Summary of Abraham’s God
Abraham’s God is the incredible story of the entangled faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham’s God has guided human history and today drives the faith of over half of humanity. Not religion for the religious, but the ideas and beliefs that have impacted all of Western society, guided the arc of human history, and driven the faiths of billions. Abraham’s God: The Origin and History of the Beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims explains how the stories from a desert nomad, a peasant Jew, and an Arab trader became the core elements of their shared faiths.
|Abraham’s God Creator of All||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Sinful Humans With an Everlasting Soul||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Forgiveness of Sins||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Emissary from God to End Time||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Heaven and Hell||Believed||Believed||Believed|
Abraham’s God is the story of the origination of these beliefs in Judaism, their passage into Christianity, and evolution into Islam. While Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Paul, and Muhammad are the iconic leaders that gave rise to these doctrines, there are many other events and people that helped to shape these beliefs; the Captivity of Israel, Judah Maccabee, the Jewish Roman War, Arius, the Emperors Constantine and Theodosius, Jerome, Augustine, Umar, Uthman, Ali Talib and many others. The religions of Abraham’s God continue to guide today’s headlines and knowing The Origin and History of the Beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims is essential to a their better understanding.
Summary by Chapter
Abraham's God: The Origin and History of the Beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims
Four thousand years ago a man named Abraham was commanded by his God to get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1). Abraham’s God has guided human history ever since, as Jews, Christians and Muslims have followed his commands.
A century ago Christianity governed over 80% of all of humanity through its domination of Western Civilization. Today in synagogues, churches, and mosques, over half of humanity proclaim Abraham’s God, as their God. By 2050 Jewish Christian and Islamic believers will increase to over 60% of the world’s population adding over two billion new believers. Our world is the world of Abraham’s God, and understanding its history and future requires an understanding of the origin and history of the faiths in Abraham’s God. And if you are a Jew or Christian or Muslim understanding the origin and history of your beliefs is the beginning of a path to a peaceful existence with your fellows of faith in Abraham’s God.
Abraham’s God: The Origin and History of the Beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims starts at the beginning of human existence and ends before the first millennium, when Christianity and Islam had become the hegemonic powers of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The Second Volume, Abraham’s Devil: The History of Evil in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and the Effects on the 21st Century, will continue the story of how the religions of Abraham’s God have led us to the social and political turmoil we face today.
Abraham’s God and Abraham’s Devil are not about religion for the religious. They are the stories of the human struggle to find meaning in life and define God’s role in human existence. The result of that struggle is that the beliefs of an ancient desert nomad, a peasant Jew, and an Arab trader, have evolved into the entangled faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believed by half of mankind!
From the beginning of human existence, people believed that every facet of nature was determined by a god: rain for your crops, food for your family, disease, children, death, floods, and war. Everything depended on some god: a being whose irritation or indulgence meant scarcity or abundance, suffering or sustenance, pain or pleasure. People worshipped and sacrificed to their gods, they fought and killed for their gods, they committed unspeakable atrocities in the name of their gods, and they asked their gods for sanction and forgiveness. Over the earliest of human millennia, only the names of those gods changed.
Among the many was Abraham’s God, the One God who created the universe and formed humans with separate souls that survive death and exist forever. The One God who created humans that perform evil acts, but the One God who offers forgiveness and redemption from their sins. The One God who will send an emissary to end time, resurrect the dead, and pass final judgement. The One God who will consign each human to everlasting bliss in heaven or condemn them to eternal torment in hell. Jews, Christians, and Muslims together share these fundamental elements of faith in their belief in One God - Abraham’s God.
While they agree on these fundamental elements of faith, they disagree on all else, from sin and salvation to ritual and redemption. Each claims the true path to paradise in the next life while creating a hell for many in this life. Each claims peace, yet none brings peace. Each extols harmony for humanity while bringing strife and war.
This book is not about sin and salvation, nor the rituals of redemption in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Very few pages will be spent on those topics. Nor is it about which path or ritual is right or wrong. Abraham’s God tells the story of how those roots of agreed fundamental faith were first formed in Judaism and how Christianity and Islam each grafted on to those roots and became fully formed, independent, yet deeply integrated religions.
The story in Abraham’s God begins with the earliest humans in dark ages past and ends in the Dark Ages. By then, Christianity and Islam had fully separated from Judaism, developed their own theologies, and were hegemonic powers: Christianity ruling Western Civilization from the Dardanelles to the Pyrenees and Islamic Civilization ruling from Spain and Morocco to India and China. “Abraham’s God” will be best understood by those familiar with the major stories in the Bible or Quran, as well as a general familiarity with history.
The second book, Abraham’s Devil, will continue the story of the struggle to define God’s relationship with evil and how that shaped today’s societies. Islam and Christianity will clash in the crusades, and Christians will fight Christians as the Reformation detonates the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. Islam will become the Ottoman Empire and devolve in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then find a spectacular resurgence. Within all that is the theme of evil and the Devil and his demise, which is at the core of our 21st century issues and divide.
Abraham’s God and Abraham’s Devil together are not just a history of three of the world’s most important religions. History is often thought of as a sequence of names and dates and battles and wars, with today being the culmination of those things. There is a standing philosophical question as to whether history is a set of random events or if history is nudged this way or that by other larger forces. Martin Luther King is famously quoted as saying, “The arc of history is long but bends towards justice.” The contention of these book is that Abraham’s God has nudged the long arc of history to shape our world, and that Abraham’s Devil continues to nudge history and shape our future. This is not to presume that there is a God or gods plotting human fate—that is a matter of faith—but rather that the ideas of faith, once absorbed into the very being of a society, will continue to shape that society for many generations.
Abraham’s God is the history of human ideas that have guided the arc of human existence and formed Western society. Powerful ideas that have echoed across the centuries as they drove human existence. In 2010, I visited Bethlehem and saw posters and billboards of mothers celebrating the martyrdom of their sons and daughters who had died killing Jews in the intifada. Within a few miles of Bethlehem, 2200 years earlier, a Jewish mother proudly proclaimed her pride for her son’s deaths in another intifada. A Jewish mother and Muslim mother twenty-two centuries apart, each celebrating the horrific deaths of their children in the name of Abraham’s God—tragic and violent stories of Abraham’s God nudging history across the centuries.
When Muhammad Atta flew his plane into the World Trade Center, he did it because of his absolute faith in the God of Abraham, just as others across the centuries have committed horrific violence because of their absolute faith in the God of Abraham. The 21st century clash between Islam and the West brings urgency to the understanding of the origins and history of Abraham’s God and how Judaism, Christianity, and Islam came to believe what they believe.
I am neither a politician, nor a professor, nor a preacher, so there could be a place for me in heaven. Nor am I a professional writer, so do not expect the polished professionalism of that class. What I will tell you is simply what I have learned through my study over the long course of my life, about which you should know some things.
Religion was always integral to my life. As a young boy, I went to church regularly with my family at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and attended its grade school. I learned all the usual Bible stories and participated in the services and rituals, such as being Joseph or a shepherd in the Christmas pageant or singing in the children’s choir. These were not side events; rather, they were very much a part of my life.
At some point, I became vaguely aware that while almost everyone went to a church, not all churches were alike. There were Catholics, my grandparents were Methodists, and there were some other people called Jews. I’d never even heard of Islam back then. I knew about Heaven and Hell, and was told that we were on the path to Heaven, but maybe some of those others were going to Hell. My repeating this to the Catholic neighbor created a loud rift, which went away after a few weeks. Many such disputes do not easily dissipate and have been a source of vicious violence for centuries.
I took religion seriously, memorizing most of the key elements of the Lutheran Catechism, and the supporting Bible passages from the King James version. As a “learned” Bible scholar, I was selected to speak to the congregation on behalf of our class at our 8th grade confirmation. My religious studies continued when I attended Concordia Lutheran High School.
There is a reason Matthew 18:3-4 says that you need to believe as a child to enter the kingdom of Heaven. Children, for the most part, believe what they are told, but by high school they ask questions. I became more inquisitive, especially when I was exposed to people from other religions. Catholics seemed abundant in the neighborhood where we had moved. One of them was Bruce Patterson. He became my best friend and we had “debates” on the distinction between Catholics and Lutherans. Neither of us knew very much about the doctrines of our religions, but I was prompted by our discussions to learn more, if for no other reason than to better Bruce in our debates.
Dr. Armond Olson was my high school religion teacher. He was famous among Lutherans. In the early ‘50s, he was the voice of the Lutheran Hour, a weekly radio show that was the precursor to Billy Graham and TV Evangelism. If he didn’t know everything about religion, then who did? In his class, I began asking questions. Things like, “If God is all knowing, and knows I am going to Heaven or Hell, what difference does it make what I do?” or one that Bruce and I struggled with, “How do we know Lutherans are right and Catholics are wrong?” Or vice-versa. I asked a lot of questions in class, many that stemmed from the debate between those two 16-year-old Lutheran and Catholic theologians. One day I found a note taped to my high school locker that read, “Dr. Olson would like to see you in his office.” Now that was truly a command from God.
Dr. Olson complimented me on my enthusiasm for wanting to understand and suggested that my questions went beyond the general level of the class and that he would appreciate if I kept them a little more to myself. He then humorously said that he had been studying religion for a very long time and that even he didn’t know everything. “Someday” he advised, “you’ll know and understand a great deal more, but then there may not be answers for everything; some things simply must be accepted on faith alone.”
But if we blindly accept the faith handed to us, if we do not examine faith, how can we be certain that our faith is not false? Accepting the faith handed to you brings conflict with those who are handed a different faith. Those who say we should set faith aside or keep it to ourselves and simply accept the differences between faiths, are naive. History has mountains of bodies and our headlines continue to scream of conflicts in faith. Islam versus everyone, Israel and the Palestinians, Shiite’s rule over Sunnis, the history of anti-Semitism, Protestant England ruling over Irish Catholics, Hindu’s vs Muslims, the Lebanese and Sudanese civil wars, the Thirty Years War, the Crusades, and on back to the Israeli Canaanite Wars. And these are but a few of the religiously fueled wars of history where violent deaths are measured in the tens of thousands. The arguments, violence, and bickering through the centuries between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam extends to today’s political fights. Abortion and gay marriage or paying for birth control are simply extended religious arguments. Religious strife is ubiquitous. Faith must therefore be examined, and its origins and history explored to possibly find a way reconcile the divide.
I have spent over 50 years now attempting to follow the path of a philosopher—someone whose aim is to understand and explain the nature of life, existence and even faith. Not full time, of course, there was a family with four children, a career to build, and eventually many grandchildren. Not in an academic fashion either, but through extensive travelling, always questioning, studying, discussing, reading more, and always asking myself: Why? How? How did a religion, based on a minor peasant in rural Galilee, come to captivate the culture of Western civilization for 2000 years? Why have Jews been so vilified throughout the centuries? Why has the religion of Islam vehemently reemerged? Why does their common God of Abraham cause or allow vast human suffering? And today we face the immediate critical question: how can faith alone cause people to fly planes into buildings, plant bombs in crowds, and shoot innocent children? How have the religions of Abraham’s God become the hegemonic empires of human culture and politics that have dominated human existence for over fifteen centuries?
After fifty years of thought and study, I do know and understand a great deal more than that young boy sitting in Dr. Olson’s office. Half of the world’s population may declare themselves as Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, but very few have any knowledge of the origin and history of their faiths, beyond the faith they were handed. The vast majority unquestioningly accept by faith alone the ancient beliefs and shibboleths, oblivious of their origin or history. Others cling just as heedlessly to the beliefs and shibboleths of their faith with the results being conflicts disputes, and violence. Knowing how the religions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims were formed and evolved is essential to understanding todays discord and to a potential pathway to a peaceful future, however distant.
First and foremost, I am writing this book for my grandchildren. They will grow up in a very messy world with little grasp of religion, how those religions became ingrained in the society of their ancestors and begot the world in which they live. I write for those who like myself, possess a curiosity and desire to learn how these great world religions came to be and created the society’s in which we live. Finally I am writing for those who see an empty world and wish to learn how generations long past approached the questions of life and embedded their answers into the religions of most of the world’s people. Perhaps in all of that there are ideas for a better future for humanity.
Almost all the questions of the ancient humans have been answered. You—yes you—would be praised and worshipped for having the answers to rain, and storms, earthquakes, the sun and stars, and most of the questions of life. Yet many questions remain, questions still unanswered on life and its meaning. We have bitten into the fruit and eaten of the tree of knowledge. For good or for evil, there is no turning back.
Not that there are answers for everything, but for me at least, many things are much clearer. The God of a desert nomad, a peasant Jew, and an Arab trader guided the arc of Western history and continues to direct the issues of today. Over half of the world’s people believe that One God is the all-powerful creator of the universe and all that is in it. They all believe that humans possess a soul that survives death and will exist eternally in punishment or paradise. They believe these things without knowing how these ideas were begotten. My hope is that Abraham’s God, The Origin and History of the Beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims will make these things clearer for you as well.
In the Beginning - Judaism
The first humans saw in life and death events they could neither explain nor control. Gods became the cause of all that was unseen and all that was unknown. Long before God commanded Abraham to leave Ur, humans began to worship those gods in the first religions. Ritual and faith brought a sense of meaning and security to the ravages of ancient life as humans built the first places of worship and sought god in their lives.
The oldest known examples of human writing were from about 3300 BC, and by 300 BC, the foundational beliefs of Hindus, Buddhists, and the Old Testament of Jews, Christian, and Muslims had been written in the Axial Age. Much later doubt arose concerning Moses authorship of the Torah and by the 19th century many doubts spread to the entirety of the Bible. Only in the second half of the 20th century was the doctrine of the literal and inerrant Word of God rescinded, sanctioning the historical study of the Bible.
The biblical stories of Ancient Israel overlap the late Bronze and beginning of the Iron Age. During this period Canaan was the major trade route at the intersection of the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Hittite Empires. Goods and ideas flowed thru the area for centuries, yet archeological history fails to mention the acclaimed events of ancient Israel.
From the beginning of time the Old Testament tells the story of the ancestors of the Jews and the Arabs, the people of Israel and Ishmael. It is a narrative that traveled the caravan roads in Canaan by day and were told around the campfires by night until it became a script of the divine origin and ancestry of the Israelites and the Arabs.
After the Exodus the Jews return to annihilate the tribes that dwelt in the land of Canaan. The stories of Joshua and the time of the Judges until Kings David and Solomon have been told across the centuries, but those stories present significant historical and theological challenges for the religions of Abraham’s God.
The Bible consistently confirms that the people of Israel and their Kings were polytheists following their many local gods with pagan rituals and sacrifices. This continued through the reigns of Saul, David and Solomon. For ancient Judaism, there were many gods, and humans had one life to live without an everlasting soul.
The Assyrian invasions began in the 8th century BC. By the 6th century the ten tribes of Israel were destroyed, the two tribes of Judah were in bondage in Babylon, and in Jerusalem Solomon’s Temple was no more. The remnants of ancient Judaism were exiled to Babylon still without the beliefs of monotheism, and a soul that survives death.
The book of Isaiah written by several authors over the course of more than two centuries provides the outline for Judaism becoming monotheistic. It offers Jews an explanation of the horrific events that had happened to the twelve tribes. Isaiah also points to a future by positing a messiah who would redeem the nation of Israel.
Under their Persian masters, the people of Israel are enveloped in the Zoroastrian religion during the captivity. Zarathustra preached the belief in one god, a messiah, a resurrection, a final judgment, a hell, and an everlasting life in paradise. When Ezra and Nehemiah overcome strong resistance and lead a group of Jews back to Jerusalem they return with the theology of their former captors.
In the century after the rebuilding of the Temple and Jerusalem, Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and brought Hellenism to Palestine. Greek thought then reinforces the Zoroastrian ideas of a soul, a last judgement and eternal life. The Jews adopt Hellenism to the point that Judaism is on the brink of extinction. The Maccabean revolt introduces martyrdom and embedded the concept of an everlasting life into Judaism.
Herod is confirmed by the Romans as the King of the Jews. Palestinian and diaspora Jews find prosperity and respect throughout the Roman Empire as Herod the Great transforms Palestine into a financial powerhouse for pilgrimages. But Jewish Palestine is marked by great wealth and poverty bringing religious and political intrigue into the times of Jesus birth.
For over nineteen hundred years the stories of Jesus have been retold ceaselessly, inspiring prodigious amounts of literature, art, and architecture that are bound in the traditions, holidays, and cultures of societies around the world. Just how did a peasant preaching Jewish beliefs in rural Galilee in the 1st century become the God of the most influential religion in human history? How did Jesus of Nazareth and Christianity become the religion of a third of the world’s population in the 21st century? These are the questions I hope to begin answering in this section.
Almost everyone has heard the stories of Jesus of Nazareth. All we know comes from four short books written 70 to 100 years after Jesus’ birth by people that never knew or met him. For the first four centuries after him people debated and often had violent struggles over who he was and the meaning of his life. Eventually a consensus was reached that enabled Christianity to become the dominate religion of Western Civilization. An immense repertoire of literature and art was created in his name, and yet we know next to nothing of Jesus. It is a long and complex story, full of ideas, religions, people, and wars.
You might know the story of Jesus and the development of Christianity from church or Sunday school. The story you are about to read is perhaps a little different. An analogy with John Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States, might help to explain that difference. Kennedy faced down the Russians in the Cuban Missile Crisis and said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” He had a pretty wife and two children. He was a WWII hero, stood up to the Russians, was assassinated in 1963, and is thought of as a great president. That is pretty much the standard narrative that everyone knows. When stories are told of his sexual exploits, drug habits, how he got the United States involved in the Vietnam War, how he was involved with President Diem’s assassination, and how he allowed the Berlin Wall to be built, most people just dismiss those things and retreat to the comfort of the safe familiar narrative.
The story of Jesus has been told millions of times over the centuries. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to the Virgin Mary, was heralded by shepherds, angels, and kings as the son of God, He was the messiah who would be crucified for the redemption of human sin. If you believe in him, when you die, you go to Heaven; if not, you go to Hell. That story is deeply embedded in people’s minds and in the fabric of Western civilization. Almost everyone has heard the Jesus story, perhaps in a Sunday school, and then heard it repeated again and again from the Sunday pulpit: it is the Gospel Truth. If anything other than that story is told, people dismiss it and retreat to the comfort of the safe and beautiful age-old narrative.
To research the story of Kennedy, you can go online, to your local library, or the Kennedy Library and find a mountain of details, including pictures and stories of things that were little reported at the time. Pictures and stories of exactly what Kennedy did and who he did it with. That mountain of detail can paint a very exact picture of the life and death of Kennedy. And all of that occurred 55 to 90 years ago.
Now imagine that you are tasked with writing on Kennedy but you may not go to the library or the Internet or use anything other than what you have been told by others. Come on, it’s only been 55-plus years since he died, and 90-plus years since he was born. Where was he born? What did he say in the famous speech he gave in the 1956 Democratic Convention? Did the CIA plot to shoot him? How many shots were fired from the grassy knoll? None, you say? But I’ll bet there are many that would write fascinating stories of things that we know did not happen that fateful day in Dallas. In fact, many, many books have been written telling tall tales of JFK’s life and death, even though there is a mountain of pictures and documents confirming what had really happened.
Now imagine people writing about Jesus 50 to 90 years after his life and death. Writers then had no library or the Internet, no newspapers, pictures or TV reports, Facebook postings, or Twitter comments. Not even a single Roman record. Between the events of Jesus’ life and the writing of his story, not only had many decades passed, but there had been a horrific war. Nothing documenting the events of Jesus’ life—only second- and third-hand stories told by others. Certainly, there were a few exaggerations, tall tales, and things that were people’s imagination. They were like the Kennedy stories of a second shooter on the “the grassy knoll” or “Russian conspiracies” or “how the CIA and Cuba were involved.” Imagine how these stories might have become the accepted truth, had there been no pictures or documents of Kennedy’s life? How then do we know which tales of Jesus’ life were exaggerations, tall tales, or things of imagination?
Within ten months of Kennedy’s death, the Warren Commission provided the official authoritative report on his death. That report was supported by a mountain first-hand evidence, pictures, and documents, yet some still questioned its results. It took three hundred years after Jesus’ death before there was a Roman “Warren Commission.” The “Council of Nicaea,” headed by the Roman emperor himself, would pronounce the meaning of Jesus’ life and death.
The short version of the Roman-Warren Commission report was the Nicene Creed, written by or at the direction of the Roman emperor. That Creed states the beliefs of most Christians today. The Nicene Creed, or words very similar to it, have been repeated in Christian churches around the world for centuries. They are still repeated at most Christian worship services today.
That Roman emperor was Constantine. He asked a Christian bishop named Eusebius to compile the evidence for the Nicene Creed into what might be called the “Nicaea Report of Jesus’ Life and Death.” Eusebius was ordered to produce 50 copies to be read in the churches, none of which survived except as a list of books. That Nicaea Report—a 300-year-old report became the accepted truth of Jesus. After the Warren Report, all the evidence was safely locked away so that future historians could review it.
After the Nicaea, only the evidence supporting the report was kept. Any other evidence was outlawed and ordered destroyed. Those who did not follow the emperor’s words were subject to persecution, or worse. That evidence would be the only stories of Jesus retold in Christian churches for centuries. It would become what we today call, not the Nicaea Report—but, the New Testament.
For the last two centuries, scholars have been re-examining and questioning the evidence of the Nicaea Report. They have been helped because some of the evidence Constantine ordered destroyed has recently turned up. It is now very clear that the New Testament is not a factual reporting of what was said and done in the years of Jesus’ life and death. It is also clear that the New Testament contains some tall tales and things of someone’s imagination. How can that be possible? After all, we swear to tell the truth with one hand on the Bible.
The old evidence thought lost, and the re-examination of the New Testament does not mean that the Nicene Creed and the Nicaea Report came to the wrong conclusions, only that Christianity’s long-fought battles over the meaning of Jesus’ life and death can be reexamined, and Christians can decide for themselves, without a Roman emperor decreeing the results.
The emperor’s Christianity was embodied into law as Christianity became the central institution of Western civilization. In the 21st century, Christianity remains a powerful force in societies around the world. Understanding Christianity requires an understanding of the long process of writing and editing the stories of Jesus, and of course, that Nicaea Report, the New Testament.
At Church or in Sunday school, they tell you the story from the New Testament: Jesus was born, lived, preached, was crucified, and made appearances to the apostles. Some who knew Jesus then wrote about what they had seen and heard. The apostles and Paul then went out and preached the gospel.
We now know that it was more like this: Jesus was born, lived, preached, and died. Over the next two decades, a man named Paul preached and wrote based on his dreams and visions of Jesus. A massive war then destroyed Palestine and probably killed everyone remaining that might have known or heard Jesus first hand, or even second hand. After that war, 80 to 100 years after Jesus’ birth, some people wrote down stories of Jesus. Many decades later, those stories were given the titles of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. A couple of centuries later, those titles, as well as those believed to have been written by Paul and a handful of others, became Eusebius’ Nicaea Report, the New Testament.
The New Testament story of Jesus, has been the exclusive story of Jesus. You have probably read and heard that story. I’ll tell it to you again, adding what we now know from the historical record and other “evidence” once ordered destroyed by the Roman emperor. You might find a few things will surprise you.
Sometime before Herod died in 4 BC, a Jewish baby named Jesus was born. Jesus was a rural peasant Jewish day laborer from a small insignificant community just the rich capital of Galilee. Jesus preached in the minor villages of Galilee, avoiding the large close-by cosmopolitan cities. When Jesus disrupted the routine activities in the temple during the Jewish Passover festival he was executed by the Romans with the concurrence of the Jewish elite. After his death, his followers scrupulously practiced Judaism in the temple, anticipating his return as the Messiah.
Long before the Gospels were written a Jew named Saul began having trances and visions of Jesus. Saul became Paul who preached his visions of Jesus in Arabia and Asia Minor. But Paul’s message conflicted with the message the Apostles had heard directly from Jesus.
Did Paul or the Apostles know the truth of Jesus message? Paul never spells out his views of Jesus and tells us it is a mystery, Gods secret plan. Paul does preach a message very similar to that of Zoroastrianism and claims to have original knowledge of the rite of the Eucharist. Paul agrees with the Apostles that Jesus is to return within their lifetimes, but believes that Jewish law had been abolished. His dispute with the Apostles gets him sent to Rome for execution.
The spread and development of Christianity in the first century is the story of the Jewish–Roman War. Palestine was decimated with the destruction of its cities and towns and the death of over one million, including almost certainly anyone who might have had firsthand knowledge of Jesus. Paul’s followers from outside Palestine were now left to write about Jesus and record the beginnings of Christianity.
No Jesus had come to save anyone yet hope remained for Paul’s Christ; a heavenly spirit, who atoned for human sin—who would return and raise the dead and give everlasting life to those who had faith. In the political context following the war many books were written to shift the blame for Jesus’ death from the Romans to the Jews, and divert Jesus’ from being the Jewish Messiah towards being a part of the cosmic war of good and evil. That is the theme of the Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John.
The Gospel bearing the name of Mark is the first written and relies heavily on Paul’s theology. Mark continues Paul’s the theme of Jesus as a mystery. Mark was written during the Jewish-Roman War to non-Jewish Greek speakers telling his recipients that Jesus would still return and save the day. Mark ends his Gospel with Jesus’ missing body, and no resurrection.
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke attempt to bolster Jesus’ messianic credentials with creative pedigrees to King David and novel plot lines to a birth in Bethlehem, but the stories are like Hollywood movie scripts, not factual reports. Both attempt to separates Jesus belief from the Jews, but Matthew and Luke, follow Mark and Paul, raising difficult and perplexing problems of who was Jesus.
The religions of Jesus did not begin with Jesus as a part of the Triune God. That role evolved as difficult questions regarding Jesus raised centuries of divide, debate, and often bloody struggle within Christianity. This is the beginning of the dispute over Jesus’ Divinity which unfolded in a chronological pattern, from Paul’s letters to the Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and then John.
When he was nailed to the cross, there was no “Jesus” religion, no Christianity. The dispute over Jesus divinity helped to fracture the followers of Jesus into many sects, each with different beliefs about Jesus. Many of those beliefs became dust on the pathways of Palestine, while others garnered a great deal of attention. Chapter Nine is a brief overview of these different sects with details on Gnosticism, the Ebonite’s and the Carpocratians.
Following the days of Jesus and Paul, preachers roamed the countryside of the Roman Empire preaching their brand of nascent Christianity and disturbing the peace of the Roman Empire. Many Christians sought martyrdom in the persecutions of the first centuries to escape the misery of squalid filth and disease in Roman life, while others reverted to their pagan gods. In a perverse way Christianity continued to grow with new and varied sects.
Christianity expanded against the backdrop of the polytheistic Roman religious world that existed from the earliest caveman ancestors. The Roman Emperor was responsible for politics and religion, he was the pope and the king. He was responsible for keeping the gods happy under his title of Pontifex Maximus or Chief Priest. Chapter Eleven reviews the Roman religion and how it came into conflict with Christianity under Diocletian.
Constantine legalized all the forms of Christianity to unify the Roman Empire. But Christianity was still highly divided on what it meant to be Christian including the central issue of the divinity of Jesus. Instead of unifying the Empire it divided further as Christians sects now openly fought like cats of many different stripes, spots, and colors.
The Donatist began a civil war in Africa over who could be priests and an Egyptian priest named Arian raised serious doubts over the divinity of Jesus. Three hundred years after Jesus life, Christians were not even settled on the core issue of the Divinity of Jesus. Constantine needed to settle what it meant to be Christian and presided over the Christian Churches Council at Nicaea.
The Council had voted to make Jesus God, but how could there be one God given Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Ghost who had been left dangling at the end of the Nicene Creed? And then some were proclaiming Mary, and then there were the Saints and all the relics added to the mix? The Cappadocian’s detailed the theory of the Triune God but it took a Roman General and Emperor to decree the Trinity as the only God of Christianity, and order severe punishment to anyone preaching anything but the Triune God. And Christianity has believed it ever since.
The Roman emperor may have commanded Christian beliefs but within ten years a Christian bishop commanded the Roman emperor. Anti-Semitism and persecution of the remaining polytheists became Christian policies. Mary was pronounced the Mother of God while St. Jerome and St. Augustine instigated the belief that lust and sex were at the center of all human sin.
The thorny questions of Christianity were now in the codified theology of Christian Orthodoxy, but the Roman Empire remined divided as invaders from the North and East over ran the weakened Empire. There would be no more debate as to the nature of Jesus’ Divinity, or the role of Mary, or all of the other questions that for centuries had plagued Christianity as the Christian Church would now preside over the Dark Ages.
In the 1950s, Islam was an obscure religion, and Muslims were a miniscule portion of the U.S. population. Perhaps there was a mention of Islam in a history class, but there were certainly no Muslims either in my home town of Fort Wayne, nor in almost every city in the United States. The Nationality Act of 1940 provided that "the right to become a naturalized citizen under the provisions of this chapter shall extend only to white persons, and descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere.” It was only in 1944 that a Muslim immigrant was granted US citizenship.
That changed with the passage of the “Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965,” which allowed Muslims to legally immigrate to the US. At the signing ceremony, President Johnson said the act would “not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives.” How wrong he was. By the beginning of the 21st century, communities across the US were fighting against the muezzin singing the call to prayer on loudspeakers, and school districts struggled with Muslim girls wearing the hijab to class. Today, Fort Wayne Indiana has six mosques.
My very first recollection of Islam was in 1964, when Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and announced his conversion to Islam. That sparked a great deal of interest. Islam was mostly a curious oddity to Americans as Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammad's Nation of Islam occasionally entered the news cycle with their message of racial separation.
The American consciousness of Islam was raised with the Six Day War of 1967, even as it was often cast as a war between Israel and its Arab neighbors, not between Jews and Muslims. Islam continued to grow in the public conscious until 1979, when Iran was declared an Islamic Republic, with the American Embassy being seized, while Iran’s Islamic leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, declared the United States as the “Great Satan.” To complete the wake-up call, twenty years later, Islamic martyrs flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York. Osama bin Laden planned the attack and said that, under Islam, the attacks were “legal religiously and logically.” Fifty years after Islam was just an obscure religion, its most vocal leader declared war on America. Islam has remained in daily news ever since.
Islam is the world’s second largest and the fastest growing religion, with 1.8 billion adherents. Almost one of every four humans in the world today is a Muslim, and over 1% of Americans are now Muslims. Most Westerners at least have the words Islam, Muslim, Muhammad, Qur’an (probably spelled Koran) mosque, Mecca, and certainly jihad in their vocabularies. Missing is an understanding of Islam and its theological entanglement with Judaism and Christianity. Very few understand that they are fundamentally the same religion, all worshipping the same God of Abraham, all holding the same theological tenets. Even fewer know anything about Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Western core values of individual liberty, of an open society, and democracy clash with Islamic values of theocratic, closed societies that deny individual liberty and oppress women. Given the growth of Islam within the United States, and its often-violent interactions with Western culture around the world, understanding the history and origins of Islamic belief is more important than ever.
Fourteen hundred years ago, Islam joined Christianity and Judaism in the worship of Abraham’s God. Siblings sharing anything is a problem for parents; Jews, Christians, and Muslims sharing God has been a dominant problem for humanity. Islam exploded out of Arabia into the Middle East and across North Africa in the 7th century and was stopped at the Pyrenees by Christian Europe in the 8th century. In the 11th century, Christians took back Palestine but were thrown out in 1244 AD. The fight continued sporadically, and by 1529, Islam was labeled the “present terror of the world” as they first laid siege to Vienna. In 1551, Muslims began a strategy to attack Europe through Malta and were eventually defeated in the sea battle of Lepanto. In 1683, Islam made its final attempt to enter Europe through Vienna. Failing, they retreated and, over the next 250 years, European powers led by the British and the French took control of Islamic lands across North Africa, the Middle East, and as far as Indonesia and Southeast Asia. By the end of World War II, the Western powers had subjugated virtually all the Islamic lands.
The West attempted to include Islamic countries into their economic and political culture, while those same Islamic countries struggled to throw off the mantle of colonialism. Success and independence brought the resurgence of Islamic pride and power in the late 20th century. Elements of Islam then again became the “terror of the world.” The resulting enmity between the Judeo-Christian West and Islam now transcends the historical geographic divide. Shia, Sunni, martyrs, mosques, and Muhammad now disrupt the Western world, just as the Western world disrupted the Islamic world in centuries prior. The culture of Western civilization is in peril internally and threatened along the geopolitical fault lines, as Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations has become a clear reality. Only the willfully blind refuse to see it.
Western and particularly American historical ignorance of Islam as well as Muslim ignorance of historical Islam must be overcome. This section begins with a primer on the history of Muhammad, Islam, and Islamic theology, as presented by the standard Islamic narrative—something like the Luke and Matthew versions of Jesus’ birth and life. Islam’s rise to the status of an empire can only be understood in the context of the funeral pyre of the Roman and Persian empires. The beliefs of Islam in the Noble Qur’an will be covered before a discussion on the writing of the Qur’an, as well as critiques of Islam. The story of the Qur’an itself, and the formation of Islam as told by Islam has raised questions. Those will be explored, and a plausible alternative to the standard Islamic narrative and its rise will be presented. The beginnings of the Sunni Shia divide are presented because of their extreme importance in today’s world. The goal is to provide the basics of Islamic history and development, to explore its beliefs and narrative, while explaining its essential bond with Christianity and Judaism.
“My God is the right God, your God is the wrong God” is a historic catastrophe, made tragic by Abraham’s God being the one God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Where Christians see a Triune God, perhaps Abraham’s God sees a Triune religion.
The Quran and the Bible contain very similar ancient stories of Abraham becoming the father of the Arabs and the Jews. The descendants of Abrahams two sons, Ishmael and Isaac became the fathers of the Arabs, and the Jews thus connecting the two peoples, and eventually the religions of Judaism and Islam. The stories have many elements that point to mythical origins.
Muhammad is an orphan whose parentage and early years contain elements of mythical beginnings that were written over two hundred years after his life. He is raised in Mecca by his grandfather and uncle, learns the Arab trading business, and marries a woman 15 years his elder. Before his visions he will help to rebuild the Ka’bah, then a sanctuary of some 360 idols and a painting of Jesus and Mary.
Sleeping in the cave one night in the year 610 AD Muhammad has a vision of the Angel Gabriel. Muhammad and Paul tell the same story of their hallucinations, voices, and visions. From his visions Muhammad begins to develop the religion of Islam which is not accept by the people of Mecca and Muhammad is forced to flee in the event called the Hijra which is the starting point for the Islamic calendar.
Muhammad reached Medina in 622 and over the next ten years, Muhammad would through his continuing visions define the rituals and practices of Islam and convert most of the Arabian tribes to his new evolving religion, Islam. He would convert his pacific inclusive religion for Jews and Christians into a warring religion, often slaughtering Jews, but other Arabs as well. He would reconquer Mecca and then died in 632AD.
During Muhammad’s lifetime, the Persians and the Roman Empire had been locked in the final years of their thousand-year war. War and plague had exhausted the empires of Rome and Persia until they were virtually dead men standing. On Muhammad’s death Abu Bakr finalized the unification of the Arabs into the Islamic Ummah and began surrounding conquests. Converting the people of the Persian and Roman Empires to Islam was not the objective, the booty of Empire was theirs for the taking.
It cannot be over emphasized that the a priori of Islam is that Muhammad recited Arabic words directly from God which were written down and compiled into the Qur’an which remains the perfect Words from God. Muhammad attempted to unify Judaism and Christianity in the theology of Islam—a theology that is presented much more clearly in the Qur’an than in the Bible. One God created all: humans with a soul, a path righteousness for redemption, an end of time with the return of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, a final judgement with an afterlife in paradise for the believers, and a fiery hell for the non-believers. That is Quran and that is Islam!
Islam is based not just on the Qur’an but also on the life and actions of Muhammad. Almost everything we know about Muhammad’s life, Islam, and the Qur’an comes from just ten books written 200 years after Muhammad. Ever since the first collection of the Hadiths, Islam has been sorting fact from fiction. One very important Hadith tells how the Quran was written.
Muhammad may have heard words from God but is that what ended up in the Quran? This chapter examines some of the improbable aspects of the Quran and its transmission, including the timing of the writing and publication of the Quran, the availability of the Arabic script in which it is written, the introduction of diacritical marks, and the dangers of investigating the Quran.
The Quran and Hadiths demonstrate that Muhammad had knowledge of Judaism and Christianity. Islam believes Muhammad obtained that knowledge directly from God. If Muhammad did not receive divine revelation, then another explanation of its origin is required. Chapter Nine explores the evidence that Muhammad had other sources for his knowledge of Judaism and Christianity and was preaching about that knowledge before his visions of Islam began.
Islam appeared in Arabia and a century later, virtually all the peoples from the Indus River to the Atlantic Ocean had dropped their banners of faith to raise the banner of Islam. Abraham’s God had authorized Islam to kill and conquer, just as he had authorized Joshua to kill and conquer many centuries before. The spectacular spread of Islam over the 7th century was not faith by the sword alone. While Islam’s army challenged Roman and Persian political power, Islam’s message challenged Christian and Zoroastrian religious power as its simple and historically appealing message resonated with the masses.
The story of Islam cannot be told without a presentation of the origin of the Sunni Shite divide, similar to the Catholic-Protestant divide in Christianity. It is more a political issue than a religious one, over who should be the head of Islam; the direct descendants of Muhammad, or others. In very general terms, Arabs are Sunni, but not all Sunni are Arabs, and Persians are Shiites, while not all Shiites are from Iran.
Abraham’s God after Four Thousand Years
From the first moment of thought, humans have beseeched the unseen for solace from the terrors of nature. The unseen roamed with human tribes and became their gods as man settled in the first cities. From that dawn of civilization humans built temples and alters to the gods to bring reason and meaning to the events of life and death. In one of those first cities 4,000 years ago the voice of one man’s God was heard. Abraham began a journey with his God across civilized existence as millions of humans joined in the caravan that has reached our 21st century. That God has been heard in the dreams and seen in the visions of many as Abraham’s God became the God of Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Abram was seventy and five years old (Gen. 12:4) when he traveled to Palestine. His God had promised to make of thee a great nation . . . and make thy name great. Four thousand years later, those promises have been kept. Abraham has nations of descendants and His name is ever present as His religions fight to control the hearts and minds of humanity.
Abraham’s God is the God of Christianity, once in total control of Western civilization. He is the God of Islam, in control of North Africa across the Middle East and central Asia to the Indonesian Archipelago. He was always the God of Judaism, a people strewn across the lands of both Christianity and Islam.
The nebulous messages left with a few, brought to the masses comfort and direction, but also centuries of divide, hatred, and the horrors of war. Disputes of doctrinal discord within and between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam created conflict as human egos proclaimed We are right, and you are wrong! When stripped of that ego, the beliefs of Jews, Christians, and Muslims are one, like their One God.
|Abraham’s God Creator of All||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Sinful Humans With an Everlasting Soul||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Forgiveness of Sins||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Emissary from God to End Time||Believed||Believed||Believed|
|Heaven and Hell||Believed||Believed||Believed|
Beyond these essentials of belief each claims the absolute perfection of the details of fervent faith, while rejecting with hostility the faith of others. The disagreement on details has caused untold gruesome misery and become a barrier to the peaceful progress of humanity. Truly it is the Devil that is in those details. He just may have sent that goat!
Over ten thousand years ago, our human ancestors saw the sun and the stars, the storms and seasons, life and death. Like them, you wake up every morning and see the sun rise in the east and every evening watch it set in the west. What could be more obvious than the “fact” that the Sun revolves around the earth? You see the that Sun going around you every day, yet you totally believe and accept that it is the Earth that revolves around the Sun. Why would you overrule the sights before your eyes?
Have you personally observed the stellar parallax or the phases of Venus or measured the angular size of the moon and the Sun? No, I am sure you have not. But from the time you were a child, you heard others say countless times that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Everyone said that the Earth revolves around the sun. Despite the evidence of your eyes, you believe it. Almost all people come to their religious beliefs in that same way.
From the earliest childhood, people are told a belief. And it is repeated countless times as your family and community join in confirming that belief. And you read that belief from a what others told you was a holy book. Throughout life, you participated in the rituals and teachings of that belief and succumb to a lifetime of belief and participation in the religion of that belief. And if that religion is the only one in the society, those beliefs, become a self-reinforcing cycle across generations.
We have no telescopes or stellar parallax or angular shift with which to confirm any of those beliefs. Our only telescope is one which can look backwards to examine the origins and history of those beliefs. Our telescope of history allows us to examine, to see, which of those details of faith are worthy of our continued belief. Or perhaps show us that everything is not exactly what we have been repeatedly told.
When Galileo took his telescope to the Catholic Christian Church in Rome, he was shocked to learn that they had no interest in his evidence that the Earth was the not the center of existence. Worse, he was forced to admit and recant the evidence of his telescope. Religion is faith that does not chose to be examined, much less confronted by evidence from the telescope of history.
Pastor Olson told me so many years ago, “Some things just have to be accepted on faith.” Accept faiths that burn people at the stake, or cut off heads, or fly into buildings, or detonate bombs, or pull triggers, or send innocent children to death at a fence in Gaza? Are those faiths worth accepting?
The bedrock of all faith in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is that the God of the universe spoke to Abraham, 4,000 years ago. The details of those faiths are a matter of whether God also spoke to Moses, Paul, or Muhammad.
So far, our telescope has looked back into the religions of Abraham’s God to see their history and the origins of their religious beliefs. Wherever our telescope pointed, we saw nothing of Abraham until around the time of King David—nothing whatsoever of the rich history of oral stories told Abraham’s descendants, which were written much later. We did see that even when the Israelite family came into view they were pagan polytheists, accepting Abraham’s God as one of many. Only at the time the Israelite tribes are destroyed and taken to Babylon do we see the Israelite monotheism behind the opaque filter of their Zoroastrian masters. Our historical telescope still detects no signs of souls extending into another life. Only after 200 BC do we see that humans with a soul that survives death has been accepted by some in Judaism, and ideas of a last judgement and a heaven and hell are beginning to intermingle from the Zoroastrian and Greek beliefs found in the surrounding areas.
Things are becoming much clearer by the birth of Jesus. Some Jews certainly believe in an afterlife, a messiah, a last judgement, and an eternal heaven and hell. But not all, as the Jewish Sadducees cling to the ancient Jewish concept of one life, from dust to dust.
Our telescope has shown us clearly how, over the centuries, the theological fundamentals of the Abrahamic religions had finally come into place. That there is one God, who created the Heaven and Earth, and humans with an eternal a soul. That God will send an emissary to end time, resurrect the dead, and judge all by their deeds and beliefs before consigning each to an eternity of punishment or paradise. After this, it is all about the damming details.
Muhammad and Jesus both began religious movements, one in Galilee the other in Arabia. Jesus died before his movement was unified. Religions based on Jesus life competed for three centuries, attempting to find a unified message. When that struggle effected the unity of the Roman Empire, it was resolved by a political process that imposed a unified religious message. Paul said he talked to God, and it was essentially his set of details that won out for Christianity as Jesus was decreed God.
For Christians, this is hypercritical, and not a detail. Within the context of the Abrahamic theology, Jesus as a God is not an essential issue, but a detail within the process of redemption. All other theological elements are the same. As we have seen, Jesus as God creates multiple layers of complexity that tied Christianity in an unsolvable knot. Muhammad cut the Gordian knot that neither Constantine nor Theodosius had managed to untangle.
Jesus preached his message to humanity for only a couple of years. We cannot know how he would have refined his Gospel had he lived longer. Muhammad, however, lived to refine his religious message and intertwine it within a political movement that unified Arabia. While Jesus said, “render under to Caesar the things that are Caesar,” laying the groundwork for the separation of church and state, Muhammad integrated the church and state in the theocracy of Islam. This alone is an irresolvable tension between the Western and Islamic systems that will fuel the clash of civilizations for at least another century.
By the 9th century, Islam and Christianity each had a strong set of spiritual beliefs universally proclaimed and passed on within their realm. Each also had deep institutional structures, of clergy, churches, mosques, monasteries, schools, and abbeys. Each had strong secular institutions that could enforce their beliefs. Each had powers to appoint emperors and caliphs, kings and dukes, emirs and sultans. Each had its own extremely profitable edifice of property and donations. And while skirmishes would continue, Roman Catholic Western civilization, and Islamic civilization, no longer faced serious threats at their borders from each other or barbarians. Each had become a hegemony it would retain for many centuries to come.
If Abraham had come back in 800 AD / 178AH, would he recognized the religions he started? Religions professing in the name of his God that the only meaning in this life, is following a formula of faith to seek a paradise in another life? Would Abraham even recognize his own God? Or would he see Abraham’s Devil? That is the title of the next book. Abraham’s Devil will explore how the religions of Abraham’s God, especially Christianity, have dealt with the issue of evil, setting the stage for the morality of our times. Hopefully some things of faith are clearer now, and they will be much clearer later.