Modernity Comes to the Great Monotheistic Traditions
October 1, 2013
Judaism in the Hellenistic World
Pharisees – new about the law, could figure out the best way to investigate the law
in interesting ways.
Sadducees – people interested in the temple/cult sacrifices were maintained.
Essenes – scrolls(?)
Samaritans – claimed to be descendants from the first tribes…
Zealots – thought it was inappropriate for the Romans to be in charge of
Messianic Expectations – these groups thought that, as history came to an end the
Messianic age would manifest and the messiah would come.
Important to note that Judaism is not immune to the influences of Hellenistic
thought – we have a material world and a spiritual world.
The Rise of Rabbinic Judaism
Romans destroy Jerusalem following the first Jewish rebellion in 70 CE.
Following the second revolt 135 CE the diaspora is thorough going. Now Jews in
Jerusalem. Romans renamed the city.
The Rabbis, heirs to the Pharisees, survive and make the Bible the core of their
The understanding of the Law and the interpretation of scripture becomes the
primary religious focus for many Jews (male) and the synagogue the central institution
for Jews. Wanted to make sure that sacrificial practices were preserved for when the
temple was rebuilt and they could continue their sacrificial practices.
The Origins of Christianity
Jesus is born Jewish. You get to be Christian based on who you thought Jesus
was. One God, three persons -
Christianity began as a Jewish sectarian movement in the first century CE
amongst those who believed that the Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of
Many scholars do not use the term ‘Christians‘ but rather ‗Christ believers‘ to
identify those who had this belief at this early stage.
Jesus and all his followers were Jewish as was Paul and probably most of the
authors of the documents comprising the New Testament, the Christian additions to the
The figure of Jesus Christ is central to Christianity. Most Christians identify as
Christians because of what they believe about Jesus in terms of his life and death.
Crucifixion is not a particularly special way to die – identified with Christianity –
it was an unpleasant was to die, it was a shameful type of execution. South American
crucifixes are very bloody/gory
The ‗Jesus Movement‘
Two figures important in Christian origins: Jesus and Paul. Jesus born in Palestine perhaps in 4 BCE. Christian tradition based on the gospels
of Matthews and Luke states that he was born in Bethlehem but his contemporaries
believed he came from Nazareth in Galilee. We know little of his childhood. He was
Jewish and probably never married.
Our sources for Jesus‘ life and death are the four gospels, Matthews, Mark, Luke
and John, in the Christian New Testament.
At some point Jesus had a profound spiritual experience which led him to believe
that he had been appointed by God for a specific mission (he was baptized). Perhaps this
occurred at his baptism by John the Baptist as described in gospel texts.
Part of Jesus‘ mission appears to have been a special invitation to the poor and
marginalized to become members of the kingdom of God.
He was arrested and executed in Jerusalem under Roman authority probably
around 30 CE.
Jesus‘ Teaching (Matt5:17-24)
17. ―Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not
come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
20. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees
and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
21. ―You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‗Do not murder, and
anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.‘
22. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to
judgment. Again anyone who says to his brother, ‗Race,‘ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.
But anyone who says, ‗You fool!‘ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23. ―Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that
your brother has something against you,‖
The First Easter
Jesus crucified around Passover.
His followers claimed he had risen from the dead.
Gradually this belief spread and was understood to have theological significance
for all people.
The story of what happened next is found in the Book of Acts although this
presents an idealized version and conflicts with some of the material Paul‘s letters which
are much earlier.
The Achievement of Paul
Shortly after his death, some of Jesus‘ followers believed that he had been
resurrected. Some of them even claimed to have seen the rising of Jesus.
Paul was not among Jesus‘ followers. He was also Jewish. Some of his letters to
other Christ believers have survived and are also found in the Christian New Testament.
Paul tells his readers that he persecuted Christ believers before he too had a
religious experience that led him to believe that Jesus represented God‘s most dramatic
intervention in history. Paul was not unopposed by other members of the Christian community. Many
prominent members of the early church disagreed with Paul‘s views especially
concerning his belief that Christians no longer had to observe the Torah.
His view of the meaning of the life and death of Jesus came to predominate very
early on in Christian history.
From Jewish Sect to Gentile Religion
From the very beginning Christianity was a missionary religion thanks to the
eschatological urgency at its core.
Christianity began as a somewhat obscure Jewish ‗sect‘ that had few adherents
and was geographically limited.
By the end of the first century of the Common Era it was largely a religion of the
Gentiles and few Jewish adherents remained. This probably occurred because Jesus
rapidly came to be seen as divine by Christians while most Jews believed that such a
belief endangered monotheism (thought the existence of Jesus was a lie).
Within a generation of the crucifixion, the movement had spread to several major
centres in the Mediterranean world: e.g. Rome, Antioch, Corinth.
The Jerusalem Church was at first the ‗centre of operations‘ but quickly lost its
place to Rome.
The gentile is someone who is not Jewish. Would Jesus‘ followers have to
become Jewish – no bacon; circumcision. Paul argued that you do not have to be Jewish
to join Christianity.
The Early Spread of Christianity
Despite much sporadic persecution, Christianity spread rapidly.
By the end of the second century it is well established throughout the Roman
At first it may have been indistinguishable from Judaism but gradually its
messianic claims/Christology, its unique practices including celibacy and the Eucharist
separated it from all other religions in the Roman empire including Judaism.
Despite its rapid spread and its followers‘ ardent loyalty, Christianity might have
died out were it not for one man, the Emperor Constantine.
The Rise of the Christian Empire
Patriarchs were established by Constantine in four cities: Rome, Jerusalem,
Constantinople and Alexandria. (Antioch also had a Patriarch until the split in the fifth
century when the Antiochene Patriarch‘s authority was disputed.)
Roman authority was challenged and with the city of Rome repeatedly under threat
central authority moved to Constantinople (Byzantium, Istanbul). Ultimately the Western
half of the Empire fell to the Goths. The Empire continues in the East—Egypt, Syria,
Asia Minor (Turkey) but this became known as the Byzantine Empire.
The process of consolidation of political control and religious uniformity culminated
in the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon:
Council of Nicaea convened by Constantine to settle the question of the identity
of Christ and his relationship to God as well as the core beliefs of Christianity Further refinement took place at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE which
asserted that Jesus Christ was fully human and fully divine.
The doctrine of the Trinity (One God, Three persons--God the Father, God the
Son, God the Holy Spirit) more or less absent from the New Testament had now
been defined and refined and was the central truth claim of Christianity.
The Prophet Muhammad
The Romans had attempted to infiltrate the Southern Arabian peninsula (modern
Yemen) but were unsuccessful so their influence extended mainly to the northwest with
the interior desert and the coastal regions dominated by nomadic peoples and tribal kings.
The Persians had had some control of parts of the peninsula in the North but also
Yemen in the South.
It is with the rise of Islam that the Arabian peninsula is united.
Muhammad is ‗the seal of the Prophets‘ – final prophet in line that goes back to
Message is one of restoration – illuminating the true monotheistic tradition that
was also taught by Abraham, Moses, Jesus etc, but which has been distorted.
Muhammad was born around 570 CE. In Mecca of the Quraysh tribe.
Married Khadijah (known as Islam‘s first convert) a female merchant and
originally his employer.
There were Jewish and Christian communities in Arabia and Muhammad familiar
with their message of one God who intervened in history on behalf of those who kept
faith with him.
Muhammad received the first of the revelations of the Qur‘an during solitary
contemplation when the angel Gabriel (Jibril) ordered him to recite.
Muhammad himself is believed to have worried initially that he was going mad.
His wife, Khadijah, believed in the authenticity of his utterances or recitations and
became known as the first ―convert‖.
Muhammad obeyed Gabriel and over twenty-two years the Qur‘an was recited and
carefully memorized and transcribed.
For Muslims, the accuracy of the revelation/Qur‘an is attested by:
The claim that Muhammad was illiterate
The claim that the scribes and the companions of the Prophet carefully
safeguarded against changes and omissions
The Qur‘an is at the very heart of Islam: ―Every legal or theological school,
religious trend, or political movement in Muslim history has looked to the Qur‘an for its
primary support and justification‖.
Although many believed Muhammad‘s prophetic claims, not all Meccans
responded favourably to Muhammad‘s message of universal brotherhood and submission
to One God.
Many of the more prominent Meccans, including many from Muhammad‘s own
tribe (the Quraysh), resented the prophet‘s ascendancy in the city, especially amongst the lower classes. They feared outright rebellion and suspected that Muhammad was using
his subversive message of monotheism for his own political advantage.
Islam was not embraced easily by the citizens of Mecca and Muhammad and his
followers had to leave Mecca due to religious, social and political persecution in 622.
Reasons for Meccan Opposition
The Quraysh tribe were powerful leaders in Mecca.
Muhammad‘s message challenged the religious practices and beliefs of the
citizens of Mecca most whom were polytheists.
His claim that he was the conduit of a direct revelation from God, was treated
with hostility and suspicion by most of his fellow Meccans.
Reasons for opposition to Muhammad and his message:
1. His message undermined traditional authority. Social class and wealth were
rejected by Muhammad as marks of a person‘s worth.
2. His opposition to the pilgrimages to Mecca as idolatrous worship of idols
threatened trade and commerce.
3. Traditional leadership was threatened since Muhammad‘s words and his words
only were authoritative, since he was a prophet speaking on behalf of God.
4. Muhammad rejected the validity, indeed the sacredness, of tribal ties.
Muhammad and his followers were persecuted and opposed in Mecca. Following the
death of Khadijah and the Night of Ascension or Night Journey, the decision was taken to
move to Yathrib.
Muhammad and his followers undertook secret negotiations with the citizens of
Yathrib 250 miles away.
Yathrib was also a victim of tribal rivalries but also had a large Jewish population,
which perhaps prepared them for Muhammad's message of monotheism.
After two years the citizens of Yathrib agreed to be loyal to Mohammad and his
revelation and to fight the Meccans on his behalf if necessary.
The Muslims travelled north from Mecca to Yathrib later known as Medina-al-Nabi
(Medina) or "the city of the prophet" in C.E. 622.
This journey known as Hijrah marks Year One in the Islamic calendar.
Political Reform and Leadership
Political and social reform as well as the proclamation of a new religious message is
important in these early years.
The religious proclamation of Muhammad directly and inherently sought the
transformation of the prevailing political and social institutions.
Muhammad, at Medina, gradually became not only a religious leader but also the
preeminent political and governing authority.
Following his death this close connection between religion and politics on the part of
the community's leaders would be maintained even as Islam was transformed from an
Arab religion to a global one. Islam as Restoration
In 630 CE after remaking Yathrib as Medina (the city of the Prophet) and as an
Islamic community, and following armed conflict against Meccans, peace was
established and Muhammad returned to restore his hometown.
The Ka‘bah, the central, polytheistic shrine was cleared of the idols and established as
the central site of Islamic piety and pilgrimage.
Muslims believe that the Ka‘bah was established as a shrine by Adam and built by
Abraham and Ishmael.
Once they converted, Muhammad forgave his Meccan opponents reflecting the
fraternity of Islam and the breaking of tribal rivalry and revenge.
Timeline (1280 BCE – 1776 CE)
586: fall of Judah to the Babylonians, destruction of Temple-Exile.
30CE: Death of Jesus
70: Romans destroy the Second Temple
325: Council of Nicaea.
451: Council of Chalcedon.
632: Death of Muhammad – Rise of the Caliphate.
680: Battle of Karbala – death of Husayn.
732: Battle of Tours.
1052: Filioque controversy