The Oxford Handbook of the Abrahamic Religions
Series: Oxford Handbooks
- ISBN: 9780198783015
- Published By: Oxford University Press
- Published: April 2018
The last century of religious development has been a fertile time for interfaith and interreligious movements. Behind some of these movements is the concept of “Abraham religions,” referring to Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. All three share a similar monotheistic and prophetic/revelatory theology, and all three arose around roughly the same general geographical region. There are, of course, significant differences, and unique relationships between them. But many religious scholars and practitioners have become comfortable speaking about one “Abrahamic faith” or tradition.
The Oxford Handbook of The Abrahamic Religions, edited by Adam Silverstein and Guy G. Stroumsa, explores this subject in detail in six sections and thirty-two chapters. The first section examines the “concept of the Abraham Religions,” discussing Abraham’s iconic role, approaches to comparative religion, and the challenges of “Abrahamic religions” as a concept. The second section looks at religious communities and the cross-fertilization of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian societies. The third looks at the role of scriptures and interpretation, including all of the controversial subjects like apocalypticism, messianism, prophecy, and historical criticism. The fourth section examines religious thought, including monotheism, philosophy and theology, science and religion, mysticism, politics, and the presence of dualism in the Abrahamic faiths. The fourth section examines rituals and ethics, such as prayer, dietary law, purity, rites, the role of saints, love, and politics “in the age of fundamentalism” (536). Finally, the last section consists of three concluding chapters. The first ties up loose ends regarding Abrahamic studies and philosophy, and the other two cover “Christian Perspectives” and “Islamic Perspectives,” respectively.
The Handbook is what anyone would expect from this series: academic chapters, well-researched, some easier and more interesting to read than others, and all from a variety of contributors from around the world. The book also represents somewhat of an interesting experiment in trying to both respect distinctive religious traditions while also trying to draw unity out of plurality, whether for the sake of peace amidst conflict, or for the longer-term goal of a more vibrant, interfaith experience for future human life and experience. The idea of “progress” or “improvement” is a somewhat touchy subject, as religious conservatives in all three religious traditions remain protective of their ancient traditions and ideas, believing they must be understood on their own distinctive terms. Others, however, are more willing to admit the grotesqueries of specific traditions and the dire need to move into a more broadly humane future untied to the wars, patriarchies, homophobias, nationalisms, etc., of certain sacred spaces and ideologies.
For example, in Silverstein’s essay “Abrahamic Experiments in History,” he notes a reflection by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in The Dignity of Difference (Continuum, 2002): “God has spoken to mankind in many languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians, Islam to Muslims . . . God is God of all humanity, but no single faith is or should be the faith of all humanity’ (Sacks 2002: 55).” In response to this, Silverstein writes, “there was an outcry of such force (amongst certain ultra-orthodox Jews) that Rabbi Sacks was compelled to remove the offending passages from a subsequent edition of the book” (45). Readers are left asking which is more offensive and inappropriate—claiming to possess a monopoly on God and theology, or claiming that such monopolies cannot or should not exist? Thus, some contributors frame Christianity, Islam, and Judaism as “rival Abrahamic faiths” (167), while many or most others don’t feel comfortable asserting this type of framework, or perhaps avoid it intentionally. However, this is perhaps a strength of the book and not a weakness, as readers get to see varying approaches to the subject and respectful disagreement.
Readers will also come to appreciate the pivotal role that the High Middle Ages (roughly 800-1300s CE) play in virtually everything related to the “Abrahamic religions” discourse. It was a time of burgeoning commercial globalization and economic development, and therefore heightened interaction between the three faiths. The chapter by Anthony Black on “Political Thought” also draws out some of the important distinctions within Christianity, as Islam and Judaism often have more in common with each other than early Christianity. “Christianity stands out as the only Abrahamic religion which—at least in its western version—has endorsed non-Abrahamic political thought” (403), to cite one of Black’s examples. This, of course, is another challenge contributors had to address or assume when writing: which Islam, which Christianity, which Jewish religious tradition? Each is a moving target, and depending on one’s starting point, the answers change. The first two centuries of Christianity look almost nothing like the next thousand. Similar observations can be made of Judaism and Islam—which, like Christianity, are themselves the product of previous religious movements and ideas.
In any case, those interested in interfaith movements and the relationship between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism will find much to benefit in reading The Oxford Handbook of The Abrahamic Religions.
Jamin Hübner is a research fellow at the Center of Faith and Human Flourishing, LCC International University.Jamin A. HübnerDate Of Review:May 11, 2022