The Children of Abraham

The Children of Abraham: Judaism, Christianity, Islam: A New Edition

F. E. Peters
with a Foreword by John L. Esposito
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 264
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s2tn
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    The Children of Abraham
    Book Description:

    F.E. Peters, a scholar without peer in the comparative study of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, revisits his pioneering work after twenty-five years. Peters has rethought and thoroughly rewritten his classicThe Children of Abrahamfor a new generation of readers-at a time when the understanding of these three religious traditions has taken on a new and critical urgency.

    He began writing about all three faiths in the 1970s, long before it was fashionable to treat Islam in the context of Judaism and Christianity, or to align all three for a family portrait. In this updated edition, he lays out the similarities and differences of the three religious siblings with great clarity and succinctness and with that same remarkable objectivity that is the hallmark of all the author's work.

    Peters traces the three faiths from the sixth century B.C., when the Jews returned to Palestine from exile in Babylonia, to the time in the Middle Ages when they approached their present form. He points out that all three faith groups, whom the Muslims themselves refer to as "People of the Book," share much common ground. Most notably, each embraces the practice of worshipping a God who intervenes in history on behalf of His people.

    The book's text is direct and accessible with thorough and nuanced discussions of each of the three religions. Updated footnotes provide the reader with expert guidance into the highly complex issues that lie between every line of this stunning and timely new edition ofThe Children of Abraham.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2129-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    John L. Esposito

    Publication of the thoroughly revised and substantially rewritten edition of Frank Peters’sChildren of Abrahamis important for two essential reasons. First, it signals the enduring significance of this groundbreaking volume. Second, I can think of no time when it has been more needed. In addition to the inherent significance of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religious faiths, the realities of globalization and international politics in the twenty-first century make understanding of these three great faiths and the dialogue among them imperative.

    The initial publication ofChildren of Abrahamoccurred in a world that acknowledged the interconnectedness of Judaism and Christianity...

  4. Preface to the New Edition
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. INTRODUCTION The Scriptures: Some Preliminary Notions
    (pp. 1-6)

    The three great faiths called Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were born of an event that each remembers as a moment in history, when the One True God appeared to an Iron Age sheikh named Abram and bound him in a covenant forever. Abram is the later Abraham, the father of all believers and the linchpin of the faith, and indeed the theology, from which the three communities of that God’s worshipers emerged. The history of monotheism had begun.

    The monotheists not only worship one god; he is the same god for all. Whether called Yahweh or Elohim, God the Father...

  7. CHAPTER ONE The Promise and the Heirs
    (pp. 7-20)

    The Bible begins absolutely, “In the beginning . . . ,” with the creation of the world. The Quran speaks of it as well—not by following in the biblical tracks, but allusively, touching the creation story here and there as suits its own highly moralizing purposes. The Bible’s opening book, Genesis, introduces the first of our kind, Adam and Eve, and their fall from the Creator’s grace; we read the same, again with somewhat different nuances, in the Quran. We learn of Noah and the catastrophic flood that nearly destroys humankind. It is not until the eleventh chapter of...

  8. CHAPTER TWO A Contested Inheritance
    (pp. 21-40)

    The Covenant was made with Abraham and its rewards were promised to his heirs. Who are the heirs? For many centuries and down to the present three separate communities—Jews, Christians, and Muslims—claim that they, and they alone, are the true inheritors of the promise, the authentic monotheists, the truly saved, redeemed, validated, justified. The promise of a land, fulfilled under Joshua, disappointed by the Romans, long expected across the centuries, and once more, perhaps, fulfilled for the Jews, has not taken a similar hold on Christians and Muslims, who between them have held sway over much of the...

  9. CHAPTER THREE Community and Hierarchy
    (pp. 41-66)

    Up to this point, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have been spoken of in somewhat general descriptive terms without inquiring what gave each its unique identity. All three designations are abstract conceptual terms, of course, and it has often been remarked that there exist in fact only very concrete and individual Jews, Christians, and Muslims. But if “Judaism,” “Christianity,” and “Islam” are constructs, they were constructed not by social scientists looking for a manipulative handle but by the believers themselves, and very early on. “Judaism” appears in Maccabees and very explicitly and pointedly in Paul; “Christianity” was being used by Christians...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR The Law
    (pp. 67-84)

    The tradition of a society governed by law is very old in the Middle East, and where societies were governed by sovereigns whose powers were intimately bound up with divine descent, designation, or approbation, the distinction between secular and religious law is not easily or even profitably made. The Israelites were no exception in this regard, and even the oldest parts of the Bible contain legal codes not very dissimilar from those we find among the Babylonians and Canaanites.¹ Then, with the return from the Exile, there is silence. The text of the Torah was complete, and there would be...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Scripture and Tradition
    (pp. 85-102)

    Before the Talmud and hadith, there were the Torah and Quran, and those who affirmed that the latter were indeed sacred Scripture were committed to an understanding of what was meant and what was intended by the words of God in them.¹ There is no getting at the beginning of that process; we possess only sophisticated finished works of commentary on Scripture. But the existence of a class of professional scribes or bookmen (soferim) in the Jewish community after the Exile suggests that already the task of expounding the Jewish Scriptures for learned and laity alike was well under way....

  12. CHAPTER SIX The Worship of God
    (pp. 103-115)

    Most religious communities have mandated or commended various forms of worship to their adherents, that is, the acknowledgment, in some formal way, of the existence and power of God. Its chief forms are prayer, or direct address of God, generally using God’s own words, to wit, Scripture, and ritual, the performance of certain acts thought to be acceptable or pleasing to God. The word “liturgical” adds to both prayer and ritual the notion that either or both are formal, public, and, often, social.

    Though the Torah has remarkably little to say about prayer, it is highly detailed and prescriptive on...

  13. CHAPTER SEVEN Renunciation and Aspiration
    (pp. 116-137)

    The behavioral patterns of all three monotheistic communities rest on a profound perceived distinction between God, “who alone is holy,” and the human condition and circumstances. The latter are often referred to in shorthand as “the world” or “this world.” Though according to Genesis God looked on this world, which was, after all, his creation, and pronounced it “good” (Gen. 1:4, etc.), his creatures often took a more pessimistic view of their condition, as did God himself on occasion. God’s disapproval expressed itself in taboo substances and forbidden acts, like the elaborate lists in the Pentateuch and the equally strong...

  14. CHAPTER EIGHT Thinking and Talking about God
    (pp. 138-166)

    Theology, discourse about God according to the principles of reason, was the formulation of the Greeks, a people without benefit of revelation. But not from the beginning. It is unnecessary here to discuss the origins of Greek religion except to note that by the time they began to produce a literary record, the Hellenes were already expressing at least some of their religious sentiments in the form of myth, complex narratives about a whole family of anthropomorphized gods and goddesses.

    Myth is a special form of discourse divorced from time and only circumstantially connected with place. Like art, it presents...

  15. Epilogue: Sacred History
    (pp. 167-172)

    Historians are interested in origins and in the working of cause and intelligible effect on the slippery ground of human behavior. With the tools of comparative linguistics and archaeology they pursue the origins of Judaism in the ancient legal and epic traditions of the Middle East, in the Code of Hammurabi or the tablets of Ebla. What precisely, they want to know, were the charges on which Jesus of Nazareth was tried and executed, and under whose jurisdiction? The identity of Muhammad’s Jewish or Christian teachers is sought with an iron persistence, despite the equally iron conviction that they will...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 173-212)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 213-226)
  18. Index
    (pp. 227-237)