eating a meal to getting married.
With all of this being said, how might we navigate through all the potential benefits and apparent problems of religion and make sense of the role that it plays in the human experience? Furthermore, is it possible to integrate the legacy of religion into contemporary and future life in a way that maximizes the benefits and minimizes the problems?
It is my belief that, despite all the problems and atrocities, religion has a valuable role to play in human life and we would do well to keep it around. However, because of all the problems and atrocities, I also believe our collective relationship with religion needs to evolve.
I think one of the most important parts of this evolutionary process will be separating the “depth” of religion from the dogma. In my opinion, all the benefits of religion can be found in what I am calling “depth,” while all of its problems can be found in dogma.
Dogma refers to prescribed doctrines that are held to be infallibly true. In the case of religion, such doctrines are generally regarded as being divinely ordained. Therefore, all true followers of a dogmatic religion must believe and enact its doctrines without question, regardless of how pernicious those doctrines might be. This, I believe, is at the heart of every religiously-motivated atrocity that has ever occurred.
The term “depth,” as I am using it here, refers to depth of meaning. Depth of meaning connects us to our ancestry, to our inner experience, and to a sense of mystery that transcends our daily lives. With regard to traditions, depth of meaning results from a long and broadly shared history of engagement with a tradition, along with the potential for renewal and reinterpretation that can continually make the tradition relevant to new generations. In short, the more widely-shared and ancient a tradition is, the more depth of meaning it tends to hold.
Religions are our most ancient traditions and, as such, they inherently contain a richness of history and a depth of meaning. We simply cannot find any traditions with more depth than those that are already established because those ones are the oldest. Therefore, it is here, in these established religions, where the greatest potential lies for us to imbue our lives with a sense of meaning, mystery and sacredness.
(If ancient traditions play no significant role in your life, it might be worthwhile to consider if they could potentially add value to your life in some way. For what it’s worth, I believe they can.)
We need not be fanatical about the way traditions operate in our lives – holding traditions lightly and flexibly is sufficient for receiving the gifts of depth that they offer. Furthermore, it is also essential that we continually update and reinterpret traditions in whatever ways are necessary for them to be meaningful for us.
It does not matter what ancient traditions we invite into our lives, whether those of Buddhism, Christianity, Pagan Witchcraft, or any other religion (or combination thereof). What matters is that we separate the depth from the dogma, jettison the dogma and embrace the depth. It is in this way that I believe religious experience can evolve, and, provided it does, can help humanity evolve in turn.
Now that we have a basic understanding of the origins of religion and what dogma means, when move on with our discussion. The first religion that I am going to discuss is Greek/Roman Mythology. I am going to start with this one in particular, because it was a very intricate and advanced belief system. Even though both societies were advanced in not only the sciences they were also advance in government and philosophy. They also had advanced militaries. While the Greek civilization was a little more peaceable than the Roman Empire, they held very similar religious beliefs. Though I think that by at least the middle of the Roman Empire, the belief in multiple gods had waned substantially. Eventually with Constantine they embraced Christianity, even though they had prosecuted them for centuries. Though I do believe that they were much more tolerant than the Jews were.
Remember how I said that most modern gods are benevolent? Well most of the gods in Greek Mythology could best be described as petulant. Even Apollo/Zeus could wreck havoc on the mortals. They tended to play favorites and even visited the mortals where they had carnal knowledge with their favorites. Many of the gods controlled the elements.
Because this religion was so unique and important to our history, whether we know it or not, I want include a more complete discussion of it. It is also one of the oldest religions in recorded history, even though it is no longer practiced.
Greek mythology is the body of myths originally told by the ancient Greeks, and a genre of Ancient Greek folklore. These stories concern the origin and nature of the world, the lives and activities of deities, heroes, and mythological creatures, and the origins and significance of the ancient Greeks’ own cult and ritual practices. Modern scholars study the myths to shed light on the religious and political institutions of ancient Greece, and to better understand the nature of myth-making itself.
The Greek myths were initially propagated in an oral-poetic tradition most likely by Minoan and Mycenaean singers starting in the 18th century BC; eventually the myths of the heroes of the Trojan War and its aftermath became part of the oral tradition of Homer‘s epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Two poems by Homer’s near contemporary Hesiod, the Theogony and the Works and Days, contain accounts of the genesis of the world, the succession of divine rulers, the succession of human ages, the origin of human woes, and the origin of sacrificial practices. Myths are also preserved in the Homeric Hymns, in fragments of epic poems of the Epic Cycle, in lyric poems, in the works of the tragedians and comedians of the fifth century BC, in writings of scholars and poets of the Hellenistic Age, and in texts from the time of the Roman Empire by writers such as Plutarch and Pausanias.
Aside from this narrative deposit in ancient Greek literature, pictorial representations of gods, heroes, and mythic episodes featured prominently in ancient vase paintings and the decoration of votive gifts and many other artifacts. Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle as well as the adventures of Heracles. In the succeeding Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence.
Greek mythology has had an extensive influence on the culture, arts, and literature of Western civilization and remains part of Western heritage and language. Poets and artists from ancient times to the present have derived inspiration from Greek mythology and have discovered contemporary significance and relevance in the themes.
Greek mythology is known today primarily from Greek literature and representations on visual media dating from the Geometric period from c. 900 BC to c. 800 BC onward. In fact, literary and archaeological sources integrate, sometimes mutually supportive and sometimes in conflict; however, in many cases, the existence of this corpus of data is a strong indication that many elements of Greek mythology have strong factual and historical roots.
Mythical narration plays an important role in nearly every genre of Greek literature. Nevertheless, the only general mythographical handbook to survive from Greek antiquity was the Library of Pseudo-Apollodorus. This work attempts to reconcile the contradictory tales of the poets and provides a grand summary of traditional Greek mythology and heroic legends. Apollodorus of Athens lived from c. 180 BC to c. 125 BC and wrote on many of these topics. His writings may have formed the basis for the collection; however, the “Library” discusses events that occurred long after his death, hence the name Pseudo-Apollodorus.
Among the earliest literary sources are Homer‘s two epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Other poets completed the Epic Cycle, but these later and lesser poems now are lost almost entirely. Despite their traditional name, the Homeric Hymns have no direct connection with Homer. The oldest are choral hymns from the earlier part of the so-called Lyric age.: 7 Hesiod, a possible contemporary with Homer, offers in his Theogony (Origin of the Gods) the fullest account of the earliest Greek myths, dealing with the creation of the world, the origin of the gods, Titans, and Giants, as well as elaborate genealogies, folktales, and aetiological myths. Hesiod’s Works and Days, a didactic poem about farming life, also includes the myths of Prometheus, Pandora, and the Five Ages. The poet advises on the best way to succeed in a dangerous world, rendered yet more dangerous by its gods.
Lyrical poets often took their subjects from myth, but their treatment became gradually less narrative and more allusive. Greek lyric poets, including Pindar, Bacchylides and Simonides, and bucolic poets such as Theocritus and Bion, relate individual mythological incidents. Additionally, myth was central to classical Athenian drama. The tragic playwrights Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides took most of their plots from myths of the age of heroes and the Trojan War. Many of the great tragic stories took on their classic form in these tragedies. The comic playwright Aristophanes also used myths, in The Birds and The Frogs.
Historians Herodotus and Diodorus Siculus, and geographers Pausanias and Strabo, who traveled throughout the Greek world and noted the stories they heard, supplied numerous local myths and legends, often giving little-known alternative versions. Herodotus in particular, searched the various traditions presented him and found the historical or mythological roots in the confrontation between Greece and the East. Herodotus attempted to reconcile origins and the blending of differing cultural concepts.
The poetry of the Hellenistic and Roman ages was primarily composed as a literary rather than cultic exercise. Nevertheless, it contains many important details that would otherwise be lost. This category includes the works of:
- The Roman poets Ovid, Statius, Valerius Flaccus, Seneca and Virgil with Servius‘s commentary.
- The Greek poets of the Late Antique period: Nonnus, Antoninus Liberalis, and Quintus Smyrnaeus.
- The Greek poets of the Hellenistic period: Apollonius of Rhodes, Callimachus, Pseudo-Eratosthenes, and Parthenius.
Prose writers from the same periods who make reference to myths include Apuleius, Petronius, Lollianus, and Heliodorus. Two other important non-poetical sources are the Fabulae and Astronomica of the Roman writer styled as Pseudo-Hyginus, the Imagines of Philostratus the Elder and Philostratus the Younger, and the Descriptions of Callistratus.
Finally, several Byzantine Greek writers provide important details of myth, much derived from earlier now lost Greek works. These preservers of myth include Arnobius, Hesychius, the author of the Suda, John Tzetzes, and Eustathius. They often treat mythology from a Christian moralizing perspective.
The discovery of the Mycenaean civilization by the German amateur archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann in the nineteenth century, and the discovery of the Minoan civilization in Crete by the British archaeologist Arthur Evans in the twentieth century, helped to explain many existing questions about Homer’s epics and provided archaeological evidence for many of the mythological details about gods and heroes. Unfortunately, the evidence about myths and rituals at Mycenaean and Minoan sites is entirely monumental, as the Linear B script (an ancient form of Greek found in both Crete and mainland Greece) was used mainly to record inventories, although certain names of gods and heroes have been tentatively identified.
Geometric designs on pottery of the eighth-century BC depict scenes from the Trojan cycle, as well as the adventures of Heracles. These visual representations of myths are important for two reasons. Firstly, many Greek myths are attested on vases earlier than in literary sources: of the twelve labors of Heracles, for example, only the Cerberus adventure occurs in a contemporary literary text. Secondly, visual sources sometimes represent myths or mythical scenes that are not attested in any extant literary source. In some cases, the first known representation of a myth in geometric art predates its first known representation in late archaic poetry, by several centuries. In the Archaic (c. 750 – c. 500 BC), Classical (c. 480–323 BC), and Hellenistic (323–146 BC) periods, Homeric and various other mythological scenes appear, supplementing the existing literary evidence.
Survey of mythic history
Greek mythology has changed over time to accommodate the evolution of their culture, of which mythology, both overtly and in its unspoken assumptions, is an index of the changes. In Greek mythology’s surviving literary forms, as found mostly at the end of the progressive changes, it is inherently political, as Gilbert Cuthbertson (1975) has argued.
The earlier inhabitants of the Balkan Peninsula were an agricultural people who, using animism, assigned a spirit to every aspect of nature. Eventually, these vague spirits assumed human forms and entered the local mythology as gods.: 17 When tribes from the north of the Balkan Peninsula invaded, they brought with them a new pantheon of gods, based on conquest, force, prowess in battle, and violent heroism. Other older gods of the agricultural world fused with those of the more powerful invaders or else faded into insignificance.
After the middle of the Archaic period, myths about relationships between male gods and male heroes became more and more frequent, indicating the parallel development of pedagogic pederasty (παιδικὸς ἔρως, eros paidikos), thought to have been introduced around 630 BC. By the end of the fifth-century BC, poets had assigned at least one eromenos, an adolescent boy who was their sexual companion, to every important god except Ares and many legendary figures. Previously existing myths, such as those of Achilles and Patroclus, also then were cast in a pederastic light. Alexandrian poets at first, then more generally literary mythographers in the early Roman Empire, often re-adapted stories of Greek mythological characters in this fashion.
The achievement of epic poetry was to create story-cycles and, as a result, to develop a new sense of mythological chronology. Thus Greek mythology unfolds as a phase in the development of the world and of humans. While self-contradictions in these stories make an absolute timeline impossible, an approximate chronology may be discerned. The resulting mythological “history of the world” may be divided into three or four broader periods:
- The myths of origin or age of gods (Theogonies, “births of gods”): myths about the origins of the world, the gods, and the human race.
- The age when gods and mortals mingled freely: stories of the early interactions between gods, demigods, and mortals.
- The age of heroes (heroic age), where divine activity was more limited. The last and greatest of the heroic legends is the story of the Trojan War and after (which is regarded by some researchers as a separate, fourth period).
While the age of gods often has been of more interest to contemporary students of myth, the Greek authors of the archaic and classical eras had a clear preference for the age of heroes, establishing a chronology and record of human accomplishments after the questions of how the world came into being were explained. For example, the heroic Iliad and Odyssey dwarfed the divine-focused Theogony and Homeric Hymns in both size and popularity. Under the influence of Homer the “hero cult” leads to a restructuring in spiritual life, expressed in the separation of the realm of the gods from the realm of the dead (heroes), of the Chthonic from the Olympian. In the Works and Days, Hesiod makes use of a scheme of Four Ages of Man (or Races): Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. These races or ages are separate creations of the gods, the Golden Age belonging to the reign of Cronos, the subsequent races to the creation of Zeus. The presence of evil was explained by the myth of Pandora, when all of the best of human capabilities, save hope, had been spilled out of her overturned jar. In Metamorphoses, Ovid follows Hesiod’s concept of the four ages.
Origins of the world and the gods
“Myths of origin” or “creation myths” represent an attempt to explain the beginnings of the universe in human language.: 10 The most widely accepted version at the time, although a philosophical account of the beginning of things, is reported by Hesiod, in his Theogony. He begins with Chaos, a yawning nothingness. Out of the void emerged Gaia (the Earth) and some other primary divine beings: Eros (Love), the Abyss (the Tartarus), and the Erebus. Without male assistance, Gaia gave birth to Uranus (the Sky) who then fertilized her. From that union were born first the Titans—six males: Coeus, Crius, Cronus, Hyperion, Iapetus, and Oceanus; and six females: Mnemosyne, Phoebe, Rhea, Theia, Themis, and Tethys. After Cronus was born, Gaia and Uranus decreed no more Titans were to be born. They were followed by the one-eyed Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires or Hundred-Handed Ones, who were both thrown into Tartarus by Uranus. This made Gaia furious. Cronus (“the wily, youngest and most terrible of Gaia’s children”), was convinced by Gaia to castrate his father. He did this and became the ruler of the Titans with his sister-wife, Rhea, as his consort, and the other Titans became his court.
A motif of father-against-son conflict was repeated when Cronus was confronted by his son, Zeus. Because Cronus had betrayed his father, he feared that his offspring would do the same, and so each time Rhea gave birth, he snatched up the child and ate it. Rhea hated this and tricked him by hiding Zeus and wrapping a stone in a baby’s blanket, which Cronus ate. When Zeus was full-grown, he fed Cronus a drugged drink which caused him to vomit, throwing up Rhea’s other children, including Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Demeter, and Hera, and the stone, which had been sitting in Cronus’s stomach all this time. Zeus then challenged Cronus to war for the kingship of the gods. At last, with the help of the Cyclopes (whom Zeus freed from Tartarus), Zeus and his siblings were victorious, while Cronus and the Titans were hurled down to imprisonment in Tartarus.
Zeus was plagued by the same concern, and after a prophecy that the offspring of his first wife, Metis, would give birth to a god “greater than he”, Zeus swallowed her. She was already pregnant with Athena, however, and she burst forth from his head—fully-grown and dressed for war.
The earliest Greek thought about poetry considered the theogonies to be the prototypical poetic genre—the prototypical mythos—and imputed almost magical powers to it. Orpheus, the archetypal poet, also was the archetypal singer of theogonies, which he uses to calm seas and storms in Apollonius’ Argonautica, and to move the stony hearts of the underworld gods in his descent to Hades. When Hermes invents the lyre in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the first thing he does is sing about the birth of the gods. Hesiod’s Theogony is not only the fullest surviving account of the gods but also the fullest surviving account of the archaic poet’s function, with its long preliminary invocation to the Muses. Theogony also was the subject of many lost poems, including those attributed to Orpheus, Musaeus, Epimenides, Abaris, and other legendary seers, which were used in private ritual purifications and mystery-rites. There are indications that Plato was familiar with some version of the Orphic theogony. A silence would have been expected about religious rites and beliefs, however, and that nature of the culture would not have been reported by members of the society while the beliefs were held. After they ceased to become religious beliefs, few would have known the rites and rituals. Allusions often existed, however, to aspects that were quite public.
Images existed on pottery and religious artwork that were interpreted and more likely, misinterpreted in many diverse myths and tales. A few fragments of these works survive in quotations by Neoplatonist philosophers and recently unearthed papyrus scraps. One of these scraps, the Derveni Papyrus now proves that at least in the fifth-century BC a theogonic-cosmogonic poem of Orpheus was in existence.
The first philosophical cosmologists reacted against, or sometimes built upon, popular mythical conceptions that had existed in the Greek world for some time. Some of these popular conceptions can be gleaned from the poetry of Homer and Hesiod. In Homer, the Earth was viewed as a flat disk afloat on the river of Oceanus and overlooked by a hemispherical sky with sun, moon, and stars. The Sun (Helios) traversed the heavens as a charioteer and sailed around the Earth in a golden bowl at night. Sun, earth, heaven, rivers, and winds could be addressed in prayers and called to witness oaths. Natural fissures were popularly regarded as entrances to the subterranean house of Hades and his predecessors, home of the dead. Influences from other cultures always afforded new themes.
According to Classical-era mythology, after the overthrow of the Titans, the new pantheon of gods and goddesses was confirmed. Among the principal Greek gods were the Olympians, residing on Mount Olympus under the eye of Zeus. Besides the Olympians, the Greeks worshipped various gods of the countryside, the satyr-god Pan, Nymphs, Naiads, Dryads , Nereids, river gods, Satyrs, and others. In addition, there were the dark powers of the underworld, such as the Erinyes, said to pursue those guilty of crimes against blood-relatives. In order to honor the Ancient Greek pantheon, poets composed the Homeric Hymns. Gregory Nagy (1992) regards “the larger Homeric Hymns as simple preludes, each of which invokes one god.”
The gods of Greek mythology are described as having essentially corporeal but ideal bodies. According to Walter Burkert, the defining characteristic of Greek anthropomorphism is that “the Greek gods are persons, not abstractions, ideas or concepts.” Regardless of their underlying forms, the Ancient Greek gods have many fantastic abilities; most significantly, the gods are not affected by disease, and can be wounded only under highly unusual circumstances. The Greeks considered immortality as the distinctive characteristic of their gods; this immortality, as well as unfading youth, was insured by the constant use of nectar and ambrosia, by which the divine blood was renewed in their veins.
Each god descends from his or her own genealogy, pursues differing interests, has a certain area of expertise, and is governed by a unique personality; however, these descriptions arise from a multiplicity of archaic local variants, which do not always agree with one another. When these gods are called upon in poetry, prayer, or cult, they are referred to by a combination of their name and epithets, that identify them by these distinctions from other manifestations of themselves. Alternatively, the epithet may identify a particular and localized aspect of the god, sometimes thought to be already ancient during the classical epoch of Greece.
Most gods were associated with specific aspects of life. For example, Aphrodite was the goddess of love and beauty, Ares was the god of war, Hades the ruler of the underworld, and Athena the goddess of wisdom and courage. Some gods, such as Apollo and Dionysus, revealed complex personalities and mixtures of functions, while others, such as Hestia and Helios, were little more than personifications. The most impressive temples tended to be dedicated to a limited number of gods, who were the focus of large pan-Hellenic cults. It was, however, common for individual regions and villages to devote their own cults to minor gods. Many cities also honored the more well-known gods with unusual local rites and associated strange myths with them that were unknown elsewhere. During the heroic age, the cult of heroes supplemented that of the gods.
Age of gods and mortals
Bridging the age when gods lived alone and the age when divine interference in human affairs was limited was a transitional age in which gods and mortals moved together. These were the early days of the world when the groups mingled more freely than they did later. Most of these tales were later told by Ovid’s Metamorphoses and they are often divided into two thematic groups: tales of love, and tales of punishment.
Tales of love often involve incest, or the seduction or rape of a mortal woman by a male god, resulting in heroic offspring. The stories generally suggest that relationships between gods and mortals are something to avoid; even consenting relationships rarely have happy endings. In a few cases, a female divinity mates with a mortal man, as in the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, where the goddess lies with Anchises to produce Aeneas.
The second type involves the appropriation or invention of some important cultural artifact, as when Prometheus steals fire from the gods, when Tantalus steals nectar and ambrosia from Zeus’ table and gives it to his subjects—revealing to them the secrets of the gods, when Prometheus or Lycaon invents sacrifice, when Demeter teaches agriculture and the Mysteries to Triptolemus, or when Marsyas invents the aulos and enters into a musical contest with Apollo. Ian Morris considers Prometheus’ adventures as “a place between the history of the gods and that of man.” An anonymous papyrus fragment, dated to the third century, vividly portrays Dionysus‘ punishment of the king of Thrace, Lycurgus, whose recognition of the new god came too late, resulting in horrific penalties that extended into the afterlife. The story of the arrival of Dionysus to establish his cult in Thrace was also the subject of an Aeschylean trilogy. In another tragedy, Euripides’ The Bacchae, the king of Thebes, Pentheus, is punished by Dionysus, because he disrespected the god and spied on his Maenads, the female worshippers of the god.
In another story, based on an old folktale-motif, and echoing a similar theme, Demeter was searching for her daughter, Persephone, having taken the form of an old woman called Doso, and received a hospitable welcome from Celeus, the King of Eleusis in Attica. As a gift to Celeus, because of his hospitality, Demeter planned to make his son Demophon a god, but she was unable to complete the ritual because his mother Metanira walked in and saw her son in the fire and screamed in fright, which angered Demeter, who lamented that foolish mortals do not understand the concept and ritual.
The age in which the heroes lived is known as the Heroic age. The epic and genealogical poetry created cycles of stories clustered around particular heroes or events and established the family relationships between the heroes of different stories; they thus arranged the stories in sequence. According to Ken Dowden (1992), “there is even a saga effect: We can follow the fates of some families in successive generations.”
After the rise of the hero cult, gods and heroes constitute the sacral sphere and are invoked together in oaths and prayers which are addressed to them. Burkert (2002) notes that “the roster of heroes, again in contrast to the gods, is never given fixed and final form. Great gods are no longer born, but new heroes can always be raised up from the army of the dead.” Another important difference between the hero cult and the cult of gods is that the hero becomes the center of local group identity.
The monumental events of Heracles are regarded as the dawn of the age of heroes. To the Heroic Age are also ascribed three great events: the Argonautic expedition, the Theban Cycle, and the Trojan War.
Heracles and the Heracleidae
Some scholars believe that behind Heracles’ complicated mythology there was probably a real man, perhaps a chieftain-vassal of the kingdom of Argos. Some scholars suggest the story of Heracles is an allegory for the sun’s yearly passage through the twelve constellations of the zodiac. Others point to earlier myths from other cultures, showing the story of Heracles as a local adaptation of hero myths already well established. Traditionally, Heracles was the son of Zeus and Alcmene, granddaughter of Perseus. His fantastic solitary exploits, with their many folk-tale themes, provided much material for popular legend. According to Burkert (2002), “He is portrayed as a sacrificer, mentioned as a founder of altars, and imagined as a voracious eater himself; it is in this role that he appears in comedy.
While his tragic end provided much material for tragedy—Heracles is regarded by Thalia Papadopoulou as “a play of great significance in examination of other Euripidean dramas.” In art and literature Heracles was represented as an enormously strong man of moderate height; his characteristic weapon was the bow but frequently also the club. Vase paintings demonstrate the unparalleled popularity of Heracles, his fight with the lion being depicted many hundreds of times.
Heracles also entered Etruscan and Roman mythology and cult, and the exclamation “mehercule” became as familiar to the Romans as “Herakleis” was to the Greeks. In Italy he was worshipped as a god of merchants and traders, although others also prayed to him for his characteristic gifts of good luck or rescue from danger.
Heracles attained the highest social prestige through his appointment as official ancestor of the Dorian kings. This probably served as a legitimation for the Dorian migrations into the Peloponnese. Hyllus, the eponymous hero of one Dorian phyle, became the son of Heracles and one of the Heracleidae or Heraclids. These Heraclids conquered the Peloponnesian kingdoms of Mycenae, Sparta and Argos, claiming, according to legend, a right to rule them through their ancestor. Their rise to dominance is frequently called the “Dorian invasion“. The Lydian and later the Macedonian kings, as rulers of the same rank, also became Heracleidae.
Other members of this earliest generation of heroes such as Perseus, Deucalion, Theseus and Bellerophon, have many traits in common with Heracles. Like him, their exploits are solitary, fantastic and border on fairy tale, as they slay monsters such as the Chimera and Medusa. Bellerophon’s adventures are commonplace types, similar to the adventures of Heracles and Theseus. Sending a hero to his presumed death is also a recurrent theme of this early heroic tradition, used in the cases of Perseus and Bellerophon.
The only surviving Hellenistic epic, the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes tells the myth of the voyage of Jason and the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the mythical land of Colchis. In the Argonautica, Jason is impelled on his quest by king Pelias, who receives a prophecy that a man with one sandal would be his nemesis. Jason loses a sandal in a river, arrives at the court of Pelias, and the epic is set in motion. Nearly every member of the next generation of heroes, as well as Heracles, went with Jason in the ship Argo to fetch the Golden Fleece. This generation also included Theseus, who went to Crete to slay the Minotaur; Atalanta, the female heroine, and Meleager, who once had an epic cycle of his own to rival the Iliad and Odyssey. Pindar, Apollonius and the Bibliotheca endeavor to give full lists of the Argonauts.
Although Apollonius wrote his poem in the 3rd century BC, the composition of the story of the Argonauts is earlier than Odyssey, which shows familiarity with the exploits of Jason (the wandering of Odysseus may have been partly founded on it). In ancient times the expedition was regarded as a historical fact, an incident in the opening up of the Black Sea to Greek commerce and colonization. It was also extremely popular, forming a cycle to which a number of local legends became attached. The story of Medea, in particular, caught the imagination of the tragic poets.
House of Atreus and Theban Cycle
In between the Argo and the Trojan War, there was a generation known chiefly for its horrific crimes. This includes the doings of Atreus and Thyestes at Argos. Behind the myth of the house of Atreus lies the problem of the devolution of power and of the mode of accession to sovereignty. The twins Atreus and Thyestes with their descendants played the leading role in the tragedy of the devolution of power in Mycenae.
The Theban Cycle deals with events associated especially with Cadmus, the city’s founder, and later with the doings of Laius and Oedipus at Thebes; a series of stories that lead to the war of the Seven against Thebes and the eventual pillage of that city at the hands of the Epigoni. As far as Oedipus is concerned, early epic accounts seem to have him continuing to rule at Thebes after the revelation that Iokaste was his mother, and subsequently marrying a second wife who becomes the mother of his children—markedly different from the tale known to us through tragedy and later mythological accounts.
Trojan War and aftermath
Greek mythology culminates in the Trojan War, fought between Greece and Troy, and its aftermath. In Homer’s works, such as the Iliad, the chief stories have already taken shape and substance, and individual themes were elaborated later, especially in Greek drama. The Trojan War also elicited great interest in the Roman culture because of the story of Aeneas, a Trojan hero whose journey from Troy led to the founding of the city that would one day become Rome, as recounted in Virgil’s Aeneid. Finally there are two pseudo-chronicles written in Latin that passed under the names of Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius.
The Trojan War cycle, a collection of epic poems, starts with the events leading up to the war: Eris and the golden apple of Kallisti, the Judgement of Paris, the abduction of Helen, the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis. To recover Helen, the Greeks launched a great expedition under the overall command of Menelaus‘s brother, Agamemnon, king of Argos, or Mycenae, but the Trojans refused to return Helen. The Iliad, which is set in the tenth year of the war, tells of the quarrel between Agamemnon and Achilles, who was the finest Greek warrior, and the consequent deaths in battle of Achilles’ beloved comrade Patroclus and Priam‘s eldest son, Hector. After Hector’s death the Trojans were joined by two exotic allies, Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons, and Memnon, king of the Ethiopians and son of the dawn-goddess Eos. Achilles killed both of these, but Paris then managed to kill Achilles with an arrow in the heel. Achilles’ heel was the only part of his body which was not invulnerable to damage by human weaponry. Before they could take Troy, the Greeks had to steal from the citadel the wooden image of Pallas Athena. Finally, with Athena’s help, they built the Trojan Horse. Despite the warnings of Priam’s daughter Cassandra, the Trojans were persuaded by Sinon, a Greek who feigned desertion, to take the horse inside the walls of Troy as an offering to Athena; the priest Laocoon, who tried to have the horse destroyed, was killed by sea-serpents. At night the Greek fleet returned, and the Greeks from the horse opened the gates of Troy. In the total sack that followed, Priam and his remaining sons were slaughtered; the Trojan women passed into slavery in various cities of Greece. The adventurous homeward voyages of the Greek leaders including the wanderings of Odysseus and Aeneas were told in two epics, the Returns and Homer’s Odyssey. The Trojan cycle also includes the adventures of the children of the Trojan generation.
The Trojan War provided a variety of themes and became a main source of inspiration for Ancient Greek artists (e.g. metopes on the Parthenon depicting the sack of Troy); this artistic preference for themes deriving from the Trojan Cycle indicates its importance to the Ancient Greek civilization. The same mythological cycle also inspired a series of posterior European literary writings. For instance, Trojan Medieval European writers, unacquainted with Homer at first hand, found in the Troy legend a rich source of heroic and romantic storytelling and a convenient framework into which to fit their own courtly and chivalric ideals. Twelfth-century authors, such as Benoît de Sainte-Maure describe the war while rewriting the standard version they found in Dictys and Dares. They thus follow Horace‘s advice and Virgil’s example: they rewrite a poem of Troy instead of telling something completely new.
Some of the more famous heroes noted for their inclusion in the Trojan War were:
On the Trojan side:
On the Greek side:
- Ajax (there were two Ajaxes)
- King Agamemnon
Greek and Roman conceptions of myth
Mythology was at the heart of everyday life in Ancient Greece. Greeks regarded mythology as a part of their history. They used myth to explain natural phenomena, cultural variations, traditional enmities, and friendships. It was a source of pride to be able to trace the descent of one’s leaders from a mythological hero or a god. Few ever doubted that there was truth behind the account of the Trojan War in the Iliad and Odyssey. According to Victor Davis Hanson, a military historian, columnist, political essayist, and former classics professor, and John Heath, a classics professor, the profound knowledge of the Homeric epos was deemed by the Greeks the basis of their acculturation. Homer was the “education of Greece”, and his poetry “the Book”.
Philosophy and myth
After the rise of philosophy, history, prose and rationalism in the late 5th century BC, the fate of myth became uncertain, and mythological genealogies gave place to a conception of history which tried to exclude the supernatural. While poets and dramatists were reworking the myths, Greek historians and philosophers were beginning to criticize them.
By the sixth century BC, a few radical philosophers were already beginning to label the poets’ tales as blasphemous lies: Xenophanes of Colophon complained that Homer and Hesiod attributed to the gods “all that is shameful and disgraceful among men; they steal, commit adultery, and deceive one another.” This line of thought found its most sweeping expression in Plato‘s Republic and Laws. Plato created his own allegorical myths (such as the vision of Er in the Republic), attacked the traditional tales of the gods’ tricks, thefts, and adulteries as immoral, and objected to their central role in literature. Plato’s criticism was the first serious challenge to the Homeric mythological tradition, referring to the myths as “old wives’ chatter.” For his part Aristotle criticized the pre-Socratic quasi-mythical philosophical approach and underscored that “Hesiod and the theological writers were concerned only with what seemed plausible to themselves, and had no respect for us … But it is not worth taking seriously writers who show off in the mythical style; as for those who do proceed by proving their assertions, we must cross-examine them.”
Nevertheless, even Plato did not manage to wean himself and his society from the influence of myth; his own characterization for Socrates is based on the traditional Homeric and tragic patterns, used by the philosopher to praise the righteous life of his teacher:
But perhaps someone might say: “Are you then not ashamed, Socrates, of having followed such a pursuit, that you are now in danger of being put to death as a result?” But I should make to him a just reply: “You do not speak well, Sir, if you think a man in whom there is even a little merit ought to consider danger of life or death, and not rather regard this only, when he does things, whether the things he does are right or wrong and the acts of a good or a bad man. For according to your argument all the demigods would be bad who died at Troy, including the son of Thetis, who so despised danger, in comparison with enduring any disgrace, that when his mother (and she was a goddess) said to him, as he was eager to slay Hector, something like this, I believe,
My son, if you avenge the death of your friend Patroclus and kill Hector, you yourself shall die; for straightway, after Hector, is death appointed unto you.
he, when he heard this, made light of death and danger, and feared much more to live as a coward and not to avenge his friends, and said,
Straightway may I die, after doing vengeance upon the wrongdoer, that I may not stay here, jeered at beside the curved ships, a burden of the earth.
Hanson and Heath estimate that Plato’s rejection of the Homeric tradition was not favorably received by the grassroots Greek civilization. The old myths were kept alive in local cults; they continued to influence poetry and to form the main subject of painting and sculpture.
More sportingly, the 5th century BC tragedian Euripides often played with the old traditions, mocking them, and through the voice of his characters injecting notes of doubt. Yet the subjects of his plays were taken, without exception, from myth. Many of these plays were written in answer to a predecessor’s version of the same or similar myth. Euripides mainly impugns the myths about the gods and begins his critique with an objection similar to the one previously expressed by Xenocrates: the gods, as traditionally represented, are far too crassly anthropomorphic.
Hellenistic and Roman rationalism
During the Hellenistic period, mythology took on the prestige of elite knowledge that marks its possessors as belonging to a certain class. At the same time, the skeptical turn of the Classical age became even more pronounced. Greek mythographer Euhemerus established the tradition of seeking an actual historical basis for mythical beings and events. Although his original work is lost, much is known about it from what is recorded by Diodorus and Lactantius.
Rationalizing hermeneutics of myth became even more popular under the Roman Empire, thanks to the physicalist theories of Stoic and Epicurean philosophy. Stoics presented explanations of the gods and heroes as physical phenomena, while the Euhemerists rationalized them as historical figures. At the same time, the Stoics and the Neoplatonists promoted the moral significations of the mythological tradition, often based on Greek etymologies. Through his Epicurean message, Lucretius had sought to expel superstitious fears from the minds of his fellow-citizens. Livy, too, is skeptical about the mythological tradition and claims that he does not intend to pass judgement on such legends. The challenge for Romans with a strong and apologetic sense of religious tradition was to defend that tradition while conceding that it was often a breeding-ground for superstition. The antiquarian Varro, who regarded religion as a human institution with great importance for the preservation of good in society, devoted rigorous study to the origins of religious cults. In his Antiquitates Rerum Divinarum (which has not survived, but Augustine‘s City of God indicates its general approach) Varro argues that whereas the superstitious man fears the gods, the truly religious person venerates them as parents. According to Varro, there have been three accounts of deities in the Roman society: the mythical account created by poets for theatre and entertainment, the civil account used by people for veneration as well as by the city, and the natural account created by the philosophers. The best state is, adds Varro, where the civil theology combines the poetic mythical account with the philosopher’s.
Roman Academic Cotta ridicules both literal and allegorical acceptance of myth, declaring roundly that myths have no place in philosophy. Cicero is also generally disdainful of myth, but, like Varro, he is emphatic in his support for the state religion and its institutions. It is difficult to know how far down the social scale this rationalism extended. Cicero asserts that no one is so foolish as to believe in the terrors of Hades or the existence of Scyllas, centaurs or other composite creatures, but, on the other hand, the orator elsewhere complains of the superstitious and credulous character of the people. De Natura Deorum is the most comprehensive summary of Cicero’s line of thought.
In Ancient Roman times, a new Roman mythology was born through syncretization of numerous Greek and other foreign gods. This occurred because the Romans had little mythology of their own, and inheritance of the Greek mythological tradition caused the major Roman gods to adopt characteristics of their Greek equivalents. The gods Zeus and Jupiter are an example of this mythological overlap. In addition to the combination of the two mythological traditions, the association of the Romans with eastern religions led to further syncretizations. For instance, the cult of Sun was introduced in Rome after Aurelian‘s successful campaigns in Syria. The Asiatic divinities Mithras (that is to say, the Sun) and Ba’al were combined with Apollo and Helios into one Sol Invictus, with conglomerated rites and compound attributes. Apollo might be increasingly identified in religion with Helios or even Dionysus, but texts retelling his myths seldom reflected such developments. The traditional literary mythology was increasingly dissociated from actual religious practice. The worship of Sol as special protector of the emperors and the empire remained the chief imperial religion until it was replaced by Christianity.
The surviving 2nd-century collection of Orphic Hymns and the Saturnalia of Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius are influenced by the theories of rationalism and the syncretizing trends as well. The Orphic Hymns are a set of pre-classical poetic compositions, attributed to Orpheus, himself the subject of a renowned myth. In reality, these poems were probably composed by several different poets, and contain a rich set of clues about prehistoric European mythology. The stated purpose of the Saturnalia is to transmit the Hellenic culture Macrobius has derived from his reading, even though much of his treatment of gods is colored by Egyptian and North African mythology and theology (which also affect the interpretation of Virgil). In Saturnalia reappear mythographical comments influenced by the Euhemerists, the Stoics and the Neoplatonists.
The genesis of modern understanding of Greek mythology is regarded by some scholars as a double reaction at the end of the eighteenth century against “the traditional attitude of Christian animosity”, in which the Christian reinterpretation of myth as a “lie” or fable had been retained. In Germany, by about 1795, there was a growing interest in Homer and Greek mythology. In Göttingen, Johann Matthias Gesner began to revive Greek studies, while his successor, Christian Gottlob Heyne, worked with Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and laid the foundations for mythological research both in Germany and elsewhere.
Comparative and psychoanalytic approaches
The development of comparative philology in the 19th century, together with ethnological discoveries in the 20th century, established the science of myth. Since the Romantics, all study of myth has been comparative. Wilhelm Mannhardt, James Frazer, and Stith Thompson employed the comparative approach to collect and classify the themes of folklore and mythology. In 1871 Edward Burnett Tylor published his Primitive Culture, in which he applied the comparative method and tried to explain the origin and evolution of religion. Tylor’s procedure of drawing together material culture, ritual and myth of widely separated cultures influenced both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. Max Müller applied the new science of comparative mythology to the study of myth, in which he detected the distorted remains of Aryan nature worship. Bronisław Malinowski emphasized the ways myth fulfills common social functions. Claude Lévi-Strauss and other structuralists have compared the formal relations and patterns in myths throughout the world.
Sigmund Freud introduced a transhistorical and biological conception of man and a view of myth as an expression of repressed ideas. Dream interpretation is the basis of Freudian myth interpretation and Freud’s concept of dreamwork recognizes the importance of contextual relationships for the interpretation of any individual element in a dream. This suggestion would find an important point of rapprochement between the structuralist and psychoanalytic approaches to myth in Freud’s thought. Carl Jung extended the transhistorical, psychological approach with his theory of the “collective unconscious” and the archetypes, often encoded in myth, that arise out of it. According to Jung, “myth-forming structural elements must be present in the unconscious psyche.” Comparing Jung’s methodology with Joseph Campbell‘s theory, Robert A. Segal (1990) concludes that “to interpret a myth Campbell simply identifies the archetypes in it. An interpretation of the Odyssey, for example, would show how Odysseus’s life conforms to a heroic pattern. Jung, by contrast, considers the identification of archetypes merely the first step in the interpretation of a myth.” Karl Kerényi, one of the founders of modern studies in Greek mythology, gave up his early views of myth, in order to apply Jung’s theories of archetypes to Greek myth.
Max Müller attempted to understand an Indo-European religious form by tracing it back to its Indo-European (or, in Müller’s time, “Aryan“) “original” manifestation. In 1891, he claimed that “the most important discovery which has been made during the nineteenth century concerning the ancient history of mankind … was this sample equation: Sanskrit Dyaus-pitar = Greek Zeus = Latin Jupiter = Old Norse Tyr“. The question of Greek mythology’s place in Indo-European studies has generated much scholarship since Müller’s time. For example, philologist Georges Dumézil draws a comparison between the Greek Uranus and the Sanskrit Varuna, although there is no hint that he believes them to be originally connected. In other cases, close parallels in character and function suggest a common heritage, yet lack of linguistic evidence makes it difficult to prove, as in the case of the Greek Moirai and the Norns of Norse mythology.
It appears that the Mycenaean religion was the mother of the Greek religion and its pantheon already included many divinities that can be found in classical Greece. However, Greek mythology is generally seen as having heavy influence of Pre-Greek and Near Eastern cultures, and as such contains few important elements for the reconstruction of the Proto-Indo-European religion. Consequently, Greek mythology received minimal scholarly attention in the context of Indo-European comparative mythology until the mid 2000s.
Archaeology and mythography have revealed influence from Asia Minor and the Near East. Adonis seems to be the Greek counterpart—more clearly in cult than in myth—of a Near Eastern “dying god”. Cybele is rooted in Anatolian culture while much of Aphrodite’s iconography may spring from Semitic goddesses. There are also possible parallels between the earliest divine generations (Chaos and its children) and Tiamat in the Enuma Elish. According to Meyer Reinhold, “near Eastern theogonic concepts, involving divine succession through violence and generational conflicts for power, found their way…into Greek mythology.”
In addition to Indo-European and Near Eastern origins, some scholars have speculated on the debts of Greek mythology to the indigenous pre-Greek societies: Crete, Mycenae, Pylos, Thebes and Orchomenus. Historians of religion were fascinated by a number of apparently ancient configurations of myth connected with Crete (the god as bull, Zeus and Europa, Pasiphaë who yields to the bull and gives birth to the Minotaur, etc.). Martin P. Nilsson asserts, based on the representations and general function of the gods, that a lot of Minoan gods and religious conceptions were fused in the Mycenaean religion. and concluded that all great classical Greek myths were tied to Mycenaean centers and anchored in prehistoric times. Nevertheless, according to Burkert, the iconography of the Cretan Palace Period has provided almost no confirmation for these theories.
Motifs in Western art and literature
The widespread adoption of Christianity did not curb the popularity of the myths. With the rediscovery of classical antiquity in the Renaissance, the poetry of Ovid became a major influence on the imagination of poets, dramatists, musicians and artists. From the early years of Renaissance, artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael, portrayed the Pagan subjects of Greek mythology alongside more conventional Christian themes. Through the medium of Latin and the works of Ovid, Greek myth influenced medieval and Renaissance poets such as Petrarch, Boccaccio and Dante in Italy.
In Northern Europe, Greek mythology never took the same hold of the visual arts, but its effect was very obvious on literature. The English imagination was fired by Greek mythology starting with Chaucer and John Milton and continuing through Shakespeare to Robert Bridges in the 20th century. Racine in France and Goethe in Germany revived Greek drama, reworking the ancient myths. Although during the Enlightenment of the 18th century reaction against Greek myth spread throughout Europe, the myths continued to provide an important source of raw material for dramatists, including those who wrote the libretti for many of Handel‘s and Mozart‘s operas.
By the end of the 18th century, Romanticism initiated a surge of enthusiasm for all things Greek, including Greek mythology. In Britain, new translations of Greek tragedies and Homer inspired contemporary poets . Christoph Gluck, Richard Strauss, Jacques Offenbach and many others set Greek mythological themes to music. American authors of the 19th century, such as Thomas Bulfinch and Nathaniel Hawthorne, held that the study of the classical myths was essential to the understanding of English and American literature. In more recent times, classical themes have been reinterpreted by dramatists Jean Anouilh, Jean Cocteau, and Jean Giraudoux in France, Eugene O’Neill in America, and T. S. Eliot in Britain and by novelists such as James Joyce and André Gide.
The next religion I will cover is Hinduism, which is the oldest existing religion at approximately 400 years old, and the third largest religion. It is the main religion in India.
Hinduism and Buddhism
Hinduism is a somewhat unique religion that it believes in reincarnation and the cast system. Which is a much derided practice in todays society, for it is believed that no matter what you do you cannot improve your path in the current life, good deeds will help you go to a better level in your next life. A great deal of discrimination is practiced in this religion and culture. Hinduism cannot be discussed without a comparison of the newer and more forgiving religion Buddhism.
Hinduism and Buddhism share a lot of the same terminology and concepts but have some rather different interpretations of these shared terms and concepts. The fundamental belief in both Hinduism and Buddhism is that there is a continuing cycle of life, suffering, death and rebirth called samsara, and that this cycle is based on karma, i.e. actions and subsequent reactions. Both Hinduism and Buddhism also share the belief that liberation from samsara can be attained, but both pursue a different path to achieve this. In Hinduism, this liberation from samsara is called moksha, whereas in Buddhism it is known as nirvana.
The term dharma is also used and refers to a key concept in both Hinduism and Buddhism but again has a different meaning in both. In Hinduism, dharma refers to a set of norms that regulates people’s behaviour as well as ethics and duties, and prescribes the right way to live. It is major tenet of Hinduism and regarded as the regulatory moral principle of the universe. In Buddhism, on the other hand, the term dharma refers to both the “natural order or universal law that underpins the operation of the universe in both the physical and moral spheres” and the totality of teachings of the Buddha.
A major difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is the belief, or lack of belief, in a soul. Hinduism believes in the concept of a soul. Depending on the particular Hindu school investigated, this is either an individual soul or self called atman, or a universal soul or cosmic spirit known as Brahman. In Hinduism, the soul is considered permanent and it is believed that the same soul is reincarnated time and time again, but merely in a different form as a different living being. This cycle is said to continue until through the practice of Hindu yoga, the individual realises that the soul is Brahman. This realisation releases the soul from the cycle of samsara, and moksha is attained.
In Buddhism, on the other hand, there is no belief in the concept of soul. On the contrary, the Buddha rejected the concept of soul or atman. Buddhists believe that there is no self or soul that is reincarnated. Rather, the energy of impermanence and our consciousness is reborn and dies again in the cycle of samsara. In the Buddhist religion, liberation from samsara is attained through acceptance of the Four Noble Truths and by following the Eightfold Path. It is necessary to fully know and see the reality of the human condition and understand that there is no soul in order to overcome the attachment and craving arising from impermanence, and thus reach nirvana and achieve the cessation of suffering. Arising from this different understanding is also a terminological difference in both religions, namely that in Hinduism we speak of ‘reincarnation’, whereas in Buddhism we instead refer to ‘rebirth’.
A further difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is the concept of an external creator. The Hindu belief is that deities can take many forms but, as discussed, all form one universal spirit called Brahman. The three most important representations of Brahman in Hinduism are represented in the trinity of deities comprising Brahma, who is considered the creator of the universe, Vishnu, the preserver of the universe, and Shiva, the destroyer of the universe. So in Hinduism there is a clear external creator different from sentient beings. The Buddhist belief, in contrast, requires no external creator, and Buddhism refrains from any metaphysical speculation. It stipulates that the cycle of samsara and karma already has inherent cause and effect, and therefore there is no need to postulate a creator for the world. Hence, no belief in an external power or maker of the world is necessary in Buddhism.
Another difference between Hinduism and Buddhism is the concept of worshipping deities. Hindus worship deities or devas, and as we have seen either believe in a personal god (Ishvara) or a universal god as a metaphysical entity (Brahman). Hindus engage in daily worship to seek awareness of god (Brahman or Ishvara) and to seek blessings from various devas. It is important to note that despite their individual interpretations of god, no school of Hinduism rejects the idea of Brahman. In Hinduism, several deities are important objects of veneration and even seen as avatars of Brahman. In contrast, Buddhists have no belief in deities to be worshipped. Buddhism does recognise deities (devas) as existing in the Wheel of Life, but worshipping them is not encouraged in order to attain liberation from suffering. In Buddhism these deities are not considered important, and worshipping them would serve no point. They are therefore never considered objects of veneration in Buddhism but merely seen as sentient beings who are also subject to karma and will die and be reborn just like any other living being.
Further, daily rituals very important in Hinduism. These include practices such as worshipping deities, chanting mantras, reciting scriptures, singing devotional hymns or paying service to images.
Although some Buddhists also choose to engage in practices like chanting, these are purely expressions of their personal devotion of faith and, unlike in Hinduism, do not serve to seek awareness or blessings from a deity. In Buddhism, rituals are not important in themselves but merely a means to an end, namely to become more mindful and ultimately attain enlightenment.
Finally, both Hinduism and Buddhism engage in yoga practice. However, once again both religions interpret the practice differently and pursue different goals with it. Hinduism considers yoga a form of worship with the ultimate goal of uniting their individual self or soul with Brahman, the universal soul. Hindus engaging in yoga often control their breathing by holding their breath for extended periods of time. In Buddhism, on the other hand, breathing is not controlled but remains natural at all times and in- and out-breaths are observed as a means to calm the mind and body and promote concentration. The focus in Buddhism is on mindfulness meditation to obtain wisdom and insight, rather than to engage in the practice as a form of worship.
In conclusion, it is clear that although Buddhism and Hinduism share some of the same concepts, both religions have very different interpretations of them, which manifests itself in very different beliefs and practices.
Judaism and Christianity
Judaism is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, and ethnic religion comprising the collective religious, cultural, and legal tradition and civilization of the Jewish people. It has its roots as an organized religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age.modern Judaism evolved from Yahwism, the religion of ancient Israel and Judah, by around 500 BCE, and is thus considered to be one of the oldest monotheistic religions. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenant that God established with the Israelites, their ancestors. It encompasses a wide body of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization.
The Torah is part of the larger text known as the Hebrew Bible, and its supplemental oral tradition is represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. Judaism’s texts, traditions and values strongly influenced later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam. Hebraism, like Hellenism, played a seminal role in the formation of Western civilization through its impact as a core background element of Early Christianity.
Within Judaism, there are a variety of religious movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. Historically, all or part of this assertion was challenged by various groups such as the Sadducees and Hellenistic Judaism during the Second Temple period; the Karaites during the early and later medieval period; and among segments of the modern non-Orthodox denominations. Some modern branches of Judaism such as Humanistic Judaism may be considered secular or nontheistic. Today, the largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism. Major sources of difference between these groups are their approaches to Jewish law, the authority of the rabbinic tradition, and the significance of the State of Israel. Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and halakha are divine in origin, eternal and unalterable, and that they should be strictly followed. Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal, with Conservative Judaism generally promoting a more traditionalist interpretation of Judaism’s requirements than Reform Judaism. A typical Reform position is that halakha should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a set of restrictions and obligations whose observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced halakha; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and the rabbis and scholars who interpret them.
Jews are an ethnoreligious group including those born Jewish, in addition to converts to Judaism. In 2019, the world Jewish population was estimated at about 14.7 million, or roughly 0.19% of the total world population. About 46.9% of all Jews reside in Israel and another 38.8% reside in the United States and Canada, with most of the remainder living in Europe, and other minority groups spread throughout Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Australia.
The term Judaism derives from Iudaismus, a Latinized form of the Ancient Greek Ioudaismos .[ Its ultimate source was the Hebrew, “Judah“, which is also the source of the Hebrew term for Judaism: יַהֲדוּת, Yahadut. The term Ἰουδαϊσμός first appears in the Hellenistic Greek book of 2 Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE. In the context of the age and period it meant “seeking or forming part of a cultural entity” and it resembled its antonym hellenismos, a word that signified a people’s submission to Hellenic (Greek) cultural norms. The conflict between iudaismos and hellenismos lay behind the Maccabean revolt and hence the invention of the term iudaismos.
Shaye J. D. Cohen writes in his book The Beginnings of Jewishness:
We are tempted, of course, to translate [Ioudaïsmós] as “Judaism,” but this translation is too narrow, because in this first occurrence of the term, Ioudaïsmós has not yet been reduced to the designation of a religion. It means rather “the aggregate of all those characteristics that makes Judaeans Judaean (or Jews Jewish).” Among these characteristics, to be sure, are practices and beliefs that we would today call “religious,” but these practices and beliefs are not the sole content of the term. Thus Ioudaïsmós should be translated not as “Judaism” but as Judaeanness.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary the earliest citation in English where the term was used to mean “the profession or practice of the Jewish religion; the religious system or polity of the Jews” is Robert Fabyan’s The newe cronycles of Englande and of Fraunce (1516). “Judaism” as a direct translation of the Latin Iudaismus first occurred in a 1611 English translation of the apocrypha, “Those that behaved themselves manfully to their honour for Iudaisme.”
This section is about the history of Judaism.
Origins of Judaism
At its core, the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is an account of the Israelites‘ relationship with God from their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 535 BCE). Abraham is hailed as the first Hebrew and the father of the Jewish people. As a reward for his act of faith in one God, he was promised that Isaac, his second son, would inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan). Later, the descendants of Isaac’s son Jacob were enslaved in Egypt, and God commanded Moses to lead the Exodus from Egypt. At Mount Sinai, they received the Torah—the five books of Moses. These books, together with Nevi’im and Ketuvim are known as Torah Shebikhtav as opposed to the Oral Torah, which refers to the Mishnah and the Talmud. Eventually, God led them to the land of Israel where the tabernacle was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years to rally the nation against attacking enemies. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle. The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they needed to be governed by a permanent king, and Samuel appointed Saul to be their King. When the people pressured Saul into going against a command conveyed to him by Samuel, God told Samuel to appoint David in his stead.
Once King David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple, and as a reward for his actions, God promised David that he would allow his son, Solomon, to build the First Temple and the throne would never depart from his children.
Rabbinic tradition holds that the details and interpretation of the law, which are called the Oral Torah or oral law, were originally an unwritten tradition based upon what God told Moses on Mount Sinai. However, as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, these oral laws were recorded by Rabbi Judah HaNasi (Judah the Prince) in the Mishnah, redacted circa 200 CE. The Talmud was a compilation of both the Mishnah and the Gemara, rabbinic commentaries redacted over the next three centuries. The Gemara originated in two major centers of Jewish scholarship, Palestine and Babylonia. Correspondingly, two bodies of analysis developed, and two works of Talmud were created. The older compilation is called the Jerusalem Talmud. It was compiled sometime during the 4th century in Palestine. The Babylonian Talmud was compiled from discussions in the houses of study by the scholars Ravina I, Ravina II, and Rav Ashi by 500 CE, although it continued to be edited later.
According to critical scholars, the Torah consists of inconsistent texts edited together in a way that calls attention to divergent accounts. Several of these scholars, such as Professor Martin Rose and John Bright, suggest that during the First Temple period the people of Israel believed that each nation had its own god, but that their god was superior to other gods. Some suggest that strict monotheism developed during the Babylonian Exile, perhaps in reaction to Zoroastrian dualism. In this view, it was only by the Hellenic period that most Jews came to believe that their god was the only god and that the notion of a clearly bounded Jewish nation identical with the Jewish religion formed. John Day argues that the origins of biblical Yahweh, El, Asherah, and Ba’al, may be rooted in earlier Canaanite religion, which was centered on a pantheon of gods much like the Greek pantheon.
According to the Hebrew Bible, the United Monarchy was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon with its capital in Jerusalem. After Solomon’s reign, the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was destroyed around 720 BCE, when it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian Empire; many people were taken captive from the capital Samaria to Media and the Khabur River valley. The Kingdom of Judah continued as an independent state until it was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar II of the Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 BCE. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the First Temple, which was at the center of ancient Jewish worship. The Judeans were exiled to Babylon, in what is regarded as the first Jewish diaspora. Later, many of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylon by the Persian Achaemenid Empire seventy years later, an event known as the Return to Zion. A Second Temple was constructed and old religious practices were resumed.
During the early years of the Second Temple, the highest religious authority was a council known as the Great Assembly, led by Ezra the Scribe. Among other accomplishments of the Great Assembly, the last books of the Bible were written at this time and the canon sealed. Hellenistic Judaism spread to Ptolemaic Egypt from the 3rd century BCE.
During the Great Jewish Revolt (66–73 CE), the Romans sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple. Later, Roman emperor Hadrian built a pagan idol on the Temple Mount and prohibited circumcision; these acts of ethnocide provoked the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132–136 CE), after which the Romans banned the study of the Torah and the celebration of Jewish holidays, and forcibly removed virtually all Jews from Judea. In 200 CE, however, Jews were granted Roman citizenship and Judaism was recognized as a “legitimate religion” until the rise of Gnosticism and Early Christianity in the fourth century.
Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, prayer took the place of sacrifice, and worship was rebuilt around the community (represented by a minimum of ten adult men) and the establishment of the authority of rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities.
Defining characteristics and principles of faith
Unlike other ancient Near Eastern gods, the Hebrew God is portrayed as unitary and solitary; consequently, the Hebrew God’s principal relationships are not with other gods, but with the world, and more specifically, with the people he created. Judaism thus begins with ethical monotheism: the belief that God is one and is concerned with the actions of mankind. According to the Hebrew Bible, God promised Abraham to make of his offspring a great nation. Many generations later, he commanded the nation of Israel to love and worship only one God; that is, the Jewish nation is to reciprocate God’s concern for the world. He also commanded the Jewish people to love one another; that is, Jews are to imitate God’s love for people. These commandments are but two of a large corpus of commandments and laws that constitute this covenant, which is the substance of Judaism.
Thus, although there is an esoteric tradition in Judaism (Kabbalah), Rabbinic scholar Max Kadushin has characterized normative Judaism as “normal mysticism”, because it involves everyday personal experiences of God through ways or modes that are common to all Jews. This is played out through the observance of the halakha (Jewish law) and given verbal expression in the Birkat Ha-Mizvot, the short blessings that are spoken every time a positive commandment is to be fulfilled.
The ordinary, familiar, everyday things and occurrences we have, constitute occasions for the experience of God. Such things as one’s daily sustenance, the very day itself, are felt as manifestations of God’s loving-kindness, calling for the Berakhot. Kedushah, holiness, which is nothing else than the imitation of God, is concerned with daily conduct, with being gracious and merciful, with keeping oneself from defilement by idolatry, adultery, and the shedding of blood. The Birkat Ha-Mitzwot evokes the consciousness of holiness at a rabbinic rite, but the objects employed in the majority of these rites are non-holy and of general character, while the several holy objects are non-theurgic. And not only do ordinary things and occurrences bring with them the experience of God. Everything that happens to a man evokes that experience, evil as well as good, for a Berakah is said also at evil tidings. Hence, although the experience of God is like none other, the occasions for experiencing Him, for having a consciousness of Him, are manifold, even if we consider only those that call for Berakot.
Whereas Jewish philosophers often debate whether God is immanent or transcendent, and whether people have free will or their lives are determined, halakha is a system through which any Jew acts to bring God into the world.
Ethical monotheism is central in all sacred or normative texts of Judaism. However, monotheism has not always been followed in practice. The Jewish Bible records and repeatedly condemns the widespread worship of other gods in ancient Israel. In the Greco-Roman era, many different interpretations of monotheism existed in Judaism, including the interpretations that gave rise to Christianity.
Moreover, some have argued that Judaism is a non-creedal religion that does not require one to believe in God. For some, observance of halakha is more important than belief in God per se.[ In modern times, some liberal Jewish movements do not accept the existence of a personified deity active in history. The debate about whether one can speak of authentic or normative Judaism is not only a debate among religious Jews but also among historians.
13 Principles of Faith:
- I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created; He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
- I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.
- I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, has no body, and that He is free from all the properties of matter, and that there can be no (physical) comparison to Him whatsoever.
- I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is the first and the last.
- I believe with perfect faith that to the Creator, Blessed be His Name, and to Him alone, it is right to pray, and that it is not right to pray to any being besides Him.
- I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
- I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both those who preceded him and those who followed him.
- I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.
- I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be exchanged and that there will never be any other Torah from the Creator, Blessed be His Name.
- I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, knows all the deeds of human beings and all their thoughts, as it is written, “Who fashioned the hearts of them all, Who comprehends all their actions” (Psalms 33:15).
- I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those that transgress them.
- I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.
- I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, Blessed be His name, and His mention shall be exalted for ever and ever.
In the strict sense, in Judaism, unlike Christianity and Islam, there are no fixed universally binding articles of faith, due to their incorporation into the liturgy. Scholars throughout Jewish history have proposed numerous formulations of Judaism’s core tenets, all of which have met with criticism. The most popular formulation is Maimonides‘ thirteen principles of faith, developed in the 12th century. According to Maimonides, any Jew who rejects even one of these principles would be considered an apostate and a heretic. Jewish scholars have held points of view diverging in various ways from Maimonides’ principles. Thus, within Reform Judaism only the first five principles are endorsed.
In Maimonides’ time, his list of tenets was criticized by Hasdai Crescas and Joseph Albo. Albo and the Raavad argued that Maimonides’ principles contained too many items that, while true, were not fundamentals of the faith
Along these lines, the ancient historian Josephus emphasized practices and observances rather than religious beliefs, associating apostasy with a failure to observe halakha and maintaining that the requirements for conversion to Judaism included circumcision and adherence to traditional customs. Maimonides’ principles were largely ignored over the next few centuries. Later, two poetic restatements of these principles became integrated into many Jewish liturgies, leading to their eventual near-universal acceptance.
In modern times, Judaism lacks a centralized authority that would dictate an exact religious dogma. Because of this, many different variations on the basic beliefs are considered within the scope of Judaism. Even so, all Jewish religious movements are, to a greater or lesser extent, based on the principles of the Hebrew Bible and various commentaries such as the Talmud and Midrash. Judaism also universally recognizes the Biblical Covenant between God and the Patriarch Abraham as well as the additional aspects of the Covenant revealed to Moses, who is considered Judaism’s greatest prophet. In the Mishnah, a core text of Rabbinic Judaism, acceptance of the Divine origins of this covenant is considered an essential aspect of Judaism and those who reject the Covenant forfeit their share in the World to Come.
Establishing the core tenets of Judaism in the modern era is even more difficult, given the number and diversity of the contemporary Jewish denominations. Even if to restrict the problem to the most influential intellectual trends of the nineteenth and twentieth century, the matter remains complicated. Thus for instance, Joseph Soloveitchik’s answer to modernity is constituted upon the identification of Judaism with following the halakha whereas its ultimate goal is to bring the holiness down to the world. Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist Judaism, abandons the idea of religion for the sake of identifying Judaism with civilization and by means of the latter term and secular translation of the core ideas, he tries to embrace as many Jewish denominations as possible. In turn, Solomon Schechter‘s Conservative Judaism was identical with the tradition understood as the interpretation of Torah, in itself being the history of the constant updates and adjustment of the Law performed by means of the creative interpretation. Finally, David Philipson draws the outlines of the Reform movement in Judaism by opposing it to the strict and traditional rabbinical approach and thus comes to the conclusions similar to that of the Conservative movement.
Jewish philosophy refers to the conjunction between serious study of philosophy and Jewish theology. Major Jewish philosophers include Philo of Alexandria, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Saadia Gaon, Judah Halevi, Maimonides, and Gersonides. Major changes occurred in response to the Enlightenment leading to the post-Enlightenment Jewish philosophers. Modern Jewish philosophy consists of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox oriented philosophy. Notable among Orthodox Jewish philosophers are Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, and Yitzchok Hutner. Well-known non-Orthodox Jewish philosophers include Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Mordecai Kaplan, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Will Herberg, and Emmanuel Lévinas.
13 Principles of Hermeneutics:
- A law that operates under certain conditions will surely be operative in other situations where the same conditions are present in a more acute form
- A law operating in one situation will also be operative in another situation if the text characterizes both situations in identical terms.
- A law that clearly expresses the purpose it was meant to serve will also apply to other situations where the identical purpose may be served.
- When a general rule is followed by illustrative particulars, only those particulars are to be embraced by it.
- A law that begins with specifying particular cases, and then proceeds to an all-embracing generalization, is to be applied to particulars cases not specified but logically falling into the same generalization.
- A law that begins with a generalization as to its intended applications, then continues with the specification of particular cases, and then concludes with a restatement of the generalization, can be applied only to the particular cases specified.
- The rules about a generalization being followed or preceded by specifying particulars (rules 4 and 5) will not apply if it is apparent that the specification of the particular cases or the statement of the generalization is meant purely for achieving a greater clarity of language.
- A particular case already covered in a generalization that is nevertheless treated separately suggests that the same particularized treatment be applied to all other cases which are covered in that generalization.
- A penalty specified for a general category of wrongdoing is not to be automatically applied to a particular case that is withdrawn from the general rule to be specifically prohibited, but without any mention of the penalty.
- A general prohibition followed by a specified penalty may be followed by a particular case, normally included in the generalization, with a modification in the penalty, either toward easing it or making it more severe.
- A case logically falling into a general law but treated separately remains outside the provisions of the general law except in those instances where it is specifically included in them.
- Obscurities in Biblical texts may be cleared up from the immediate context or from subsequently occurring passages
- Contradictions in Biblical passages may be removed through the mediation of other passages.
Orthodox and many other Jews do not believe that the revealed Torah consists solely of its written contents, but of its interpretations as well. The study of Torah (in its widest sense, to include both poetry, narrative, and law, and both the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud) is in Judaism itself a sacred act of central importance. For the sages of the Mishnah and Talmud, and for their successors today, the study of Torah was therefore not merely a means to learn the contents of God’s revelation, but an end in itself. According to the Talmud,
These are the things for which a person enjoys the dividends in this world while the principal remains for the person to enjoy in the world to come; they are: honoring parents, loving deeds of kindness, and making peace between one person and another. But the study of the Torah is equal to them all.
In Judaism, “the study of Torah can be a means of experiencing God”. Reflecting on the contribution of the Amoraim and Tanaim to contemporary Judaism, Professor Jacob Neusner observed:
The rabbi’s logical and rational inquiry is not mere logic-chopping. It is a most serious and substantive effort to locate in trivialities the fundamental principles of the revealed will of God to guide and sanctify the most specific and concrete actions in the workaday world. … Here is the mystery of Talmudic Judaism: the alien and remote conviction that the intellect is an instrument not of unbelief and desacralization but of sanctification.”
To study the Written Torah and the Oral Torah in light of each other is thus also to study how to study the word of God.
In the study of Torah, the sages formulated and followed various logical and hermeneutical principles. According to David Stern, all Rabbinic hermeneutics rest on two basic axioms:
first, the belief in the omni-significance of Scripture, in the meaningfulness of its every word, letter, even (according to one famous report) scribal flourish; second, the claim of the essential unity of Scripture as the expression of the single divine will.
These two principles make possible a great variety of interpretations. According to the Talmud,
A single verse has several meanings, but no two verses hold the same meaning. It was taught in the school of R. Ishmael: ‘Behold, My word is like fire—declares the Lord—and like a hammer that shatters rock’ Just as this hammer produces many sparks (when it strikes the rock), so a single verse has several meanings.”
Observant Jews thus view the Torah as dynamic, because it contains within it a host of interpretations.
According to Rabbinic tradition, all valid interpretations of the written Torah were revealed to Moses at Sinai in oral form, and handed down from teacher to pupil (The oral revelation is in effect coextensive with the Talmud itself). When different rabbis forwarded conflicting interpretations, they sometimes appealed to hermeneutic principles to legitimize their arguments; some rabbis claim that these principles were themselves revealed by God to Moses at Sinai.
Thus, Hillel called attention to seven commonly used hermeneutical principles in the interpretation of laws; R. Ishmael, thirteen . Eliezer b. Jose ha-Gelili listed 32, largely used for the exegesis of narrative elements of Torah. All the hermeneutic rules scattered through the Talmudim and Midrashim have been collected by Malbim in Ayyelet ha-Shachar, the introduction to his commentary on the Sifra. Nevertheless, R. Ishmael’s 13 principles are perhaps the ones most widely known; they constitute an important, and one of Judaism’s earliest, contributions to logic, hermeneutics, and jurisprudence. Judah Hadassi incorporated Ishmael’s principles into Karaite Judaism in the 12th century. Today R. Ishmael’s 13 principles are incorporated into the Jewish prayer book to be read by observant Jews on a daily basis.
Jewish ethics may be guided by halakhic traditions, by other moral principles, or by central Jewish virtues. Jewish ethical practice is typically understood to be marked by values such as justice, truth, peace, loving-kindness, compassion, humility, and self-respect. Specific Jewish ethical practices include practices of charity and refraining from negative speech. Proper ethical practices regarding sexuality and many other issues are subjects of dispute among Jews.
Traditionally, Jews recite prayers three times daily, Shacharit, Mincha, and Ma’ariv with a fourth prayer, Mussaf added on Shabbat and holidays. At the heart of each service is the Amidah or Shemoneh Esrei. Another key prayer in many services is the declaration of faith, the Shema Yisrael (or Shema). The Shema is the recitation of a verse from the Torah: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad—”Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God! The Lord is One!”
Most of the prayers in a traditional Jewish service can be recited in solitary prayer, although communal prayer is preferred. Communal prayer requires a quorum of ten adult Jews, called a minyan. In nearly all Orthodox and a few Conservative circles, only male Jews are counted toward a minyan; most Conservative Jews and members of other Jewish denominations count female Jews as well.
In addition to prayer services, observant traditional Jews recite prayers and benedictions throughout the day when performing various acts. Prayers are recited upon waking up in the morning, before eating or drinking different foods, after eating a meal, and so on.
The approach to prayer varies among the Jewish denominations. Differences can include the texts of prayers, the frequency of prayer, the number of prayers recited at various religious events, the use of musical instruments and choral music, and whether prayers are recited in the traditional liturgical languages or the vernacular. In general, Orthodox and Conservative congregations adhere most closely to tradition, and Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues are more likely to incorporate translations and contemporary writings in their services. Also, in most Conservative synagogues, and all Reform and Reconstructionist congregations, women participate in prayer services on an equal basis with men, including roles traditionally filled only by men, such as reading from the Torah. In addition, many Reform temples use musical accompaniment such as organs and mixed choirs.
A kippah or yarmulke is a slightly rounded brimless skullcap worn by many Jews while praying, eating, reciting blessings, or studying Jewish religious texts, and at all times by some Jewish men. In Orthodox communities, only men wear kippot; in non-Orthodox communities, some women also wear kippot. Kippot range in size from a small round beanie that covers only the back of the head to a large, snug cap that covers the whole crown.
Tzitzit are special knotted “fringes” or “tassels” found on the four corners of the tallit, or prayer shawl. The tallit is worn by Jewish men and some Jewish women during the prayer service. Customs vary regarding when a Jew begins wearing a tallit. In the Sephardi community, boys wear a tallit from bar mitzvah age. In some Ashkenazi communities, it is customary to wear one only after marriage. A tallit katan is a fringed garment worn under the clothing throughout the day. In some Orthodox circles, the fringes are allowed to hang freely outside the clothing.
Tefillin, known in English as phylacteries, are two square leather boxes containing biblical verses, attached to the forehead and wound around the left arm by leather straps. They are worn during weekday morning prayer by observant Jewish men and some Jewish women.
A kittel, a white knee-length overgarment, is worn by prayer leaders and some observant traditional Jews on the High Holidays. It is traditional for the head of the household to wear a kittel at the Passover seder in some communities, and some grooms wear one under the wedding canopy. Jewish males are buried in a tallit and sometimes also a kittel which are part of the tachrichim (burial garments).
Jewish holidays are special days in the Jewish calendar, which celebrate moments in Jewish history, as well as central themes in the relationship between God and the world, such as creation, revelation, and redemption.
Shabbat, the weekly day of rest lasting from shortly before sundown on Friday night to nightfall on Saturday night, commemorates God’s day of rest after six days of creation. It plays a pivotal role in Jewish practice and is governed by a large corpus of religious law. At sundown on Friday, the woman of the house welcomes the Shabbat by lighting two or more candles and reciting a blessing. The evening meal begins with the Kiddush, a blessing recited aloud over a cup of wine, and the Mohtzi, a blessing recited over the bread. It is customary to have challah, two braided loaves of bread, on the table. During Shabbat, Jews are forbidden to engage in any activity that falls under 39 categories of melakhah, translated literally as “work”. In fact the activities banned on the Sabbath are not “work” in the usual sense: They include such actions as lighting a fire, writing, using money and carrying in the public domain. The prohibition of lighting a fire has been extended in the modern era to driving a car, which involves burning fuel and using electricity.
Three pilgrimage festivals
Jewish holy days, celebrate landmark events in Jewish history, such as the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah, and sometimes mark the change of seasons and transitions in the agricultural cycle. The three major festivals, Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot, are called “regalim”. On the three regalim, it was customary for the Israelites to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices in the Temple.
- A haggadah used by the Jewish community of Cairo in ArabicPassover is a week-long holiday beginning on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan, that commemorates the Exodus from Egypt. Outside Israel, Passover is celebrated for eight days. In ancient times, it coincided with the barley harvest. It is the only holiday that centers on home-service, the Seder. Leavened products are removed from the house prior to the holiday and are not consumed throughout the week. Homes are thoroughly cleaned to ensure no bread or bread by-products remain, and a symbolic burning of the last vestiges of chametz is conducted on the morning of the Seder. Matzo is eaten instead of bread.
- Shavuot celebrates the revelation of the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai. Also known as the Festival of Bikurim, or first fruits, it coincided in biblical times with the wheat harvest. Shavuot customs include all-night study marathons known as Tikkun Leil Shavuot, eating dairy foods, reading the Book of Ruth, decorating homes and synagogues with greenery, and wearing white clothing, symbolizing purity.
- A sukkahSukkot commemorates the Israelites’ forty years of wandering through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. It is celebrated through the construction of temporary booths called sukkot that represent the temporary shelters of the Israelites during their wandering. It coincides with the fruit harvest and marks the end of the agricultural cycle. Jews around the world eat in sukkot for seven days and nights. Sukkot concludes with Shemini Atzeret, where Jews begin to pray for rain and Simchat Torah, “Rejoicing of the Torah”, a holiday which marks reaching the end of the Torah reading cycle and beginning all over again. The occasion is celebrated with singing and dancing with the Torah scrolls. Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah are technically considered to be a separate holiday and not a part of Sukkot.
High Holy Days
The High Holiday revolve around judgment and forgiveness.
- Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year (literally, “head of the year”), although it falls on the first day of the seventh month of the Hebrew calendar, Tishri. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the 10-day period of atonement leading up to Yom Kippur, during which Jews are commanded to search their souls and make amends for sins committed, intentionally or not, throughout the year. Holiday customs include blowing the shofar, or ram’s horn, in the synagogue, eating apples and honey, and saying blessings over a variety of symbolic foods, such as pomegranates.
- Yom Kippur, (“Day of Atonement”) is the holiest day of the Jewish year. It is a day of communal fasting and praying for forgiveness for one’s sins. Observant Jews spend the entire day in the synagogue, sometimes with a short break in the afternoon, reciting prayers from a special holiday prayerbook called a “Machzor”. Many non-religious Jews make a point of attending synagogue services and fasting on Yom Kippur. On the eve of Yom Kippur, before candles are lit, a prefast meal, the “seuda mafseket“, is eaten. Synagogue services on the eve of Yom Kippur begin with the Kol Nidre prayer. It is customary to wear white on Yom Kippur, especially for Kol Nidre, and leather shoes are not worn. The following day, prayers are held from morning to evening. The final prayer service, called “Ne’ilah”, ends with a long blast of the shofar.
Purim is a joyous Jewish holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Persian Jews from the plot of the evil Haman, who sought to exterminate them, as recorded in the biblical Book of Esther. It is characterized by public recitation of the Book of Esther, mutual gifts of food and drink, charity to the poor, and a celebratory meal. Other customs include drinking wine, eating special pastries called hamantashen, dressing up in masks and costumes, and organizing carnivals and parties.
Purim has celebrated annually on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Adar, which occurs in February or March of the Gregorian calendar.
Hanukkah also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish holiday that starts on the 25th day of Kislev. The festival is observed in Jewish homes by the kindling of lights on each of the festival’s eight nights, one on the first night, two on the second night and so on.
The holiday was called Hanukkah because it marks the re-dedication of the Temple after its desecration by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Spiritually, Hanukkah commemorates the “Miracle of the Oil”. According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days—which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate new oil.
Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Bible and was never considered a major holiday in Judaism, but it has become much more visible and widely celebrated in modern times, mainly because it falls around the same time as Christmas and has national Jewish overtones that have been emphasized since the establishment of the State of Israel.
Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning and fasting commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples, and in later times, the expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
There are three more minor Jewish fast days that commemorate various stages of the destruction of the Temples. They are the 17th Tamuz, the 10th of Tevet and Tzom Gedaliah (the 3rd of Tishrei).
The modern holidays of Yom Ha-shoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) commemorate the horrors of the Holocaust, the fallen soldiers of Israel and victims of terrorism, and Israeli independence, respectively.
There are some who prefer to commemorate those who were killed in the Holocaust on the 10th of Tevet.
The core of festival and Shabbat prayer services is the public reading of the Torah, along with connected readings from the other books of the Tanakh, called Haftarah. Over the course of a year, the whole Torah is read, with the cycle starting over in the autumn, on Simchat Torah.
Synagogues and religious buildings
Synagogues are Jewish houses of prayer and study. They usually contain separate rooms for prayer, smaller rooms for study, and often an area for community or educational use. There is no set blueprint for synagogues and the architectural shapes and interior designs of synagogues vary greatly. The Reform movement mostly refer to their synagogues as temples. Some traditional features of a synagogue are:
- The ark where the Torah scrolls are kept;
- The elevated reader’s platform, where the Torah is read;
- The eternal light, a continually lit lamp or lantern used as a reminder of the constantly lit menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem
- The pulpit, or amud, a lectern facing the Ark where the hazzan or prayer leader stands while praying.
In addition to synagogues, other buildings of significance in Judaism include yeshivas, or institutions of Jewish learning, and mikvahs, which are ritual baths.
Dietary laws: kashrut
The Jewish dietary laws are known as kashrut. Food prepared in accordance with them is termed kosher, and food that is not kosher is also known as treifah or treif. People who observe these laws are colloquially said to be “keeping kosher”.
Many of the laws apply to animal-based foods. For example, in order to be considered kosher, mammals must have split hooves and chew their cud. The pig is arguably the most well-known example of a non-kosher animal. Although it has split hooves, it does not chew its cud. For seafood to be kosher, the animal must have fins and scales. Certain types of seafood, such as shellfish, crustaceans, and eels, are therefore considered non-kosher. Concerning birds, a list of non-kosher species is given in the Torah. The exact translations of many of the species have not survived, and some non-kosher birds’ identities are no longer certain. However, traditions exist about the kashrut status of a few birds. For example, both chickens and turkeys are permitted in most communities. Other types of animals, such as amphibians, reptiles, and most insects, are prohibited altogether.
In addition to the requirement that the species be considered kosher, meat and poultry (but not fish) must come from a healthy animal slaughtered in a process known as shechitah. Without the proper slaughtering practices even an otherwise kosher animal will be rendered treif. The slaughtering process is intended to be quick and relatively painless to the animal. Forbidden parts of animals include the blood, some fats, and the area in and around the sciatic nerve.
Halakha also forbids the consumption of meat and dairy products together. The waiting period between eating meat and eating dairy varies by the order in which they are consumed and by community, and can extend for up to six hours. Based on the Biblical injunction against cooking a kid in its mother’s milk, this rule is mostly derived from the Oral Torah, the Talmud and Rabbinic la. Chicken and other kosher birds are considered the same as meat under the laws of kashrut, but the prohibition is rabbinic, not biblical.
The use of dishes, serving utensils, and ovens may make food treif that would otherwise be kosher. Utensils that have been used to prepare non-kosher food, or dishes that have held meat and are now used for dairy products, render the food treif under certain conditions.
Furthermore, all Orthodox and some Conservative authorities forbid the consumption of processed grape products made by non-Jews, due to ancient pagan practices of using wine in rituals. Some Conservative authorities permit wine and grape juice made without rabbinic supervision.
The Torah does not give specific reasons for most of the laws of kashrut. However, a number of explanations have been offered, including maintaining ritual purity, teaching impulse control, encouraging obedience to God, improving health, reducing cruelty to animals and preserving the distinctness of the Jewish community. The various categories of dietary laws may have developed for different reasons, and some may exist for multiple reasons. For example, people are forbidden from consuming the blood of birds and mammals because, according to the Torah, this is where animal souls are contained. In contrast, the Torah forbids Israelites from eating non-kosher species because “they are unclean”. The Kabbalah describes sparks of holiness that are released by the act of eating kosher foods, but are too tightly bound in non-kosher foods to be released by eating.
Survival concerns supersede all the laws of kashrut, as they do for most halakhot.
Laws of ritual purity
The Tanakh describes circumstances in which a person who is tahor or ritually pure may become tamei or ritually impure. Some of these circumstances are contact with human corpses or graves, seminal flux, vaginal flux, menstruation, and contact with people who have become impure from any of these. In Rabbinic Judaism, Kohanim, members of the hereditary caste that served as priests in the time of the Temple, are mostly restricted from entering grave sites and touching dead bodies. During the Temple period, such priests were required to eat their bread offering in a state of ritual purity, which laws eventually led to more rigid laws being enacted, such as hand-washing which became a requisite of all Jews before consuming ordinary bread.
An important subcategory of the ritual purity laws relates to the segregation of menstruating women. These laws are also known as niddah, literally “separation”, or family purity. Vital aspects of halakha for traditionally observant Jews, they are not usually followed by Jews in liberal denominations.
Especially in Orthodox Judaism, the Biblical laws are augmented by Rabbinical injunctions. For example, the Torah mandates that a woman in her normal menstrual period must abstain from sexual intercourse for seven days. A woman whose menstruation is prolonged must continue to abstain for seven more days after bleeding has stopped. The Rabbis conflated ordinary niddah with this extended menstrual period, known in the Torah as zavah, and mandated that a woman may not have sexual intercourse with her husband from the time she begins her menstrual flow until seven days after it ends. In addition, Rabbinical law forbids the husband from touching or sharing a bed with his wife during this period. Afterwards, purification can occur in a ritual bath called a mikveh
Traditional Ethiopian Jews keep menstruating women in separate huts and, similar to Karaite practice, do not allow menstruating women into their temples because of a temple’s special sanctity. Emigration to Israel and the influence of other Jewish denominations have led to Ethiopian Jews adopting more normative Jewish practices.
Life-cycle events, or rites of passage, occur throughout a Jew’s life that serves to strengthen Jewish identity and bind him/her to the entire community.
- Brit milah – Welcoming male babies into the covenant through the rite of circumcision on their eighth day of life. The baby boy is also given his Hebrew name in the ceremony. A naming ceremony intended as a parallel ritual for girls, named zeved habat or brit bat, enjoys limited popularity.
- Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah – This passage from childhood to adulthood takes place when a female Jew is twelve and a male Jew is thirteen years old among Orthodox and some Conservative congregations. In the Reform movement, both girls and boys have their bat/bar mitzvah at age thirteen. This is often commemorated by having the new adults, male only in the Orthodox tradition, lead the congregation in prayer and publicly read a “portion” of the Torah.
- Marriage – Marriage is an extremely important lifecycle event. A wedding takes place under a chuppah, or wedding canopy, which symbolizes a happy house. At the end of the ceremony, the groom breaks a glass with his foot, symbolizing the continuous mourning for the destruction of the Temple, and the scattering of the Jewish people.
- Death and Mourning – Judaism has a multi-staged mourning practice. The first stage is called the shiva during which it is traditional to sit at home and be comforted by friends and family, the second is the shloshim (observed for one month) and for those who have lost one of their parents, there is a third stage, avelut yud bet chodesh, which is observed for eleven months.
Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. It is the world’s largest religion, with about 2.5 billion followers. Its adherents, known as Christians, make up a majority of the population in 157 countries and territories, and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, whose coming as the messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible and chronicled in the New Testament.
Christianity remains culturally diverse in its Western and Eastern branches, as well as in its doctrines concerning justification and the nature of salvation, ecclesiology, ordination, and Christology. The creeds of various Christian denominations generally hold in common Jesus as the Son of God—the Logos incarnated—who ministered, suffered, and died on a cross, but rose from the dead for the salvation of mankind; and referred to as the gospel, meaning the “good news”. Describing Jesus’ life and teachings are the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the Old Testament as the gospel’s respected background.
Christianity began as a Second Temple Judaic sect in the 1st century in the Roman province of Judea. Jesus’ apostles and their followers spread around the Levant, Europe, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, the South Caucasus, Egypt, and Ethiopia, despite initial persecution. It soon attracted gentile God-fearers, which led to a departure from Jewish customs, and, after the Fall of Jerusalem, AD 70 which ended the Temple-based Judaism, Christianity slowly separated from Judaism. Emperor Constantine the Great decriminalized Christianity in the Roman Empire by the Edict of Milan (313), later convening the Council of Nicaea (325) where Early Christianity was consolidated into what would become the State church of the Roman Empire (380). The early history of Christianity’s united church before major schisms is sometimes referred to as the “Great Church” (though divergent sects existed at the same time, including Gnostics and Jewish Christians). The Church of the East split after the Council of Ephesus (431) and Oriental Orthodoxy split after the Council of Chalcedon (451) over differences in Christology, while the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church separated in the East–West Schism (1054), especially over the authority of the bishop of Rome. Protestantism split in numerous denominations from the Catholic Church in the Reformation era (16th century) over theological and ecclesiological disputes, most predominantly on the issue of justification and the primacy of the bishop of Rome. Christianity played a prominent role in the development of Western civilization, particularly in Europe from late antiquity and the Middle Ages. Following the Age of Discovery (15th–17th century), Christianity was spread into the Americas, Oceania, sub-Saharan Africa, and the rest of the world via missionary work.
The four largest branches of Christianity are the Catholic Church (1.3 billion/50.1%), Protestantism (920 million/36.7%), the Eastern Orthodox Church (230 million), and the Oriental Orthodox churches (62 million) (Orthodox churches combined at 11.9%), though thousands of smaller church communities exist despite efforts toward unity. Despite a decline in adherence in the West, Christianity remains the dominant religion in the region, with about 70% of that population identifying as Christian. Christianity is growing in Africa and Asia, the world’s most populous continents. Christians remain persecuted in some regions of the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, East Asia, and South Asia.
Early Jewish Christians referred to themselves as ‘The Way’, probably coming from Isaiah, “prepare the way of the Lord.” According to Acts 11:26, the term “Christian”, meaning “followers of Christ” in reference to Jesus’s disciples, was first used in the city of Antioch by the non-Jewish inhabitants there. The earliest recorded use of the term “Christianity” was by Ignatius of Antioch around 100 AD.
While Christians worldwide share basic convictions, there are also differences of interpretations and opinions of the Bible and sacred traditions on which Christianity is based.
Concise doctrinal statements or confessions of religious beliefs are known as creeds. They began as baptismal formulae and were later expanded during the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries to become statements of faith. “Jesus is Lord” is the earliest creed of Christianity and continues to be used, as with the World Council of Churches.
The Apostles’ Creed is the most widely accepted statement of the articles of Christian faith. It is used by a number of Christian denominations for both liturgical and catechetical purposes, most visibly by liturgical churches of Western Christian tradition, including the Latin Church of the Catholic Church, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and Western Rite Orthodoxy. It is also used by Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregationalists. This particular creed was developed between the 2nd and 9th centuries. Its central doctrines are those of the Trinity and God the Creator. Each of the doctrines found in this creed can be traced to statements current in the apostolic period. The creed was apparently used as a summary of Christian doctrine for baptismal candidates in the churches of Rome. Its points include:
- Belief in God the Father, Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit
- The death, descent into hell, resurrection and ascension of Christ
- The holiness of the Church and the communion of saints
- Christ’s second coming, the Day of Judgement and salvation of the faithful
The Nicene Creed was formulated, largely in response to Arianism, at the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople in 325 and 381 respectively, and ratified as the universal creed of Christendom by the First Council of Ephesus in 431.
The Chalcedonian Definition, or Creed of Chalcedon, developed at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, though rejected by the Oriental Orthodox, taught Christ “to be acknowledged in two natures, in confusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably”: one divine and one human, and that both natures, while perfect in themselves, are nevertheless also perfectly united into one person.
The Athanasian Creed, received in the Western Church as having the same status as the Nicene and Chalcedonian, says: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance.”
Most Christians (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Protestant alike) accept the use of creeds, and subscribe to at least one of the creeds mentioned above.
Many Evangelical Protestants reject creeds as definitive statements of faith, even while agreeing with some or all of the substance of the creeds. For example, most Baptists do not use creeds “in that they have not sought to establish binding authoritative confessions of faith on one another.” Also rejecting creeds are groups with roots in the Restoration Movement, such as the Christian Church, the Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, and the Churches of Christ.
The central tenet of Christianity is the belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah (Christ). Christians believe that Jesus, as the Messiah, was anointed by God as savior of humanity and hold that Jesus’ coming was the fulfillment of messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. The Christian concept of messiah differs significantly from the contemporary Jewish concept. The core Christian belief is that through belief in and acceptance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God, and thereby are offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.
While there have been many theological disputes over the nature of Jesus over the earliest centuries of Christian history, generally, Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate and “true God and true man“. Jesus, having become fully human, suffered the pains and temptations of a mortal man, but did not sin. As fully God, he rose to life again. According to the New Testament, he rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will ultimately return to fulfill the rest of the Messianic prophecy, including the resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment, and the final establishment of the Kingdom of God.
According to the canonical gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born from the Virgin Mary. Little of Jesus’ childhood is recorded in the canonical gospels, although infancy gospels were popular in antiquity. In comparison, his adulthood, especially the week before his death, is well documented in the gospels contained within the New Testament, because that part of his life is believed to be most important. The biblical accounts of Jesus’ ministry include: his baptism, miracles, preaching, teaching, and deeds.
Death and resurrection
Christians consider the resurrection of Jesus to be the cornerstone of their faith and the most important event in history. Among Christian beliefs, the death and resurrection of Jesus are two core events on which much of Christian doctrine and theology is based. According to the New Testament, Jesus was crucified, died a physical death, was buried within a tomb, and rose from the dead three days later.
The New Testament mentions several post-resurrection appearances of Jesus on different occasions to his twelve apostles and disciples, including “more than five hundred brethren at once”, before Jesus’ ascension to heaven. Jesus’ death and resurrection are commemorated by Christians in all worship services, with special emphasis during Holy Week, which includes Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
The death and resurrection of Jesus are usually considered the most important events in Christian theology, partly because they demonstrate that Jesus has power over life and death and therefore has the authority and power to give people eternal life.
Christian churches accept and teach the New Testament account of the resurrection of Jesus with very few exceptions. Some modern scholars use the belief of Jesus’ followers in the resurrection as a point of departure for establishing the continuity of the historical Jesus and the proclamation of the early church. Some liberal Christians do not accept a literal bodily resurrection, seeing the story as richly symbolic and spiritually nourishing myth. Arguments over death and resurrection claims occur at many religious debates and interfaith dialogues. Paul the Apostle, an early Christian convert and missionary, wrote, “If Christ was not raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your trust in God is useless.”
Paul the Apostle, like Jews and Roman pagans of his time, believed that sacrifice can bring about new kinship ties, purity, and eternal life. For Paul, the necessary sacrifice was the death of Jesus: Gentiles who are “Christ’s” are, like Israel, descendants of Abraham and “heirs according to the promise” The God who raised Jesus from the dead would also give new life to the “mortal bodies” of Gentile Christians, who had become with Israel, the “children of God”, and were therefore no longer “in the flesh”.
Modern Christian churches tend to be much more concerned with how humanity can be saved from a universal condition of sin and death than the question of how both Jews and Gentiles can be in God’s family. According to Eastern Orthodox theology, based upon their understanding of the atonement as put forward by Irenaeus’ recapitulation theory, Jesus’ death is a ransom. This restores the relation with God, who is loving and reaches out to humanity, and offers the possibility of theosis c.q. divinization, becoming the kind of humans God wants humanity to be. According to Catholic doctrine, Jesus’ death satisfies the wrath of God, aroused by the offense to God’s honor caused by human’s sinfulness. The Catholic Church teaches that salvation does not occur without faithfulness on the part of Christians; converts must live in accordance with principles of love and ordinarily must be baptized. In Protestant theology, Jesus’ death is regarded as a substitutionary penalty carried by Jesus, for the debt that has to be paid by humankind when it broke God’s moral law. Martin Luther taught that baptism was necessary for salvation, but modern Lutherans and other Protestants tend to teach that salvation is a gift that comes to an individual by God’s grace, sometimes defined as “unmerited favor”, even apart from baptism.
Christians differ in their views on the extent to which individuals’ salvation is pre-ordained by God. Reformed theology places distinctive emphasis on grace by teaching that individuals are completely incapable of self-redemption, but that sanctifying grace is irresistible. In contrast Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Arminian Protestants believe that the exercise of free will is necessary to have faith in Jesus.
Trinity refers to the teaching that the one God comprises three distinct, eternally co-existing persons: the Father, the Son (incarnate in Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Together, these three persons are sometimes called the Godhead, although there is no single term in use in Scripture to denote the unified Godhead. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, an early statement of Christian belief, “the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there are not three Gods but one God”. They are distinct from another: the Father has no source, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father. Though distinct, the three persons cannot be divided from one another in being or in operation. While some Christians also believe that God appeared as the Father in the Old Testament, it is agreed that he appeared as the Son in the New Testament, and will still continue to manifest as the Holy Spirit in the present. But still, God still existed as three persons in each of these times. However, traditionally there is a belief that it was the Son who appeared in the Old Testament because, for example, when the Trinity is depicted in art, the Son typically has the distinctive appearance, a cruciform halo identifying Christ, and in depictions of the Garden of Eden, this looks forward to an Incarnation yet to occur. In some Early Christian sarcophagi the Logos is distinguished with a beard, “which allows him to appear ancient, even pre-existent.”
The Trinity is an essential doctrine of mainstream Christianity. From earlier than the times of the Nicene Creed (325) Christianity advocated the triune mystery-nature of God as a normative profession of faith. According to Roger E. Olson and Christopher Hall, through prayer, meditation, study and practice, the Christian community concluded “that God must exist as both a unity and trinity”, codifying this in ecumenical council at the end of the 4th century.
According to this doctrine, God is not divided in the sense that each person has a third of the whole; rather, each person is considered to be fully God. The distinction lies in their relations, the Father being unbegotten; the Son being begotten of the Father; and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and from the Son. Regardless of this apparent difference, the three “persons” are each eternal and omnipotent. Other Christian religions including Unitarian Universalism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormonism, do not share those views on the Trinity.
The Greek word trias is first seen in this sense in the works of Theophilus of Antioch; his text reads: “of the Trinity, of God, and of His Word, and of His Wisdom”. The term may have been in use before this time; its Latin equivalent, trinitas, appears afterwards with an explicit reference to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, in Tertullian. In the following century, the word was in general use. It is found in many passages of Origen.
Trinitarianism denotes Christians who believe in the concept of the Trinity. Almost all Christian denominations and churches hold Trinitarian beliefs. Although the words “Trinity” and “Triune” do not appear in the Bible, beginning in the 3rd century theologians developed the term and concept to facilitate comprehension of the New Testament teachings of God as being Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Since that time, Christian theologians have been careful to emphasize that Trinity does not imply that there are three gods, nor that each hypostasis of the Trinity is one-third of an infinite God, nor that the Son and the Holy Spirit are beings created by and subordinate to the Father. Rather, the Trinity is defined as one God in three persons.
Nontrinitarianism refers to theology that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. Various nontrinitarian views, such as adoptionism or modalism, existed in early Christianity, leading to the disputes about Christology. Nontrinitarianism reappeared in the Gnosticism of the Cathars between the 11th and 13th centuries, among groups with Unitarian theology in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, in the 18th-century Enlightenment, amongst some groups arising during the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century, and most recently, in Oneness Pentecostal churches.
The 7th-century Khor Virap monastery in the shadow of Mount Ararat; Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as the state religion, in AD 301.
The end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world, broadly speaking, is Christian eschatology; the study of the destiny of humans as it is revealed in the Bible. The major issues in Christian eschatology are the Tribulation, death and the afterlife, the Millennium and the following Rapture, the Second Coming of Jesus, Resurrection of the Dead, Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell, the Last Judgment, the end of the world, and the New Heavens and New Earth.
Christians believe that the second coming of Christ will occur at the end of time, after a period of severe persecution. All who have died will be resurrected bodily from the dead for the Last Judgment. Jesus will fully establish the Kingdom of God in fulfillment of scriptural prophecies.
Death and afterlife
Most Christians believe that human beings experience divine judgment and are rewarded either with eternal life or eternal damnation. This includes the general judgement at the resurrection of the dead as well as the belief in a judgment particular to the individual soul upon physical death.
In the Catholic branch of Christianity, those who die in a state of grace, i.e., without any mortal sin separating them from God, but are still imperfectly purified from the effects of sin, undergo purification through the intermediate state of purgatory to achieve the holiness necessary for entrance into God’s presence. Those who have attained this goal are called saints.
Some Christian groups, such as Seventh-day Adventists, hold to mortalism, the belief that the human soul is not naturally immortal, and is unconscious during the intermediate state between bodily death and resurrection. These Christians also hold to Annihilationism, the belief that subsequent to the final judgement, the wicked will cease to exist rather than suffer everlasting torment. Jehovah’s Witnesses hold to a similar view.
Depending on the specific denomination of Christianity, practices may include baptism, the Eucharist, prayer, confession, confirmation, burial rites, marriage rites and the religious education of children. Most denominations have ordained clergy who lead regular communal worship services.
Christian rites, rituals, and ceremonies are not celebrated in one single sacred language. Many ritualistic Christian churches make a distinction between sacred language, liturgical language and vernacular language. The three important languages in the early Christian era were: Latin, Greek and Syriac.
Services of worship typically follow a pattern or form known as liturgy. Justin Martyr described 2nd-century Christian liturgy in his First Apology (c. 150) to Emperor Antoninus Pius, and his description remains relevant to the basic structure of Christian liturgical worship:
And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need.
Thus, as Justin described, Christians assemble for communal worship typically on Sunday, the day of the resurrection, though other liturgical practices often occur outside this setting. Scripture readings are drawn from the Old and New Testaments, but especially the gospels. Instruction is given based on these readings, called a sermon or homily. There are a variety of congregational prayers, including thanksgiving, confession, and intercession, which occur throughout the service and take a variety of forms including recited, responsive, silent, or sung. Psalms, hymns, or worship songs may be sung. Services can be varied for special events like significant feast days.
Nearly all forms of worship incorporate the Eucharist, which consists of a meal. It is reenacted in accordance with Jesus’ instruction at the Last Supper that his followers do in remembrance of him as when he gave his disciples bread, saying, “This is my body”, and gave them wine saying, “This is my blood”. In the early church, Christians and those yet to complete initiation would separate for the Eucharistic part of the service. Some denominations such as Confessional Lutheran churches continue to practice ‘closed communion‘. They offer communion to those who are already united in that denomination or sometimes individual church. Catholics further restrict participation to their members who are not in a state of mortal sin. Many other churches, such as Anglican Communion and United Methodist Church, practice ‘open communion‘ since they view communion as a means to unity, rather than an end, and invite all believing Christians to participate.
Sacraments or ordinances
2nd-century description of the Eucharist
And this food is called among us Eukharistia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.
In Christian belief and practice, a sacrament is a rite, instituted by Christ, that confers grace, constituting a sacred mystery. The term is derived from the Latin word sacramentum, which was used to translate the Greek word for mystery. Views concerning both which rites are sacramental, and what it means for an act to be a sacrament, vary among Christian denominations and traditions.
The most conventional functional definition of a sacrament is that it is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, that conveys an inward, spiritual grace through Christ. The two most widely accepted sacraments are Baptism and the Eucharist; however, the majority of Christians also recognize five additional sacraments: Confirmation, Holy Orders, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, and Matrimony.
Taken together, these are the Seven Sacraments as recognized by churches in the High Church tradition—notably Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Independent Catholic, Old Catholic, many Anglicans, and some Lutherans. Most other denominations and traditions typically affirm only Baptism and Eucharist as sacraments, while some Protestant groups, such as the Quakers, reject sacramental theology. Evangelical churches adhering to the doctrine of the believers’ Church mostly use the term “ordinances” to refer to baptism and communion.
In addition to this, the Church of the East has two additional sacraments in place of the traditional sacraments of Matrimony and the Anointing of the Sick. These include Holy Leaven and the sign of the cross.
- A penitent confessing his sins in a Ukrainian Catholic church
- A Methodist minister celebrating the Eucharist
- Confirmation being administered in an Anglican church
- Ordination of a priest in the Eastern Orthodox tradition
- Crowning during Holy Matrimony in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church
- Service of the Sacrament of Holy Unction served on Great and Holy Wednesday
Catholics, Eastern Christians, Lutherans, Anglicans and other traditional Protestant communities frame worship around the liturgical year. The liturgical cycle divides the year into a series of seasons, each with their theological emphases, and modes of prayer, which can be signified by different ways of decorating churches, colors of paraments and vestments for clergy, scriptural readings, themes for preaching and even different traditions and practices often observed personally or in the home.
Western Christian liturgical calendars are based on the cycle of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, and Eastern Christians use analogous calendars based on the cycle of their respective rites. Calendars set aside holy days, such as solemnities which commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary, or the saints, and periods of fasting, such as Lent and other pious events such as memoria, or lesser festivals commemorating saints. Christian groups that do not follow a liturgical tradition often retain certain celebrations, such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost: these are the celebrations of Christ’s birth, resurrection, and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Church, respectively. A few denominations such as Quaker Christians make no use of a liturgical calendar.
Christianity has not generally practiced aniconism, the avoidance or prohibition of devotional images, even if early Jewish Christians and some modern denominations, invoking the Decalogue’s prohibition of idolatry, avoided figures in their symbols.
The cross, today one of the most widely recognized symbols, was used by Christians from the earliest times. Tertullian, in his book De Corona, tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads. Although the cross was known to the early Christians, the crucifix did not appear in use until the 5th century.
Among the earliest Christian symbols, that of the fish or Ichthys seems to have ranked first in importance, as seen on monumental sources such as tombs from the first decades of the 2nd century. Its popularity seemingly arose from the Greek word ichthys (fish) forming an acronym for the Greek phrase Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter, a concise summary of Christian faith.
Other major Christian symbols include the chi-rho monogram, the dove , the sacrificial lamb, the vine and many others. These all derive from passages of the New Testament.
Main article: Baptism
Infant baptism by effusion in a Catholic Church in Venezuela
Believer’s baptism of adult by immersion, Northolt Park Baptist Church, in Greater London, Baptist Union of Great Britain
Baptism is the ritual act, with the use of water, by which a person is admitted to membership of the Church. Beliefs on baptism vary among denominations. Differences occur firstly on whether the act has any spiritual significance. Some, such as the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as well as Lutherans and Anglicans, hold to the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, which affirms that baptism creates or strengthens a person’s faith, and is intimately linked to salvation. Others view baptism as a purely symbolic act, an external public declaration of the inward change which has taken place in the person, but not as spiritually efficacious. Secondly, there are differences of opinion on the methodology of the act. These methods are: by immersion; if immersion is total, by submersion; by affusion (pouring); and by aspersion (sprinkling). Those who hold the first view may also adhere to the tradition of infant baptism; the Orthodox Churches all practice infant baptism and always baptize by total immersion repeated three times in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Catholic Church also practices infant baptism, usually by affusion, and utilizing the Trinitarian formula.
Evangelical denominations adhering to the doctrine of the believers’ Church, practice the believer’s baptism, by immersion in water, after the new birth and a profession of faith. For newborns, there is a ceremony called child dedication.
“… ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’”
— The Lord’s Prayer
In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer, which has been seen as a model for Christian prayer. The injunction for Christians to pray the Lord’s prayer thrice daily was given in the Didache and came to be recited by Christians at 9 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm.
In the second century Apostolic Tradition, Hippolytus instructed Christians to pray at seven fixed prayer times: “on rising, at the lighting of the evening lamp, at bedtime, at midnight” and “the third, sixth and ninth hours of the day, being hours associated with Christ’s Passion.” Prayer positions, including kneeling, standing, and prostrations have been used for these seven fixed prayer times since the days of the early Church. Breviaries such as the Shehimo and Agpeya are used by Oriental Orthodox Christians to pray these canonical hours while facing in the eastward direction of prayer.
The Apostolic Tradition directed that the sign of the cross be used by Christians during the minor exorcism of baptism, during ablutions before praying at fixed prayer times, and in times of temptation.
Intercessory prayer is prayer offered for the benefit of other people. There are many intercessory prayers recorded in the Bible, including prayers of the Apostle Peter on behalf of sick persons and by prophets of the Old Testament in favor of other people. In the Epistle of James, no distinction is made between the intercessory prayer offered by ordinary believers and the prominent Old Testament prophet Elijah. The effectiveness of prayer in Christianity derives from the power of God rather than the status of the one praying.
The ancient church, in both Eastern and Western Christianity, developed a tradition of asking for the intercession of (deceased) saints, and this remains the practice of most Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, and some Anglican churches. Churches of the Protestant Reformation, however, rejected prayer to the saints, largely on the basis of the sole mediatorship of Christ. The reformer Huldrych Zwingli admitted that he had offered prayers to the saints until his reading of the Bible convinced him that this was idolatrous.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” The Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican tradition is a guide which provides a set order for services, containing set prayers, scripture readings, and hymns or sung Psalms. Frequently in Western Christianity, when praying, the hands are placed palms together and forward as in the feudal commendation ceremony. At other times the older orans posture may be used, with palms up and elbows in.
Christianity, like other religions, has adherents whose beliefs and biblical interpretations vary. Christianity regards the biblical canon, the Old Testament and the New Testament, as the inspired word of God. The traditional view of inspiration is that God worked through human authors so that what they produced was what God wished to communicate. The Greek word referring to inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16 is theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed”.
Some believe that divine inspiration makes our present Bibles inerrant. Others claim inerrancy for the Bible in its original manuscripts, although none of those are extant. Still others maintain that only a particular translation is inerrant, such as the King James Version. Another closely related view is biblical infallibility or limited inerrancy, which affirms that the Bible is free of error as a guide to salvation, but may include errors on matters such as history, geography, or science.
The books of the Bible accepted by the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant churches vary somewhat, with Jews accepting only the Hebrew Bible as canonical; however, there is substantial overlap. These variations are a reflection of the range of traditions, and of the councils that have convened on the subject. Every version of the Old Testament always includes the books of the Tanakh, the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Catholic and Orthodox canons, in addition to the Tanakh, also include the deuterocanonical books as part of the Old Testament. These books appear in the Septuagint, but are regarded by Protestants to be apocryphal. However, they are considered to be important historical documents which help to inform the understanding of words, grammar, and syntax used in the historical period of their conception. Some versions of the Bible include a separate Apocrypha section between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The New Testament, originally written in Koine Greek, contains 27 books which are agreed upon by all major churches.
Modern scholarship has raised many issues with the Bible. While the King James Version is held to by many because of its striking English prose, in fact it was translated from the Erasmus Greek Bible, which in turn “was based on a single 12th Century manuscript that is one of the worst manuscripts we have available to us”. Much scholarship in the past several hundred years has gone into comparing different manuscripts in order to reconstruct the original text. Another issue is that several books are considered to be forgeries. The injunction that women “be silent and submissive” in 1 Timothy 2 is thought by many to be a forgery by a follower of Paul, a similar phrase in 1 Corinthians 14, which is thought to be by Paul, appears in different places in different manuscripts and is thought to originally be a margin note by a copyist. Other verses in 1 Corinthians, such as 1 Corinthians 11:2–16 where women are instructed to wear a covering over their hair “when they pray or prophesies”, contradict this verse.
A final issue with the Bible is the way in which books were selected for inclusion in the New Testament. Other gospels have now been recovered, such as those found near Nag Hammadi in 1945, and while some of these texts are quite different from what Christians have been used to, it should be understood that some of this newly recovered Gospel material is quite possibly contemporaneous with, or even earlier than, the New Testament Gospels. The core of the Gospel of Thomas, in particular, may date from as early as AD 50 (although some major scholars contest this early dating), and if so would provide an insight into the earliest gospel texts that underlie the canonical Gospels, texts that are mentioned in Luke 1:1–2. The Gospel of Thomas contains much that is familiar from the canonical Gospels—verse 113, for example (“The Father’s Kingdom is spread out upon the earth, but people do not see it”), is reminiscent of Luke 17:20–21—and the Gospel of John, with a terminology and approach that is suggestive of what was later termed Gnosticism, has recently been seen as a possible response to the Gospel of Thomas, a text that is commonly labeled proto-Gnostic. Scholarship, then, is currently exploring the relationship in the early church between mystical speculation and experience on the one hand and the search for church order on the other, by analyzing new-found texts, by subjecting canonical texts to further scrutiny, and by an examination of the passage of New Testament texts to canonical status.
Some denominations have additional canonical holy scriptures beyond the Bible, including the standard works of the Latter Day Saints movement and Divine Principle in the Unification Church.
In antiquity, two schools of exegesis developed in Alexandria and Antioch. The Alexandrian interpretation, exemplified by Origen, tended to read Scripture allegorically, while the Antiochene interpretation adhered to the literal sense, holding that other meanings (called theoria) could only be accepted if based on the literal meaning.
Catholic theology distinguishes two senses of scripture: the literal and the spiritual.
The literal sense of understanding scripture is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture. The spiritual sense is further subdivided into:
- The allegorical sense, which includes typology. An example would be the parting of the Red Sea being understood as a “type” (sign) of baptism.
- The moral sense, which understands the scripture to contain some ethical teaching.
- The anagogical sense, which applies to eschatology, eternity and the consummation of the world
Regarding exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation, Catholic theology holds:
- The injunction that all other senses of sacred scripture are based on the literal
- That the historicity of the Gospels must be absolutely and constantly held
- That scripture must be read within the “living Tradition of the whole Church” and
- That “the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome“.
Qualities of Scripture
Many Protestant Christians, such as Lutherans and the Reformed, believe in the doctrine of sola scriptura–that the Bible is a self-sufficient revelation, the final authority on all Christian doctrine, and revealed all truth necessary for salvation; other Protestant Christians, such as Methodists and Anglicans, affirm the doctrine of prima scriptura which teaches that Scripture is the primary source for Christian doctrine, but that “tradition, experience, and reason” can nurture the Christian religion as long as they are in harmony with the Bible. Protestants characteristically believe that ordinary believers may reach an adequate understanding of Scripture because Scripture itself is clear in its meaning (or “perspicuous”). Martin Luther believed that without God’s help, Scripture would be “enveloped in darkness”. He advocated for “one definite and simple understanding of Scripture”. John Calvin wrote, “all who refuse not to follow the Holy Spirit as their guide, find in the Scripture a clear light”. Related to this is “efficacy”, that Scripture is able to lead people to faith; and “sufficiency”, that the Scriptures contain everything that one needs to know in order to obtain salvation and to live a Christian life.
Original intended meaning of Scripture
Protestants stress the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture, the historical-grammatical method. The historical-grammatical method or grammatico-historical method is an effort in Biblical hermeneutics to find the intended original meaning in the text. This original intended meaning of the text is drawn out through examination of the passage in light of the grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical background, the literary genre, as well as theological (canonical) considerations. The historical-grammatical method distinguishes between the one original meaning and the significance of the text. The significance of the text includes the ensuing use of the text or application. The original passage is seen as having only a single meaning or sense. As Milton S. Terry said: “A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture.” Technically speaking, the grammatical-historical method of interpretation is distinct from the determination of the passage’s significance in light of that interpretation. Taken together, both define the term (Biblical) hermeneutics. Some Protestant interpreters make use of typology.
Christianity developed during the 1st century CE as a Jewish Christian sect of Second Temple Judaism. An early Jewish Christian community was founded in Jerusalem under the leadership of the Pillars of the Church, namely James the Just, the brother of Jesus, Peter, and John.
Jewish Christianity soon attracted Gentile God-fearers, posing a problem for its Jewish religious outlook, which insisted on close observance of the Jewish commandments. Paul the Apostle solved this by insisting that salvation by faith in Christ, and participation in his death and resurrection by their baptism, sufficed. At first he persecuted the early Christians, but after a conversion experience he preached to the gentiles, and is regarded as having had a formative effect on the emerging Christian identity as separate from Judaism. Eventually, his departure from Jewish customs would result in the establishment of Christianity as an independent religion.
This formative period was followed by the early bishops, whom Christians consider the successors of Christ’s apostles. From the year 150, Christian teachers began to produce theological and apologetic works aimed at defending the faith. These authors are known as the Church Fathers, and the study of them is called patristics. Notable early Fathers include Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria and Origen.
Persecution of Christians occurred intermittently and on a small scale by both Jewish and Roman authorities, with Roman action starting at the time of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. Examples of early executions under Jewish authority reported in the New Testament include the deaths of Saint Stephen and James, son of Zebedee. The Decian persecution was the first empire-wide conflict, when the edict of Decius in 250 AD required everyone in the Roman Empire (except Jews) to perform a sacrifice to the Roman gods. The Diocletianic Persecution beginning in 303 AD was also particularly severe. Roman persecution ended in 313 AD with the Edict of Milan.
While Proto-orthodox Christianity was becoming dominant, heterodox sects also existed at the same time, which held radically different beliefs. Gnostic Christianity developed a duotheistic doctrine based on illusion and enlightenment rather than forgiveness of sin. With only a few scriptures overlapping with the developing orthodox canon, most Gnostic texts and Gnostic gospels were eventually considered heretical and suppressed by mainstream Christians. A gradual splitting off of Gentile Christianity left Jewish Christians continuing to follow the Law of Moses, including practices such as circumcision. By the fifth century, they and the Jewish–Christian gospels would be largely suppressed by the dominant sects in both Judaism and Christianity.
Spread and acceptance in Roman Empire
Christianity spread to Aramaic-speaking peoples along the Mediterranean coast and also to the inland parts of the Roman Empire and beyond that into the Parthian Empire and the later Sasanian Empire, including Mesopotamia, which was dominated at different times and to varying extents by these empires. The presence of Christianity in Africa began in the middle of the 1st century in Egypt and by the end of the 2nd century in the region around Carthage. Mark the Evangelist is claimed to have started the Church of Alexandria in about 43 CE; various later churches claim this as their own legacy, including the Coptic Orthodox Church. Important Africans who influenced the early development of Christianity include Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian, Athanasius, and Augustine of Hippo.
King Tiridates III made Christianity the state religion in Armenia between 301 and 314, thus Armenia became the first officially Christian state. It was not an entirely new religion in Armenia, having penetrated into the country from at least the third century, but it may have been present even earlier.
Constantine I was exposed to Christianity in his youth, and throughout his life his support for the religion grew, culminating in baptism on his deathbed. During his reign, state-sanctioned persecution of Christians was ended with the Edict of Toleration in 311 and the Edict of Milan in 313. At that point, Christianity was still a minority belief, comprising perhaps only five percent of the Roman population. Influenced by his adviser Mardonius, Constantine’s nephew Julian unsuccessfully tried to suppress Christianity. On 27 February 380, Theodosius I, Gratian, and Valentinian II established Nicene Christianity as the State church of the Roman Empire. As soon as it became connected to the state, Christianity grew wealthy; the Church solicited donations from the rich and could now own land.
Constantine was also instrumental in the convocation of the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which sought to address Arianism and formulated the Nicene Creed, which is still used by in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, and many other Protestant churches. Nicaea was the first of a series of ecumenical councils, which formally defined critical elements of the theology of the Church, notably concerning Christology. The Church of the East did not accept the third and following ecumenical councils and is still separate today by its successors (Assyrian Church of the East).
In terms of prosperity and cultural life, the Byzantine Empire was one of the peaks in Christian history and Christian civilization, and Constantinople remained the leading city of the Christian world in size, wealth, and culture. There was a renewed interest in classical Greek philosophy, as well as an increase in literary output in vernacular Greek. Byzantine art and literature held a preeminent place in Europe, and the cultural impact of Byzantine art on the West during this period was enormous and of long-lasting significance. The later rise of Islam in North Africa reduced the size and numbers of Christian congregations, leaving in large numbers only the Coptic Church in Egypt, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in the Horn of Africa and the Nubian Church in the Sudan (Nobatia, Makuria and Alodia).
Early Middle Ages
With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the papacy became a political player, first visible in Pope Leo‘s diplomatic dealings with Huns and Vandals. The church also entered into a long period of missionary activity and expansion among the various tribes. While Arianists instituted the death penalty for practicing pagans (see the Massacre of Verden, for example), what would later become Catholicism also spread among the Hungarians, the Germanic, the Celtic, the Baltic and some Slavic peoples.
Around 500, St. Benedict set out his Monastic Rule, establishing a system of regulations for the foundation and running of monasteries. Monasticism became a powerful force throughout Europe, and gave rise to many early centers of learning, most famously in Ireland, Scotland, and Gaul, contributing to the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century.
In the 7th century, Muslims conquered Syria (including Jerusalem), North Africa, and Spain, converting some of the Christian population to Islam, and placing the rest under a separate legal status. Part of the Muslims’ success was due to the exhaustion of the Byzantine Empire in its decades long conflict with Persia. Beginning in the 8th century, with the rise of Carolingian leaders, the Papacy sought greater political support in the Frankish Kingdom.
The Middle Ages brought about major changes within the church. Pope Gregory the Great dramatically reformed the ecclesiastical structure and administration. In the early 8th century, iconoclasm became a divisive issue, when it was sponsored by the Byzantine emperors. The Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (787) finally pronounced in favor of icons. In the early 10th century, Western Christian monasticism was further rejuvenated through the leadership of the great Benedictine monastery of Cluny.
High and Late Middle Ages
In the West, from the 11th century onward, some older cathedral schools became universities . Previously, higher education had been the domain of Christian cathedral schools or monastic schools , led by monks and nuns. Evidence of such schools dates back to the 6th century CE. These new universities expanded the curriculum to include academic programs for clerics, lawyers, civil servants, and physicians. The university is generally regarded as an institution that has its origin in the Medieval Christian setting.
Accompanying the rise of the “new towns” throughout Europe, mendicant orders were founded, bringing the consecrated religious life out of the monastery and into the new urban setting. The two principal mendicant movements were the Franciscans and the Dominicans, founded by St. Francis and St. Dominic, respectively. Both orders made significant contributions to the development of the great universities of Europe. Another new order was the Cistercians, whose large isolated monasteries spearheaded the settlement of former wilderness areas. In this period, church building and ecclesiastical architecture reached new heights, culminating in the orders of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and the building of the great European cathedrals.
Christian nationalism emerged during this era in which Christians felt the impulse to recover lands in which Christianity had historically flourished. From 1095 under the pontificate of Urban II, the First Crusade was launched. These were a series of military campaigns in the Holy Land and elsewhere, initiated in response to pleas from the Byzantine Emperor Alexios I for aid against Turkish expansion. The Crusades ultimately failed to stifle Islamic aggression and even contributed to Christian enmity with the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade.
The Christian Church experienced internal conflict between the 7th and 13th centuries that resulted in a schism between the so-called Latin or Western Christian branch (the Catholic Church), and an Eastern, largely Greek, branch. The two sides disagreed on a number of administrative, liturgical and doctrinal issues, most prominently Eastern Orthodox opposition to papal supremacy. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) attempted to reunite the churches, but in both cases, the Eastern Orthodox refused to implement the decisions, and the two principal churches remain in schism to the present day. However, the Catholic Church has achieved union with various smaller eastern churches.
In the thirteenth century, a new emphasis on Jesus’ suffering, exemplified by the Franciscans’ preaching, had the consequence of turning worshippers’ attention towards Jews, on whom Christians had placed the blame for Jesus’ death. Christianity’s limited tolerance of Jews was not new—Augustine of Hippo said that Jews should not be allowed to enjoy the citizenship that Christians took for granted—but the growing antipathy towards Jews was a factor that led to the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, the first of many such expulsions in Europe.
Beginning around 1184, following the crusade against Cathar heresy, various institutions, broadly referred to as the Inquisition, were established with the aim of suppressing heresy and securing religious and doctrinal unity within Christianity through conversion and prosecution.
Protestant Reformation and Counter-Reformation
The 15th-century Renaissance brought about a renewed interest in ancient and classical learning. During the Reformation, Martin Luther posted the Ninety-five Theses 1517 against the sale of indulgences. Printed copies soon spread throughout Europe. In 1521 the Edict of Worms condemned and excommunicated Luther and his followers, resulting in the schism of the Western Christendom into several branches.
Other reformers like Zwingli, Oecolampadius, Calvin, Knox, and Arminius further criticized Catholic teaching and worship. These challenges developed into the movement called Protestantism, which repudiated the primacy of the pope, the role of tradition, the seven sacraments, and other doctrines and practices. The Reformation in England began in 1534, when King Henry VIII had himself declared head of the Church of England. Beginning in 1536, the monasteries throughout England, Wales and Ireland were dissolved.
Thomas Müntzer, Andreas Karlstadt and other theologians perceived both the Catholic Church and the confessions of the Magisterial Reformation as corrupted. Their activity brought about the Radical Reformation, which gave birth to various Anabaptist denominations.
Partly in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church engaged in a substantial process of reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation or Catholic Reform. The Council of Trent clarified and reasserted Catholic doctrine. During the following centuries, competition between Catholicism and Protestantism became deeply entangled with political struggles among European states..
Meanwhile, the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in 1492 brought about a new wave of missionary activity. Partly from missionary zeal, but under the impetus of colonial expansion by the European powers, Christianity spread to the Americas, Oceania, East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
Throughout Europe, the division caused by the Reformation led to outbreaks of religious violence and the establishment of separate state churches in Europe. Lutheranism spread into the northern, central, and eastern parts of present-day Germany, Livonia, and Scandinavia. Anglicanism was established in England in 1534. Calvinism and its varieties, such as Presbyterianism, were introduced in Scotland, the Netherlands, Hungary, Switzerland, and France. Arminianism gained followers in the Netherlands and Frisia. Ultimately, these differences led to the outbreak of conflicts in which religion played a key factor. The ThiRussian Revolution and the persecution of Christians in the Soviet Union under state atheism.
Especially pressing in Europe was the formation of nation states after the Napoleonic era. In all European countries, different Christian denominations found themselves in competition to greater or lesser extents with each other and with the state. Variables were the relative sizes of the denominations and the religious, political, and ideological orientation of the states. Urs Altermatt of the University of Fribourg, looking specifically at Catholicism in Europe, identifies four models for the European nations. In traditionally Catholic-majority countries such as Belgium, Spain, and Austria, to some extent, religious and national communities are more or less identical. Cultural symbiosis and separation are found in Poland, the Republic of Ireland, and Switzerland, all countries with competing denominations. Competition is found in Germany, the Netherlands, and again Switzerland, all countries with minority Catholic populations, which to a greater or lesser extent identified with the nation. Finally, separation between religion (again, specifically Catholicism) and the state is found to a great degree in France and Italy, countries where the state actively opposed itself to the authority of the Catholic Church.
Churches and denominations
The four primary divisions of Christianity are the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. A broader distinction that is sometimes drawn is between Eastern Christianity and Western Christianity, which has its origins in the East–West Schism (Great Schism) of the 11th century. Recently, neither Western or Eastern World Christianity has also stood out, for example, African-initiated churches. However, there are other present and historical Christian groups that do not fit neatly into one of these primary categories.
There is a diversity of doctrines and liturgical practices among groups calling themselves Christian. These groups may vary ecclesiologically in their views on a classification of Christian denominations. The Nicene Creed , however, is typically accepted as authoritative by most Christians, including the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and major Protestant (including Anglican) denominations.
The Catholic Church consists of those particular churches, headed by bishops, in communion with the pope, the bishop of Rome, as its highest authority in matters of faith, morality, and church governance. Like Eastern Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church, through apostolic succession, traces its origins to the Christian community founded by Jesus Christ. Catholics maintain that the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” founded by Jesus subsists fully in the Catholic Church, but also acknowledges other Christian churches and communities and works towards reconciliation among all Christians. The Catholic faith is detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Of its seven sacraments, the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in the Mass. The church teaches that through consecration by a priest, the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Catholic Church as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, honored in dogmas and devotions. Its teaching includes Divine Mercy, sanctification through faith and evangelization of the Gospel as well as Catholic social teaching, which emphasizes voluntary support for the sick, the poor, and the afflicted through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The Catholic Church operates thousands of Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, and orphanages around the world, and is the largest non-government provider of education and health care in the world. Among its other social services are numerous charitable and humanitarian organizations.
Canon law is the system of laws and legal principles made and enforced by the hierarchical authorities of the Catholic Church to regulate its external organization and government and to order and direct the activities of Catholics toward the mission of the church. The canon law of the Latin Church was the first modern Western legae oldest continuously functioning legal system in the West, while the distinctive traditions of Eastern Catholic canon law govern the 23 Eastern Catholic particular churches sui iuris.
As the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilization. The 2,834 sees are grouped into 24 particular autonomous Churches, each with its own distinct traditions regarding the liturgy and the administering of sacraments. With more than 1.1 billion baptized members, the Catholic Church is the largest Christian church and represents 50.1% all Christians as well as one sixth of the world’s population Catholics live all over the world through missions, diaspora, and conversions.
Eastern Orthodox Church
The Eastern Orthodox Church consists of those churches in communion with the patriarchal sees of the East, such as the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Like the Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church also traces its heritage to the foundation of Christianity through apostolic succession and has an episcopal structure, though the autonomy of its component parts is emphasized, and most of them are national churches.
Eastern Orthodox theology is based on holy tradition which incorporates the dogmatic decrees of the seven Ecumenical Councils, the Scriptures, and the teaching of the Church Fathers. The church teaches that it is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church established by Jesus Christ in his Great Commission, and that its bishops are the successors of Christ’s apostles. It maintains that it practices the original Christian faith, as passed down by holy tradition. Its patriarchates, reminiscent of the pentarchy, and other autocephalous and autonomous churches reflect a variety of hierarchical organization. It recognizes seven major sacraments, of which the Eucharist is the principal one, celebrated liturgically in synaxis. The church teaches that through consecration invoked by a priest, the sacrificial bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. The Virgin Mary is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox Church as the God-bearer, honored in devotions.
Eastern Orthodoxy is the second largest single denomination in Christianity, with an estimated 230 million adherents, although Protestants collectively outnumber them, substantially. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.
The Oriental Orthodox Churches are those eastern churches that recognize the first three ecumenical councils—Nicaea, Constantinople, and Ephesus—but reject the dogmatic definitions of the Council of Chalcedon and instead espouse a Miaphysite christology.
The Oriental Orthodox communion consists of six groups: Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (India), and Armenian Apostolic churches. These six churches, while being in communion with each other, are completely independent hierarchically. These churches are generally not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Church, with whom they are in dialogue for erecting a communion. Together, they have about 62 million members worldwide.
As some of the oldest religious institutions in the world, the Oriental Orthodox Churches have played a prominent role in the history and culture of Armenia, Egypt, Turkey, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and parts of the Middle East and India. An Eastern Christian body of autocephalous churches, its bishops are equal by virtue of episcopal ordination, and its doctrines can be summarized in that the churches recognize the validity of only the first three ecumenical councils.
Assyrian Church of the East
The Assyrian Church of the East, with an unbroken patriarchate established in the 17th century, is an independent Eastern Christian denomination which claims continuity from the Church of the East—in parallel to the Catholic patriarchate established in the 16th century that evolved into the Chaldean Catholic Church, an Eastern Catholic church in full communion with the Pope. It is an Eastern Christian church that follows the traditional christology and ecclesiology of the historical Church of the East. Largely aniconic and not in communion with any other church, it belongs to the eastern branch of Syriac Christianity, and uses the East Syriac Rite in its liturgy.
Its main spoken language is Syriac, a dialect of Eastern Aramaic, and the majority of its adherents are ethnic Assyrians. It is officially headquartered in the city of Erbil in northern Iraqi Kurdistan, and its original area also spreads into south-eastern Turkey and north-western Iran, corresponding to ancient Assyria. Its hierarchy is composed of metropolitan bishops and diocesan bishops, while lower clergy consists of priests and deacons, who serve in dioceses (eparchies) and parishes throughout the Middle East, India, North America, Oceania, and Europe (including the Caucasus and Russia).
The Ancient Church of the East distinguished itself from the Assyrian Church of the East in 1964. It is one of the Assyrian churches that claim continuity with the historical Church of the East, one of the oldest Christian churches in Mesopotamia.
In 1521, the Edict of Worms condemned Martin Luther and officially banned citizens of the Holy Roman Empire from defending or propagating his ideas. This split within the Roman Catholic church is now called the Reformation. Prominent Reformers included Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin. The 1529 Protestation at Speyer against being excommunicated gave this party the name Protestantism. Luther’s primary theological heirs are known as Lutherans. Zwingli and Calvin’s heirs are far broader denominationally, and are referred to as the Reformed tradition. Protestants have developed their own culture, with major contributions in education, the humanities and sciences, the political and social order, the economy and the arts, and many other fields.
The Anglican churches descended from the Church of England and organized in the Anglican Communion. Some, but not all Anglicans consider themselves both Protestant and Catholic.
Since the Anglican, Lutheran, and the Reformed branches of Protestantism originated for the most part in cooperation with the government, these movements are termed the “Magisterial Reformation“. On the other hand, groups such as the Anabaptists, who often do not consider themselves to be Protestant, originated in the Radical Reformation, which though sometimes protected under Acts of Toleration, do not trace their history back to any state church. They are further distinguished by their rejection of infant baptism; they believe in baptism only of adult believers—credobaptism (Anabaptists include the Amish, Apostolic, Mennonites, Hutterites, River Brethren and Schwarzenau Brethren/German Baptist groups.)
The term Protestant also refers to any churches which formed later, with either the Magisterial or Radical traditions. In the 18th century, for example, Methodism grew out of Anglican minister John Wesley‘s evangelical revival movement. Several Pentecostal and non-denominational churches, which emphasize the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit, in turn grew out of Methodism. Because Methodists, Pentecostals and other evangelicals stress “accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior”, which comes from Wesley’s emphasis of the New Birth, they often refer to themselves as being born-again.
Protestantism is the second largest major group of Christians after Catholicism by number of followers, although the Eastern Orthodox Church is larger than any single Protestant denomination. Estimates vary, mainly over the question of which denominations to classify as Protestant. Yet, the total number of Protestant Christians is generally estimated between 800 million and 1 billion, corresponding to nearly 40% of world’s Christians. The majority of Protestants are members of just a handful of denominational families, i.e. Adventists, Anglicans, Baptists, Reformed (Calvinists), Lutherans, Methodists, Moravians/Hussites, and Pentecostals. Nondenominational, evangelical, charismatic, neo-charismatic, independent, and other churches are on the rise, and constitute a significant part of Protestant Christianity.
Some groups of individuals who hold basic Protestant tenets identify themselves simply as “Christians” or “born-again Christians”. They typically distance themselves from the confessionalism and creedalism of other Christian communities by calling themselves “non-denominational” or “evangelical“. Often founded by individual pastors, they have little affiliation with historic denominations.
The Second Great Awakening, a period of religious revival that occurred in the United States during the early 1800s, saw the development of a number of unrelated churches. They generally saw themselves as restoring the original church of Jesus Christ rather than reforming one of the existing churches. A common belief held by Restorationists was that the other divisions of Christianity had introduced doctrinal defects into Christianity, which was known as the Great Apostasy. In Asia, Iglesia ni Cristo is a known restorationist religion that was established during the early 1900s.
Some of the churches originating during this period are historically connected to early 19th-century camp meetings in the Midwest and upstate New York. One of the largest churches produced from the movement is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. American Millennialism and Adventism, which arose from Evangelical Protestantism, influenced the Jehovah’s Witnesses movement and, as a reaction specifically to William Miller, the Seventh-day Adventists. Others, including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, Churches of Christ, and the Christian churches and churches of Christ, have their roots in the contemporaneous Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, which was centered in Kentucky and Tennessee. Other groups originating in this time period include the Christadelphians and the previously mentioned Latter Day Saints movement. While the churches originating in the Second Great Awakening have some superficial similarities, their doctrine and practices vary significantly.
Christianity and Judaism
Christianity is rooted in Second Temple Judaism, but the two religions diverged in the first centuries of the Christian Era. Christianity emphasizes correct belief , focusing on the New Covenant as mediated through Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. Judaism places emphasis on correct conduct (or orthopraxy), focusing on the Mosaic covenant, as recorded in the Torah and Talmud.
Christians generally believe in individual salvation from sin through receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior Son of God. Jews believe in individual and collective participation in an eternal dialogue with God through tradition, rituals, prayers and ethical actions. Christianity generally believes in a Triune God, one person of whom became human. Judaism emphasizes the Oneness of God and rejects the Christian concept of God in human form.
Judaism’s purpose is to carry out what it holds to be the covenant between God and the Jewish people. The Torah, both written and oral, tells the story of this covenant, and provides Jews with the terms of the covenant. The Oral Torah is the primary guide for Jews to abide by these terms, as expressed in tractate Gittin 60b, “the Holy One, Blessed be He, did not make His covenant with Israel except by virtue of the Oral Law to help them learn how to live a holy life, and to bring holiness, peace and love into the world and into every part of life, so that life may be elevated to a high level of kedushah, originally through study and practice of the Torah, and since the destruction of the Second Temple, through prayer as expressed in tractate Sotah 49a “Since the destruction of the Temple, every day is more cursed than the preceding one; and the existence of the world is assured only by the kedusha…and the words spoken after the study of Torah.”
Since the adoption of the Amidah, the acknowledgement of God through the declaration from Isaiah 6:3 “Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh, is HaShem, Master of Legions; the whole world is filled with His glory”. as a replacement for the study of Torah, which is a daily obligation for a Jew, and sanctifies God in itself. This continuous maintenance of relationship between the individual Jew and God through either study, or prayer repeated three times daily, is the confirmation of the original covenant. This allows the Jewish people as a community to strive and fulfill the prophecy “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand and keep you. And I will establish you as a covenant of the people, for a light unto the nations.” over the course of history, and a part of the divine intent of bringing about an age of peace and sanctity where ideally a faithful life and good deeds should be ends in themselves, not means. See also Jewish principles of faith.
According to Christian theologian Alister McGrath, the Jewish Christians affirmed every aspect of then contemporary Second Temple Judaism with the addition of the belief that Jesus was the messiah, with Isaiah 49:6, “an explicit parallel to 42:6” quoted by Paul the Apostle in Acts 13:47 and reinterpreted by Justin Martyr. According to Christian writers, most notably Paul, the Bible teaches that people are, in their current state, sinful, and the New Testament reveals that Jesus is both the Son of man and the Son of God, united in the hypostatic union, God the Son, God made incarnate; that Jesus’ death by crucifixion was a sacrifice to atone for all of humanity’s sins, and that acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord saves one from Divine Judgment, giving Eternal life. Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant. His famous Sermon on the Mount is considered by some Christian scholars to be the proclamation of the New Covenant ethics, in contrast to the Mosaic Covenant of Moses from Mount Sinai.
The Hebrew Bible is composed of three parts; the Torah (Instruction, the Septuagint translated the Hebrew to nomos or Law), the Nevi’im (Prophets) and the Ketuvim (Writings). Collectively, these are known as the Tanakh. According to Rabbinic Judaism the Torah was revealed by God to Moses; within it, Jews find 613 Mitzvot (commandments).
Rabbinic tradition asserts that God revealed two Torahs to Moses, one that was written down, and one that was transmitted orally. Whereas the written Torah has a fixed form, the Oral Torah is a living tradition that includes not only specific supplements to the written Torah (for instance, what is the proper manner of shechita and what is meant by “Frontlets” in the Shema), but also procedures for understanding and talking about the written Torah (thus, the Oral Torah revealed at Sinai includes debates among rabbis who lived long after Moses). The Oral Law elaborations of narratives in the Bible and stories about the rabbis are referred to as aggadah. It also includes elaboration of the 613 commandments in the form of laws referred to as halakha. Elements of the Oral Torah were committed to writing and edited by Judah HaNasi in the Mishnah in 200 CE; much more of the Oral Torah were committed to writing in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, which were edited around 600 CE and 450 CE, respectively. The Talmuds are notable for the way they combine law and lore, for their explication of the midrashic method of interpreting texts, and for their accounts of debates among rabbis, which preserve divergent and conflicting interpretations of the Bible and legal rulings.
Since the transcription of the Talmud, notable rabbis have compiled law codes that are generally held in high regard: the Mishneh Torah, the Tur, and the Shulchan Aruch. The latter, which was based on earlier codes and supplemented by the commentary by Moshe Isserles that notes other practices and customs practiced by Jews in different communities, especially among Ashkenazim, is generally held to be authoritative by Orthodox Jews. The Zohar, which was written in the 13th century, is generally held as the most important esoteric treatise of the Jews.
All contemporary Jewish movements consider the Tanakh, and the Oral Torah in the form of the Mishnah and Talmuds as sacred, although movements are divided as to claims concerning their divine revelation, and also their authority. For Jews, the Torah—written and oral—is the primary guide to the relationship between God and man, a living document that has unfolded and will continue to unfold whole new insights over the generations and millennia. A saying that captures this goes, “Turn it [the Torah’s words] over and over again, for everything is in it.”
Christians accept the Written Torah and other books of the Hebrew Bible (alternatively called Old Testament) as Scripture, although they generally give readings from the Koine Greek Septuagint translation instead of the Biblical Hebrew/Biblical Aramaic Masoretic Text. Two notable examples are:
- Isaiah 7:14 – “virgin” instead of “young woman”
- Psalm 22:16 – “they have pierced my hands and feet” instead of “like a lion, (they are at) my hands and feet”
Instead of the traditional Jewish order and names for the books, Christians organize and name the books closer to that found in the Septuagint. Some Christian denominations (such as Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox), include a number of books that are not in the Hebrew Bible in their biblical canon that are not in today’s Jewish canon, although they were included in the Septuagint. Christians reject the Jewish Oral Torah, which was still in oral, and therefore unwritten, form in the time of Jesus.
Christians believe that God has established a New Covenant with people through Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, Epistles, and other books collectively called the New Testament (the word testament attributed to Tertullian is commonly interchanged with the word covenant). For some Christians, such as Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, this New Covenant includes authoritative sacred traditions and canon law. Others, especially Protestants, reject the authority of such traditions and instead hold to the principle of sola scriptura, which accepts only the Bible itself as the final rule of faith and practice. Anglicans do not believe in sola scriptura. For them scripture is the longest leg of a 3-legged stool: scripture, tradition and reason. Scripture cannot stand on its own since it must be interpreted in the light of the Church’s patristic teaching and ecumenical creeds. Additionally, some denominations include the “oral teachings of Jesus to the Apostles”, which they believe have been handed down to this day by apostolic succession.
Christians refer to the biblical books about Jesus as the New Testament, and to the canon of Hebrew books as the Old Testament. Judaism does not accept the retronymic labeling of its sacred texts as the “Old Testament”, and some Jews refer to the New Testament as the Christian Testament or Christian Bible. Judaism rejects all claims that the Christian New Covenant supersedes, abrogates, fulfills, or is the unfolding or consummation of the covenant expressed in the Written and Oral Torahs. Therefore, just as Christianity does not accept that Mosaic law has any authority over Christians, Judaism does not accept that the New Testament has any religious authority over Jews.
Many Jews view Christians as having quite an ambivalent view of the Torah, or Mosaic law: on one hand Christians speak of it as God’s absolute word, but on the other, they apply its commandments with a certain selectivity. Some Jews contend that Christians cite commandments from the Old Testament to support one point of view but then ignore other commandments of a similar class and of equal weight. Examples of this are certain commandments that God states explicitly be a “lasting covenant.” Some translate the Hebrew as a “perpetual covenant.”
Christians explain that such selectivity is based on rulings made by early Jewish Christians in the Book of Acts, at the Council of Jerusalem, that, while believing gentiles did not need to fully convert to Judaism, they should follow some aspects of Torah like avoiding idolatry and fornication and blood. This view is also reflected by modern Judaism, in that Righteous gentiles needn’t convert to Judaism and need to observe only the Noahide Laws, which also contain prohibitions against idolatry and fornication and blood.
Some Christians agree that Jews who accept Jesus should still observe all of Torah, see for example Dual-covenant theology, based on warnings by Jesus to Jews not to use him as an excuse to disregard it, and they support efforts of those such as Messianic Jews to do that, but some Protestant forms of Christianity oppose all observance to the Mosaic law, even by Jews, which Luther criticized as Antinomianism.
A minority view in Christianity, known as Christian Torah-submission, holds that the Mosaic law as it is written is binding on all followers of God under the New Covenant, even for gentiles, because it views God’s commands as “everlasting” and “good.”
Concepts of God
Traditionally, both Judaism and Christianity believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for Jews the God of the Tanakh, for Christians the God of the Old Testament, the creator of the universe. Judaism and major sects of Christianity reject the view that God is entirely immanent (although some see this as the concept of the Holy Ghost) and within the world as a physical presence, . Both religions reject the view that God is entirely transcendent, and thus separate from the world, as the pre-Christian Greek Unknown God. Both religions reject atheism on one hand and polytheism on the other.
Both religions agree that God shares both transcendent and immanent qualities. How these religions resolve this issue is where the religions differ. Christianity posits that God exists as a Trinity; in this view God exists as three distinct persons who share a single divine essence, or substance. In those three there is one, and in that one there are three; the one God is indivisible, while the three persons are distinct and unconfused, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It teaches that God became especially immanent in physical form through the Incarnation of God the Son who was born as Jesus of Nazareth, who is believed to be at once fully God and fully human. There are denominations self-describing as Christian who question one or more of these doctrines, however, see Nontrinitarianism. By contrast, Judaism sees God as a single entity, and views trinitarianism as both incomprehensible and a violation of the Bible’s teaching that God is one. It rejects the notion that Jesus or any other object or living being could be ‘God’, that God could have a literal ‘son’ in physical form or is divisible in any way, or that God could be made to be joined to the material world in such fashion. Although Judaism provides Jews with a word to label God’s transcendence and immanence, these are merely human words to describe two ways of experiencing God; God is one and indivisible.
A minority Jewish view, which appears in some codes of Jewish law, is that while Christian worship is polytheistic, it is permissible for them to swear in God’s name, since they are referring to the one God. This theology is referred to in Hebrew as Shituf. Although worship of a trinity is considered to be not different from any other form of idolatry for Jews, it may be an acceptable belief for non-Jews.
Faith versus good deeds
Judaism teaches that the purpose of the Torah is to teach us how to act correctly. God’s existence is a given in Judaism, and not something that most authorities see as a matter of required belief. Although some authorities[who?] see the Torah as commanding Jews to believe in God, Jews see belief in God as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for a Jewish life. The quintessential verbal expression of Judaism is the Shema Yisrael, the statement that the God of the Bible is their God, and that this God is unique and one. The quintessential physical expression of Judaism is behaving in accordance with the 613 Mitzvot and thus live one’s life in God’s ways.
Thus fundamentally in Judaism, one is enjoined to bring holiness into life (with the guidance of God’s laws), rather than removing oneself from life to be holy.
Much of Christianity also teaches that God wants people to perform good works, but all branches hold that good works alone will not lead to salvation, which is called Legalism, the exception being dual-covenant theology. Some Christian denominations hold that salvation depends upon transformational faith in Jesus, which expresses itself in good works as a testament (or witness) to ones faith for others to see, while others hold that faith alone is necessary for salvation. Some argue that the difference is not as great as it seems, because it really hinges on the definition of “faith” used. The first group generally uses the term “faith” to mean “intellectual and heartfelt assent and submission”. Such a faith will not be salvific until a person has allowed it to effect a life transforming conversion (turning towards God) in their being. The Christians that hold to “salvation by faith alone” define faith as being implicitly ontological—mere intellectual assent is not termed “faith” by these groups. Faith, then, is life-transforming by definition.
In both religions, offenses against the will of God are called sin. These sins can be thoughts, words, or deeds.
Catholicism categorizes sins into various groups. A wounding of the relationship with God is often called venial sin; a complete rupture of the relationship with God is often called mortal sin. Without salvation from sin (see below), a person’s separation from God is permanent, causing such a person to enter Hell in the afterlife. Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church define sin more or less as a “macula”, a spiritual stain or uncleanliness that constitutes damage to man’s image and likeness of God.
Hebrew has several words for sin, each with its own specific meaning. The word pesha, or “trespass”, means a sin done out of rebelliousness. The word aveira means “transgression”. And the word avone, or “iniquity”, means a sin done out of moral failing. The word most commonly translated simply as “sin”, het, literally means “to go astray”. Just as Jewish law, halakha provides the proper “way” (or path) to live, sin involves straying from that path. Judaism teaches that humans are born with free will, and morally neutral, with both a yetzer hatov, and a yetzer hara, . In Judaism all human beings are believed to have free will and can choose the path in life that they will take. It does not teach that choosing good is impossible—only at times more difficult. There is almost always a “way back” if a person wills it.
The rabbis recognize a positive value to the yetzer hara: one tradition identifies it with the observation on the last day of creation that God’s accomplishment was “very good and explain that without the yetzer ha’ra there would be no marriage, children, commerce or other fruits of human labor; the implication is that yetzer ha’tov and yetzer ha’ra are best understood not as moral categories of good and evil but as selfless versus selfish orientations, either of which used rightly can serve God’s will.
In contrast to the Jewish view of being morally balanced, Original Sin refers to the idea that the sin of Adam and Eve‘s disobedience has passed on a spiritual heritage, so to speak. Christians teach that human beings inherit a corrupted or damaged human nature in which the tendency to do bad is greater than it would have been otherwise, so much so that human nature would not be capable now of participating in the afterlife with God. This is not a matter of being “guilty” of anything; each person is only personally guilty of their own actual sins. However, this understanding of original sin is what lies behind the Christian emphasis on the need for spiritual salvation from a spiritual Savior, who can forgive and set aside sin even though humans are not inherently pure and worthy of such salvation. Paul the Apostle in Romans and I Corinthians placed special emphasis on this doctrine, and stressed that belief in Jesus would allow Christians to overcome death and attain salvation in the hereafter.
Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and some Protestants teach the Sacrament of Baptism is the means by which each person’s damaged human nature is healed and Sanctifying Grace is restored. This is referred to as “being born of water and the Spirit”, following the terminology in the Gospel of St. John. Most Protestants believe this salvific grace comes about at the moment of personal decision to follow Jesus, and that baptism is a symbol of the grace already received.
The Hebrew word for “love”, ahavah, is used to describe intimate or romantic feelings or relationships, such as the love between parent and child in Genesis 22:2; 25: 28; 37:3; the love between close friends in I Samuel 18:2, 20:17; or the love between a young man and young woman in Song of Songs. Christians will often use the Greek of the Septuagint to make distinctions between the types of love: philia for brotherly, eros for romantic and agape for self-sacrificing love.
Like many Jewish scholars and theologians, literary critic Harold Bloom understands Judaism as fundamentally a religion of love. But he argues that one can understand the Hebrew conception of love only by looking at one of the core commandments of Judaism, Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, also called the second Great Commandment. Talmudic sages Hillel and Rabbi Akiva commented that this is a major element of the Jewish religion. Also, this commandment is arguably at the center of the Jewish faith. As the third book of the Torah, Leviticus is literally the central book. Historically, Jews have considered it of central importance: traditionally, children began their study of the Torah with Leviticus, and the midrashic literature on Leviticus is among the longest and most detailed of midrashic literature. Bernard Jacob Bamberger considers Leviticus 19, beginning with God’s commandment in verse 3—”You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God, am holy”—to be “the climactic chapter of the book, the one most often read and quoted”. Leviticus 19:18 is itself the climax of this chapter.
The only statements in the Tanakh about the status of a fetus state that killing an unborn infant does not have the same status as killing a born human being, and mandates a much lesser penalty.
The Talmud states that the fetus is not yet a full human being until it has been born, therefore killing a fetus is not murder, and abortion—in restricted circumstances—has always been legal under Jewish law. Rashi, the great 12th century commentator on the Bible and Talmud, states clearly of the fetus lav nefesh hu: “it is not a person.” The Talmud contains the expression ubar yerech imo—the fetus is as the thigh of its mother,’ i.e., the fetus is deemed to be part and parcel of the pregnant woman’s body.” The Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 69b states that: “the embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day.” Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born. Christians who agree with these views may refer to this idea as abortion before the quickening of the fetus.
Judaism unilaterally supports, in fact mandates, abortion if doctors believe that it is necessary to save the life of the woman. Many rabbinic authorities allow abortions on the grounds of gross genetic imperfections of the fetus. They also allow abortion if the woman were suicidal because of such defects. However, Judaism holds that abortion is impermissible for family planning or convenience reasons. Each case must be decided individually, however, and the decision should lie with the pregnant woman, the man who impregnated her, and their Rabbi.
War, violence and pacifism
Jews and Christians accept as valid and binding many of the same moral principles taught in the Torah. There is a great deal of overlap between the ethical systems of these two faiths. Nonetheless, there are some highly significant doctrinal differences.
Judaism has many teachings about peace and compromise, and its teachings make physical violence the last possible option. Nonetheless, the Talmud teaches that “If someone comes with the intention to murder you, then one is obligated to kill in self-defense”. The clear implication is that to bare one’s throat would be tantamount to suicide and it would also be considered helping a murderer kill someone and thus would “place an obstacle in front of a blind man”. The tension between the laws dealing with peace, and the obligation to self-defense, has led to a set of Jewish teachings that have been described as tactical-pacifism. This is the avoidance of force and violence whenever possible, but the use of force when necessary to save the lives of one’s self and one’s people.
Although killing oneself is forbidden under normal Jewish law as being a denial of God’s goodness in the world, under extreme circumstances when there has seemed no choice but to either be killed or forced to betray their religion, Jews have committed suicide or mass suicide . As a grim reminder of those times, there is even a prayer in the Jewish liturgy for “when the knife is at the throat”, for those dying “to sanctify God’s Name”. These acts have received mixed responses by Jewish authorities. Where some Jews regard them as examples of heroic martyrdom, but others saying that while Jews should always be willing to face martyrdom if necessary, it was wrong for them to take their own lives.
Because Judaism focuses on this life, many questions to do with survival and conflict (such as the classic moral dilemma of two people in a desert with only enough water for one to survive) were analyzed in great depth by the rabbis within the Talmud, in the attempt to understand the principles a godly person should draw upon in such a circumstance.
The Sermon on the Mount records that Jesus taught that if someone comes to harm you, then one must turn the other cheek. This has led four Protestant Christian denominations to develop a theology of pacifism, the avoidance of force and violence at all times. They are known historically as the peace churches, and have incorporated Christ’s teachings on nonviolence into their theology so as to apply it to participation in the use of violent force; those denominations are the Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, and the Church of the Brethren. Many other churches have people who hold to the doctrine without making it a part of their doctrines, or who apply it to individuals but not to governments, see also Evangelical counsels. The vast majority of Christian nations and groups have not adopted this theology, nor have they followed it in practice. See also But to bring a sword.
Although the Hebrew Bible has many references to capital punishment, the Jewish sages used their authority to make it nearly impossible for a Jewish court to impose a death sentence. Even when such a sentence might have been imposed, the Cities of Refuge and other sanctuaries, were at hand for those unintentionally guilty of capital offences. It was said in the Talmud about the death penalty in Judaism, that if a court killed more than one person in seventy years, it was a barbarous court and should be condemned as such.
Christianity usually reserved the death penalty for heresy, the denial of the orthodox view of God’s view, and witchcraft or similar non-Christian practices. For example, in Spain, unrepentant Jews were exiled, and it was only those crypto-Jews who had accepted baptism under pressure but retained Jewish customs in private, who were punished in this way. It is presently acknowledged by most of Christianity that these uses of capital punishment were deeply immoral.
Taboo food and drink
Orthodox Jews, unlike most Christians, still practice a restrictive diet that has many rules. Most Christians believe that the kosher food laws have been superseded, for example citing what Jesus taught in Mark 7: what you eat doesn’t make you unclean but what comes out of a man’s heart makes him unclean—although Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have their own set of dietary observances. Eastern Orthodoxy, in particular has very elaborate and strict rules of fasting, and continues to observe the Council of Jerusalem‘s apostolic decree of Act 15.
Some Christian denominations observe some biblical food laws, for example the practice of Ital in Rastifarianism. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not eat blood products and are known for their refusal to accept blood transfusions based on not “eating blood”.
Judaism does not see human beings as inherently flawed or sinful and needful of being saved from it, but rather capable with a free will of being righteous, and unlike Christianity does not closely associate ideas of “salvation” with a New Covenant delivered by a Jewish messiah, although in Judaism Jewish people will have a renewed national commitment of observing God’s commandments under the New Covenant, and the Jewish Messiah will also be ruling at a time of global peace and acceptance of God by all people.
Judaism holds instead that proper living is accomplished through good works and heartfelt prayer, as well as a strong faith in God. Judaism also teaches that gentiles can receive a share in “the world to come“. This is codified in the Mishna Avot 4:29, the Babylonian Talmud in tractates Avodah Zarah 10b, and Ketubot 111b, and in Maimonides’s 12th century law code, the Mishneh Torah, in Hilkhot Melachim.
The Protestant view is that every human is a sinner, and being saved by God’s grace, not simply by the merit of one’s own actions, pardons a damnatory sentence to Hell.
In Judaism, one must go to those he has harmed to be entitled to forgiveness. This means that in Judaism a person cannot obtain forgiveness from God for wrongs the person has done to other people. This also means that, unless the victim forgave the perpetrator before he died, murder is unforgivable in Judaism, and they will answer to God for it, though the victims’ family and friends can forgive the murderer for the grief they caused them.
Thus the “reward” for forgiving others is not God’s forgiveness for wrongs done to others, but rather help in obtaining forgiveness from the other person.
Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, summarized: “it is not that God forgives, while human beings do not. To the contrary, we believe that just as only God can forgive sins against God, so only human beings can forgive sins against human beings.”
Both Christianity and Judaism believe in some form of judgment. Most Christians believe in the future Second Coming of Jesus, which includes the Resurrection of the Dead and the Last Judgment. Those who have accepted Jesus as their personal savior will be saved and live in God’s presence in the Kingdom of Heaven, those who have not accepted Jesus as their savior, will be cast into the Lake of fire.
In Jewish liturgy there is significant prayer and talk of a “book of life” that one is written into, indicating that God judges each person each year even after death. This annual judgment process begins on Rosh Hashanah and ends with Yom Kippur. Additionally, God sits daily in judgment concerning a person’s daily activities. Upon the anticipated arrival of the Messiah, God will judge the nations for their persecution of Israel during the exile. Later, God will also judge the Jews over their observance of the Torah.
Heaven and Hell
There is little Jewish literature on heaven or hell as actual places, and there are few references to the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. One is the ghostly apparition of Samuel, called up by the Witch of Endor at King Saul’s command. Another is a mention by the Prophet Daniel of those who sleep in the earth rising to either everlasting life or everlasting abhorrence.
Early Hebrew views were more concerned with the fate of the nation of Israel as a whole, rather than with individual immortality. A stronger belief in an afterlife for each person developed during the Second Temple period but was contested by various Jewish sects. Pharisees believed that in death, people rest in their graves until they are physically resurrected with the coming of the Messiah, and within that resurrected body the soul would exist eternally. Maimonides also included the concept of resurrection in his Thirteen Principles of Faith.
Judaism’s view is summed up by a biblical observation about the Torah: in the beginning God clothes the naked (Adam), and at the end God buries the dead (Moses). The Children of Israel mourned for 40 days, then got on with their lives.
In Judaism, Heaven is sometimes described as a place where God debates Talmudic law with the angels, and where Jews spend eternity studying the Written and Oral Torah. Jews do not believe in “Hell” as a place of eternal torment. Gehenna is a place or condition of purgatory where Jews spend up to twelve months purifying to get into heaven, depending on how sinful they have been, although some suggest that certain types of sinners can never be purified enough to go to heaven and rather than facing eternal torment, simply cease to exist. Therefore, some violations like suicide would be punished by separation from the community, such as not being buried in a Jewish cemetery. Judaism also does not have a notion of hell as a place ruled by Satan since God’s dominion is total and Satan is only one of God’s angels.
Catholics also believe in a purgatory for those who are going to heaven, but Christians in general believe that Hell is a fiery place of torment that never ceases, called the Lake of Fire. A small minority believe this is not permanent, and that those who go there will eventually either be saved or cease to exist. Heaven for Christians is depicted in various ways. As the Kingdom of God described in the New Testament and particularly the Book of Revelation, Heaven is a new or restored earth, a World to Come, free of sin and death, with a New Jerusalem led by God, Jesus, and the most righteous of believers starting with 144,000 Israelites from every tribe, and all others who received salvation living peacefully and making pilgrimages to give glory to the city.
In Christianity, promises of Heaven and Hell as rewards and punishments are often used to motivate good and bad behavior, as threats of disaster were used by prophets like Jeremiah to motivate the Israelites. Modern Judaism generally rejects this form of motivation, instead teaching to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. As Maimonides wrote:
“A man should not say: I shall carry out the precepts of the Torah and study her wisdom in order to receive all the blessings written therein or in order to merit the life of the World to Come and I shall keep away from the sins forbidden by the Torah in order to be spared the curses mentioned in the Torah or in order not to be cut off from the life of the World to Come. It is not proper to serve God in this fashion. For one who serves thus serves out of fear. Such a way is not that of the prophets and sages. Only the ignorant, and the women and children serve God in this way. These are trained to serve out of fear until they obtain sufficient knowledge to serve out of love. One who serves God out of love studies the Torah and practices the precepts and walks in the way of wisdom for no ulterior motive at all, neither out of fear of evil nor in order to acquire the good, but follows the truth because it is true and the good will follow the merit of attaining to it. It is the stage of Abraham our father whom the Holy One, blessed be God, called “My friend” (Isaiah 41:8 – ohavi = the one who loves me) because he served out of love alone. It is regarding this stage that the Holy One, Blessed be God, commanded us through Moses, as it is said: “You shall love the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 6:5). When man loves God with a love that is fitting he automatically carries out all the precepts of love.
Jews believe that a descendant of King David will one day appear to restore the Kingdom of Israel and usher in an era of peace, prosperity, and spiritual understanding for Israel and all the nations of the world. Jews refer to this person as Moshiach or “anointed one”, translated as messiah in English. The traditional Jewish understanding of the messiah is that he is fully human and born of human parents without any supernatural element. The messiah is expected to have a relationship with God similar to that of the prophets of the Tanakh. In his commentary on the Talmud, Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) wrote:All of the people Israel will come back to Torah; The people of Israel will be gathered back to the land of Israel; The Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt; Israel will live among the nations as an equal, and will be strong enough to defend herself; Eventually, war, hatred and famine will end, and an era of peace and prosperity will come upon the Earth.
He adds:”And if a king shall stand up from among the House of David, studying Torah and indulging in commandments like his father David, according to the written and oral Torah, and he will coerce all Israel to follow it and to strengthen its weak points, and will fight The Lord’s wars, this one is to be treated as if he were the anointed one. If he succeeded and built a Holy Temple in its proper place and gathered the strayed ones of Israel together, this is indeed the anointed one for certain, and he will mend the entire world to worship the Lord together … But if he did not succeed until now, or if he was killed, it becomes known that he is not this one of whom the Torah had promised us, and he is indeed like all [other] proper and wholesome kings of the House of David who died.”
He also clarified the nature of the Messiah: “Do not imagine that the anointed King must perform miracles and signs and create new things in the world or resurrect the dead and so on. The matter is not so: For Rabbi Akiba was a great scholar of the sages of the Mishnah, and he was the assistant-warrior of the king Ben Coziba Simon bar Kokhba… He and all the Sages of his generation deemed him the anointed king, until he was killed by sins; only since he was killed, they knew that he was not. The Sages asked him neither a miracle nor a sign…”
The Christian view of Jesus as Messiah goes beyond such claims and is the fulfillment and union of three anointed offices; a prophet like Moses who delivers God’s commands and covenant and frees people from bondage, a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek overshadowing the Levite priesthood and a king like King David ruling over Jews, and like God ruling over the whole world and coming from the line of David.
For Christians, Jesus is also fully human and fully divine as the Word of God who sacrifices himself so that humans can receive salvation. Jesus sits in Heaven at the Right Hand of God and will judge humanity in the end times when he returns to earth.
Christian readings of the Hebrew Bible find many references to Jesus. This can take the form of specific prophesy, and in other cases of foreshadowing by types or forerunners. Traditionally, most Christian readings of the Bible maintained that almost every prophecy was actually about the coming of Jesus, and that the entire Old Testament of the Bible is a prophecy about the coming of Jesus.
Catholicism teaches “Outside the Church there is no salvation”, which some, like Fr. Leonard Feeney, interpreted as limiting salvation to Catholics only. At the same time, it does not deny the possibility that those not visibly members of the Church may attain salvation as well. In recent times, its teaching has been most notably expressed in the Vatican II council documents . The latter document has been criticized for claiming that non-Christians are in a “gravely deficient situation” as compared to Catholics, but also adds that “for those who are not formally and visibly members of the Church, salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation.”
Pope John Paul II on 2 October 2000 emphasized that this document did not say that non-Christians were actively denied salvation: “…this confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united”. On 6 December the Pope issued a statement to further emphasize that the Church continued to support its traditional stance that salvation was available to believers of other faiths: “The gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes—the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life—will enter God’s kingdom.” He further added, “All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of Grace to the building of this Kingdom.” On 13 August 2002 American Catholic bishops issued a joint statement with leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, called “Reflections on Covenant and Mission”, which affirmed that Christians should not target Jews for conversion. The document stated: “Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God” and “Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God’s Kingdom.” However, many Christian denominations still believe it is their duty to reach out to “unbelieving” Jews.
In December 2015, the Vatican released a 10,000-word document that, among other things, stated that Jews do not need to be converted to find salvation, and that Catholics should work with Jews to fight antisemitism.
Common Jewish views of Christianity
Many Jews view Jesus as one in a long list of failed Jewish claimants to be the Messiah, none of whom fulfilled the tests of a prophet specified in the Law of Moses. Others see Jesus as a teacher who worked with the gentiles and ascribe the messianic claims that Jews find objectionable to his later followers. Because much physical and spiritual violence was done to Jews in the name of Jesus and his followers, and because evangelism is still an active aspect of many church’s activities, many Jews are uncomfortable with discussing Jesus and treat him as a non-person. In answering the question “What do Jews think of Jesus”, philosopher Milton Steinberg claims, for Jews, Jesus cannot be accepted as anything more than a teacher. “In only a few respects did Jesus deviate from the Tradition,” Steinberg concludes, “and in all of them, Jews believe, he blundered.”
Judaism does not believe that God requires the sacrifice of any human. This is emphasized in Jewish traditions concerning the story of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac. In the Jewish explanation, this is a story in the Torah whereby God wanted to test Abraham’s faith and willingness, and Isaac was never going to be actually sacrificed. Thus, Judaism rejects the notion that anyone can or should die for anyone else’s sin. Judaism is more focused on the practicalities of understanding how one may live a sacred life in the world according to God’s will, rather than a hope of a future one. Judaism does not believe in the Christian concept of hell but does have a punishment stage in the afterlife as well as a Heaven, but the religion does not intend it as a focus.
Judaism views the worship of Jesus as inherently polytheistic, and rejects the Christian attempts to explain the Trinity as a complex monotheism. Christian festivals have no religious significance in Judaism and are not celebrated, but some secular Jews in the West treat Christmas as a secular holiday.
Common Christian views of Judaism
Christians believe that Christianity is the fulfillment and successor of Judaism, retaining much of its doctrine and many of its practices including monotheism, the belief in a Messiah, and certain forms of worship like prayer and reading from religious texts. Christians believe that Judaism requires blood sacrifice to atone for sins, and believe that Judaism has abandoned this since the destruction of the Second Temple. Most Christians consider the Mosaic Law to have been a necessary intermediate stage, but that once the crucifixion of Jesus occurred, adherence to civil and ceremonial Law was superseded by the New Covenant.
Some Christians adhere to New Covenant theology, which states that with the arrival of his New Covenant, Jews have ceased being blessed under his Mosaic covenant. This position has been softened or disputed by other Christians, where Jews are recognized to have a special status under the Abrahamic covenant. New Covenant theology is thus in contrast to Dual-covenant theology.
Some Christians who view the Jewish people as close to God seek to understand and incorporate elements of Jewish understanding or perspective into their beliefs as a means to respect their “parent” religion of Judaism, or to more fully seek out and return to their Christian roots. Christians embracing aspects of Judaism are sometimes criticized as Biblical Judaizers by Christians when they pressure gentile Christians to observe Mosaic teachings rejected by most modern Christians.
Commonwealth Theology(CT) asserts that Judeo-Christian tensions were exacerbated in the fall of Jerusalem and by the subsequent Jewish Revolt. As a result, early Christian theologies formulated in the Roman capitals of Rome and Constantinople began to include anti-Semitic attitudes, which have been carried forward and embraced by the Protestant Reformers. Dispensation Theology, formalized in the 1830s by John Darby, holds that “God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew.” Dispensationalism, however, maintains that God’s special dealings with Israel have been interrupted by the Church Age. Commonwealth Theology, on the other hand, recognizes the continuity of God’s “congregation in the wilderness” as presently consisting of the Jews (house of Judah) and the Nations (Gentiles), among whom are abiding the historically scattered Northern Kingdom (house of Israel). Commonwealth Theology views the Jews as already included in Commonwealth of Israel even while in unbelief, but nevertheless unsaved in their unbelieving state. CT recognizes that both the reconciliation of the Jewish house and the reconciliation of the estranged house of Israel (among the Gentiles) was accomplished by the cross; and that the salvation of “All Israel” is a process that began on the Day of Pentecost. The full realization of the “one new man” created through the peace (between the Jews and “you Gentiles”) made by his cross will take place in Ezekiel’s two sticks made one, when both houses of Israel will be united under the Kingdom of David.
Some scholars have found evidence of continuous interactions between Jewish-Christian and rabbinic movements from the mid- to late second century CE to the fourth century CE. Of particular importance is the figure of James the brother of Jesus, the leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem until he was killed in the year 62, who was known for his righteous behavior as a Jew, and set the terms of the relationship between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians in dialogue with Paul. To him is attributed a letter which emphasizes the view that faith must be expressed in works. The neglect of this mediating figure has often damaged Christian-Jewish relations. Modern scholarship is engaged in an ongoing debate over which term should be used as the proper designation for Jesus’ first followers. Many scholars believe that the term Jewish Christians is anachronistic given the fact that there is no consensus on the date of the birth of Christianity. The very concepts of Christianity and Judaism can be seen as essentializing, since these are changing and plural traditions. Clearly, the first Christians would not have believed that they were exchanging one religion for another, because they believed that the resurrection of Jesus was the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies, and they believed that the mission to the gentiles which was initiated by Saul (Paul of Tarsus) was a secondary activity. Some modern scholars have suggested that the designations “Jewish believers in Jesus” and “Jewish followers of Jesus” better reflect the original context.
In addition to Christianity and Judaism’s varying views on each other as religions, there has also been a long and often painful history of conflict, persecution and at times, reconciliation, between the two religions, which have influenced their mutual views of their relationship with each other over time. Since the end of the Second World War and The Holocaust, Christianity has embarked on a process of introspection with regard to its Jewish roots and its attitudes toward Judaism. The eradication of the anti-Jewish tendencies is but one dimension of this ongoing Christian introspection, that attempts to engage a variety of legacies that disturb modern believers.
Since the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church upheld Constitutio pro Judæis (Formal Statement on the Jews), which stated
We decree that no Christian shall use violence to force them to be baptized, so long as they are unwilling and refuse. … Without the judgment of the political authority of the land, no Christian shall presume to wound them or kill them or rob them of their money or change the good customs that they have thus far enjoyed in the place where they live.”
Persecution, forcible conversion, and forcible displacement of Jews occurred for many centuries, along with occasional gestures at reconciliation which also occurred from time to time. Pogroms were a common occurrence throughout Christian Europe, including organized violence, restrictive land ownership and professional lives, forcible relocation and ghettoization, mandatory dress codes, and at times, humiliating actions and torture. All of these actions and restrictions had major effects on Jewish cultures. From the fifth century onward, Church councils imposed ever-increasing burdens and limitations on the Jews. Among the decrees: marriages between a Jew and a Christian were forbidden . Jews banned from public office. Jews were forbidden to appear in public during Easter and to work on Sunday. By the end of the first millennium, the Jewish population in the Christian lands had been decimated, expelled, forced into conversion or worse. Only a few small and scattered communities survived.
There have also been non-coercive outreach and missionary efforts such as the Church of England‘s Ministry Among Jewish People, founded in 1809.
For Martin Buber, Judaism and Christianity were variations on the same theme of messianism. Buber made this theme the basis of a famous definition of the tension between Judaism and Christianity:
Pre-messianically, our destinies are divided. Now to the Christian, the Jew is the incomprehensibly obdurate man who declines to see what has happened; and to the Jew, the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man who affirms in an unredeemed world that its redemption has been accomplished. This is a gulf which no human power can bridge.
The Nazi Party was known for its persecution of Christian Churches; many of them, such as the Protestant Confessing Church and the Catholic Church, as well as Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, aided and rescued Jews who were being targeted by the régime.
Following the Holocaust, attempts have been made to construct a new Jewish-Christian relationship of mutual respect for differences, through the inauguration of the interfaith body the Council of Christians and Jews in 1942 and International Council of Christians and Jews. The Seelisberg Conference in 1947 established 10 points relating to the sources of Christian antisemitism. The ICCJ’s “Twelve points of Berlin” sixty years later aim to reflect a recommitment to interreligious dialogue between the two communities.
Pope John Paul II and the Catholic Church have “upheld the Church’s acceptance of the continuing and permanent election of the Jewish people” as well as a reaffirmation of the covenant between God and the Jews. In December 2015, the Vatican released a 10,000-word document that, among other things, stated that Catholics should work with Jews to fight antisemitism.
Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity
In 2012, the book Kosher Jesus by Orthodox Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was published. In it, he takes the position that Jesus was a wise and learned Torah-observant Jewish rabbi. Boteach says he was a beloved member of the Jewish community. At the same time, Jesus is said to have despised the Romans for their cruelty, and fought them courageously. The book states that the Jews had nothing whatsoever to do with the murder of Jesus, but rather that blame for his trial and killing lies with the Romans and Pontius Pilate. Boteach states clearly that he does not believe in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. At the same time, Boteach argues that “Jews have much to learn from Jesus – and from Christianity as a whole – without accepting Jesus’ divinity. There are many reasons for accepting Jesus as a man of great wisdom, beautiful ethical teachings, and profound Jewish patriotism.” He concludes by writing, as to Judeo-Christian values, that “the hyphen between Jewish and Christian values is Jesus himself.”
On 3 December 2015, the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) spearheaded a petition of Orthodox rabbis from around the world calling for increased partnership between Jews and Christians. The unprecedented Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity, entitled “To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians”, was initially signed by over 25 prominent Orthodox rabbis in Israel, the United States, and Europe, and as of 2016 had over 60 signatories.
Between Jerusalem and Rome
On 31 August 2017, representatives of the Conference of European Rabbis, the Rabbinical Council of America, and the Commission of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel issued and presented the Holy See with a statement entitled Between Jerusalem and Rome. The document pays particular tribute to the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate, whose fourth chapter represents the “Magna Carta” of the Holy See’s dialogue with the Jewish world. The Statement Between Jerusalem and Rome does not hide the theological differences that exist between the two faith traditions while all the same it expresses a firm resolve to collaborate more closely, now and in the future.
The final religion that I want to discuss is the Islamic faith. Than we can wrap up this article with a further discussion on dogmatic practices and beliefs common today and how they affect life today. In the addendum section I will also include a brief history of how these practices have affected our history and our interactions between countries and cultures.
Islam is an Abrahamic, monotheistic, and universal religion teaching that Muhammad is a messenger of God. It is the world’s second-largest religion with 1.9 billion followers or 24.9% of the world’s population known as Muslims. Islam teaches that God is merciful, all-powerful, and unique, and has guided humanity through prophets, revealed scriptures, and natural signs. The primary scriptures of Islam are the Quran, believed to be the verbatim word of God, as well as the teachings and practices, in traditional accounts of Muhammad (c. 570 – 632 CE).
Muslims believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed many times before through prophets such as Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims consider the Quran, in Arabic, to be the unaltered and final revelation of God. Like other Abrahamic religions, Islam also teaches a final judgment with the righteous rewarded in paradise and the unrighteous punished in hell. Religious concepts and practices include the Five Pillars of Islam, which are obligatory acts of worship, as well as following Islamic law (sharia), which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, from banking and welfare to women and the environment. The cities of Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are home to the three holiest sites in Islam.
From a historical point of view, Islam originated in early 7th century CE in the Arabian Peninsula, in Mecca. and by the 8th century, the Umayyad Caliphate extended from the Iberian Peninsula in the west to the Indus River in the east. The Islamic Golden Age refers to the period traditionally dated from the 8th century to the 13th century, during the Abbasid Caliphate, when much of the historically Muslim world was experiencing a scientific, economic, and cultural flourishing. The expansion of the Muslim world involved various states and caliphates such as the Ottoman Empire, trade, and conversion to Islam by missionary activities.
Most Muslims are of one of two denominations: Sunni (85–90%) or Shia (10–15%), and make up a majority of the population in 49 countries. Sunni and Shia differences arose from disagreement over the succession to Muhammad and acquired broader political significance, as well as theological and juridical dimensions. About 12% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the most populous Muslim-majority country; 31% live in South Asia; 20% in the Middle East–North Africa and 15% in sub-Saharan Africa. Sizable Muslim communities can also be found in the Americas, China, and Europe. Islam is the fastest-growing major religion in the world.
The Islamic creed requires belief in six articles: God, angels, books, prophets, the Day of Resurrection and in the divine decree.
The central concept of Islam is tawḥīd, the oneness of God. Usually thought of as a precise monotheism, but also panentheistic in Islamic mystical teachings. God is seen as incomparable and without partners such as in the Christian Trinity, and associating partners to God or attributing God’s attributes to others is seen as idolatory, called shirk. God is seen as transcendent of creation and so is beyond comprehension. Thus, therefore Muslims are not iconodules and do not attribute forms to God. God is instead described and referred to by several names or attributes, the most common being Ar-Rahmān meaning “The Entirely Merciful,” and Ar-Rahīm meaning “The Especially Merciful” which are invoked at the beginning of most chapters of the Quran.
Islam teaches that the creation of everything in the universe was brought into being by God’s command as expressed by the wording, “Be, and it is,” and that the purpose of existence is to worship God. He is viewed as a personal god and there are no intermediaries, such as clergy, to contact God. Consciousness and awareness of God is referred to as Taqwa. Allāh is a term with no plural or gender being ascribed to it and is also used by Muslims and Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews in reference to God, whereas ʾilāh is a term used for a deity or a god in general. Other non-Arab Muslims might use different names as much as Allah, for instance “Tanrı” in Turkish or “Khodā” in Persian.
Belief in angels is fundamental to Islam. The Quranic word for angel derives either from Malaka, meaning “he controlled”, due to their power to govern different affairs assigned to them, or from the triliteral root ’-l-k, l-’-k or m-l-k with the broad meaning of a “messenger”, just as its counterpart in Hebrew. Unlike the Hebrew word, however, the term is used exclusively for heavenly spirits of the divine world, as opposed to human messengers. The Quran refers to both angelic and human messengers as rasul instead.
The Quran is the principal source for the Islamic concept of angels. Some of them, such as Gabriel and Michael, are mentioned by name in the Quran; others are only referred to by their function. In hadith literature, angels are often assigned to only one specific phenomenon. Angels play a significant role in the literature about the Mi’raj, where Muhammad encounters several angels during his journey through the heavens. Further angels have often been featured in Islamic eschatology, theology and philosophy. Duties assigned to angels include, for example, communicating revelations from God, glorifying God, recording every person’s actions, and taking a person’s soul at the time of death.
In Islam, just as in Judaism and Christianity, angels are often represented in anthropomorphic forms combined with supernatural images, such as wings, being of great size or wearing heavenly articles. The Quran describes “Angels as His messengers with wings—two, three, or four.” Common characteristics for angels are their missing needs for bodily desires, such as eating and drinking. Their lack of affinity to material desires is also expressed by their creation from light: angels of mercy are created from nūr (‘light’) in opposition to the angels of punishment created from nār (‘fire’). Muslims do not generally share the perceptions of angelic pictorial depictions, such as those found in Western art.
The first chapter of the Quran, Al-Fatiha (The Opening), is seven verses
The Islamic holy books are the records that Muslims believe various prophets received from God through revelations, called wahy. Muslims believe that parts of the previously revealed scriptures, such as the Tawrat (Torah) and the Injil (Gospel), had become distorted—either in interpretation, in text, or both, while the Quran (lit. “Recitation”) is viewed as the final, verbatim and unaltered word of God.
Muslims believe that the verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad by God, through the archangel Gabriel, on multiple occasions between 610 CE and 632, the year Muhammad died. While Muhammad was alive, these revelations were written down by his companions, although the prime method of transmission was orally through memorization. The Quran is divided into 114 chapters which combined contain 6,236 verses. The chronologically earlier chapters, revealed at Mecca, are concerned primarily with spiritual topics while the later Medinan chapters discuss more social and legal issues relevant to the Muslim community. Muslim jurists consult the hadith (‘accounts’), or the written record of Prophet Muhammad’s life, to both supplement the Quran and assist with its interpretation. The science of Quranic commentary and exegesis is known as tafsir. The set of rules governing proper elocution of recitation is called tajwid. In addition to its religious significance, it is widely regarded as the finest work in Arabic literature, and has influenced art and the Arabic language.
Prophets are believed to have been chosen by God to receive and preach a divine message. Additionally, a prophet delivering a new book to a nation is called a rasul, meaning “messenger”. Muslims believe prophets are human and not divine. All of the prophets are said to have preached the same basic message of Islam – submission to the will of God – to various nations in the past and that this accounts for many similarities among religions. The Quran recounts the names of numerous figures considered prophets in Islam, including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, among others.
Muslims believe that God sent Muhammad as the final prophet (“Seal of the prophets“) to convey the completed message of Islam. In Islam, the “normative” example of Muhammad’s life is called the sunnah (literally “trodden path”). Muslims are encouraged to emulate Muhammad’s moral behaviors in their daily lives, and the Sunnah is seen as crucial to guiding interpretation of the Quran. This example is preserved in traditions known as hadith, which are accounts of his words, actions, and personal characteristics. Hadith Qudsi is a sub-category of hadith, regarded as God’s verbatim words quoted by Muhammad that are not part of the Quran. A hadith involves two elements: a chain of narrators, called sanad, and the actual wording, called matn. There are various methodologies to classify the authenticity of hadiths, with the commonly used grading being: “authentic” or “correct”; “good”, hasan; or “weak”, among others. The Kutub al-Sittah are a collection of six books, regarded as the most authentic reports in Sunnism. Among them is Sahih al-Bukhari, often considered by Sunnis to be one of the most authentic sources after the Quran. Another famous source of hadiths is known as The Four Books, which Shias consider as the most authentic hadith reference.
Resurrection and judgment
Belief in the “Day of Resurrection” or Yawm al-Qiyāmah, is also crucial for Muslims. It is believed that the time of Qiyāmah is preordained by God but unknown to man. The Quran and the hadith, as well as in the commentaries of scholars, describe the trials and tribulations preceding and during the Qiyāmah. The Quran emphasizes bodily resurrection, a break from the pre-Islamic Arabian understanding of death.
On Yawm al-Qiyāmah, Muslims believe all humankind will be judged by their good and bad deeds and consigned to Jannah (paradise) or Jahannam (hell). The Quran in Surat al-Zalzalah describes this as: “So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it. And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.” The Quran lists several sins that can condemn a person to hell, such as disbelief in God, and dishonesty. However, the Quran makes it clear that God will forgive the sins of those who repent if he wishes. Good deeds, like charity, prayer, and compassion towards animals, will be rewarded with entry to heaven. Muslims view heaven as a place of joy and blessings, with Quranic references describing its features. Mystical traditions in Islam place these heavenly delights in the context of an ecstatic awareness of God. Yawm al-Qiyāmah is also identified in the Quran as Yawm ad-Dīn; as-Sāʿah; and al-Qāriʿah “The Clatterer”.
The concept of divine decree and destiny in Islam means that every matter, good or bad, is believed to have been decreed by God. Al-qadar, meaning “power”, derives from a root that means “to measure” or “calculating”. Muslims often express this belief in divine destiny with the phrase “Insha-Allah” meaning “if God wills” when speaking on future events. In addition to loss, gain is also seen as a test of believers – whether they would still recognize that the gain originates only from God.
Acts of worship
There are five obligatory acts of worship – the Shahada, the five daily prayers, the Zakat alms-giving, fasting during Ramadan and the Hajj pilgrimage – collectively known as “The Pillars of Islam”. Apart from these, Muslims also perform other supplemental religious acts.
The shahadah, is an oath declaring belief in Islam. The expanded statement is “ʾašhadu ʾal-lā ʾilāha ʾillā-llāhu wa ʾašhadu ʾanna muħammadan rasūlu-llāh” or, “I testify that there is no deity except God and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Islam is sometimes argued to have a very simple creed with the shahada being the premise for the rest of the religion. Non-Muslims wishing to convert to Islam are required to recite the shahada in front of witnesses.
Prayer in Islam, called salah or ṣalāt, is seen as a personal communication with God and consists of repeating units called rakat that include bowing and prostrating to God. Performing prayers five times a day is compulsory. The prayers are recited in the Arabic language and consist of verses from the Quran. The prayers are done in direction of the Ka’bah. Salat requires ritual purity, which involves wudu (ritual wash) or occasionally, such as for new converts, ghusl (full body ritual wash). The means used to signal the prayer time is a vocal call called the adhan.
A mosque is a place of worship for Muslims, who often refer to it by its Arabic name masjid. Although the primary purpose of the mosque is to serve as a place of prayer, it is also important to the Muslim community as a place to meet and study with the Masjid an-Nabawi (“Prophetic Mosque”) in Medina, Saudi Arabia, having also served as a shelter for the poor. Minarets are towers used to chant the adhan.
Zakāt of accumulated wealth by those who can afford it to help the poor or needy, such as for freeing captives, those in debt, or for (stranded) travelers, and for those employed to collect zakat. It is considered a religious obligation that the well-off owe to the needy because their wealth is seen as a “trust from God’s bounty” and is seen as a “purification” of one’s excess wealth. Conservative estimates of annual zakat are that it amounts to 15 times global humanitarian aid contributions. Sadaqah, as opposed to Zakat, is a much encouraged supererogatory charity. A waqf is a perpetual charitable trust, which financed hospitals and schools in Muslim societies.
During the month of Ramadan, it is obligatory for Muslims to fast. The Ramadan fast precludes food and drink, as well as other forms of consumption, such as smoking, and is performed from dawn to sunset. The fast is to encourage a feeling of nearness to God by restraining oneself for God’s sake from what is otherwise permissible and to think of the needy. Certain groups are exempt, including pregnant women. In addition, there are other days when fasting is supererogatory.
The obligatory Islamic pilgrimage, called the “ḥajj“, is to be done at least once a lifetime by every Muslim with the means to do so during the Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah. Rituals of the Hajj mostly imitate the story of the family of Abraham. Pilgrims spend a day and a night on the plains of Mina, then a day praying and worshipping in the plain of Mount Arafat, then spending a night on the plain of Muzdalifah; then moving to Jamarat, symbolically stoning the Devil, then going to the city of Mecca and walking seven times around the Kaaba, which Muslims believe Abraham built as a place of worship, then walking seven times between Mount Safa and Mount Marwah recounting the steps of Abraham’s wife, Hagar, while she was looking for water for her baby Ishmael in the desert before Mecca developed into a settlement. All Muslim men should wear only two simple white unstitched pieces of cloth called ihram, intended to bring continuity through generations and uniformity among pilgrims despite class or origin. Another form of pilgrimage, umrah, is supererogatory and can be undertaken at any time of the year. Medina is also a site of Islamic pilgrimage and Jerusalem, the city of many Islamic prophets, contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which used to be the direction of prayer before Mecca.
Quranic recitation and memorization
Muslims recite and memorize the whole or parts of the Quran as acts of virtue. Reciting the Quran with elocution has been described as an excellent act of worship. Pious Muslims recite the whole Quran during the month of Ramadan. In Muslim societies, any social program generally begins with the recitation of the Quran. One who has memorized the whole Quran is called a hafiz (“memorizer”) who, it is said, will be able to intercede for ten people on the Last Judgment Day. Apart from this, almost every Muslim memorizes some portion of the Quran because they need to recite it during their prayers.
Supplication and remembrance
Supplication to God, called in Arabic duʿāʾ has its own etiquette such as raising hands as if begging or invoking with an extended index finger.
Remembrance of God refers to phrases repeated referencing God. Commonly, this includes Tahmid, declaring praise be due to God during prayer or when feeling thankful, Tasbih, declaring glory to God during prayer or when in awe of something and saying ‘in the name of God‘ before starting an act such as eating.
Born in Mecca in 571, Muhammad was orphaned early in life. New trade routes rapidly transformed Meccan society from a semi-bedouin society to a commercial urban society, leaving out weaker segments of society without protection. He acquired the nickname “trustworthy” and was sought after as a bank to safeguard valuables and an impartial arbitrator. Affected by the ills of society and after becoming financially secure through marrying his employer, the businesswoman Khadija, he began retreating to a cave to contemplate. During the last 22 years of his life, beginning at age 40 in 610 CE, Muhammad reported receiving revelations from God, conveyed to him through the archangel Gabriel, thus becoming the seal of the prophets sent to the mankind according to Islamic tradition.
During this time, while in Mecca, Muhammed preached first in secret and then in public, imploring them to abandon polytheism and worship one God. Many early converts to Islam were women, the poor, foreigners, and slaves like the first muezzin Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi. The Meccan elite profited from the pilgrimages to the idols of the Kaaba and felt Muhammad was destabilizing their social order by preaching about one God and that in the process he gave ideas to the poor and slaves. Muhammad, who was accused of being a poet, a madman or possessed, presented the challenge of the Quran to imitate the like of the Quran in order to disprove him. The Meccan authorities persecuted Muhammad and his followers, including a boycott and banishment of Muhammad and his clan to starve them into withdrawing their protection of him. This resulted in the Migration to Abyssinia of some Muslims.
After 12 years of the persecution of Muslims by the Meccans, Muhammad and his companions performed the Hijra (“emigration”) in AD 622 to the city of Yathrib (current-day Medina). There, with the Medinan converts and the Meccan migrants, Muhammad in Medina established his political and religious authority. The Constitution of Medina was signed, by all the tribes of Medina agreeing to defend Medina from external threats and establishing among the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and pagan communities religious freedoms and freedom to use their own laws, security of women and the role of Medina as a sacred place barred of weapons and violence. Within a few years, two battles took place against the Meccan forces: first, the Battle of Badr in 624—a Muslim victory—and then a year later, when the Meccans returned to Medina, the Battle of Uhud, which ended inconclusively. The Arab tribes in the rest of Arabia then formed a confederation, and during the Battle of the Trench (March–April 627) besieged Medina, intent on finishing off Islam. In 628, the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah was signed between Mecca and the Muslims and was broken by Mecca two years later. After signing the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, many more people converted to Islam. At the same time, Meccan trade routes were cut off as Muhammad brought surrounding desert tribes under his control. By 629 Muhammad was victorious in the nearly bloodless conquest of Mecca, and by the time of his death in 632 (at age 62) he had united the tribes of Arabia into a single religious polity.
The earliest three generations of Muslims are known as the Salaf, with the companions of Muhammad being known as the Sahaba. Many of them, such as the largest narrator of hadith Abu Hureyrah, recorded and compiled what would constitute the sunnah.
Caliphate and civil strife (632–750)
Following Muhammad’s death in 632, Muslims disagreed over who would succeed him as leader. The first successors – Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman ibn al-Affan, Ali ibn Abi Talib and sometimes Hasan ibn Ali – are known in Sunni Islam as al-khulafā’ ar-rāshidūn (“Rightly Guided Caliphs“). Some tribes left Islam and rebelled under leaders who declared themselves new prophets but were crushed by Abu Bakr in the Ridda wars. Under Umar, the caliphate expanded rapidly as Muslims scored major victories over the Persian and Byzantine empires. Local populations of Jews and indigenous Christians, persecuted as religious minorities and heretics and taxed heavily, often helped Muslims take over their lands from the Byzantines and Persians, resulting in exceptionally speedy conquests. Uthman was elected in 644. Ali reluctantly accepted being elected the next Caliph after Uthman, whose assassination by rebels in 656 led to the First Civil War. Muhammad’s widow, Aisha raised an army against Ali asking to avenge the death of Uthman but was defeated at the Battle of the Camel. Ali attempted to remove the governor of Syria, Mu’awiya, who was seen as corrupt. Mu’awiya then declared war on Ali after accusing Ali of being behind Uthman’s death. Ali defeated him in the Battle of Siffin and then decided to arbitrate with him, which angered the Kharijites, an extremist sect who felt Mu’awiya should be fought. They felt that by not fighting a sinner, Ali became a sinner as well and they rebelled against him and were defeated in the Battle of Nahrawan but a Kharijite assassin later killed Ali and Ali’s son Hasan ibn Ali was elected Caliph. To avoid further fighting, Hasan signed a peace treaty abdicating to Mu’awiyah in return for him not appointing a successor. Mu’awiyah began the Umayyad dynasty with the appointment of his son Yazid I and this sparked the Second Civil War. During the Battle of Karbala, Husayn ibn Ali and other descendants of Muhammad were massacred by Yazid; the event has been annually commemorated by Shia ever since. Sunnis, led by Ibn al-Zubayr, who were opposed to the caliphate turning into a dynasty were defeated in the Siege of Mecca. These disputes over leadership would give rise to the Sunni–Shia schism, with the Shia believing leadership belonging to Ali and the family of Muhammad called the ahl al-bayt while the Kharijites disagreed with Uthman and Ali and quietist forms led to the emergence of the third largest denomination in Islam, Ibadiyya.
Abu Bakr’s leadership oversaw the beginning of the compilation of the Qur’an. The Caliph Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz set up the influential committee, The Seven Fuqaha of Medina, headed by Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr. Malik ibn Anas wrote one of the earliest books on Islamic jurisprudence, the Muwatta, as a consensus of the opinion of those jurists. The Kharijites believed there is no compromised middle ground between good and evil and any Muslim committing a grave sin becomes an unbeliever, with the term also used to refer to later groups such as Isis. Conversely, an early sect, the Murji’ah taught that people’s righteousness could be judged by God alone and that wrongdoers might be considered misguided but not denounced as unbelievers and this attitude came to prevail into the mainstream.
The Umayyad dynasty conquered the Maghreb, the Iberian Peninsula, Narbonnese Gaul and Sindh. The Umayyads struggled with a lack of legitimacy and relied on a heavily patronized military. Since the jizya tax was a tax paid by non-Muslims which exempted them from military service, the Umayyads denied recognizing the conversion of non-Arabs as it reduced revenue. While the Rashidun Caliphate emphasized austerity, with Umar even requiring an inventory of each official’s possessions, Umayyad luxury bred dissatisfaction among the pious. The Kharijites led the Berber Revolt leading to the first Muslim states independent of the Caliphate. In the Abbasid revolution, non-Arab converts (mawali), Arabs clans pushed aside by the Umayyad clan, and some Shi’a rallied and overthrew the Umayyads, inaugurating the more cosmopolitan Abbasid dynasty in 750.
Classical era (750–1258)
Al-Shafi’i codified a method to determine the reliability of hadith. During the early Abbasid era, scholars such as Bukhari and Muslim compiled the major Sunni hadith collections while scholars like Al-Kulayni and Ibn Babawayh compiled major Shia hadith collections. The four Sunni Madh’habs, the Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki, and Shafi’i, were established around the teachings of Abū Ḥanīfa, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Malik ibn Anas and al-Shafi’i. In contrast, the teachings of Ja’far al-Sadiq formed the Ja’fari jurisprudence. In the 9th century Al-Tabari completed the first commentary of the Quran, that became one of the most cited commentaries in Sunni Islam, the Tafsir al-Tabari. Some Muslims began questioning the piety of indulgence in worldly life and emphasized poverty, humility, and avoidance of sin based on renunciation of bodily desires. Ascetics such as Hasan al-Basri would inspire a movement that would evolve into Tasawwuf or Sufism.
At this time, theological problems, notably on free will, were prominently tackled, with Hasan al Basri holding that although God knows people’s actions, good and evil come from abuse of free will and the devil. Greek rationalist philosophy influenced a speculative school of thought known as Muʿtazila, first originated by Wasil ibn Ata. Caliphs such as Mamun al Rashid and Al-Mu’tasim made it an official creed and unsuccessfully attempted to force their position on the majority. They carried out inquisitions with the traditionalist Ahmad ibn Hanbal notably refusing to conform to the Mutazila idea of the creation of the Quran and was tortured and kept in an unlit prison cell for nearly thirty months. However, other schools of speculative theology – Māturīdism founded by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi and Ash’ari founded by Al-Ash’ari – were more successful in being widely adopted. Philosophers such as Al-Farabi, Avicenna and Averroes sought to harmonize Aristotle’s metaphysics within Islam, similar to later scholasticism within Christianity in Europe, while others like Al-Ghazali argued against such syncretism and ultimately prevailed.
This era is sometimes called the “Islamic Golden Age“. Avicenna pioneered the science of experimental medicine, and was the first physician to conduct clinical trials. His two most notable works, The Book of Healing and The Canon of Medicine, were used as standard medicinal texts in the Islamic world and later in Europe. Amongst his contributions are the discovery of the contagious nature of infectious diseases, and the introducing clinical pharmacology. In mathematics, the mathematician Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi gave his name to the concept of the algorithm, while the term algebra is derived from al-jabr. Public hospitals established during this time, are considered “the first hospitals” in the modern sense of the word, and issued the first medical diplomas to license doctors. The Guinness World Records recognizes the University of Al Karaouine, founded in 859, as the world’s oldest degree-granting university. The doctorate is argued to date back to the licenses to teach in Islamic law schools. Standards of experimental and quantification techniques, as well as the tradition of citation, were introduced. An important pioneer in this, Ibn al-Haytham (c. 965 – c. 040) is regarded as the father of the modern scientific method and often referred to as the “world’s first true scientist”. The government paid scientists the equivalent salary of professional athletes today. It is argued that that Al-Jahiz (776–868/869) proposed a theory of natural selection. The Persian poet Ferdowsi (940–1019/1025) wrote his epic poem Shahnameh.
The vast Abbasid empire proved impossible to hold together. Soldiers established their own dynasties, such as the Tulunids, Samanid and Ghaznavid dynasty, and the millennialist Isma’ili Shi’a missionary movement took advantage of the situation, with the Fatimid dynasty taking control of North Africa and the Qarmatians sacking Mecca and stealing the Black Stone in their unsuccessful rebellion. In what is called the Shi’a Century, another Ismaili group, the Buyid dynasty conquered Baghdad and turned the Abbasids into a figurehead monarchy. The Alawites and the Druze, offshoots of Shi’a Islam date to this time. The Sunni Seljuk dynasty, campaigned to reassert Sunnism, notably with the construction of educational institutions known as Nezamiyeh, which are associated with Al-Ghazali and Saadi Shirazi.
Religious missions converted Volga Bulgaria to Islam. In the Indian Subcontinent, during the Delhi Sultanate, the Indian Islamic missionaries achieved their greatest success in terms of dawah and the number of converts to Islam. The Delhi Sultanate is known for enthroning one of the few female rulers in Islamic history, Razia Sultana. Many Muslims also went to China to trade, virtually dominating the import and export industry of the Song dynasty.
Pre-Modern era (1258–18th century)
Through Muslim trade networks and the activity of Sufi orders, Islam spread into new areas. Under the Ottoman Empire, Islam spread to Southeast Europe. Conversion to Islam, however, was not a sudden abandonment of old religious practices; rather, it was typically a matter of “assimilating Islamic rituals, cosmologies, and literatures into… local religious systems”, as illustrated by Muhammad’s appearance in Hindu folklore. The Turks probably found similarities between Sufi rituals and Shaman practices. Muslim Turks incorporated elements of Turkish Shamanism beliefs to Islam. Muslims in China, who were descended from earlier immigrants, were assimilated, sometimes by force, by adopting Chinese names and culture while Nanjing became an important center of Islamic study.
While cultural influence used to radiate outward from Baghdad, after the Mongol destruction of the Abbasid Caliphate, Arab influence decreased. Iran and Central Asia, benefiting from increased cross-cultural access to East Asia under Mongol rule, flourished and developed more distinctively from Arab influence, such as the Timurid Renaissance under the Timurid dynasty. Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274) proposed the mathematical model that was later adopted by Copernicus unrevised in his heliocentric model and Jamshīd al-Kāshī‘s estimate of pi would not be surpassed for 180 years. Many Muslim dynasties in India chose Persian as their court language.
The introduction of gunpowder weapons led to the rise of large centralized states and the Muslim Gunpowder empires consolidated much of the previously splintered territories. The caliphate was claimed by the Ottoman dynasty of the Ottoman Empire since Murad I‘s conquest of Edirne in 1362, and its claims were strengthened in 1517 as Selim I became the ruler of Mecca and Medina. The Shia Safavid dynasty rose to power in 1501 and later conquered all of Iran. In South Asia, Babur founded the Mughal Empire. The Mughals made major contributions to Islamic architecture, including the Taj Mahal and Badshahi mosque, and compiled the Fatwa Alamgiri. Mughal India surpassed Qing China to become the world’s largest economy, worth 25% of world GDP, with the Bengal Subah signalling the proto-industrialization and showing signs of the Industrial revolution.
The religion of the centralized states of the Gunpowder empires impacted their constituent populations. A symbiosis between Ottoman rulers and Sufism strongly influenced Islamic reign by the Ottomans from the beginning. According to Ottoman historiography, the legitimation of a ruler is attributed to Sheikh Edebali who interpreted a dream of Osman Gazi as God’s legitimation of his reign. The Mevlevi Order and Bektashi Order had a close relation to the sultans, as Sufi-mystical as well as heterodox and syncretic approaches to Islam flourished. The often forceful Safavid conversion of Iran to the Twelver Shia Islam of the Safavid dynasty ensured the final dominance of the Twelver sect within Shiism over the Ismaili sects and the Zaidi, which had previously been the majority and oldest group among the Shia. Nader Shah, who overthrew the Safavids, attempted to improve relations with Sunnis by propagating the integration of Twelverism into Sunni Islam as a fifth madhhab, called Ja’farism, which failed to gain recognition from the Ottomans.
Modern era (18th – 20th centuries)
Earlier in the 14th century, Ibn Taymiyya promoted a puritanical form of Islam, rejecting philosophical approaches in favor of simpler theology and called to open the gates of itjihad rather than blind imitation of scholars. He called for a jihad against those he deemed heretics but his writings only played a marginal role during his lifetime. During the 18th century in Arabia, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, influenced by the works of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn al-Qayyim, founded a movement, called Wahhabi with their self-designation as Muwahiddun, to return to what he saw as unadultered Islam. He condemned many local Islamic customs, such as visiting the grave of Muhammad or saints, as later innovations and sinful and destroyed sacred rocks and trees, Sufi shrines, the tombs of Muhammad and his companions and the tomb of Husayn at Karbala, a major Shiite pilgrimage site. He formed an alliance with the Saud family, which, by the 1920s, completed their conquest of the area that would become Saudi Arabia. Ma Wanfu and Ma Debao promoted salafist movements in the nineteenth century such as Sailaifengye in China after returning from Mecca but were eventually persecuted and forced into hiding by Sufi groups. Other groups sought to reform Sufism rather than reject it, with the Senusiyya and Muhammad Ahmad both waging war and establishing states in Libya and Sudan respectively. In India, Shah Waliullah Dehlawi attempted a more conciliatory style against Sufism and influenced the Deobandi movement. In response to the Deobandi movement, the Barelwi movement was founded as a mass movement, defending popular Sufism and reforming its practices. The movement is famous for the celebration of the Muhammad’s birthday and today, is spread across the globe.
The Muslim world was generally in political decline starting the 1800s, especially regarding non-Muslim European powers. Earlier, in the fifteenth century, the Reconquista succeeded in ending the Muslim presence in Iberia. By the 19th century; the British East India Company had formally annexed the Mughal dynasty in India. As a response to Western Imperialism, many intellectuals sought to reform Islam. Islamic modernism, initially labelled by Western scholars as Salafiyya, embraced modern values and institutions such as democracy while being scripture-oriented. Notable forerunners include Muhammad ‘Abduh and Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Abul A’la Maududi helped influence modern political Islam. Similar to contemporary codification, Shariah was for the first time partially codified into law in 1869 in the Ottoman Empire’s Mecelle code.
The Ottoman Empire disintegrated after World War I and the Caliphate was abolished in 1924 by the first President of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, as part of his secular reforms. Pan-Islamists attempted to unify Muslims and competed with growing nationalist forces, such as pan-Arabism. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), consisting of Muslim-majority countries, was established in 1969 after the burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Contact with industrialized nations brought Muslim populations to new areas through economic migration. Many Muslims migrated as indentured servants (mostly from India and Indonesia) to the Caribbean, forming the largest Muslim populations by percentage in the Americas. Migration from Syria and Lebanon was the biggest contributor to the Muslim population in Latin America. The resulting urbanization and increase in trade in sub-Saharan Africa brought Muslims to settle in new areas and spread their faith, likely doubling its Muslim population between 1869 and 1914. Muslim immigrants began arriving largely from former colonies in several Western European nations since the 1960s, many as guest workers.
Contemporary era (20th century–present)
Forerunners of Islamic modernism influenced Islamist political movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties in the Arab world, which performed well in elections following the Arab Spring, Jamaat-e-Islami in South Asia and the AK Party, which has democratically been in power in Turkey for decades. In Iran, revolution replaced a secular monarchy with an Islamic state. Others such as Sayyid Rashid Rida broke away from Islamic modernists and pushed against embracing what he saw as Western influence. While some were quietist, others believed in violence against those opposing them even other Muslims, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, who would even attempt to recreate the modern gold dinar as their monetary system.
In opposition to Islamic political movements, in 20th century Turkey, the military carried out coups to oust Islamist governments, and headscarves were legally restriced, as also happened in Tunisia. In other places religious power was co-opted, such as in Saudi Arabia, where the state monopolized religious scholarship and are often seen as puppets of the state while Egypt nationalized Al-Azhar University, previously an independent voice checking state power. Salafism was funded for it quietism. Saudi Arabia campaigned against revolutionary Islamist movements in the Middle East, in opposition to Iran, Turkey and Qatar.
Muslim minorities of various ethnicities have been persecuted as a religious group. This has been undertaken by communist forces like the Khmer Rouge, who viewed them as their primary enemy to be exterminated since they stood out and worshiped their own god and the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang and by nationalist forces such as during the Bosnian genocide.
The globalization of communication has increased dissemination of religious information. The adoption of the hijab has grown more common and some Muslim intellectuals are increasingly striving to separate scriptural Islamic beliefs from cultural traditions. Among other groups, this access to information has led to the rise of popular “televangelist” preachers, such as Amr Khaled, who compete with the traditional ulema in their reach and have decentralized religious authority. More “individualized” interpretations of Islam notably include Liberal Muslims who attempt to reconcile religious traditions with current secular governance and women’s issues.
Sunni Islam or Sunnism is the name for the largest denomination in Islam. The term is a contraction of the phrase “ahl as-sunna wa’l-jamaat”, which means “people of the sunna and the community”. Sunnis believe that the first four caliphs were the rightful successors to Muhammad and primarily reference six major hadith works for legal matters, while following one of the four traditional schools of jurisprudence: Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki or Shafi’i.
Sunni schools of theology encompass Asharism founded by Al-Ashʿarī (c. 874–936), Maturidi by Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (853–944 CE) and traditionalist theology under the leadership of Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855 CE). Traditionalist theology is characterized by its adherence to a literal understanding of the Quran and the Sunnah, the belief in the Quran is uncreated and eternal, and opposition to reason (kalam) in religious and ethical matters. On the other hand, Maturidism asserts, scripture is not needed for basic ethics and that good and evil can be understood by reason alone, but people rely on revelation, for matters beyond human’s comprehension. Asharism holds that ethics can derive just from divine revelation but not from human reason. However, Asharism accepts reason regarding exegetical matters and combines Muʿtazila approaches with traditionalist ideas.
In the 18th century, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab led a Salafi movement, referred by outsiders as Wahhabism, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. A similar movement called Ahl al-Hadith also de-emphasized the centuries’ old Sunni legal tradition, preferring to directly follow the Quran and Hadith. The Nurcu Sunni movement was by Said Nursi (1877–1960); it incorporates elements of Sufism and science, and has given rise to the Gülen movement.
Shia Islam or Shi’ism is the second-largest branch of Islam, having split doctrinally from Sunnism in the early centuries of Islam over in the designation of Abu Bakr, instead of Ali ibn Abi Talib, as the successor to the Prophet Muhammad. Although there are many Shia subsects, modern Shia Islam is mainly divided into three main groupings: Twelvers (the largest and most influential group), Ismailis and Zaidi, divided along the lines of contrasting beliefs about the succession of the imams. The Zaydis, named after the great-grandson of Ali, the scholar Zayd ibn Ali, used the Hanafi jurisprudence, as did most Sunnis.
Ibadi Islam or Ibadism is practiced by 1.45 million Muslims around the world, most of them in Oman. Ibadism is often associated with and viewed as a moderate variation of the Khawarij movement, though Ibadis themselves object to this classification. Unlike most Kharijite groups, Ibadism does not regard sinful Muslims as unbelievers. Ibadi hadiths, such as the Jami Sahih collection, uses chains of narrators from early Islamic history considered trustworthy but most Ibadi hadiths are also found in standard Sunni collections and contemporary Ibadis often approve of the standard Sunni collections.
Sufism, is a mystical–ascetic approach to Islam that seeks to find a direct personal experience of God. Classical Sufi scholars defined Tasawwuf as “a science whose objective is the reparation of the heart and turning it away from all else but God”, through “intuitive and emotional faculties” that one must be trained to use. It is not a sect of Islam and its adherents belong to the various Muslim denominations. Ismaili Shias, whose teachings root in Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism, as well as by the Illuminationist and Isfahan schools of Islamic philosophy have developed mystical interpretations of Islam. Hasan al-Basri, the early Sufi ascetic often portrayed as one of the earliest Sufis, emphasized fear of failing God’s expectations of obedience. In contrast, later prominent Sufis, such as Mansur Al-Hallaj and Jalaluddin Rumi, emphasized religiosity based on love towards God. Such devotion would also have an impact on the arts, with Jalaluddin Rumi (1207–1273), still one of the best selling poets in America, writing his Persian poem Masnawi and the works of Hafez (1315–1390) are often considered the pinnacle of Persian poetry.
Sufis see tasawwuf as an inseparable part of Islam, just like the sharia. Traditional Sufis, such as Bayazid Bastami, Jalaluddin Rumi, Haji Bektash Veli, Junaid Baghdadi, and Al-Ghazali, argued for Sufism as being based upon the tenets of Islam and the teachings of the prophet. Historian Nile Green argued that Islam in the Medieval period, was more or less Sufism. Popular devotional practices such as the veneration of Sufi saints have been viewed as innovations from the original religion from followers of salafism, who have sometimes physically attacked Sufis, leading to a deterioration in Sufi–Salafi relations.
Sufi congregations form orders (tariqa) centered around a teacher (wali) who traces a spiritual chain back to Muhammad. Sufis played an important role in the formation of Muslim societies through their missionary and educational activities. Sufi influenced Ahle Sunnat movement or Barelvi movement defends Sufi practices and beliefs with over 200 million followers in south Asia. Sufism is prominent in Central Asia, as well as in African countries like Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Senegal, Chad and Niger.
Law and jurisprudence
Sharia is the religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition. It is derived from the religious precepts of Islam, particularly the Quran and the Hadith. In Arabic, the term sharīʿah refers to God’s divine law and is contrasted with fiqh, which refers to its scholarly interpretations. The manner of its application in modern times has been a subject of dispute between Muslim traditionalists and reformists.
Traditional theory of Islamic jurisprudence recognizes four sources of sharia: the Quran, sunnah, qiyas, and ijma. Different legal schools developed methodologies for deriving sharia rulings from scriptural sources using a process known as ijtihad. Traditional jurisprudence distinguishes two principal branches of law,ʿibādāt (rituals) and muʿāmalāt (social relations), which together comprise a wide range of topics. Its rulings assign actions to one of five categories called ahkam: mandatory (fard), recommended (mustahabb), permitted (mubah), abhorred (makruh), and prohibited (haram). Some areas of sharia overlap with the Western notion of law while others correspond more broadly to living life in accordance with God’s will.
Historically, sharia was interpreted by independent jurists (muftis). Their legal opinions (fatwa) were taken into account by ruler-appointed judges who presided over qāḍī‘s courts, and by maẓālim courts, which were controlled by the ruler’s council and administered criminal law. In the modern era, sharia-based criminal laws were widely replaced by statutes inspired by European models. The Ottoman Empire‘s 19th-century Tanzimat reforms lead to the Mecelle civil code and represented the first attempt to codify sharia. While the constitutions of most Muslim-majority states contain references to sharia, its classical rules were largely retained only in personal status (family) laws. Legislative bodies which codified these laws sought to modernize them without abandoning their foundations in traditional jurisprudence. The Islamic revival of the late 20th century brought along calls by Islamist movements for complete implementation of sharia. The role of sharia has become a contested topic around the world. There are ongoing debates whether sharia is compatible with secular forms of government, human rights, freedom of thought, and women’s rights.
Schools of jurisprudence
A school of jurisprudence is referred to as a madhhab. The four major Sunni schools are the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali madhahs while the three major Shia schools are the Ja’fari, Zaidi and Isma’ili madhahib. Each differs in their methodology, called Usul al-fiqh (“principles of jurisprudence”). The following of decisions by a religious expert without necessarily examining the decision’s reasoning is called taqlid. The term ghair muqallid literally refers to those who do not use taqlid and, by extension, do not have a madhab. The practice of an individual interpreting law with independent reasoning is called ijtihad.
Islam, like Judaism, has no clergy in the sacerdotal sense, such as priests who mediate between God and people. Imam is the religious title used for the individual who leads an Islamic worship service.
Religious interpretation is presided over by the ulama, a term used describe the body of Muslim scholars who have received training in Islamic studies. A scholar of the hadith is called a muhaddith, a scholar of jurisprudence is called a faqih, a jurist who is qualified to issue legal opinions or fatwas is called a mufti, and a qadi is an Islamic judge. Honorific titles given to scholars include sheikh, mullah and mawlawi.
Some Muslims also venerate saints associated with miracles. The practice of visiting the tombs of prophets and saints is known as ziyarat. Unlike saints in Christianity, Muslim saints are usually acknowledged informally by the consensus of common people, not by scholars.
Mainstream Islamic law does not distinguish between “matters of church” and “matters of state”; the scholars function as both jurists and theologians. Various forms of Islamic jurisprudence therefore rule on matters than in other societal context might be considered the preserve of the state. Terms traditionally used to refer to Muslim leaders include Caliph and Sultan and terms associated with traditionally Muslim states include Caliphate, Emirate, Imamate and Khanate.
In Islamic economic jurisprudence, hoarding of wealth is reviled and thus monopolistic behavior is frowned upon. Attempts to comply with shariah has led to the development of Islamic banking. Islam prohibits riba, usually translated as usury, which refers to any unfair gain in trade and is most commonly used to mean interest. Instead, Islamic banks go into partnership with the borrower and both share from the profits and any losses from the venture. Another feature is the avoidance of uncertainty, which is seen as gambling and Islamic banks traditionally avoid derivative instruments such as futures or options which substantially protected them from the 2008 financial crisis. The state used to be involved in distribution of charity from the treasury, known as Bayt al-mal, before it became a largely individual pursuit. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, distributed zakat as one of the first examples of a guaranteed minimum income, with each man, woman and child getting 10 to 20 dirhams annually. During the reign of the second Caliph Umar, child support was introduced and the old and disabled were entitled to stipends, while the Umayyad Caliph Umar II assigned a servant for each blind person and for every two chronically ill persons.
Islamic military jurisprudence meanwhile affects external warfare, with jihad usually taken to mean military exertion against non-Muslim combatants. Jihad is the only form of warfare permissible in Islamic law and may be declared against illegal works, terrorists, criminal groups, rebels, apostates, and leaders or states who oppress Muslims. Most Muslims today interpret Jihad as only a defensive form of warfare. Jihad only becomes an individual duty for those vested with authority. For the rest of the populace, this happens only in the case of a general mobilization. For most Twelver Shias, offensive jihad can only be declared by a divinely appointed leader of the Muslim community, and as such, is suspended since Muhammad al-Mahdi‘s occultation is 868 AD.
Daily and family life
Many daily practices fall in the category of adab, or Islamic etiquette. This includes greeting others with “as-salamu ‘alaykum” (“peace be unto you”), saying bismillah (“in the name of God“) before meals, and using only the right hand for eating and drinking.
Specific prohibited foods include pork products, blood and carrion. Health is viewed as a trust from God and intoxicants, such as alcoholic drinks, are prohibited. All meat must come from a herbivorous animal slaughtered in the name of God by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian, except for game that one has hunted or fished for them self. Beards are often encouraged among men as something natural and body modifications, such as permanent tattoos, are usually forbidden as violating the creation. Gold and silk for men are prohibited and are seen as extravagant. Haya, often translated as “shame” or “modesty”, informs much of Muslim daily life. For example, clothing in Islam emphasizes a standard of modesty, which has included the hijab for women. Similarly, personal hygiene is encouraged with certain requirements.
After the birth of a child, the Adhan is pronounced in the right ear. On the seventh day, the aqiqah ceremony is performed, in which an animal is sacrificed and its meat is distributed among the poor. The child’s head is shaved, and an amount of money equaling the weight of its hair is donated to the poor. Male circumcision is practised. Respecting and obeying one’s parents, and taking care of them especially in their old age is a religious obligation.
In Islamic marriage, the groom is required pay a bridal gift (mahr). Most families in the Islamic world are monogamous. However, Muslim men are allowed to practice polygyny and can have up to four wives at the same time. There are also cultural variations in weddings. Polyandry, a practice wherein a woman takes on two or more husbands, is prohibited in Islam.
A dying Muslim is encouraged to pronounce the Shahada as their last words. Paying respects to the dead and attending funerals in the community are considered among the virtuous acts. In Islamic burial rituals, burial is encouraged as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours. The body is washed, except for martyrs, by members of the same gender and enshrouded in a garment that must not be elaborate called kafan. A “funeral prayer” called Salat al-Janazah is performed. Wailing is discouraged. Coffins are often not preferred and graves are often unmarked, even for kings. Regarding inheritance, a son’s share is double that of a daughter’s.
As a religion, Islam emphasizes the idea of having a good character as Muhammad said: “The best among you are those who have the best manners and character.” Another Sunni hadith states that, “Every Deen or religion has an innate character. The character of Islam is modesty.” As a virtue, forgiveness is much celebrated in Islam. For example, while imposing a penalty on an offender in proportion to their offense is considered permissible; forgiving the offender is better. To go one step further by offering a favor to the offender is regarded as the peak of excellence. The Quran says: “Good and evil cannot be equal. Respond ˹to evil˺ with what is best, then the one you are in enmity with will be like a close friend.” The Quran and the hadith describe God as being kind and merciful to His creatures, and tell people to be kind likewise.
Jihad means “to strive or struggle [in the way of God]”. In its broadest sense, it is “exerting one’s utmost power, efforts, endeavors, or ability in contending with an object of disapprobation“. Depending on the object being a visible enemy, the Devil and aspects of one’s own self (like sinful desires), different categories of jihad are defined. Jihad also refers to one’s striving to attain religious and moral perfection. When used without a qualifier, jihad is understood in its military form. Some Muslim authorities, especially among the Shia and Sufis, distinguish between the “greater jihad”, which pertains to spiritual self-perfection, and the “lesser jihad”, defined as warfare.
Criticism of Islam has existed since Islam’s formative stages. Early criticism came from Christian authors, many of whom viewed Islam as a Christian heresy or a form of idolatry, often explaining it in apocalyptic terms. Later, criticism from the Muslim world itself appeared, as well as from Jewish writers and from ecclesiastical Christians.
Christian writers criticized Islamic salvation optimism and its carnality. Islam’s sensual descriptions of paradise led many Christians to conclude that Islam was not a spiritual religion. Although sensual pleasure was also present in early Christianity, as seen in the writings of Irenaeus, the doctrines of the former Manichaean, Augustine of Hippo, led to the broad repudiation of bodily pleasure in both life and the afterlife. Ali ibn Sahl Rabban al-Tabari defended the Quranic description of paradise by asserting that the Bible also implies such ideas, such as drinking wine in the Gospel of Matthew.
Defamatory images of Muhammad, derived from early 7th century depictions of the Byzantine Church, appear in the 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Here, Muhammad appears in the eighth circle of hell, along with Ali. Dante does not blame Islam as a whole but accuses Muhammad of schism, by establishing another religion after Christianity.
Other criticisms focus on the question of human rights in modern Muslim-majority countries, and the treatment of women in Islamic law and practice. In the wake of the recent multiculturalism trend, Islam’s influence on the ability of Muslim immigrants in the West to assimilate has been criticized. Both in his public and personal life, others objected to the morality of Muhammad, therefore also the sunnah as a role model.
While the vast majority of those people practicing the Islam faith are peaceful, there is a small portion of the Islamic community that are part of Islamic extremism. These groups are the major breeding grounds for terrorism throughout the world.
Islamic extremism, Islamist extremism, or radical Islam refer to extremist beliefs and behaviors associated with the Islamic religion. These are controversial terms with varying definitions, ranging from academic understandings to the idea that all ideologies other than Islam have failed and are inferior to Islam. This can also extend to other sects of Islam that do not share such beliefs. Political definitions include the one used by the government of the United Kingdom, which understands Islamic extremism as any form of Islam that opposes “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
It is not to be confused with Islamic fundamentalism or Islamism, the former defined as a movement of Muslims who are of the view that Muslim-majority countries should return to the fundamentals of an Islamic state and the latter being a type of political Islam, although some consider both Islamic fundamentalism and Islamism as forms of Islamic extremism. Islamic terrorism and jihadism are very often the result of Islamic extremism, although not in every case.
The academic definition of radical Islam consists of two parts:
- The first being: Islamic thought that states that all ideologies other than Islam, whether associated with the West (capitalism or democracy) or the East (communism or socialism) have failed and have demonstrated their bankruptcy.
- The second being: Islamic thought that states that (semi)secular regimes are wrong because of their negligence of Islam.
United Kingdom High Courts definition
The UK High Courts have ruled in two cases on Islamic extremism, and provided definition.
Aside from those, two major definitions have been offered for Islamic extremism, sometimes using overlapping but also distinct aspects of extreme interpretations and pursuits of Islamic ideology:
- The use of violent tactics such as bombing and assassinations for achieving perceived Islamic goals (see Jihadism; or Zeyno Baran, Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute, prefers the term Islamist extremism).
- An extremely conservative view of Islam, which does not necessarily entail violence (see also Islamic fundamentalism [Baran again prefers the term Islamism]).
UK High Court rulings
There are two UK High Court cases that explicitly address the issue of Islamic extremism.
- May 2016: An Appeal from the Crown Court and Central Criminal Court: several individuals’ cases considered together.
- October 2016: In which the Judge concluded that Imam Shakeel Begg is an Islamic Extremist, and does not uphold Begg’s claim that the BBC had libelled him by saying so.
May 2016 appeal case
The judge refers to several grounds: section 20 of the 2006 Act; the definition of “terrorism” in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and the decision of the Supreme Court in R v Gul.
October 2016 Shakeel Begg case
Begg, a prominent Muslim public figure and Imam at Lewisham Islamic Centre since 1998 lost his 2016 court case of Libel against the BBC. This case is noteworthy because the judge lists a 10-point definition of Islamic extremism that he used to determine the case:
In Charles Haddon-Cave‘s findings he wrote:
Extremist Islamic positions
118. In my view, the following constitute “extremist” Islamic positions (or indicia thereof).
- First, a ‘Manichean’ view of the world. A total, eternal ‘Manichean’ worldview is a central tenet of violent Islamic extremism. It divides the world strictly into ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’: those who are blessed or saved (i.e. the “right kind” of Muslim) on the one hand and those who are to be damned for eternity (i.e. the “wrong kind” of Muslim and everyone else) on the other. For violent Islamic extremists, the “wrong kind” of Muslim includes moderate Sunni Muslims, all Shia Muslims, and many others who are “mete for the sword” and can be killed, and anyone who associates or collaborates” with them…
- Second, the reduction of jihad (striving in God’s cause) to qital (armed combat) (‘the Lesser Jihad’)…
- Third, the ignoring or flouting of the conditions for the declaration of armed jihad (qital), i.e. the established Islamic doctrinal conditions for the declaration of armed combat (qital) set out above…
- Fourth, the ignoring or flouting of the strict regulations governing the conduct of armed jihad, i.e. the stipulations in the Qur’an and the Sunna for the ethics of conducting qital set out above. Thus, the use of excessive violence, attacks on civilians, indiscriminate ‘suicide’ violence and the torture or the murder of prisoners would constitute violation of these regulations of jihad…
- Fifth, advocating armed fighting in defence of Islam (qital) as a universal individual religious obligation (fard al ‘ayn)…
- Sixth, any interpretation of Shari’a (i.e. religious law laid down by the Qur’an and the Sunna) that required breaking the ‘law of the land’…
- Seventh, the classification of all non-Muslims as unbelievers (kuffar)…
- Eighth, the extreme Salafist Islamism doctrine that the precepts of the Muslim faith negate and supersede all other natural ties, such as those of family, kinship and nation…
- Ninth, the citing with approval the fatwa (legal opinions) of Islamic scholars who espouse extremist view…
- Tenth, any teaching which, expressly or implicitly, encourages Muslims to engage in, or support, terrorism or violence in the name of Allah.
Key influences of radical Islam
According to the academic definition of radical Islam, the second condition for something to be called radical Islam, is that it is antigovernmental. Consequently, a government is a condition for radical Islam. However, even though the peace of Westphalia was established in 1648 and thus introduced the nation state, the writings of the formative centuries of Islamic history are influential to the contemporary writings that were coined radical after the concept of the nation state was established in the Muslim world as well. Key influences of radical Islam that stem from early Islam include:
Islamic extremism dates back to the early history of Islam with the emergence of the Kharijites in the 7th century CE. The original schism between Kharijites, Sunnīs, and Shīʿas among Muslims was disputed over the political and religious succession to the guidance of the Muslim community (Ummah) after the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. From their essentially political position, the Kharijites developed extreme doctrines that set them apart from both mainstream Sunnī and Shīʿa Muslims. Shīʿas believe ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib is the true successor to Muhammad, while Sunnīs consider Abu Bakr to hold that position. The Kharijites broke away from both the Shīʿas and the Sunnīs during the First Fitna (the first Islamic Civil War); they were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to takfīr (excommunication), whereby they declared both Sunnī and Shīʿa Muslims to be either infidels (kuffār) or false Muslims (munāfiḳūn), and therefore deemed them worthy of death for their perceived apostasy (ridda).
The Islamic tradition traces the origin of the Kharijities to the battle between ʿAlī and Mu’awiya at Siffin in 657 CE. When ʿAlī was faced with a military stalemate and agreed to submit the dispute to arbitration, some of his party withdrew their support from him. “Judgement belongs to God alone” became the slogan of these secessionists. They also called themselves al-Shurat (“the Vendors”), to reflect their willingness to sell their lives in martyrdom.
These original Kharijites opposed both ʿAlī and Mu’awiya, and appointed their own leaders. They were decisively defeated by ʿAlī, who was in turn assassinated by a Kharijite. Kharijites engaged in guerilla warfare against the Umayyads, but only became a movement to be reckoned with during the Second Fitna (the second Islamic Civil War) when they at one point controlled more territory than any of their rivals. The Kharijites were, in fact, one of the major threats to Ibn al-Zubayr’s bid for the caliphate; during this time they controlled Yamama and most of southern Arabia, and captured the oasis town of al-Ta’if.
The Azariqa, considered to be the extreme faction of the Kharijites, controlled parts of western Iran under the Umayyads until they were finally put down in 699 CE. The more moderate Ibadi Kharijites were longer-lived, continuing to wield political power in North and East Africa and in eastern Arabia during the ‘Abbasid period. Because of their readiness to declare any opponent as apostate, the extreme Kharijites tended to fragment into small groups. One of the few points that the various Kharijite splinter groups held in common was their view of the caliphate, which differed from other Muslim theories on two points.
- First, they were principled egalitarians, holding that any pious Muslim (“even an Ethiopian slave“) can become Caliph and that family or tribal affiliation is inconsequential. The only requirements for leadership are piety and acceptance by the community.
- Second, they agreed that it is the duty of the believers to depose any leader who falls into error. This second principle had profound implications for Kharijite theology. Applying these ideas to the early history of the caliphate, Kharijites only accept Abu Bakr and ‘Umar as legitimate caliphs. Of ‘Uthman’s caliphate they recognize only the first six years as legitimate, and they reject ‘Ali altogether.
By the time that Ibn al-Muqaffa’ wrote his political treatise early in the ‘Abassid period, the Kharijites were no longer a significant political threat, at least in the Islamic heartlands. The memory of the menace they had posed to Muslim unity and of the moral challenge generated by their pious idealism still weighed heavily on Muslim political and religious thought, however. Even if the Kharijites could no longer threaten, their ghosts still had to be answered. The Ibadis are the only Kharijite group to survive into modern times.
Religious beliefs have been the mainstay of our written histories in regards how life was and is lived. The religious leaders in most cultures took seats of power and wealth. The masses were ignorant and uneducated, even the leaders were illiterate. The religious leaders, whether they be shamans, witch doctors, priests, monks, imams, rabbbis, talmudists, cardinals or even popes, advised the leaders in not only religious matters but in matters of state as well. In many countries and cultures, they were the leaders. For want of a better generic term for these religious leaders, I will just use that term. Please be aware when I use this term I am referring to all of the religions. It is to simplify the narrative.
Besides the Crusades no other time was as dark as the Spanish Inquisition. The crusades covered centuries and hundreds of thousands of people were killed all in the name of religion. Even today many Islamic countries hold grudges against Christianity because of the Crusades. While more lives were lost in the Crusades than in the Inquisition, greater suffering though organized torture was inflicted on non believers than occurred at any previous time in our history. Even the treatment inflicted by the Mongols, Vikings and Romans pales in comparison to the pain and misery inflicted by the Spanish during the Inquisition. I have included a brief history of the Inquisition in the Addendum section.
While it has been the norm that belief systems have been predominantly based on religion, they don’t necessarily have to be so. Today the environment seems to be the new crux for fervent beliefs. The green new deal has become the end all be all, even above religious beliefs and dogma. My feeling is that people have to have something to believe in to give meaning to their lives. It frankly doesn’t matter what it is. Our educational system has been geared not in educating our children to be independent thinkers but to be dependent thinkers. This become very evident in our COVID-19 pandemic. Everything has been geared towards molding out young people to follow the status quo. Even to the way the virus name is written. “COVID-19” in capital letters to add extra emphasis. In most states the mask mandates have been ended, and what do I still see, young children and adults, who have almost zero risk from the virus still wearing masks, even outdoors. The brainwashers must be proud of themselves. We don’t need God anymore, we have a new GOD Science and Fauci is the benign supreme being leading the way. Dogma can take many forms. Not all of it has had a positive effect on our society. As I have shown the written word s that are used in all religions have been supposedly taken from either visions or directly from the lips of Gods. So it is blind faith that we must have in order to believe. One of the most important statements ever made is that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. It has been shown to be true throughout our history. There are only a few men who have been strong willed enough to not fall into that trap, George Washington, Winston Churchill and Donald J. Trump. I know what, the hell? Well this time I am not going to give you the answer. You need to do some of the work yourselves. If you take the time you will find that I am right.
One thing I have a weakness for is beings that cannot speak up for themselves. Let me explain; (1) animal abuse, (2) child abuse, (3) abuse of the mentally and physically handicapped, (5) powerless women, and (4) the elderly. I don’t include healthy and normal women,. they can speak for themselves, they just don’t chose to do so. The reason I mention these is due to religious beliefs and practices. The Romans devastated populations of wild African animals for the glory of Rome and the Gods. Religions like like Jehovah witness and some of the fringe groups of Mormons and Jehovah witnesses rather allow their loved ones die that to seek medical treatment. Our God doesn’t want this, it is our twisting of his words that makes this happen. Sharia law, where woman and girls have no rights, and are mere property. The word of God has been twisted again to give more power to those already in power. The beliefs have become so entrenched that they are now accepted dogmatic beliefs. Just because you believe in something, doesn’t make it right or so. You also don’t have the right to force other human beings to believe in your way of thinking.
Our educational system is creating generations of weak minded individuals who are easily manipulated. It has been time after time shown that poorly educated people are easier to corrupt and to manipulate. Look at cults for instance, Jim Jone’s Guyana Tragedy being the most horrendous example. Jim Jones was able to manipulate weak minded people to drink cyanide laced kool-aid because he had convinced them that they were going to a better place. Over 900 people committed suicide in Guyana. You need to think for yourselves, stop being sheep. Our leaders don’t have all the answers. Neither do are religions. Bling religious faith has lead to countless instances of abuse and atrocious behavior.
en.wikipedia.com, “History of Religion.” By Wikipedia editors; en.wikipedia.com, “Dogma.” By Wikipedia editors; thehumbleagnostic.com, “Depth & Dogma: The Evolution of Religious Experience.” By Graham; en.wikipedia.com, “Greek Mythology.” By Wikipedia editors; medium.com, “Hinduism and Buddhism — Similarities and Differences in Belief and Practice” A comparison.” By Nixie Adams; en.wikipedia.com, “Judaism.” By Wikipedia editors; en.wikipedia.com, ” Christianity and Judaism.” By Wikipedia editors; en.wikipedia.com, “Islam.” By Wikipedia editors; en.wikipedia.com, “Islamic Extremism.” By Wikipedia editors; en.wikipedia.com, ” Religious War.” By Wikipedia editors;
Distinction between Jews as a people and Judaism
According to Daniel Boyarin, the underlying distinction between religion and ethnicity is foreign to Judaism itself, and is one form of the dualism between spirit and flesh that has its origin in Platonic philosophy and that permeated Hellenistic Judaism. Consequently, in his view, Judaism does not fit easily into conventional Western categories, such as religion, ethnicity, or culture. Boyarin suggests that this in part reflects the fact that much of Judaism’s more than 3,000-year history predates the rise of Western culture and occurred outside the West (that is, Europe, particularly medieval and modern Europe). During this time, Jews experienced slavery, anarchic and theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile. In the Jewish diaspora, they were in contact with, and influenced by, ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism, which would bear fruit in the form of a Jewish state in their ancient homeland, the Land of Israel. They also saw an elite population convert to Judaism, only to disappear as the centers of power in the lands once occupied by that elite fell to the people of Rus and then the Mongols. Thus, Boyarin has argued that “Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension.”
In contrast to this point of view, practices such as Humanistic Judaism reject the religious aspects of Judaism, while retaining certain cultural traditions.
Who is a Jew?
According to Rabbinic Judaism, a Jew is anyone who was either born of a Jewish mother or who converted to Judaism in accordance with halakha. Reconstructionist Judaism and the larger denominations of worldwide Progressive Judaism accept the child as Jewish if one of the parents is Jewish, if the parents raise the child with a Jewish identity, but not the smaller regional branches. All mainstream forms of Judaism today are open to sincere converts, although conversion has traditionally been discouraged since the time of the Talmud. The conversion process is evaluated by an authority, and the convert is examined on his or her sincerity and knowledge. Converts are called “ben Abraham” or “bat Abraham”. Conversions have on occasion been overturned. In 2008, Israel’s highest religious court invalidated the conversion of 40,000 Jews, mostly from Russian immigrant families, even though they had been approved by an Orthodox rabbi.
Rabbinical Judaism maintains that a Jew, whether by birth or conversion, is a Jew forever. Thus a Jew who claims to be an atheist or converts to another religion is still considered by traditional Judaism to be Jewish. According to some sources, the Reform movement has maintained that a Jew who has converted to another religion is no longer a Jew, and the Israeli Government has also taken that stance after Supreme Court cases and statutes. However, the Reform movement has indicated that this is not so cut and dried, and different situations call for consideration and differing actions. For example, Jews who have converted under duress may be permitted to return to Judaism “without any action on their part but their desire to rejoin the Jewish community” and “A proselyte who has become an apostate remains, nevertheless, a Jew”.
Karaite Judaism believes that Jewish identity can only be transmitted by patrilineal descent. Although a minority of modern Karaites believe that Jewish identity requires that both parents be Jewish, and not only the father. They argue that only patrilineal descent can transmit Jewish identity on the grounds that all descent in the Torah went according to the male line.
The question of what determines Jewish identity in the State of Israel was given new impetus when, in the 1950s, David Ben-Gurion requested opinions on mihu Yehudi (“Who is a Jew”) from Jewish religious authorities and intellectuals worldwide in order to settle citizenship questions. This is still not settled, and occasionally resurfaces in Israeli politics.
Historical definitions of Jewish identity have traditionally been based on halakhic definitions of matrilineal descent, and halakhic conversions. Historical definitions of who is a Jew date back to the codification of the Oral Torah into the Babylonian Talmud, around 200 CE. Interpretations of sections of the Tanakh, such as Deuteronomy, by Jewish sages, are used as a warning against intermarriage between Jews and Canaanites because “[the non-Jewish husband] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods of others.” Leviticus 24 says that the son in a marriage between a Hebrew woman and an Egyptian man is “of the community of Israel.” This is complemented by Ezra 10, where Israelites returning from Babylon vow to put aside their gentile wives and their children. A popular theory is that the rape of Jewish women in captivity brought about the law of Jewish identity being inherited through the maternal line, although scholars challenge this theory citing the Talmudic establishment of the law from the pre-exile period. Since the anti-religious Haskalah movement of the late 18th and 19th centuries, halakhic interpretations of Jewish identity have been challenged.
The total number of Jews worldwide is difficult to assess because the definition of “who is a Jew” is problematic; not all Jews identify themselves as Jewish, and some who identify as Jewish are not considered so by other Jews. According to the Jewish Year Book (1901), the global Jewish population in 1900 was around 11 million. The latest available data is from the World Jewish Population Survey of 2002 and the Jewish Year Calendar (2005). In 2002, according to the Jewish Population Survey, there were 13.3 million Jews around the world. The Jewish Year Calendar cites 14.6 million. It is 0.25% of world population. Jewish population growth is currently near zero percent, with 0.3% growth from 2000 to 2001.
Jewish religious movements
Rabbinic Judaism has been the mainstream form of Judaism since the 6th century CE, after the codification of the Talmud. It is characterized by the belief that the Written Torah cannot be correctly interpreted without reference to the Oral Torah and the voluminous literature specifying what behavior is sanctioned by the Law.
The Jewish Enlightenment of the late 18th century resulted in the division of Ashkenazi Jewry into religious movements or denominations, especially in North America and Anglophone countries. The main denominations today outside Israelare Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. The notion “traditional Judaism” includes the Orthodox with Conservative or solely the Orthodox Jews.
- Two Haredi Jewish couples at a bus stop in Jerusalem Hasids at front of Belz Great Synagogue, Jerusalem Orthodox Judaism holds that both the Written and Oral Torah were divinely revealed to Moses and that the laws within it are binding and unchanging. Orthodox Jews generally consider commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch to be the definitive codification of halakha. Orthodoxy places a high importance on Maimonides’ 13 principles as a definition of Jewish faith.
Orthodoxy is often divided into Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism. Haredi is less accommodating to modernity and has less interest in non-Jewish disciplines, and it may be distinguished from Modern Orthodox Judaism in practice by its styles of dress and more stringent practices. Subsets of Haredi Judaism include Hasidic Judaism, which is rooted in the Kabbalah and distinguished by reliance on a Rebbe or religious teacher; their opponents Misnagdim (Lithuanian); and Sephardic Haredi Judaism, which emerged among Sephardic and Mizrahi (Asian and North African) Jews in Israel. “Centrist” Orthodoxy is sometimes also distinguished.
- Conservative Judaism is characterized by a commitment to traditional halakha and customs, including observance of Shabbat and kashrut, a deliberately non-fundamentalist teaching of Jewish principles of faith, a positive attitude toward modern culture, and an acceptance of both traditional rabbinic and modern scholarship when considering Jewish religious texts. Conservative Judaism teaches that halakha is not static, but has always developed in response to changing conditions. It holds that the Torah is a divine document written by prophets inspired by God and reflecting his will, but rejects the Orthodox position that it was dictated by God to Moses. Conservative Judaism holds that the Oral Law is divine and normative, but holds that both the Written and Oral Law may be interpreted by the rabbis to reflect modern sensibilities and suit modern conditions.
- Reform Judaism, called Liberal or Progressive Judaism in many countries, defines Judaism in relatively universalist terms, rejects most of the ritual and ceremonial laws of the Torah while observing moral laws, and emphasizes the ethical call of the Prophets. Reform Judaism has developed an egalitarian prayer service in the vernacular and emphasizes personal connection to Jewish tradition.
- Reconstructionist Judaism, like Reform Judaism, does not hold that halakha, as such, requires observance, but unlike Reform, Reconstructionist thought emphasizes the role of the community in deciding what observances to follow.
- Jewish Renewal is a recent North American movement which focuses on spirituality and social justice but does not address issues of halakha. Men and women participate equally in prayer.
- Humanistic Judaism is a small non-theistic movement centered in North America and Israel that emphasizes Jewish culture and history as the sources of Jewish identity.
- Subbotniks (Sabbatarians) are a movement of Jews of Russian ethnic origin in the 18th–20th centuries, the majority of whom belonged to Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism. Many settled in the Holy Land as part of the Zionist First Aliyah in order to escape oppression in the Russian Empire and later mostly intermarried with other Jews, their descendants included Alexander Zaïd, Major-General Alik Ron, and the mother of Ariel Sharon.
Sephardi and Mizrahi Judaism
While traditions and customs vary between discrete communities, it can be said that Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities do not generally adhere to the “movement” framework popular in and among Ashkenazi Jewry. Historically, Sephardi and Mizrahi communities have eschewed denominations in favor of a “big tent” approach. This is particularly the case in contemporary Israel, which is home to the largest communities of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews in the world.
Sephardi and Mizrahi observance of Judaism tends toward the conservative, and prayer rites are reflective of this, with the text of each rite being largely unchanged since their respective inception. Observant Sephardim may follow the teachings of a particular rabbi or school of thought; for example, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Jewish movements in Israel
Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as “secular”, “traditional”, “religious” or Haredi. The term “secular” is more popular as a self-description among Israeli families of western (European) origin, whose Jewish identity may be a very powerful force in their lives, but who see it as largely independent of traditional religious belief and practice. This portion of the population largely ignores organized religious life, be it of the official Israeli rabbinate (Orthodox) or of the liberal movements common to diaspora Judaism (Reform, Conservative).
The term “traditional” is most common as a self-description among Israeli families of “eastern” origin. This term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the Conservative Judaism, which also names itself “Masorti” outside North America. There is a great deal of ambiguity in the ways “secular” and “traditional” are used in Israel: they often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range in terms of worldview and practical religious observance. The term “Orthodox” is not popular in Israeli discourse, although the percentage of Jews who come under that category is far greater than in the Jewish diaspora. What would be called “Orthodox” in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati or haredi in Israel. The former term includes what is called “Religious Zionism” or the “National Religious” community, as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as haredi-leumi, or “Hardal”, which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with nationalist ideology.
Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) “Lithuanian” (non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic origin; and (3) Sephardic haredim.
Karaites and Samaritans
Karaite Judaism defines itself as the remnants of the non-Rabbinic Jewish sects of the Second Temple period, such as the Sadducees. The Karaites accept only the Hebrew Bible and what they view as the Peshat; they do not accept non-biblical writings as authoritative. Some European Karaites do not see themselves as part of the Jewish community at all, although most do.
The Samaritans, a very small community located entirely around Mount Gerizim in the Nablus/Shechem region of the West Bank and in Holon, near Tel Aviv in Israel, regard themselves as the descendants of the Israelites of the Iron Age kingdom of Israel. Their religious practices are based on the literal text of the written Torah (Five Books of Moses), which they view as the only authoritative scripture.
Haymanot (Ethiopian Judaism)
Haymanot refers the Judaism practiced by Ethiopian Jews. This version of Judaism differs substantially from Rabbinic, Karaite, and Samaritan Judaisms, Ethiopian Jews having diverged from their coreligionists earlier. Sacred scriptures are written in Ge’ez, not Hebrew, and dietary laws are based strictly on the text of the Orit, without explication from ancillary commentaries. Holidays also differ, with some Rabbinic holidays not observed in Ethiopian Jewish communities, and some additional holidays, like Sigd.
Jewish secularism refers to secularism in a particularly Jewish context, denoting the definition of Jewishness either with little recourse to religion or without. Jewish Secularist ideologies first arose in the latter third of the 19th century, and reached the apogee of their influence in the interwar period.
Noahide (B’nei Noah movement)
Noahidism is a Jewish religious movement based on the Seven Laws of Noah and their traditional interpretations within Rabbinic Judaism. According to the halakha, non-Jews (gentiles) are not obligated to convert to Judaism, but they are required to observe the Seven Laws of Noah to be assured of a place in the World to Come, the final reward of the righteous. The divinely ordained penalty for violating any of the Laws of Noah is discussed in the Talmud, but in practical terms it is subject to the working legal system which is established by the society at large. Those who subscribe to the observance of the Noahic Covenant are referred to as B’nei Noach or Noahides. Supporting organizations have been established around the world over the past decades by both Noahides and Orthodox Jews.
Historically, the Hebrew term B’nei Noach has applied to all non-Jews as descendants of Noah. However, nowadays it’s primarily used to refer specifically to those non-Jews who observe the Seven Laws of Noah.
Historical Jewish groupings (to 1700)
After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, these sects vanished.[1 Christianity survived, but by breaking with Judaism and becoming a separate religion; the Pharisees survived but in the form of Rabbinic Judaism). The Sadducees rejected the divine inspiration of the Prophets and the Writings, relying only on the Torah as divinely inspired. Consequently, a number of other core tenets of the Pharisees’ belief system (which became the basis for modern Judaism), were also dismissed by the Sadducees.
Like the Sadducees who relied only on the Torah, some Jews in the 8th and 9th centuries rejected the authority and divine inspiration of the oral law as recorded in the Mishnah (and developed by later rabbis in the two Talmuds), relying instead only upon the Tanakh. These included the Isunians, the Yudganites, the Malikites, and others. They soon developed oral traditions of their own, which differed from the rabbinic traditions, and eventually formed the Karaite sect. Karaites exist in small numbers today, mostly living in Israel. Rabbinical and Karaite Jews each hold that the others are Jews, but that the other faith is erroneous.
Over a long time, Jews formed distinct ethnic groups in several different geographic areas—amongst others, the Ashkenazi Jews (of central and Eastern Europe), the Sephardi Jews (of Spain, Portugal, and North Africa), the Beta Israel of Ethiopia, the Yemenite Jews from the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula and the Malabari and Cochin Jews from Kerala . Many of these groups have developed differences in their prayers, traditions and accepted canons; however, these distinctions are mainly the result of their being formed at some cultural distance from normative (rabbinic) Judaism, rather than based on any doctrinal dispute.
Antisemitism arose during the Middle Ages, in the form of persecutions, pogroms, forced conversions, expulsions, social restrictions and ghettoization.
This was different in quality from the repressions of Jews which had occurred in ancient times. Ancient repressions were politically motivated and Jews were treated the same as members of other ethnic groups. With the rise of the Churches, the main motive for attacks on Jews changed from politics to religion and the religious motive for such attacks was specifically derived from Christian views about Jews and Judaism. During the Middle Ages, Jewish people who lived under Muslim rule generally experienced tolerance and integration, but there were occasional outbreaks of violence like Almohad’s persecutions.
Hasidic Judaism was founded by Yisroel ben Eliezer (1700–1760), also known as the Ba’al Shem Tov. It originated in a time of persecution of the Jewish people when European Jews had turned inward to Talmud study; many felt that most expressions of Jewish life had become too “academic”, and that they no longer had any emphasis on spirituality or joy. Its adherents favored small and informal gatherings called Shtiebel, which, in contrast to a traditional synagogue, could be used both as a place of worship and for celebrations involving dancing, eating, and socializing. Ba’al Shem Tov’s disciples attracted many followers; they themselves established numerous Hasidic sects across Europe. Unlike other religions, which typically expanded through word of mouth or by use of print, Hasidism spread largely owing to Tzadiks, who used their influence to encourage others to follow the movement. Hasidism appealed to many Europeans because it was easy to learn, did not require full immediate commitment, and presented a compelling spectacle. Hasidic Judaism eventually became the way of life for many Jews in Eastern Europe. Waves of Jewish immigration in the 1880s carried it to the United States. The movement itself claims to be nothing new, but a refreshment of original Judaism. As some have put it: “they merely re-emphasized that which the generations had lost”. Nevertheless, early on there was a serious schism between Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews. European Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement were dubbed by the Hasidim as Misnagdim. Some of the reasons for the rejection of Hasidic Judaism were the exuberance of Hasidic worship, its deviation from tradition in ascribing infallibility and miracles to their leaders, and the concern that it might become a messianic sect. Over time differences between the Hasidim and their opponents have slowly diminished and both groups are now considered part of Haredi Judaism.
The Enlightenment and new religious movement
In the late 18th century CE, Europe was swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment led to reductions in the European laws that prohibited Jews to interact with the wider secular world, thus allowing Jews access to secular education and experience. A parallel Jewish movement, Haskalah or the “Jewish Enlightenment”, began, especially in Central Europe and Western Europe, in response to both the Enlightenment and these new freedoms. It placed an emphasis on integration with secular society and a pursuit of non-religious knowledge through reason. With the promise of political emancipation, many Jews saw no reason to continue to observe halakha and increasing numbers of Jews assimilated into Christian Europe. Modern religious movements of Judaism all formed in reaction to this trend.
In Central Europe, followed by Great Britain and the United States, Reform (or Liberal) Judaism developed, relaxing legal obligations (especially those that limited Jewish relations with non-Jews), emulating Protestant decorum in prayer, and emphasizing the ethical values of Judaism’s Prophetic tradition. Modern Orthodox Judaism developed in reaction to Reform Judaism, by leaders who argued that Jews could participate in public life as citizens equal to Christians while maintaining the observance of halakha. Meanwhile, in the United States, wealthy Reform Jews helped European scholars, who were Orthodox in practice but critical (and skeptical) in their study of the Bible and Talmud, to establish a seminary to train rabbis for immigrants from Eastern Europe. These left-wing Orthodox rabbis were joined by right-wing Reform rabbis who felt that halakha should not be entirely abandoned, to form the Conservative movement. Orthodox Jews who opposed the Haskalah formed Haredi Orthodox Judaism. After massive movements of Jews following The Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel, these movements have competed for followers from among traditional Jews in or from other countries.
Spectrum of observance
Countries such as the United States, Israel, Canada, United Kingdom, Argentina and South Africa contain large Jewish populations. Jewish religious practice varies widely through all levels of observance. According to the 2001 edition of the National Jewish Population Survey, in the United States’ Jewish community—the world’s second largest—4.3 million Jews out of 5.1 million had some sort of connection to the religion. Of that population of connected Jews, 80% participated in some sort of Jewish religious observance, but only 48% belonged to a congregation, and fewer than 16% attend regularly.
Birth rates for American Jews have dropped from 2.0 to 1.7. Intermarriage rates range from 40–50% in the US, and only about a third of children of intermarried couples are raised as Jews. Due to intermarriage and low birth rates, the Jewish population in the US shrank from 5.5 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2001. This is indicative of the general population trends among the Jewish community in the diaspora, but a focus on total population obscures growth trends in some denominations and communities, such as Haredi Judaism. The Baal teshuva movement is a movement of Jews who have “returned” to religion or become more observant.
A religious war or holy war is a war primarily caused or justified by differences in religion. In the modern period, debates are common over the extent to which religious, economic, or ethnic aspects of a conflict predominate in a given war. According to the Encyclopedia of Wars, out of all 1,763 known/recorded historical conflicts, 123, or 6.98%, had religion as their primary cause. Matthew White’s The Great Big Book of Horrible Things gives religion as the primary cause of 11 of the world’s 100 deadliest atrocities. In several conflicts including the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Syrian civil war, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, religious elements are overtly present but variously described as fundamentalism or religious extremism—depending upon the observer’s sympathies. However, studies on these cases often conclude that ethnic animosities drive much of the conflicts.
Some scholars argue that what is termed “religious wars” is a largely “Western dichotomy” and a modern invention from the past few centuries, arguing that all wars that are classed as “religious” have secular (economic or political) ramifications. Similar opinions were expressed as early as the 1760s, during the Seven Years’ War, widely recognized to be “religious” in motivation, noting that the warring factions were not necessarily split along confessional lines as much as along secular interests. According to Jeffrey Burton Russell, conflicts may not be rooted strictly in religion, but religion may also be a contributing factor to warfare alongside ethnic, social, political, and economic issues.
History of the concept of religion
The modern word religion comes from the Latin word religio. In the ancient and medieval world, the etymological Latin root religio was understood as an individual virtue of worship, never as doctrine, practice, or actual source of knowledge. The modern concept of “religion” as an abstraction which entails distinct sets of beliefs or doctrines is a recent invention in the English language since such usage began with texts from the 17th century due to the splitting of Christendom during the Protestant Reformation and more prevalent colonization or globalization in the age of exploration which involved contact with numerous foreign and indigenous cultures with non-European languages. It was in the 17th century that the concept of “religion” received its modern shape despite the fact that the Bible, the Quran, and other ancient sacred texts did not have a concept of religion in the original languages and neither did the people or the cultures in which these sacred texts were written. For example, the Greek word threskeia, which was used by Greek writers such as Herodotus and Josephus and is found in texts like the New Testament, is sometimes translated as “religion” today, however, the term was understood as “worship” well into the medieval period.
In the Quran, the Arabic word din is often translated as “religion” in modern translations, but up to the mid-1600s translators expressed din as “law”.Even in the first century AD, Josephus had used the Greek term ioudaismos, which some translate as “Judaism” today, even though he used it as an ethnic term, not one linked to modern abstract concepts of religion as a set of beliefs. It was in the 19th century that the terms “Buddhism”, “Hinduism”, “Taoism”, and “Confucianism” first emerged. Throughout its long history, Japan had no concept of “religion” since there was no corresponding Japanese word, nor anything close to its meaning, but when American warships appeared off the coast of Japan in 1853 and forced the Japanese government to sign treaties demanding, among other things, freedom of religion, the country had to contend with this Western idea.
According to the philologist Max Müller, in the 19th century, the root of the English word “religion”, the Latin religio, was originally used to mean only “reverence for God or the gods, careful pondering of divine things, piety” (which Cicero further derived to mean “diligence”). Max Müller characterized many other cultures around the world, including Egypt, Persia, and India, as having a similar power structure at this point in history. What is called ancient religion today, they would have only called “law”.
Some languages have words that can be translated as “religion”, but they may use them in a very different way, and some have no word for religion at all. For example, the Sanskrit word dharma, sometimes translated as “religion”, also means law. Throughout the classical Indian subcontinent, the study of law consisted of concepts such as penance through piety and ceremonial as well as practical traditions. Medieval Japan at first had a similar union between “imperial law” and universal or “Buddha law”, but these later became independent sources of power.
There is no precise equivalent of “religion” in Hebrew, and Judaism does not distinguish clearly between religious, national, racial, or ethnic identities. One of its central concepts is “halakha”, meaning the “walk” or “path” sometimes translated as “law”, which guides religious practice and belief and many aspects of daily life.
Criteria for classification
The Crusades against Muslim expansion in the 11th century was recognized as a “holy war” or bellum sacrum by later writers in the 17th century. The early modern wars against the Ottoman Empire were seen as a seamless continuation of this conflict by contemporaries. The term “religious war” was used to describe, controversially at the time, what are now known as the European wars of religion, and especially the then-ongoing Seven Years’ War, from at least the mid 18th century.
In their Encyclopedia of Wars, authors Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod document 1763 notable wars in world history out of which 121 wars are in the “religious wars” category in the index.[ They note that before the 17th century, much of the “reasons” for conflicts were explained through the lens of religion and that after that time wars were explained through the lens of wars as a way to further sovereign interests. Some commentators have concluded that only 123 wars (7%) out of these 1763 wars were fundamentally originated by religious motivations.
The Encycrtel, using the criteahat the armed conflict must involudes that 6% of the wars
William T. Cavanaugh in his Myth of Religious Violence (2009) argues that what is termed “religious wars” is a largely “Western dichotomy” and a modern invention, arguing that all wars that are classed as “religious” have secular (economic or political) ramifications. Similar opinions were expressed as early as the 1760s, during the Seven Years’ War, widely recognized to be “religious” in motivation, noting that the warring factions were not necessarily split along confessional lines as much as along secular interests.
It is evident that religion as one aspect of a people’s cultural heritage may serve as a cultural marker or ideological rationalisation for a conflict that has deeper ethnic and cultural differences. This has been specifically argued for the case of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, often portrayed as a religious conflict of a Catholic vs. a Protestant faction, while the more fundamental cause of the conflict was in fact ethnic or nationalistic rather than religious in nature. Since the native Irish were mostly Catholic and the later British-sponsored immigrants were mainly Protestant, the terms become shorthand for the two cultures, but it is inaccurate to describe the conflict as a religious one.
According to Irfan Omar and Michael Duffey’s review of violence and peacemaking in world religions, they note that studies of supposed cases of religious violence often conclude that violence is strongly driven by ethnic animosities.
The concept of “Holy War” in individual religious traditions
While early empires could be described as henotheistic, i.e. dominated by a single god of the ruling elite (as Marduk in the Babylonian empire, Assur in the Assyrian empire, etc.), or more directly by deifying the ruler in an imperial cult, the concept of “Holy War” enters a new phase with the development of monotheism.
Ancient warfare and polytheism
Classical Antiquity had a pantheon with particular attributes and interest areas. Ares personified war. While he received occasional sacrifice from armies going to war, there was only a very limited “cult of Ares”. In Sparta, however, each company of youths sacrificed to Enyalios before engaging in ritual fighting at the Phoebaeum.
There have also been several religious wars in the Toltec Empire of Mesoamerica (c. 980–1110) between devotees of Tezcatlipoca and followers of Quetzalcoatl; the latter lost and were driven to flee to the Yucatán Peninsula.
In early Christianity, St. Augustine’s concept of just war (bellum iustum) was widely accepted, but warfare was not regarded as a virtuous activity and expressions of concern for the salvation of those who killed enemies in battle, regardless of the cause for which they fought, was common. According to historian Edward Peters, before the 11th century, Christians had not developed a concept of “Holy War” (bellum sacrum), whereby fighting itself might be considered a penitential and spiritually meritorious act. During the ninth and tenth centuries, multiple invasions occurred which led some regions to make their own armies to defend themselves and this slowly lead to the emergence of the Crusades, the concept of “holy war”, and terminology such as “enemies of God” in the 11th century.
During the time of the Crusades, some of those who fought in the name of God were recognized as the Milites Christi, soldiers or knights of Christ. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns that took place during the 11th through 13th centuries against the Muslim Conquests. Originally, the goal was to recapture Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims, and support the besieged Christian Byzantine Empire against the Muslim Seljuq expansion into Asia Minor and Europe proper. Later, Crusades were launched against other targets, either for religious reasons, such as the Albigensian Crusade, the Northern Crusades, or because of political conflict, such as the Aragonese Crusade. In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II raised the level of war from bellum iustum (“just war”), to bellum sacrum (“holy war”). In 16th-century France, there was a succession of wars between Roman Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots primarily), known as the French Wars of Religion. In the first half of the 17th century, the German states, Scandinavia (Sweden, primarily) and Poland were beset by religious warfare in the Thirty Years War. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism figured in the opposing sides of this conflict, though Catholic France did take the side of the Protestants, but purely for political reasons.
The Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, known in Arab history as the Battle of Al-Uqab, took place on 16 July 1212 and was an important turning point in the Reconquista and in the medieval history of Spain. The forces of King Alfonso VIII of Castile were joined by the armies of his Christian rivals, Sancho VII of Navarre, Pedro II of Aragon and Afonso II of Portugal in battle against the Berber Muslim Almohad conquerors of the southern half of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Muslim conquests were a military expansion on an unprecedented scale, beginning in the lifetime of Muhammad and spanning the centuries, down to the Ottoman wars in Europe. Until the 13th century, the Muslim conquests were those of a more or less coherent empire, the Caliphate, but after the Mongol invasions, expansion continued on all fronts (other than Iberia which was lost in the Reconquista) for another half millennium until the final collapse of the Mughal Empire in the east and the Ottoman Empire in the west with the onset of the modern period.
There were also a number of periods of infighting among Muslims; these are known by the term Fitna and mostly concern the early period of Islam, from the 7th to 11th centuries, i.e. before the collapse of the Caliphate and the emergence of the various later Islamic empires.
Fulani jihad states of Africa, c. 1830
While technically, the millennium of Muslim conquests could be classified as “religious war”, the applicability of the term has been questioned. The reason is that the very notion of a “religious war” as opposed to a “secular war” is the result of the Western concept of the separation of Church and State. No such division has ever existed in the Islamic world, and consequently there cannot be a real division between wars that are “religious” from such that are “non-religious”. Islam does not have any normative tradition of pacifism, and warfare has been integral part of Islamic history both for the defense and the spread of the faith since the time of Muhammad. This was formalised in the juristic definition of war in Islam, which continues to hold normative power in contemporary Islam, inextricably linking political and religious justification of war. This normative concept is known as Jihad, an Arabic word with the meaning “to strive; to struggle” (viz. “in the way of God”), which includes the aspect of struggle “by the sword”.
The first forms of military Jihad occurred after the migration (hijra) of Muhammad and his small group of followers to Medina from Mecca and the conversion of several inhabitants of the city to Islam. The first revelation concerning the struggle against the Meccans was Quran 22:39-40:
To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged;- and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid. (They are) those who have been expelled from their homes in defiance of right,- (for no cause) except that they say, “our Lord is Allah”. Did not Allah check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundant measure. Allah will certainly aid those who aid his (cause);- for verily Allah is full of Strength, Exalted in Might, (able to enforce His Will).
— Quran 22:39-40 – Abdullah Yusuf Ali Translation
This happened many times throughout history, beginning with Muhammad‘s battles against the polytheist Arabs including the Battle of Badr (624), and battles in Uhud (625), Khandaq (627), Mecca (630) and Hunayn (630).
In Judaism, the expression Milkhemet Mitzvah refers to a war that is obligatory for all Jews (men and women). Such wars were limited to territory within the borders of the land of Israel. The geographical limits of Israel and conflicts with surrounding nations are detailed in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, especially in Numbers 34:1-15 and Ezekiel 47:13-20.
Due to the Jewish diaspora with Jews scattered all over the world living almost entirely outside of the Land of Israel, the concept of a religious war was absent in Jewish thought for approximately the last 2000 years.
Some assert that it may have reemerged in some factions of the Zionist movement, particularly Revisionist Zionism.
“From the earliest days of Israel’s existence as a people, holy war was a sacred institution, undertaken as a cultic act of a religious community.
According to Reuven Firestone, “”Holy War” is a Western concept referring to war that is fought for religion, against adherents of other religions, often in order to promote religion through conversion, and with no specific geographic limitation. This concept does not occur in the Hebrew Bible, whose wars are not fought for religion or in order to promote it but, rather, in order to preserve religion and a religiously unique people in relation to a specific and limited geography.”
Buddhism was formally introduced into Japan by missionaries from the kingdom of Baekje in 552. Adherents of the native Shinto religion resisted the spread of Buddhism, and several military conflicts broke out, starting with the Soga–Mononobe conflict (552–587) between the pro-Shinto Mononobe clan and the pro-Buddhist Soga clan.
Religious conflict in the modern period
The Israeli–Palestinian conflict can be viewed primarily as an ethnic conflict between two parties where one party is most often portrayed as a singular ethno-religious group consisting only of the Jewish majority and ignores non-Jewish minority Israeli citizens who at varying levels support a Zionist state, especially the Druze and Circassians who for example volunteer in higher numbers for IDF combat service and are represented in the Israeli parliament in greater percentages than Israeli Jews are as well as Israeli Arabs, Samaritans, various other Christians, and Negev Bedouin; the other party is sometimes presented as an ethnic group which is multi-religious (although most numerously consisting of Muslims, then Christians, then other religious groups up to and including Samaritans and even Jews). Yet despite the multi-religious composition of both of the parties in the conflict, elements on both sides often view it as a religious war between Jews and Muslims. In 1929, religious tensions between Muslim and Jewish Palestinians over Jews praying at the Wailing Wall led to the 1929 Palestine riots including the Hebron and Safed ethnic cleansings of Jews.
In 1947, the UN decided on partitioning the Mandate of Palestine, led to the creation of the state of Israel and Jordan annexing the West Bank portion of the mandate, since then the region has been plagued with conflict. The 1948 Palestinian exodus also known as the Nakba, occurred when approximately 711,000 to 726,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes, during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War and the Civil War that preceded it. The exact number of refugees is a matter of dispute, though the number of Palestine refugees and their unsettled descendants registered with UNRWA is more than 4.3 million. The causes remain the subject of fundamental disagreement between Palestinians and Israelis. Both Jews and Palestinians make ethnic and historical claims to the land, and Jews make religious claims as well.
Pakistan and India
The All India Muslim League (AIML) was formed in Dhaka in 1906 by Muslims who were suspicious of the Hindu-majority Indian National Congress. They complained that Muslim members did not have the same rights as Hindu members. A number of different scenarios were proposed at various times. This was fuelled by the British policy of “Divide and Rule”, which they tried to bring upon every political situation. Among the first to make the demand for a separate state was the writer/philosopher Allama Iqbal, who, in his presidential address to the 1930 convention of the Muslim League said that a separate nation for Muslims was essential in an otherwise Hindu-dominated subcontinent.
After the dissolution of the British Raj in 1947, British India was partitioned into two new sovereign states—the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. Up to 12.5 million people were displaced, with estimates of loss of life varying from several hundred thousand to a million. India emerged as a secular nation with a Hindu majority, while Pakistan was established as an Islamic republic with Muslim majority population.
Abyssinia – Somalia
Abyssinian–Adal war broke out in the Horn of Africa after the arrival of the Portuguese Empire in the region.
The Abyssinian–Adal war was a military conflict between the Abyssinians and the Adal Sultanate from 1529 until 1559. The Imam Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi came close to extinguishing the ancient realm of Abyssinia, and forcibly converting all of its surviving subjects to Islam. The intervention of the European Cristóvão da Gama, son of the famous navigator Vasco da Gama, attempted to help to prevent this outcome, but he was killed by al-Ghazi. However, both polities exhausted their resources and manpower in this conflict, allowing the northward migration of the Oromo into their present homelands to the north and west of Addis Ababa. Many historians trace the origins of hostility between Somalia and Ethiopia to this war. Some historians also argue that this conflict proved, through their use on both sides, the value of firearms such as the matchlock musket, cannons, and the arquebus over traditional weapons.
Inter-ethnic conflict in Nigeria has generally had a religious element. Riots against Igbo in 1953 and in the 1960s in the north were said to have been sparked by religious conflict. The riots against Igbo in the north in 1966 were said to have been inspired by radio reports of mistreatment of Muslims in the south. A military coup d’état led by lower and middle-ranking officers, some of them Igbo, overthrew the NPC-NCNC dominated government. Prime Minister Balewa along with other northern and western government officials were assassinated during the coup. The coup was considered an Igbo plot to overthrow the northern dominated government. A counter-coup was launched by mostly northern troops. Between June and July there was a mass exodus of Ibo from the north and west. Over 1.3 million Ibo fled the neighboring regions in order to escape persecution as anti-Ibo riots increased. The aftermath of the anti-Ibo riots led many to believe that security could only be gained by separating from the North.
In the 1980s, serious outbreaks between Christians and Muslims occurred in Kafanchan in southern Kaduna State in a border area between the two religions.
The 2010 Jos riots saw clashes between Muslim herders against Christian farmers near the volatile city of Jos, resulting in hundreds of casualties. Officials estimated that 500 people were massacred in night-time raids by rampaging Muslim gangs.
During the rule of the Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem in South Vietnam, the discrimination against the majority Buddhist population generated the growth of Buddhist institutions as they sought to participate in national politics and gain better treatment. The Buddhist Uprising of 1966 was a period of civil and military unrest in South Vietnam, largely focused in the I Corps area in the north of the country in central Vietnam.
In a country where the Buddhist majority was estimated to be between 70 and 90 percent, Diem ruled with a strong religious bias. As a member of the Catholic Vietnamese minority, he pursued pro-Catholic policies that antagonized many Buddhists.
The Dungan revolt (1862–1877) and Panthay Rebellion (1856–1873) by the Hui were also set off by racial antagonism and class warfare, rather than the mistaken assumption that it was all due to Islam that the rebellions broke out. During the Dungan revolt fighting broke out between Uyghurs and Hui.
In 1936, after Sheng Shicai expelled 20,000 Kazakhs from Xinjiang to Qinghai, the Hui led by General Ma Bufang massacred their fellow Muslims, the Kazakhs, until there were only 135 of them left.
Tensions with Uyghurs and Hui arose because Qing and Republican Chinese authorities used Hui troops and officials to dominate the Uyghurs and crush Uyghur revolts. Xinjiang’s Hui population increased by over 520 percent between 1940 and 1982, an average annual growth rate of 4.4 percent, while the Uyghur population only grew by 1.7 percent. This dramatic increase in the Hui population led inevitably to significant tensions between the Hui and Uyghur Muslim populations. Some old Uyghurs in Kashgar remember that the Hui army at the Battle of Kashgar (1934) massacred 2,000 to 8,000 Uyghurs, which caused tension as more Hui moved into Kashgar from other parts of China. Some Hui criticize Uyghur separatism, and generally do not want to get involved in conflicts in other countries over Islam for fear of being perceived as radical. Hui and Uyghur live apart from each other, praying separately and attending different mosques.
Lebanese Civil War
There is no consensus among scholars on what triggered the Lebanese Civil War. However, the militarization of the Palestinian refugee population, along with the arrival of the PLO guerrilla forces, sparked an arms race for the different Lebanese political factions. However, the conflict played out along three religious lines: Sunni Muslim, Christian Lebanese and Shiite Muslim, Druze are considered among Shiite Muslims.
It has been argued that the antecedents of the war can be traced back to the conflicts and political compromises reached after the end of Lebanon’s administration by the Ottoman Empire. The Cold War had a powerful disintegrative effect on Lebanon, which was closely linked to the polarization that preceded the 1958 political crisis. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, an exodus of Palestinian refugees, who fled the fighting or were expelled from their homes, arrived in Lebanon. Palestinians came to play a very important role in future Lebanese civil conflicts, and the establishment of Israel radically changed the local environment in which Lebanon found itself.
Lebanon was promised independence, which was achieved on 22 November 1943. Free French troops, who had invaded Lebanon in 1941 to rid Beirut of the Vichy French forces, left the country in 1946. The Christians assumed power over the country and its economy. A confessional Parliament was created in which Muslims and Christians were given quotas of seats. As well, the president was to be a Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim.
In March 1991, Parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes prior to its enactment. The amnesty was not extended to crimes perpetrated against foreign diplomats or certain crimes referred by the cabinet to the Higher Judicial Council. In May 1991, the militias (with the important exception of Hezbollah) were dissolved, and the Lebanese Armed Forces began slowly to rebuild themselves as Lebanon’s only major non-sectarian institution.
Some violence still occurred. In late December 1991 a car bomb (estimated to carry 220 pounds of TNT) exploded in the Muslim neighborhood of Basta. At least 30 people were killed, and 120 wounded, including former Prime Minister Shafik Wazzan, who was riding in a bulletproof car.
The Croatian War (1991–95) and the Bosnian War (1992–95) have been viewed as religious wars between the Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim populations of former Yugoslavia: respctively Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. Traditional religious symbols were used during the wars. Notably, foreign Muslim volunteers came to Bosnia to wage jihad and were thus known as “Bosnian mujahideen“.
Sudanese Civil War
The Second Sudanese Civil War from 1983 to 2005 has been described as an ethnoreligious conflict where the Muslim central government’s pursuits to impose sharia law on non-Muslim southerners led to violence, and eventually to the civil war. The war resulted in the independence of South Sudan six years after the war ended. Sudan is Muslim and South Sudan is Christian.
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition, was established in 1478 by the Catholic Monarchs, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms and to replace the Medieval Inquisition, which was under Papal control. It became the most substantive of the three different manifestations of the wider Catholic Inquisition along with the Roman Inquisition and Portuguese Inquisition. The “Spanish Inquisition” may be defined broadly as operating in Spain and in all Spanish colonies and territories, which included the Canary Islands, the Kingdom of Naples, and all Spanish possessions in North, Central, and South America. According to modern estimates, around 150,000 people were prosecuted for various offences during the three-century duration of the Spanish Inquisition, of whom between 3,000 and 5,000 were executed.
The Inquisition was originally intended primarily to identify heretics among those who converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism. The regulation of the faith of newly converted Catholics was intensified after the royal decrees issued in 1492 and 1502 ordering Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave Castile, resulting in hundreds of thousands of forced conversions, the persecution of conversos and moriscos, and the mass expulsions of Jews and of Muslims from Spain. The Inquisition was not definitively abolished until 1834, during the reign of Isabella II, after a period of declining influence in the preceding century.
The Inquisition was created through papal bull, Ad Abolendam, issued at the end of the 12th century by Pope Lucius III to combat the Albigensian heresy in southern France. There were a large number of tribunals of the Papal Inquisition in various European kingdoms during the Middle Ages through different diplomatic and political means. In the Kingdom of Aragon, a tribunal of the Papal Inquisition was established by the statute of Excommunicamus of Pope Gregory IX, in 1232, during the era of the Albigensian heresy, as a condition for peace with Aragon. The Inquisition was ill-received by the Aragonese, which led to prohibitions against insults or attacks on it. Rome was particularly concerned that the Iberian peninsula’s large Muslim and Jewish population would have a ‘heretical’ influence on the Catholic population. Rome pressed the kingdoms to accept the Papal Inquisition after Aragon. Navarra conceded in the 13th century and Portugal by the end of the 14th, though its ‘Roman Inquisition’ was famously inactive. Castile refused steadily, trusting in its prominent position in Europe and its military power to keep the Pope’s interventionism in check. By the end of the Middle Ages, England, due to distance and voluntary compliance, and the Castile (future part of Spain), due to resistance and power, were the only Western European kingdoms to successfully resist the establishment of the Inquisition in their realms.
Medieval Inquisition in Aragon
Although Raymond of Penyafort was not an inquisitor, James I of Aragon had often consulted him on questions of law regarding the practices of the Inquisition in the king’s domains since Penyafort was a canon lawyer and royal advisor.
“…The lawyer’s deep sense of justice and equity, combined with the worthy Dominican’s sense of compassion, allowed him to steer clear of the excesses that were found elsewhere in the formative years of the inquisitions into heresy.”
Despite its early implantation, the Papal Inquisition was greatly resisted within the Crown of Aragon by both population and monarchs. With time, its importance was diluted, and, by the middle of the fifteenth century, it was almost forgotten although still there according to the law.
Regarding the living conditions of minorities, the kings of Aragon and other monarchies imposed some discriminatory taxation of religious minorities, so false conversions were a way of tax evasion.
In addition to the above discriminatory legislation, Aragon had laws specifically targeted at protecting minorities. For example, crusaders attacking Jewish or Muslim subjects of the King of Aragon while on their way to fight in the reconquest were punished with death by hanging. Up to the 14th century, the census and wedding records show an absolute lack of concern with avoiding intermarriage or blood mixture. Such laws were now common in most of central Europe. Both the Roman Inquisition and neighbouring Christian powers showed discomfort with Aragonese law and lack of concern with ethnicity, but to little effect.
High-ranking officials of Jewish religion were not as common as in Castile, but were not unheard of either. Abraham Zacuto was a professor at the university of Cartagena. Vidal Astori was the royal silversmith for Ferdinand II of Aragon and conducted business in his name. And King Ferdinand himself was said to have Jewish ancestry on his mother’s side.
Medieval Inquisition in Castile
There was never a tribunal of the Papal Inquisition in Castile, nor any inquisition during the Middle Ages. Members of the episcopate were charged with surveillance of the faithful and punishment of transgressors, always under the direction of the king.
During the Middle Ages in Castile, the Catholic ruling class and the population paid little or no attention to heresy. Castile did not have the proliferation of anti-Jewish pamphlets as England and France did during the 13th and 14th centuries—and those that have been found were modified, watered-down versions of the original stories. Jews and Muslims were tolerated and generally allowed to follow their traditional customs in domestic matters.
The legislation regarding Muslims and Jews in Castilian territory varied greatly, becoming more intolerant during the period of great instability and dynastic wars that occurred by the end of the 14th century. Castilian law is particularly difficult to summarize since, due to the model of the free Royal Villas, mayors and the population of border areas had the right to create their own fueros (law) that varied from one villa to the next. In general, the Castilian model was parallel to the initial model of Islamic Spain. Non-Catholics were subject to discriminatory legislation regarding taxation and some other specific discriminatory legislation—such as a prohibition on wearing silk or “flashy clothes”—that varied from county to county, but were otherwise left alone. Forced conversion of minorities was against the law, and so was the belief in the existence of witchcraft, oracles or similar superstitions. In general, all “people from the book” were permitted to practice their own customs and religions as far as they did not attempt proselytizing on the Christian population. Jews particularly had surprising freedoms and protections compared with other areas of Europe and were allowed to hold high public offices such as the counselor, treasurer or secretary for the crown.
During most of the medieval period, intermarriage with converts was allowed and encouraged. Intellectual cooperation between religions was the norm in Castile. Some examples are the Toledo School of Translators from the 11th century. Jews and Moors were allowed to hold high offices in the administration (see Abraham Seneor, Samuel HaLevi Abulafia, Isaac Abarbanel, López de Conchillos, Miguel Pérez de Almazán, Jaco Aben Nunnes and Fernando del Pulgar).
A tightening of the laws to protect the right of Jews to collect loans during the Medieval Crisis was one of the causes of the revolt against Peter the Cruel and catalyst of the anti-semitic episodes of 1391 in Castile, a kingdom that had shown no significant antisemitic backlash to the black death and drought crisis of the early 14th century. Even after the sudden increase in hostility towards other religions that the kingdom experienced after the 14th-century crisis, which clearly worsened the living conditions of non-Catholics in Castile, it remained one of the most tolerant kingdoms in Europe.
The kingdom had serious tensions with Rome regarding the Church’s attempts to extend its authority into the kingdom. A focus of conflict was Castilian resistance to truly abandon the Mozarabic Rite, and the refusal to grant Papal control over Reconquest land (a request Aragon and Portugal conceded). These conflicts added to a strong resistance to allowing the creation of an Inquisition, and the kingdom’s general willingness to accept heretics seeking refuge from prosecution in France.
Creation of the Spanish Inquisition
There are several hypotheses of what prompted the creation of the tribunal after centuries of tolerance (within the context of medieval Europe).
The “Too Multi-Religious” hypothesis
The Spanish Inquisition is interpretable as a response to the multi-religious nature of Spanish society following the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim Moors. After invading in 711, the Moors controlled large areas of the Iberian Peninsula until 1250; afterwards they were restricted to Granada, which fell in 1492. The Reconquista did not result in the total expulsion of Muslims from Spain, since they, along with Jews, were tolerated by the ruling Christian elite. Large cities, especially Seville, Valladolid, and Barcelona, had significant Jewish populations centered on Juderia, but in the coming years the Muslims became increasingly alienated and relegated from power centers.
Post-reconquest medieval Spain has been characterized by Américo Castro as a society of relatively peaceful co-existence (convivencia) punctuated by occasional conflict among the ruling Catholics and the Jews and Muslims. As historian Henry Kamen notes, the “so-called convivencia was always a relationship between unequals.” Despite their legal inequality, there was a long tradition of Jewish service to the Crown of Aragon, and Jews occupied many important posts, both religious and political. Castile itself had an unofficial rabbi. Ferdinand’s father John II named the Jewish Abiathar Crescas Court Astronomer.
Anti-semitic attitudes increased all over Europe during the late 13th century and throughout the 14th century. England and France expelled their Jewish populations in 1290 and 1306 respectively. At the same time, during the Reconquista, Spain’s anti-Jewish sentiment steadily increased. This prejudice climaxed in the summer of 1391 when violent anti-Jewish riots broke out in Spanish cities like Barcelona. To linguistically distinguish them from non-converted or long-established Catholic families, new converts were called conversos, or New Catholics. This event must be understood in the context of the fierce civil war and new politics that Peter the Cruel had brought to the land, and not be confused with spontaneous anti-semitic reactions to the plague seen in northern Europe.
According to Don Hasdai Crescas, persecution against Jews began in earnest in Seville in 1391, on the 1st day of the lunar month Tammuz (June). From there the violence spread to Córdoba, and by the 17th day of the same lunar month, it had reached Toledo (called then by Jews after its Arabic name “Ṭulayṭulah”) in the region of Castile. Then the violence spread to Majorca and by the 1st day of the lunar month Elul it had also reached the Jews of Barcelona in Catalonia, where the slain were estimated at two-hundred and fifty. Indeed, many Jews who resided in the neighboring provinces of Lérida and Gironda and in the kingdom of València had also been affected, as were also the Jews of Al-Andalus (Andalucía). While many died a martyr’s death, others converted to save themselves.
Encouraged by the preaching of Ferrand Martínez, Archdeacon of Ecija, the general unrest affected nearly all of the Jews in Spain, during which time an estimated 200,000 Jews changed their religion or else concealed their religion, becoming known in Hebrew as Anusim, meaning, “those who are compelled [to hide their religion].” Only a handful of the more principal persons of the Jewish community, those who had found refuge among the viceroys in the outlying towns and districts, managed to escape.
Forced baptism was contrary to the law of the Catholic Church, and theoretically anybody who had been forcibly baptized could legally return to Judaism. Legal definitions of the time theoretically acknowledged that a forced baptism was not a valid sacrament, but confined this to cases where it was literally administered by physical force: a person who had consented to baptism under threat of death or serious injury was still regarded as a voluntary convert, and accordingly forbidden to revert to Judaism. After the public violence, many of the converted “felt it safer to remain in their new religion. Thus, after 1391, a new social group appeared and were referred to as conversos or New Christians. Many conversos, now freed from the anti-Semitic restrictions imposed on Jewish employment, attained important positions in fifteenth-century Spain, including positions in the government and in the Church. Among many others, physicians Andrés Laguna and Francisco López de Villalobos (Ferdinand’s court physician), writers Juan del Enzina, Juan de Mena, Diego de Valera and Alonso de Palencia, and bankers Luis de Santángel and Gabriel Sánchez (who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus) were all conversos. Conversos – not without opposition – managed to attain high positions in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, at times becoming severe detractors of Judaism. Some even received titles of nobility and, as a result, during the following century some works attempted to demonstrate that virtually all of the nobles of Spain were descended from Israelites.
The “Enforcement Across Borders” hypothesis
According to this hypothesis, the Inquisition was created to standardize the variety of laws and many jurisdictions Spain was divided into. It would be an administrative program analogous to the Santa Hermandad (the “Holy Brotherhood”, a law enforcement body, answering to the crown, that prosecuted thieves and criminals across counties in a way local county authorities could not, ancestor to the Guardia Civil), an institution that would guarantee uniform prosecution of crimes against royal laws across all local jurisdictions.
The Kingdom of Castile had been prosperous and successful in Europe thanks in part to the unusual authority and control the king exerted over the nobility, which ensured political stability and kept the kingdom from being weakened by in-fighting (as was the case in England, for example). Under the Trastámara dynasty, both kings of Castile and Aragon had lost power to the great nobles, who now formed dissenting and conspiratorial factions. Taxation and varying privileges differed from county to county, and powerful noble families constantly extorted the kings to attain further concessions, particularly in Aragon.
The main goals of the reign of the Catholic Monarchs were to unite their two kingdoms and strengthen royal influence to guarantee stability. In pursuit of this, they sought to further unify the laws of their realms and reduce the power of the nobility in certain local areas. They attained this partially by raw military strength by creating a combined army between the two of them that could outmatch the army of most noble coalitions in the Peninsula. It was impossible to change the entire laws of both realms by force alone, and due to reasonable suspicion of one another the monarchs kept their kingdoms separate during their lifetimes. The only way to unify both kingdoms and ensure that Isabella, Ferdinand, and their descendants maintained the power of both kingdoms without uniting them in life was to find, or create, an executive, legislative and judicial arm directly under the Crown empowered to act in both kingdoms. This goal, the hypothesis goes, might have given birth to the Spanish Inquisition.
The religious organization to oversee this role was obvious: Catholicism was the only institution common to both kingdoms, and the only one with enough popular support that the nobility could not easily attack it. Through the Spanish Inquisition, Isabella and Ferdinand created a personal police force and personal code of law that rested above the structure of their respective realms without altering or mixing them, and could operate freely in both. As the Inquisition had the backing of both kingdoms, it would exist independent of both the nobility and local interests of either kingdom.
According to this view, the prosecution of heretics would be secondary, or simply not considered different, from the prosecution of conspirators, traitors, or groups of any kind who planned to resist royal authority. At the time, royal authority rested on divine right and on oaths of loyalty held before God, so the connection between religious deviation and political disloyalty would appear obvious. This hypothesis is supported by the disproportionately high representation of the nobility and high clergy among those investigated by the Inquisition, as well as by the many administrative and civil crimes the Inquisition oversaw. The Inquisition prosecuted the counterfeiting of royal seals and currency, ensured the effective transmission of the orders of the kings, and verified the authenticity of official documents traveling through the kingdoms, especially from one kingdom to the other. See “Non-Religious Crimes”.
The “Placate Europe” hypothesis
At a time when most of Europe had already expelled the Jews from the Christian kingdoms, the “dirty blood” of Spaniards was met with open suspicion and contempt by the rest of Europe. As the world became smaller and foreign relations became more relevant to stay in power, this foreign image of “being the seed of Jews and Moors” may have become a problem. In addition, the coup that allowed Isabella to take the throne from Joana of Avis and the Catholic Monarchs to marry had estranged Castile from Portugal, its historical ally, and created the need for new relationships. Similarly, Aragon’s ambitions lay in control of the Mediterranean and the defense against France. As their policy of royal marriages proved, the Catholic Monarchs were deeply concerned about France’s growing power and expected to create strong dynastic alliances across Europe. In this scenario, the Iberian reputation of being too tolerant was a problem.
Despite the prestige earned through the reconquest (reconquista), the foreign image of Spaniards coexisted with an almost universal image of heretics and “bad Christians”, due to the long coexistence between the three religions they had accepted in their lands. Anti-Jewish stereotypes created to justify or prompt the expulsion and expropriation of the European Jews were also applied to Spaniards in most European courts, and the idea of them being “greedy, gold-thirsty, cruel and violent” due to the “Jewish and Moorish blood” was prevalent in Europe before America was discovered by Europeans. Chronicles by foreign travelers circulated through Europe, describing the tolerant ambiance reigning in the court of Isabella and Ferdinand, and how Moors and Jews were free to go about without anyone trying to convert them. Past and common clashes between the Pope and the kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula regarding the Inquisition in Castile’s case and regarding South Italy in Aragon’s case, also reinforced their image of heretics in the international courts. These accusations and images could have direct political and military consequences at the time, especially considering that the union of two powerful kingdoms was a particularly delicate moment that could prompt the fear and violent reactions from neighbors, even more if combined with the expansion of the Ottoman Turks on the Mediterranean.
The creation of the Inquisition and the expulsion of both Jews and Moriscos may have been part of a strategy to whitewash the image of Spain and ease international fears regarding Spain’s allegiance. In this scenario, the creation of the Inquisition could have been part of the Catholic’s Monarch strategy to ” turn” away from African allies and “towards” Europe, a tool to turn both actual Spain and the Spanish image more European and improve relations with the Pope.
The “Ottoman Scare” hypothesis
No matter if any of the previous hypotheses were already operating in the minds of the monarchs, the alleged discovery of Morisco plots to support a possible Ottoman invasion were crucial factors in their decision to create the Inquisition.
At this time, the Ottoman Empire was in expansion and making its power noticeable in the Mediterranean and North Africa. At the same time, the Aragonese Mediterranean Empire was crumbling under debt and war exhaustion. Ferdinand reasonably feared that he would not be capable of repelling an Ottoman attack to Spain’s shores, especially if the Ottomans had internal help. The regions with the highest concentration of Moriscos were those close to the common naval crossings between Spain and Africa. If the weakness of the Aragonese Naval Empire was combined with the resentment of the higher nobility against the monarchs, the dynastic claims of Portugal on Castile and the two monarch’s exterior politic that turned away from Morocco and other African nations in favor of Europe, the fear of a second Muslim invasion, and thus a second Muslim occupation was hardly unfounded. This fear may have been the base reason for the expulsion of those citizens who had either a religious reason to support the invasion of the Ottomans (Moriscos) or no particular religious reason to not do it (Jews). The Inquisition might have been part of the preparations to enforce these measures and ensure their effectiveness by rooting out false converts that would still pose a threat of foreign espionage.
In favor of this view there is the obvious military sense it makes, and the many early attempts of peaceful conversion and persuasion that the Monarchs used at the beginning of their reign, and the sudden turn towards the creation of the Inquisition and the edicts of expulsion when those initial attempts failed. The conquest of Naples by the Gran Capitan is also proof of an interest in Mediterranean expansion and re-establishment of Spanish power in that sea that was bound to generate frictions with the Ottoman Empire and other African nations. So, the Inquisition would have been created as a permanent body to prevent the existence of citizens with religious sympathies with African nations now that rivalry with them had been deemed unavoidable.
Philosophical and religious reasons
The creation of the Spanish Inquisition would be consistent with the most important political philosophers of the Florentine School, with whom the kings were known to have contact (Guicciardini, Pico della Mirandola, Machiavelli, Segni, Pitti, Nardi, Varchi, etc.) Both Guicciardini and Machiavelli defended the importance of centralization and unification to create a strong state capable of repelling foreign invasions, and also warned of the dangers of excessive social uniformity to the creativity and innovation of a nation. Machiavelli considered piety and morals desirable for the subjects but not so much for the ruler, who should use them as a way to unify its population. He also warned of the nefarious influence of a corrupt church in the creation of a selfish population and middle nobility, which had fragmented the peninsula and made it unable to resist either France or Aragon. German philosophers at the time were spreading the importance of a vassal to share the religion of their lord.
The Inquisition may have just been the result of putting these ideas into practice. The use of religion as a unifying factor across a land that was allowed to stay diverse and maintain different laws in other respects, and the creation of the Inquisition to enforce laws across it, maintain said religious unity and control the local elites were consistent with most of those teachings.
Alternatively, the enforcement of Catholicism across the realm might indeed be the result of simple religious devotion by the monarchs. The recent scholarship on the expulsion of the Jews leans towards the belief of religious motivations being at the bottom of it. but considering the reports on Ferdinand’s political persona, that is unlikely the only reason. Ferdinand was described, among others, by Machiavelli, as a man who didn’t know the meaning of piety, but who made political use of it and would have achieved little if he had really known it. He was Machiavelli’s main inspiration while writing The Prince.
The “Keeping the Pope in Check” hypothesis
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church had made many attempts during the Middle Ages to take over Christian Spain politically, such as claiming the Church’s ownership over all land reconquered from non-Christians (a claim that was rejected by Castille but accepted by Aragon and Portugal). In the past, the papacy had tried and partially succeeded, in forcing the Mozarabic Rite out of Iberia. Its meddling attempts had been pivotal for Aragon’s loss of Rosellon.[clarification needed] The meddling regarding Aragon’s control over South Italy was even stronger historically. In their lifetime, the Catholic Monarchs had problems with Pope Paul II, a very strong proponent of absolute authority for the church over the kings. Carrillo actively opposed them both and often used Spain’s “mixed blood” as an excuse to intervene. The papacy and the monarch of Europe had been involved in a war for power all through the high Middle Ages that Rome had already won in other powerful kingdoms like France.
Since the legitimacy granted by the church was necessary both, especially Isabella, to stay in power, the creation of the Spanish Inquisition may have been a way to apparently concede to the Pope’s demands and criticism regarding Spain’s mixed religious heritage, while at the same time ensuring that the Pope could hardly force the second inquisition of his own, and at the same time create a tool to control the power of the Roman Church in Spain. The Spanish Inquisition was unique at the time because it did not depend on the Pope in the slightest. Once the bull of creation was granted, the head of the Inquisition was the Monarch of Spain. It was in charge of enforcing the laws of the king regarding religion and other private-life matters, not of following orders from Rome, from which it was independent. This independence allowed the Inquisition to investigate, prosecute and convict clergy for both corruptions (pedophilia, forgery of documents, etc.) and possible charges of treason of conspiracy against the crown (on the Pope’s behalf presumably) without the Pope’s intervention. The inquisition was, despite its title of “Holy”, not necessarily formed by the clergy and secular lawyers were equally welcome to it. If it was an attempt at keeping Rome out of Spain, it was an extremely successful and refined one. It was a bureaucratic body that had the nominal authority of the church and permission to prosecute members of the church, which the kings could not do, while answering only to the Spanish Crown. This did not prevent the Pope from having some influence on the decisions of Spanish monarchs, but it did force the influence to be through the kings, making direct influence very difficult.
Other hypotheses that circulate regarding the Spanish Inquisition’s creation include:
- Economic reasons: Since one of the penalties that the Inquisition could enforce on the convicts was the confiscation of their property, which became Crown property, it has been stated that the creation of the Inquisition was a way to finance the crown. There is no solid reason for this hypothesis to stand alone, nor for the Kings of Spain to need an institution to do this gradually instead of confiscating property through edicts, but it may be one of the reasons why the Inquisition stayed for so long. This hypothesis notes the tendency of the Inquisition to operate in large and wealthy cities and is favored by those who consider that most of those prosecuted for practicing Judaism and Islam in secret was actually innocent of it. Gustav Bergenroth editor and translator of the Spanish state papers 1485–1509 believed that revenue was the incentive for Ferdinand and Isabella’s decision to invite the Inquisition into Spain. Other authors point out that both monarchs were very aware of the economic consequences they would suffer from a decrease in population.
- Intolerance and racism: This argument is usually made regarding the expulsion of the Jews or the Moriscos, and since the Inquisition was so closely interconnected with those actions can be expanded to it. It varies between those who deny that Spain was really that different from the rest of Europe regarding tolerance and openmindedness and those who argue that it used to be, but gradually the antisemitic and racist atmosphere of medieval Europe rubbed onto it. It explains the creation of the Inquisition as the result of exactly the same forces than the creation of similar entities across Europe. This view may account for the similarities between the Spanish Inquisition and similar institutions but completely fails to account for its many unique characteristics, including its time of appearance and its duration through time, so even if accepted requires the addition of some of the other hypothesis to be complete.
- Purely religious reasons: essentially this view suggests that the Catholic Monarchs created the Inquisition to prosecute heretics and sodomites “because the Bible says so”. A common criticism that this view receives is that the Bible also condemns greed, hypocrisy, and adultery, but the Inquisition was not in charge of prosecuting any of those things. It also did not prosecute those who did not go to mass on Sunday or otherwise broke the Catholic rituals as far as it was out of simple laziness. Considering this double standard, its role was probably more complex and specific.
Activity of the Inquisition
Start of the Inquisition
Fray Alonso de Ojeda, a Dominican friar from Seville, convinced Queen Isabella of the existence of Crypto-Judaism among Andalusian conversos during her stay in Seville between 1477 and 1478.[a] A report, produced by Pedro González de Mendoza, Archbishop of Seville, and by the Segovian Dominican Tomás de Torquemada – of converso family himself – corroborated this assertion.
Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella requested a papal bull establishing an inquisition in Spain in 1478. Pope Sixtus IV granted a bull permitting the monarchs to select and appoint two or three priests over forty years of age to act as inquisitors. In 1483, Ferdinand and Isabella established a state council to administer the inquisition with the Dominican Friar Tomás de Torquemada acting as its president, even though Sixtus IV protested the activities of the inquisition in Aragon and its treatment of the conversos. Torquemada eventually assumed the title of Inquisitor-General.
Thomas F. Madden describes the world that formed medieval politics: “The Inquisition was not born out of the desire to crush diversity or oppress people; it was rather an attempt to stop unjust executions. Yes, you read that correctly. Heresy was a crime against the state. Roman law in the Code of Justinian made it a capital offence. Rulers, whose authority was believed to come from God, had no patience for heretics”.
Ferdinand II of Aragon pressured Pope Sixtus IV to agree to an Inquisition controlled by the monarchy by threatening to withdraw military support at a time when the Turks were a threat to Rome. The pope issued a bull to stop the Inquisition but was pressured into withdrawing it. On 1 November 1478, Sixtus published the Papal bull, Exigit Sinceras Devotionis Affectus, through which he gave the monarchs exclusive authority to name the inquisitors in their kingdoms. The first two inquisitors, Miguel de Morillo and Juan de San Martín, were not named until two years later, on 27 September 1480 in Medina del Campo.
The first auto-da-fé was held in Seville on 6 February 1481: six people were burned alive. From there, the Inquisition grew rapidly in the Kingdom of Castile. By 1492, tribunals existed in eight Castilian cities: Ávila, Córdoba, Jaén, Medina del Campo, Segovia, Sigüenza, Toledo, and Valladolid. Sixtus IV promulgated a new bull categorically prohibiting the Inquisition’s extension to Aragón, affirming that:
… many true and faithful Christians, because of the testimony of enemies, rivals, slaves and other low people—and still less appropriate—without tests of any kind, have been locked up in secular prisons, tortured and condemned like relapsed heretics, deprived of their goods and properties, and given over to the secular arm to be executed, at great danger to their souls, giving a pernicious example and causing scandal to many.
— Henry Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision
According to the book A History of the Jewish People,
In 1482 the pope was still trying to maintain control over the Inquisition and to gain acceptance for his own attitude towards the New Christians, which was generally more moderate than that of the Inquisition and the local rulers.
In 1483, Jews were expelled from all of Andalusia. Though the pope wanted to crack down on abuses, Ferdinand pressured him to promulgate a new bull, threatening that he would otherwise separate the Inquisition from Church authority. Sixtus did so on 17 October 1483, naming Tomás de Torquemada Inquisidor General of Aragón, Valencia, and Catalonia.
Torquemada quickly established procedures for the Inquisition. A new court would be announced with a thirty-day grace period for confessions and the gathering of accusations by neighbors. Evidence that was used to identify a crypto-Jew included the absence of chimney smoke on Saturdays (a sign the family might secretly be honoring the Sabbath) or the buying of many vegetables before Passover or the purchase of meat from a converted butcher. The court could employ physical torture to extract confessions once the guilt of the accused had been established. Crypto-Jews were allowed to confess and do penance, although those who relapsed were executed.
In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII attempted to allow appeals to Rome against the Inquisition, which would weaken the function of the institution as protection against the pope, but Ferdinand in December 1484 and again in 1509 decreed death and confiscation for anyone trying to make use of such procedures without royal permission. With this, the Inquisition became the only institution that held authority across all the realms of the Spanish monarchy and, in all of them, a useful mechanism at the service of the crown. The cities of Aragón continued resisting, and even saw revolt, as in Teruel from 1484 to 1485. The murder of Inquisidor Pedro Arbués in Zaragoza on 15 September 1485, caused public opinion to turn against the conversos and in favour of the Inquisition. In Aragón, the Inquisitorial courts were focused specifically on members of the powerful converso minority, ending their influence in the Aragonese administration.
The Inquisition was extremely active between 1480 and 1530. Different sources give different estimates of the number of trials and executions in this period; some estimate about 2,000 executions, based on the documentation of the autos-da-fé, the great majority being conversos of Jewish origin. He offers striking statistics: 91.6% of those judged in Valencia between 1484 and 1530 and 99.3% of those judged in Barcelona between 1484 and 1505 were of Jewish origin.
The Inquisition had jurisdiction only over Christians. It had no power to investigate, prosecute, or convict Jews, Muslims, or any open member of other religions. Anyone who was known to identify as either Jew or Muslim was outside of Inquisitorial jurisdiction and could be tried only by the King. All the inquisition could do in some of those cases was to deport the individual according to the King’s law, but usually, even that had to go through a civil tribunal. The Inquisition had the authority to try only those who self-identified as Christians (initially for taxation purposes, later to avoid deportation as well) while practicing another religion de facto. Even those were treated as Christians. If they confessed or identified not as “judeizantes” but as fully practicing Jews, they fell back into the previously explained category and could not be targeted, although they would have pleaded guilty to previously lying about being Christian.
Expulsion of Jews and Jewish conversos
The Spanish Inquisition had been established in part to prevent conversos from engaging in Jewish practices, which, as Christians, they were supposed to have given up. This remedy for securing the orthodoxy of conversos was eventually deemed inadequate since the main justification the monarchy gave for formally expelling all Jews from Spain was the “great harm suffered by Christians (i.e., conversos) from the contact, intercourse and communication which they have with the Jews, who always attempt in various ways to seduce faithful Christians from our Holy Catholic Faith”, according to the 1492 edict.
The Alhambra Decree, issued in January 1492, gave the choice between expulsion and conversion. It was among the few expulsion orders that allowed conversion as an alternative and is used as a proof of the religious, not racial, element of the measure. The enforcement of this decree was very unequal with the focus mainly on coastal and southern regions—those at risk of Ottoman invasion—and more gradual and ineffective enforcement towards the interior.
Historic accounts of the numbers of Jews who left Spain were based on speculation, and some aspects were exaggerated by early accounts and historians: Juan de Mariana speaks of 800,000 people, and Don Isaac Abravanel of 300,000. While few reliable statistics exist for the expulsion, modern estimates based on tax returns and population estimates of communities are much lower, with Kamen stating that of a population of approximately 80,000 Jews and 200,000 conversos, about 40,000 emigrated. The Jews of the kingdom of Castile emigrated mainly to Portugal (where the entire community was forcibly converted in 1497) and to North Africa. The Jews of the kingdom of Aragon fled to other Christian areas including Italy, rather than to Muslim lands as is often assumed. Although the vast majority of conversos simply assimilated into the Catholic dominant culture, a minority continued to practice Judaism in secret, gradually migrated throughout Europe, North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire, mainly to areas where Sephardic communities were already present as a result of the Alhambra Decree.
The most intense period of persecution of conversos lasted until 1530. From 1531 to 1560 the percentage of conversos among the Inquisition trials dropped to 3% of the total. There was a rebound of persecutions when a group of crypto-Jews was discovered in Quintanar de la Orden in 1588 and there was a rise in denunciations of conversos in the last decade of the sixteenth century. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, some conversos who had fled to Portugal began to return to Spain, fleeing the persecution of the Portuguese Inquisition, founded in 1536. This led to a rapid increase in the trials of crypto-Jews, among them a number of important financiers. In 1691, during a number of autos-da-fé in Majorca, 37 chuetas, or conversos of Majorca, were burned.
During the eighteenth century, the number of conversos accused by the Inquisition decreased significantly. Manuel Santiago Vivar, tried in Córdoba in 1818, was the last person tried for being a crypto-Jew.
Expulsion of Moriscos and Morisco conversos
The Inquisition searched for false or relapsed converts among the Moriscos, who had converted from Islam. Beginning with a decree on 14 February 1502, Muslims in Granada had to choose between conversion to Christianity or expulsion. In the Crown of Aragon, most Muslims faced this choice after the Revolt of the Brotherhoods (1519–1523). It is important to note that the enforcement of the expulsion of the moriscos was enforced really unevenly, especially in the lands of the interior and the north, where the coexistence had lasted for over five centuries and moriscos were protected by the population, and orders were partially or completely ignored.
The War of the Alpujarras (1568–71), a general Muslim/Morisco uprising in Granada that expected to aid Ottoman disembarkation in the peninsula, ended in a forced dispersal of about half of the region’s Moriscos throughout Castile and Andalusia as well as increased suspicions by Spanish authorities against this community.
Many Moriscos were suspected of practicing Islam in secret, and the jealousy with which they guarded the privacy of their domestic life prevented the verification of this suspicion. Initially, they were not severely persecuted by the Inquisition, experiencing instead a policy of evangelization a policy not followed with those conversos who were suspected of being crypto-Jews. There were various reasons for this. In the kingdoms of Valencia and Aragon, a large number of the Moriscos were under the jurisdiction of the nobility, and persecution would have been viewed as a frontal assault on the economic interests of this powerful social class. Most importantly, the moriscos had integrated into the Spanish society significantly better than the Jews, intermarrying with the population often, and were not seen as a foreign element, especially in rural areas. Still, fears ran high among the population that the Moriscos were traitorous, especially in Granada. The coast was regularly raided by Barbary pirates backed by Spain’s enemy, the Ottoman Empire, and the Moriscos were suspected of aiding them.
In the second half of the century, late in the reign of Philip II, conditions worsened between Old Christians and Moriscos. The Morisco Revolt in Granada in 1568–1570 was harshly suppressed, and the Inquisition intensified its attention on the Moriscos. From 1570 Morisco cases became predominant in the tribunals of Zaragoza, Valencia and Granada; in the tribunal of Granada, between 1560 and 1571, 82% of those accused were Moriscos, who were a vast majority of the Kingdom’s population at the time. Still, the Moriscos did not experience the same harshness as judaizing conversos and Protestants, and the number of capital punishments was proportionally less.
In 1609, King Philip III, upon the advice of his financial adviser the Duke of Lerma and Archbishop of Valencia Juan de Ribera, decreed the Expulsion of the Moriscos. Hundreds of thousands of Moriscos were expelled, some of them probably sincere Christians. This was further fueled by the religious intolerance of Archbishop Ribera who quoted the Old Testament texts ordering the enemies of God to be slain without mercy and setting forth the duties of kings to extirpate them. The edict required: ‘The Moriscos to depart, under the pain of death and confiscation, without trial or sentence… to take with them no money, bullion, jewels or bills of exchange…. just what they could carry.’ Although initial estimates of the number expelled such as those of Henri Lapeyre reach 300,000 Moriscos (or 4% of the total Spanish population), the extent and severity of the expulsion in much of Spain has been increasingly challenged by modern historians such as Trevor J. Dadson. Nevertheless, the eastern region of Valencia, where ethnic tensions were high, was particularly affected by the expulsion, suffering economic collapse and depopulation of much of its territory.
Of those permanently expelled, the majority finally settled in the Maghreb or the Barbary coast. Those who avoided expulsion or who managed to return were gradually absorbed by the dominant culture.
The Inquisition pursued some trials against Moriscos who remained or returned after expulsion: at the height of the Inquisition, cases against Moriscos are estimated to have constituted less than 10 percent of those judged by the Inquisition. Upon the coronation of Philip IV in 1621, the new king gave the order to desist from attempting to impose measures on remaining Moriscos and returnees. In September 1628 the Council of the Supreme Inquisition ordered inquisitors in Seville not to prosecute expelled Moriscos “unless they cause significant commotion.” The last mass prosecution against Moriscos for crypto-Islamic practices occurred in Granada in 1727, with most of those convicted receiving relatively light sentences. By the end of the 18th century, the indigenous practice of Islam is considered to have been effectively extinguished in Spain.
The Spanish Inquisition had jurisdiction only over Christians. Therefore, only those who self-identified as Christians could be investigated and trialed by it. Those in the group of “heretics” were all subject to investigation. All forms of heretic Christianity (Protestants, Orthodox, blaspheming Catholics, etc.) were considered under its jurisdiction.
Protestants and Anglican
Despite popular myths about the Spanish Inquisition relating to Protestants, it dealt with very few cases involving actual Protestants, as there were so few in Spain. The Inquisition of the Netherlands is here not considered part of the Spanish Inquisition. Lutheran was a portmanteau accusation used by the Inquisition to act against all those who acted in a way that was offensive to the church. The first of the trials against those labeled by the Inquisition as “Lutheran” were those against the sect of mystics known as the “Alumbrados” of Guadalajara and Valladolid. The trials were long and ended with prison sentences of differing lengths, though none of the sect were executed. Nevertheless, the subject of the “Alumbrados” put the Inquisition on the trail of many intellectuals and clerics who, interested in Erasmian ideas, had strayed from orthodoxy. This is striking because both Charles I and Philip II were confessed admirers of Erasmus. The humanist Juan de Valdés, fled to Italy to escape anti-Erasmian factions that came to power in the court, and the preacher, Juan de Ávila spent close to a year in prison after he was questioned about his prayer practices.
The first trials against Lutheran groups, as such, took place between 1558 and 1562, at the beginning of the reign of Philip II, against two communities of Protestants from the cities of Valladolid and Seville, numbering about 120. The trials signaled a notable intensification of the Inquisition’s activities. A number of autos-da-fé were held, some of them presided over by members of the royal family, and around 100 executions took place. The autos-da-fé of the mid-century virtually put an end to Spanish Protestantism, which was, throughout, a small phenomenon to begin with.
After 1562, though the trials continued, the repression was much reduced. About 200 Spaniards were accused of being Protestants in the last decades of the 16th century.
Most of them were in no sense Protestants … Irreligious sentiments, drunken mockery, anticlerical expressions, were all captiously classified by the inquisitors (or by those who denounced the cases) as “Lutheran.” Disrespect to church images, and eating meat on forbidden days, were taken as signs of heresy…
It is estimated that a dozen Spaniards were burned alive.
It is important to notice that Protestantism and Anglicanism were treated as a marker to identify agents of foreign powers and symptoms of political disloyalty as much as, if not more than a cause of prosecution in itself. Religion, patriotism, obedience to the king and personal beliefs were not seen as separate aspects of life until the end of the Modern Age. Spain especially had a long tradition of using self-identified religion as a political and cultural marker, and expression of loyalty to a specific overlord, more than as an accurate description of personal beliefs -here the common accusation of heretics they received from Rome. In that note, accusations or prosecutions due to beliefs held by enemy countries must be seen as political accusations regarding political treason more than as religious ones. Other times the accusation of Protestantism was considered as an equivalent of blasphemy, just a general way of addressing insubordination.
Even though the Inquisition had theoretical permission to investigate Orthodox “heretics”, it almost never did. There was no major war between Spain and any Orthodox nation, so there was no reason to do so. There was one casualty tortured by those “Jesuits” who administered the Spanish Inquisition in North America, according to authorities within the Eastern Orthodox Church: St. Peter the Aleut. Even that single report has various numbers of inaccuracies that make it problematic, and has no confirmation in the Inquisitorial archives.
Witchcraft and superstitio
The category “superstitions” includes trials related to witchcraft. The witch-hunt in Spain had much less intensity than in other European countries (particularly France, Scotland, and Germany). One remarkable case was that of Logroño, in which the witches of Zugarramurdi in Navarre were persecuted. During the auto-da-fé that took place in Logroño on 7 and 8 November 1610, six people were burned and another five burned in effigy. The role of the Inquisition in cases of witchcraft was much more restricted than is commonly believed. Well after the foundation of the Inquisition, jurisdiction over sorcery and witchcraft remained in secular hands. In general the Inquisition maintained a skeptical attitude towards cases of witchcraft, considering it as a mere superstition without any basis. Alonso de Salazar Frías, who took the Edict of Faith to various parts of Navarre after the trials of Logroño, noted in his report to the Suprema that, “There were neither witches nor bewitched in a village until they were talked and written about”.
Included under the rubric of heretical propositions were verbal offences, from outright blasphemy to questionable statements regarding religious beliefs, from issues of sexual morality to misbehaviour of the clergy. Many were brought to trial for affirming that simple fornication (sex between unmarried persons) was not a sin or for putting in doubt different aspects of Christian faith such as Transubstantiation or the virginity of Mary. Also, members of the clergy themselves were occasionally accused of heretical propositions. These offences rarely led to severe penalties.
The first sodomite was burned by the Inquisition in Valencia in 1572, and those accused included 19% clergy, 6% nobles, 37% workers, 19% servants, and 18% soldiers and sailors.
Nearly all of almost 500 cases of sodomy between persons concerned the relationship between an older man and an adolescent, often by coercion, with only a few cases where the couple were consenting homosexual adults. About 100 of the total involved allegations of child abuse. Adolescents were generally punished more leniently than adults, but only when they were very young or when the case clearly concerned rape did they have a chance to avoid punishment altogether. As a rule, the Inquisition condemned to death only those sodomites over the age of 25 years. As about half of those tried were under this age, it explains the relatively small percentage of death sentences.
Cases of sodomy did not receive the same treatment in all areas of Spain. In the Kingdom of Castile, crimes of sodomy were not investigated by the Inquisition unless they were associated with religious heresy. In other words, the sodomy itself was investigated only as, and when, considered a symptom of a heretic belief or practice. In any other area, cases were considered an issue for civil authorities, and even then were not very actively investigated. The Crown of Aragon was the only area in which cases of sodomy were considered under the Inquisitorial jurisdiction, probably due to the previous presence of the Pontifical Inquisition in that kingdom. Within the Crown of Aragon, the tribunal of the city of Zaragoza was famously harsh even at the time.
The Roman Catholic Church has regarded Freemasonry as heretical since about 1738; the suspicion of Freemasonry was potentially a capital offence. Spanish Inquisition records reveal two prosecutions in Spain and only a few more throughout the Spanish Empire. In 1815, Francisco Javier de Mier y Campillo, the Inquisitor General of the Spanish Inquisition and the Bishop of Almería, suppressed Freemasonry and denounced the lodges as “societies which lead to atheism, to sedition and to all errors and crimes.” He then instituted a purge during which Spaniards could be arrested on the charge of being “suspected of Freemasonry”.
As one manifestation of the Counter-Reformation, the Spanish Inquisition worked actively to impede the diffusion of heretical ideas in Spain by producing “Indexes” of prohibited books. Such lists of prohibited books were common in Europe a decade before the Inquisition published its first. The first Index published in Spain in 1551 was, in reality, a reprinting of the Index published by the University of Leuven in 1550, with an appendix dedicated to Spanish texts. Subsequent Indexes were published in 1559, 1583, 1612, 1632, and 1640.
Included in the Indices, at one point, were some of the great works of Spanish literature, but most of the works were religious in nature and plays. A number of religious writers who are today considered saints by the Catholic Church saw their works appear in the Indexes. At first, this might seem counter-intuitive or even nonsensical—how were these Spanish authors published in the first place if their texts were then prohibited by the Inquisition and placed in the Index? The answer lies in the process of publication and censorship in Early Modern Spain. Books in Early Modern Spain faced prepublication licensing and approval (which could include modification) by both secular and religious authorities. Once approved and published, the circulating text also faced the possibility of post-hoc censorship by being denounced to the Inquisition—sometimes decades later. Likewise, as Catholic theology evolved, once-prohibited texts might be removed from the Index.
At first, inclusion in the Index meant total prohibition of a text. This proved not only impractical and unworkable but also contrary to the goals of having a literate and well-educated clergy. Works with one line of suspect dogma would be prohibited in their entirety, despite the orthodoxy of the remainder of the text. In time, a compromise solution was adopted in which trusted Inquisition officials blotted out words, lines or whole passages of otherwise acceptable texts, thus allowing these expurgated editions to circulate. Although in theory, the Indexes imposed enormous restrictions on the diffusion of culture in Spain, some historians argue that such strict control was impossible in practice and that there was much more liberty in this respect than is often believed. And Irving Leonard has conclusively demonstrated that, despite repeated royal prohibitions, romances of chivalry, such as Amadis of Gaul, found their way to the New World with the blessing of the Inquisition. Moreover, with the coming of the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century, increasing numbers of licenses to possess and read prohibited texts were granted.
Despite the repeated publication of the Indexes and a large bureaucracy of censors, the activities of the Inquisition did not impede the development of Spanish literature’s “Siglo de Oro”, although almost all of its major authors crossed paths with the Holy Office at one point or another. Among the Spanish authors included in the Index are Bartolomé Torres Naharro, Juan del Enzina, Jorge de Montemayor, Juan de Valdés and Lope de Vega, as well as the anonymous Lazarillo de Tormes and the Cancionero General by Hernando del Castillo. La Celestina, which was not included in the Indexes of the 16th century, was expurgated in 1632 and prohibited in its entirety in 1790. Among the non-Spanish authors prohibited were Ovid, Dante, Rabelais, Ariosto, Machiavelli, Erasmus, Jean Bodin, Valentine Naibod and Thomas More (known in Spain as Tomás Moro). One of the most outstanding and best-known cases in which the Inquisition directly confronted literary activity is that of Fray Luis de León, noted humanist and religious writer of converso origin, who was imprisoned for four years (from 1572 to 1576) for having translated the Song of Songs directly from Hebrew.
Some scholars state that one of the main effects of the inquisition was to end free thought and scientific thought in Spain. As one contemporary Spaniard in exile put it: “Our country is a land of pride and envy … barbarism; down there one cannot produce any culture without being suspected of heresy, error and Judaism. Thus silence was imposed on the learned.” For the next few centuries, while the rest of Europe was slowly awakened by the influence of the Enlightenment, Spain stagnated. This conclusion has been contested.
The censorship of books was actually very ineffective, and prohibited books circulated in Spain without significant problems. The Spanish Inquisition never persecuted scientists, and relatively few scientific books were placed on the Index. On the other hand, Spain was a state with more political freedom than in other absolute monarchies in the 16th to 18th centuries. The apparent paradox gets explained by both the hermeticist religious ideas of the Spanish church and monarchy, and the budding seed of what would become Enlightened absolutism taking shape in Spain. The list of banned books was not, as interpreted sometimes, a list of evil books but a list of books that lay people were very likely to misinterpret. The presence of highly symbolical and high-quality literature on the list was so explained. These metaphorical or parable sounding books were listed as not meant for free circulation, but there might be no objections to the book itself and the circulation among scholars was mostly free. Most of these books were carefully collected by the elite. The practical totality of the prohibited books can be found now as then in the library of the monasterio del Escorial, carefully collected by Philip II and Philip III. The collection was “public” after Philip II’s death and members of universities, intellectuals, courtesans, clergy, and certain branches of the nobility didn’t have too many problems to access them and commission authorised copies. The Inquisition has not been known to make any serious attempt to stop this for all the books, but there are some records of them “suggesting” the King of Spain to stop collecting grimoires or magic-related ones. This attitude was also not new. Translations of the Bible to Castillian and Provenzal (Catalan) had been made and allowed in Spain since the Middle Ages. The first preserved copy dates from the 13th century. Like the bible of Cisneros they were mostly for scholarly use, and it was customary for laymen to ask religious or academic authorities to review the translation and supervise the use.
Family and marriage
The Inquisition also pursued offences against morals and general social order, at times in open conflict with the jurisdictions of civil tribunals. In particular, there were trials for bigamy, a relatively frequent offence in a society that only permitted divorce under the most extreme circumstances. In the case of men, the penalty was two hundred lashes and five to ten years of “service to the Crown”. Said service could be whatever the court deemed most beneficial for the nation but it usually was either five years as an oarsman in a royal galley for those without any qualification (possibly a death sentence), or ten years working maintained but without salary in a public Hospital or charitable institution of the sort for those with some special skill, such as doctors, surgeons, or lawyers. The penalty was five to seven years as an oarsman in the case of Portugal.
Under the category of “unnatural marriage” fell any marriage or attempted marriage between two individuals who could not procreate. The Catholic Church in general, and in particular a nation constantly at war like Spain, emphasized the reproductive goal of marriage.
The Spanish Inquisition’s policy in this regard was restrictive but applied in a very egalitarian way. It considered unnatural any non-reproductive marriage, and natural any reproductive one, regardless of gender or sex involved. The two forms of obvious male sterility were either due to damage to the genitals through castration, or accidental wounding at war (capón), or to some genetic condition that might keep the man from completing puberty (lampiño). Female sterility was also a reason to declare a marriage unnatural but was harder to prove. One case that dealt with marriage, sex, and gender was the trial of Eleno de Céspedes.
Despite popular belief, the role of the Inquisition as a mainly religious institution, or religious in nature at all, is contested at best. Its main function was that of private police for the Crown with jurisdiction to enforce the law in those crimes that took place in the private sphere of life. The notion of religion and civil law being separate is a modern construction and made no sense in the 15th century, so there was no difference between breaking a law regarding religion and breaking a law regarding tax collection. The difference between them is a modern projection the institution itself did not have. As such, the Inquisition was the prosecutor (in some cases the only prosecutor) of any crimes that could be perpetrated without the public taking notice (mainly domestic crimes, crimes against the weakest members of society, administrative crimes and forgeries, organized crime, and crimes against the Crown).
Examples include crimes associated with sexual or family relations such as rape and sexual violence (the Inquisition was the first and only body who punished it across the nation), bestiality, pedophilia (often overlapping with sodomy), incest, child abuse or neglect and (as discussed) bigamy. Non-religious crimes also included procurement (not prostitution), human trafficking, smuggling, forgery or falsification of currency, documents or signatures, tax fraud (many religious crimes were considered subdivisions of this one), illegal weapons, swindles, disrespect to the Crown or its institutions (the Inquisition included, but also the church, the guard, and the kings themselves), espionage for a foreign power, conspiracy, treason.
The non-religious crimes processed by the Inquisition accounted for a considerable percentage of its total investigations and are often hard to separate in the statistics, even when documentation is available. The line between religious and non-religious crimes did not exist in 15th century Spain as legal concept. Many of the crimes listed here and some of the religious crimes listed in previous sections were contemplated under the same article. For example, “sodomy” included pedophilia as a subtype. Often part of the data given for prosecution of male homosexuality corresponds to convictions for pedophilia, not adult homosexuality. In other cases, religious and non-religious crimes were seen as distinct but equivalent. The treatment of public blasphemy and street swindlers was similar (since in both cases you are “misleading the public in a harmful way). Making counterfeit currency and heretic proselytism was also treated similarly; both of them were punished by death and subdivided in similar ways since both were “spreading falsifications”. In general heresy and falsifications of material documents were treated similarly by the Spanish Inquisition, indicating that they may have been thought of as equivalent actions.
Another difficulty to discriminate the inquisition’s secular and religious activity is the common association of certain types of investigations. An accusation or suspicion on certain crime often launched an automatic investigation on many others. Anyone accused of espionage due to non-religious reasons would likely be investigated for heresy too, and anyone suspected of a heresy associated to a foreign power would be investigated for espionage too automatically. Likewise, some religious crimes were considered likely to be associated with non-religious crimes, like human trafficking, procurement, and child abuse was expected to be associated to sodomy, or sodomy was expected to be associated to heresy and false conversions. Which accusation started the investigation isn’t always clear.
Finally, trials were often further complicated by the attempts of witnesses or victims to add further charges, especially witchcraft. Like in the case of Eleno de Céspedes, charges for witchcraft done in this way, or in general, were quickly dismissed but they often show in the statistics as investigations made.
Beyond its role in religious affairs, the Inquisition was also an institution at the service of the monarchy. The Inquisitor General, in charge of the Holy Office, was designated by the crown. The Inquisitor General was the only public office whose authority stretched to all the kingdoms of Spain (including the American viceroyalties), except for a brief period (1507–1518) during which there were two Inquisitors General, one in the kingdom of Castile, and the other in Aragon.
The Inquisitor General presided over the Council of the Supreme and General Inquisition (generally abbreviated as “Council of the Suprema”), created in 1483, which was made up of six members named directly by the crown (the number of members of the Suprema varied over the course of the Inquisition’s history, but it was never more than 10). Over time, the authority of the Suprema grew at the expense of the power of the Inquisitor General.
The Suprema met every morning, except for holidays, and for two hours in the afternoon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The morning sessions were devoted to questions of faith, while the afternoons were reserved for “minor heresies” cases of perceived unacceptable sexual behavior, bigamy, witchcraft, etc.
Below the Suprema were the various tribunals of the Inquisition, which were originally itinerant, installing themselves where they were necessary to combat heresy, but later being established in fixed locations. During the first phase, numerous tribunals were established, but the period after 1495 saw a marked tendency towards centralization.
In the kingdom of Castile, the following permanent tribunals of the Inquisition were established:
- 1482 In Seville and in Córdoba.
- 1485 In Toledo and in Llerena.
- 1488 In Valladolid and in Murcia.
- 1489 In Cuenca.
- 1505 In Las Palmas (Canary Islands).
- 1512 In Logroño.
- 1526 In Granada.
- 1574 In Santiago de Compostela.
There were only four tribunals in the kingdom of Aragon: Zaragoza and Valencia (1482), Barcelona (1484), and Majorca (1488). Ferdinand the Catholic also established the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily (1513), housed in Palermo, and Sardinia, in the town of Sassari. In the Americas, tribunals were established in Lima and in Mexico City (1569) and, in 1610, in Cartagena de Indias (present day Colombia).
Composition of the tribunal
Structure of the Spanish Inquisition
Initially, each of the tribunals included two inquisitors, calificadors (qualifiers), an alguacil (bailiff), and a fiscal (prosecutor); new positions were added as the institution matured. The inquisitors were preferably jurists more than theologians; in 1608 Philip III even stipulated that all inquisitors needed to have a background in law. The inquisitors did not typically remain in the position for a long time: for the Court of Valencia, for example, the average tenure in the position was about two years. Most of the inquisitors belonged to the secular clergy (priests who were not members of religious orders) and had a university education.
The fiscal was in charge of presenting the accusation, investigating the denunciations and interrogating the witnesses by the use of physical and mental torture. The calificadores were generally theologians; it fell to them to determine whether the defendant’s conduct added up to a crime against the faith. Consultants were expert jurists who advised the court in questions of procedure. The court had, in addition, three secretaries: the notario de secuestros (Notary of Property), who registered the goods of the accused at the moment of his detention; the notario del secreto (Notary of the Secret), who recorded the testimony of the defendant and the witnesses; and the escribano general (General Notary), secretary of the court. The alguacil was the executive arm of the court, responsible for detaining, jailing, and physically torturing the defendant. Other civil employees were the nuncio, ordered to spread official notices of the court, and the alcaide, the jailer in charge of feeding the prisoners.
In addition to the members of the court, two auxiliary figures existed that collaborated with the Holy Office: the familiares and the comissarios (commissioners). Familiares were lay collaborators of the Inquisition, who had to be permanently at the service of the Holy Office. To become a familiar was considered an honor, since it was a public recognition of limpieza de sangre — Old Christian status — and brought with it certain additional privileges. Although many nobles held the position, most of the familiares came from the ranks of commoners. The commissioners, on the other hand, were members of the religious orders who collaborated occasionally with the Holy Office.
One of the most striking aspects of the organization of the Inquisition was its form of financing: devoid of its own budget, the Inquisition depended exclusively on the confiscation of the goods of the denounced. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of those prosecuted were rich men. That the situation was open to abuse is evident, as stands out in the memorandum that a converso from Toledo directed to Charles I:
Your Majesty must provide, before all else, that the expenses of the Holy Office do not come from the properties of the condemned, because if that is the case if they do not burn they do not eat.
When the Inquisition arrived in a city, the first step was the Edict of Grace. Following the Sunday Mass, the Inquisitor would proceed to read the edict; it explained possible heresies and encouraged all the congregation to come to the tribunals of the Inquisition to “relieve their consciences”. They were called Edicts of Grace because all of the self-incriminated who presented themselves within a period of grace (usually ranging from thirty to forty days) were offered the possibility of reconciliation with the Church without severe punishment. The promise of benevolence was effective, and many voluntarily presented themselves to the Inquisition and were often encouraged to denounce others who had also committed offences, informants being the Inquisition’s primary source of information. After about 1500, the Edicts of Grace were replaced by the Edicts of Faith, which left out the grace period and instead encouraged the denunciation of those guilty.
The denunciations were anonymous, and the defendants had no way of knowing the identities of their accusers. This was one of the points most criticized by those who opposed the Inquisition. In practice, false denunciations were frequent. Denunciations were made for a variety of reasons, from genuine concern to rivalries and personal jealousies.
After a denunciation, the case was examined by the calificadores, who had to determine whether there was heresy involved, followed by the detention of the accused. In practice many were detained in preventive custody, and many cases of lengthy incarcerations occurred, lasting up to two years before the calificadores examined the case.
Detention of the accused entailed the preventive sequestration of their property by the Inquisition. The property of the prisoner was used to pay for procedural expenses and the accused’s own maintenance and costs. Often the relatives of the defendant found themselves in outright misery. This situation was remedied only following instructions written in 1561.
Some authors, such as Thomas William Walsh, stated that the entire process was undertaken with the utmost secrecy, as much for the public as for the accused, who were not informed about the accusations that were levied against them. Months or even years could pass without the accused being informed about why they were imprisoned. The prisoners remained isolated, and, during this time, the prisoners were not allowed to attend Mass nor receive the sacraments. The jails of the Inquisition were no worse than those of secular authorities, and there are even certain testimonies that occasionally they were much better. There are few records of the time of the accused in prison, but the transcription of the trials repeatedly shows the accused being informed of every charge during the trial. They also show the accused’s answers, in which they address each accusation specifically. Given that they would be informed anyway, it makes little sense that the accused would be kept in the dark prior to the trial, unless the investigation was still open.
The inquisitorial process consisted of a series of hearings, in which both the denouncers and the defendant gave testimony. A defense counsel was assigned to the defendant, a member of the tribunal itself, whose role was simply to advise the defendant and to encourage them to speak the truth. The prosecution was directed by the fiscal. Interrogation of the defendant was done in the presence of the Notary of the Secreto, who meticulously wrote down the words of the accused. The archives of the Inquisition, in comparison to those of other judicial systems of the era, are striking in the completeness of their documentation.
To defend themselves, the accused had two choices: abonos (to find favourable witnesses, akin to “substantive” evidence/testimony in Anglo-American law) or tachas (to demonstrate that the witnesses of accusers were not trustworthy, akin to Anglo-American “impeachment” evidence/testimony).
The documentation from the notary usually show the following content, which gives us an idea of what the actual trial was likely to look like:
- A first page in which the notary wrote the date, the names and charges of the members of the tribunal, the name of the accused and the accuser, the accusation, and the names of everyone present in the room during the trial.
- A second page with the accused’s first statement about their innocence or culpability, and their general response and recollection of the facts. This part usually takes from a thick fluid paragraph to a couple of pages and are relatively formal, within the accused’s education level, from which one can suspect that the accused had time to prepare it prior to either the trial or the declaration, and probably help from the defendant. This paragraph also shows the accused addressing every charge from the first page, by points, which shows that the accused must have been informed of the charges against them.
- A third section with the fiscal’s name and the transcription of a speech in which they address the accused’s statement, also by points, and presents their case regarding each one separately.
- A fourth section, usually dated on the next day or a couple of days after the fiscal’s intervention, with the name of the “procurador”( defendant) and the transcription of a speech in which they address the fiscal’s arguments, again by points and separately, and defend the accused regarding each one.
- A fifth section with the tribunal’s response to this. In the vast majority of cases, the response is to order the search and calling of certain individuals, as witnesses, or of some experts such as doctors to testify and ratify some parts of what has been said, and giving a date for the tribunal to come together again and examine the evidence. Usually, the fiscal and procurator can ask for the presence of some witnesses here too, as it is inferred by them showing up later, but that is not always specifically stated in the transcripts and may be done outside of trial.
- The next section is often dated sometime later. Each witness or expert is introduced by complete name, job, relationship to the victim if any, and relationship to the case. The witness’s testimony is not transcribed word by word like in previous cases but summarized by the notary, probably because it was not prepared and does not follow a coherent, consistent order and writing implements were rather expensive to waste.
- A page in which the procurador(defendant) declared the questions he is going to make to (usually another) group of witnesses of his choice since he often states that “he has asked them to come”or “he has called them”. The answers given by each witness follow, with each witness presented as in the previous section. These testimonies are also paraphrased and summarized but addressed by points, with the answer to each question paraphrased separately.
- The fiscal and the procurador require equal copies of the testimony of the witnesses and keep them, demanding that no copy is shown to anyone until the end of a period of usually six days in which the witnesses have the chance to call the tribunal again to change their mind or add something.
- A third meeting of the tribunal with a new date. The transcription of a new speech by the procurator stating his view of the declarations and wrapping the witnesses’ testimony up from his perspective.
- A similar intervention, usually far shorter, from the fiscal.
- The response from the tribunal, paraphrased, which could be to dictate the sentence, but often was to require either further clarification from the witness (restarting the procedure from the second step) or call for another type of proof (restarting the procedure from the sixth step). These steps would repeat cyclically in the documentation of the trial, through different meetings of the tribunal and different weeks, until the tribunal has reached a conclusion.
- A literal transcription of the verdict and sentence. If the accused has been accused of more than one thing the sentence usually comes by points too. It is not uncommon for some of the accusations to be dismissed along with the process and said the process to continue taking into account the remaining ones. While sentences of innocence could be given at any point in a trial for multiple crimes, sentences of culpability only appear once the trial is over and all investigations opened against the accused are closed.
Regarding the fairness of the trials, the structure of them was similar to modern trials and extremely advanced for the time. The Inquisition was dependent on the political power of the King. The lack of separation of powers allows assuming questionable fairness for certain scenarios. The fairness of the Inquisitorial tribunals seemed to be among the best in early modern Europe when it came to the trial of laymen. There are also testimonies by former prisoners that, if believed, suggest that said fairness was less than ideal when national or political interests were involved.
To obtain a confession or information relevant to an investigation, the Inquisition used torture, but not in a systematic way. It could only be applied when all other options, witnesses and experts had been used, the accused was found guilty or most likely guilty, and relevant information regarding accomplices or specific details were missing. It was applied mainly against those suspected of Judaizing and Protestantism beginning in the 16th century, in other words, “enemies of the state”, since said crimes were usually thought to be associated with a larger organized network of either espionage or conspiracy with foreign powers. For example, Lea estimates that between 1575 and 1610 the court of Toledo tortured approximately a third of those processed for Protestant heresy. The recently opened Vatican Archives suggest even lower numbers. In other periods, the proportions varied remarkably. Torture was always a means to obtain the confession of the accused, not a punishment itself.
Torture was employed in all civil and religious trials in Europe. The Spanish Inquisition used it more restrictively than was common at the time. Its main differentiation characteristic was that, as opposed to both civil trials and other inquisitions, it had very strict regulations regarding when, what, to whom, how many times, for how long and under what supervision it could be applied. The Spanish inquisition engaged in it far less often and with greater care than other courts. In the civil court, both Spanish and otherwise, there was no restriction regarding duration or any other point.
- When: Torture was allowed only: ” when sufficient proofs to confirm the culpability of the accused have been gathered by other means, and every other method of negotiation have been tried and exhausted“. It was stated by the inquisitorial rule that information obtained through torment was not reliable, and confession should only be extracted this way when all needed information was already known and proven. Confessions obtained through torture could not be used to convict or sentence anyone.
- What: The Spanish Inquisition was prohibited to “maim, mutilate, draw blood or cause any sort of permanent damage” to the prisoner. Ecclesiastical tribunals were prohibited by church law from shedding blood. There was a closed list of the allowed torture methods. These were all tried and used in the civil courts all through Europe, and therefore known to be “safe” in this regard. Any other method, regardless of whether it was legal in the country or practiced in civil courts, was not allowed.
- How many times: Each accusation allowed for a different number of torment sessions on the same person (once the “when” condition of the culpability being supported by the strong external evidence was fulfilled). The number was dependent on how “harmful to society” the crime was. Counterfeit currency allowed for a maximum of two. The most serious offences allowed for a maximum of eight.
- For how long: “Torment” could be applied for a maximum of 15 minutes. The Roman Inquisition allowed for 30 minutes.
- Supervision: A Physician was usually available in case of emergency. It was also required for a doctor to certify that the prisoner was healthy enough to go through the torment without suffering harm.
Per contrast, European civil trials from England to Italy and from Spain to Russia could use, and did use, torture without justification and for as long as they considered. So much so that there were serious tensions between the Inquisition and Philip III, since the Inquisitors complained that “those people sent to the prisons of the King blasphemed and accused themselves of heresy just to be sent under the Inquisitorial jurisdiction instead of the King’s” and that was collapsing the Inquisition’s tribunals. During the reign of Philip IV there were registered complaints of the Inquisitors about people who “Blasphemated, mostly in winter, just to be detained and fed inside the prison”.
Despite some popular accounts, modern historians state that torture was only ever used to confirm information or a confession, not for punitive reasons.
The inside of a jail of the Spanish Inquisition, with a priest supervising his scribe while men and women are suspended from pulleys, tortured on the rack or burnt with torches. Etching.
Rafael Sabatinni states that among the methods of torture allowed, and common in other secular and ecclesiastical tribunals, were garrucha, toca and the potro, even though those claims contradict both the Inquisitorial law and the claims made by Kamen. The application of the garrucha, also known as the strappado, consisted of suspending the victim from the ceiling by the wrists, which are tied behind the back. Sometimes weights were tied to the ankles, with a series of lifts and drops, during which the arms and legs suffered violent pulls and were sometimes dislocated.
The use of te toca(cloth), also called interrogatorio mejorado del agua (improved waterboarding/improved water interrogation), is better documented. It consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had the impression of drowning. The potro, the rack, in which the limbs were slowly pulled apart, was thought to be the instrument of torture used most frequently. Among them all, the “submarino/ waterboarding” was by far the most commonly used, since it was cheap, and seen as “harmless and very safe” (safer for the victim than clothless waterboarding, hence the “improved” (mejorado) epithet).
The assertion that confessionem esse veram, non factam vi tormentorum (literally: ‘[a person’s] confession is truth, not made by way of torture’) sometimes follows a description of how, after torture had ended, the subject freely confessed to the offences. Thus confessions following torture were deemed to be made of the confessor’s free will, and hence valid.
Once the process concluded, the inquisidores met with a representative of the bishop and with the consultores (consultants), experts in theology or Canon Law (but not necessarily clergy themselves), which was called the consulta de fe (faith consultation/religion check). The case was voted and sentence pronounced, which had to be unanimous. In case of discrepancies, the Suprema had to be informed.
The results of the trial could be the following:
- Although quite rare in actual practice, the defendant could be acquitted. Inquisitors did not wish to terminate the proceedings. If they did, and new evidence turned up later, they would be forced into reopening and re-presenting the old evidence.
- The trial could be suspended, in which case the defendant, although under suspicion, went free or was held in long-term imprisonment until a trial commenced. When set free after a suspended trial it was considered a form of acquittal without specifying that the accusation had been erroneous.
- The defendant could be penanced. Since they were considered guilty, they had to publicly abjure their crimes, and accept a public punishment. Among these were sanbenito, exile, fines or even sentencing to service as oarsmen in royal galleys.
- The defendant could be reconciled. In addition to the public ceremony in which the condemned was reconciled with the Catholic Church, more severe punishments were used, among them long sentences to jail or the galleys, plus the confiscation of all property. Physical punishments, such as whipping, were also used.
- The most serious punishment was relaxation to the secular arm. The Inquisition had no power to actually kill the convict or determine the way they should die; that was a right of the King. Burning at the stake was a possibility, probably kept from the Papal Inquisition of Aragon, but a very uncommon one. This penalty was frequently applied to impenitent heretics and those who had relapsed. Execution was public. If the condemned repented, they were shown mercy by being garroted before their corpse was burned; if not, they were burned alive.
Frequently, cases were judged in absentia, and when the accused died before the trial finished, the condemned were burned in effigy.
The distribution of the punishments varied considerably over time. It is believed that sentences of death were enforced in the first stages within the long history of the Inquisition. According to García Cárcel, the court of Valencia, one of the most active, employed the death penalty in 40% of the convicts before 1530, but later that percentage dropped to 3%.
If the sentence was condemnatory, this implied that the condemned had to participate in the ceremony of an auto de fe that solemnized their return to the Church, or punishment as an impenitent heretic. The autos-da-fé could be private or public.
Although initially the public autos did not have any special solemnity nor sought a large attendance of spectators, with time they became solemn ceremonies, celebrated with large public crowds, amidst a festive atmosphere. The auto-da-fé eventually became a baroque spectacle, with staging meticulously calculated to cause the greatest effect among the spectators. The autos were conducted in a large public space , generally on holidays. The rituals related to the auto began the previous night and sometimes lasted the whole day. The auto-da-fé frequently was taken to the canvas by painters: one of the better-known examples is the 1683 painting by Francisco Rizi, held by the Prado Museum in Madrid that represents the auto celebrated in the Plaza Mayor of Madrid on 30 June 1680. The last public auto-da-fé took place in 1691.
The auto-da-fé involved a Catholic Mass, prayer, a public procession of those found guilty, and a reading of their sentences. They took place in public squares or esplanades and lasted several hours; ecclesiastical and civil authorities attended. Artistic representations of the auto-da-fé usually depict torture and the burning at the stake. This type of activity never took place during an auto-da-fé, which was in essence a religious act. Torture was not administered after a trial concluded, and executions were always held after and separate from the auto-da-fé, though in the minds and experiences of observers and those undergoing the confession and execution, the separation of the two might be experienced as merely a technicality.
The first recorded auto-da-fé was held in Paris in 1242, during the reign of Louis IX. The first Spanish auto-da-fé did not take place until 1481 in Seville; six of the men and women subjected to this first religious ritual were later executed. The Inquisition had limited power in Portugal, having been established in 1536 and officially lasting until 1821, although its influence was much weakened with the government of the Marquis of Pombal in the second half of the 18th century. Autos-da-fé also took place in Mexico, Brazil and Peru: contemporary historians of the Conquistadors such as Bernal Díaz del Castillo record them. They also took place in the Portuguese colony of Goa, India, following the establishment of Inquisition there in 1562–1563.
The arrival of the Enlightenment in Spain slowed inquisitorial activity. In the first half of the 18th century, 111 were condemned to be burned in person, and 117 in effigy, most of them for judaizing. In the reign of Philip V, there were 125 autos-da-fé, while in the reigns of Charles III and Charles IV only 44.
During the 18th century, the Inquisition changed: Enlightenment ideas were the closest threat that had to be fought. The main figures of the Spanish Enlightenment were in favour of the abolition of the Inquisition, and many were processed by the Holy Office, among them Olavide, in 1776; Iriarte, in 1779; and Jovellanos, in 1796; Jovellanos sent a report to Charles IV in which he indicated the inefficiency of the Inquisition’s courts and the ignorance of those who operated them: “… friars who take [the position] only to obtain gossip and exemption from the choir; who are ignorant of foreign languages, who only know a little scholastic theology.”
In its new role, the Inquisition tried to accentuate its function of censoring publications but found that Charles III had secularized censorship procedures, and, on many occasions, the authorization of the Council of Castile hit the more intransigent position of the Inquisition. Since the Inquisition itself was an arm of the state, being within the Council of Castile, civil rather than ecclesiastical censorship usually prevailed. This loss of influence can also be explained because the foreign Enlightenment texts entered the peninsula through prominent members of the nobility or government, influential people with whom it was very difficult to interfere. Thus, for example, Diderot’s Encyclopedia entered Spain thanks to special licenses granted by the king.
After the French Revolution the Council of Castile, fearing that revolutionary ideas would penetrate Spain’s borders, decided to reactivate the Holy Office that was directly charged with the persecution of French works. An Inquisition edict of December 1789, that received the full approval of Charles IV and Floridablanca, stated that:
having news that several books have been scattered and promoted in these kingdoms… that, without being contented with the simple narration events of a seditious nature… seem to form a theoretical and practical code of independence from the legitimate powers…. destroying in this way the political and social order… the reading of thirty and nine French works is prohibited, under fine…
However, inquisitorial activity was impossible in the face of the information avalanche that crossed the border; in 1792, “the multitude of seditious papers… does not allow formalizing the files against those who introduce them”.
The fight from within against the Inquisition was almost always clandestine. The first texts that questioned the Inquisition and praised the ideas of Voltaire or Montesquieu appeared in 1759. After the suspension of pre-publication censorship on the part of the Council of Castile in 1785, the newspaper El Censor began the publication of protests against the activities of the Holy Office by means of a rationalist critique. Valentin de Foronda published Espíritu de los Mejores Diarios, a plea in favor of freedom of expression that was avidly read in the salons. Also, in the same vein, Manuel de Aguirre wrote On Toleration in El Censor, El Correo de los Ciegos and El Diario de Madrid.
End of the Inquisition
During the reign of Charles IV of Spain (1788–1808), in spite of the fears that the French Revolution provoked, several events accelerated the decline of the Inquisition. The state stopped being a mere social organizer and began to worry about the well-being of the public. As a result, the land-holding power of the Church was reconsidered, in the señoríos and more generally in the accumulated wealth that had prevented social progress. The power of the throne increased, under which Enlightenment thinkers found better protection for their ideas. Manuel Godoy and Antonio Alcalá Galiano were openly hostile to an institution whose only role had been reduced to censorship and was the very embodiment of the Spanish Black Legend, internationally, and was not suitable to the political interests of the moment:
The Inquisition? Its old power no longer exists: the horrible authority that this bloodthirsty court had exerted in other times was reduced… the Holy Office had come to be a species of commission for book censorship, nothing more…
The Inquisition was first abolished during the domination of Napoleon and the reign of Joseph Bonaparte (1808–1812). In 1813, the liberal deputies of the Cortes of Cádiz also obtained its abolition, largely as a result of the Holy Office’s condemnation of the popular revolt against French invasion. But the Inquisition was reconstituted when Ferdinand VII recovered the throne on 1 July 1814. Juan Antonio Llorente, who had been the Inquisition’s general secretary in 1789, became a Bonapartist and published a critical history in 1817 from his French exile, based on his privileged access to its archives.
Possibly as a result of Llorente’s criticisms, the Inquisition was once again temporarily abolished during the three-year Liberal interlude known as the Trienio liberal, but still the old system had not yet had its last gasp. Later, during the period known as the Ominous Decade, the Inquisition was not formally re-established, although, de facto, it returned under the so-called Congregation of the Meetings of Faith, tolerated in the dioceses by King Ferdinand. On 26 July 1826, the “Meetings of Faith” Congregation condemned and executed the school teacher Cayetano Ripoll, who thus became the last person known to be executed by the Inquisition.
On that day, Ripoll was hanged in Valencia, for having taught deist principles. This execution occurred against the backdrop of a European-wide scandal concerning the despotic attitudes still prevailing in Spain. Finally, on 15 July 1834, the Spanish Inquisition was definitively abolished by a Royal Decree signed by regent Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies, Ferdinand VII’s liberal widow, during the minority of Isabella II and with the approval of the President of the Cabinet Francisco Martínez de la Rosa. (It is possible that something similar to the Inquisition acted during the 1833–1839 First Carlist War, in the zones dominated by the Carlists, since one of the government measures praised by Conde de Molina Carlos Maria Isidro de Borbon was the re-implementation of the Inquisition to protect the Church). During the Carlist Wars, it was the conservatives who fought the liberals who wanted to reduce the Church’s power, amongst other reforms to liberalize the economy. It can be added that Franco during the Spanish Civil War is alleged to have stated that he would attempt to reintroduce it, possibly as a sop to Vatican approval of his coup.
The Alhambra Decree that had expelled the Jews was formally rescinded on 16 December 1968 by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, after the Second Vatican Council rejected the idea that Jews are deicides.
It is unknown exactly how much wealth was confiscated from converted Jews and others tried by the Inquisition. Wealth confiscated in one year of persecution in the small town of Guadaloupe paid the costs of building a royal residence. There are numerous records of the opinion of ordinary Spaniards of the time that “the Inquisition was devised simply to rob people”. “They were burnt only for the money they had”, a resident of Cuenca averred. “They burn only the well-off”, said another. In 1504 an accused stated, “only the rich were burnt”. In 1484 Catalina de Zamora was accused of asserting that “this Inquisition that the fathers are carrying out is as much for taking property from the conversos as for defending the faith. It is the goods that are the heretics.” This saying passed into common usage in Spain. In 1524 a treasurer informed Charles V that his predecessor had received ten million ducats from the conversos, but the figure is unverified. In 1592 an inquisitor admitted that most of the fifty women he arrested were rich. In 1676, the Suprema claimed it had confiscated over 700,000 ducats for the royal treasury (which was paid money only after the Inquisition’s own budget, amounting in one known case to only 5%). The property on Mallorca alone in 1678 was worth “well over 2,500,000 ducats”.
Death tolls and sentenced
García Cárcel estimates that the total number prosecuted by the Inquisition throughout its history was approximately 150,000; applying the percentages of executions that appeared in the trials of 1560–1700—about 2%—the approximate total would be about 3,000 put to death. Nevertheless, some authors consider that the toll may have been higher, keeping in mind the data provided by Dedieu and García Cárcel for the tribunals of Toledo and Valencia, respectively, and estimate between 3,000 and 5,000 were executed. Other authors disagree and estimate a max death toll between 1% and 5%, (depending on the time span used) combining all the processes the inquisition carried, both religious and non-religious ones. In either case, this is significantly lower than the number of people executed exclusively for witchcraft in other parts of Europe during about the same time span as the Spanish Inquisition (estimated at c. 40,000–60,000).
Modern historians have begun to study the documentary records of the Inquisition. The archives of the Suprema, today held by the National Historical Archive of Spain, conserves the annual relations of all processes between 1540 and 1700. This material provides information for approximately 44,674 judgments. These 44,674 cases include 826 executions in persona and 778 in effigie. This material is far from being complete—for example, the tribunal of Cuenca is entirely omitted, because no relaciones de causas from this tribunal have been found, and significant gaps concern some other tribunals. Many more cases not reported to the Suprema are known from the other sources, but were not included in Contreras-Henningsen’s statistics for the methodological reasons. William Monter estimates 1000 executions between 1530 and 1630 and 250 between 1630 and 1730.
The archives of the Suprema only provide information about processes prior to 1560. To study the processes themselves, it is necessary to examine the archives of the local tribunals, the majority of which have been lost to the devastation of war, the ravages of time or other events. Some archives have survived including those of Toledo, where 12,000 were judged for offences related to heresy, mainly minor “blasphemy”, and those of Valencia. These indicate that the Inquisition was most active in the period between 1480 and 1530 and that during this period the percentage condemned to death was much more significant than in the years that followed. Modern estimates show approximately 2,000 executions in persona in the whole of Spain up to 1530.
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