A Very Brief History of Jews, Christians, and Muslims

Apr 30, 2015

By Herb Silverman

First there were the Jews, with their holy book; then there were the Christians, with their holy book; and then there were the Muslims, with their holy book. Together they formed the three major monotheistic religions, with lots in common and lots not.

Christianity, a cult of Judaism that eventually had enough members to rise to the status of sect, became a separate religion when they added their own holy book, the New Testament. For some Christians, this superseded the Old Testament (which Jews call the Hebrew Bible), though Christians also consider the Old Testament holy. Jesus said he did not come to change one jot or tittle from the old law. Subsequent bibles actually contain anywhere from 24 to 66 books, depending on sect. Muslims much later added their own holy book (the Quran), but also consider the Jewish and Christian bibles holy.

Each religion added at least one prophet. Jews had Noah, Abraham, and Moses, and then Christians added Jesus (who is also somehow the God of the Old Testament, as well as being his own son). Muslims kept all these prophets and added Muhammad.

Here’s what else these three religions have in common. If you can find an interpretation in one holy book to justify an atrocity, then you can most likely find a comparable interpretation and justification in the other holy books. These include genocide, holy wars, slavery, misogyny, and death for crimes like blasphemy, homosexuality, and worshipping the wrong god or even the right god in the wrong way.

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28 comments on “A Very Brief History of Jews, Christians, and Muslims

  • In Mr. Silverman’s article above he correctly quotes the New Testament scripture in that “Jesus said he did not come to change one jot or tittle from the old law. Yet, many politicians today continue to quote SELECTED SCRIPTURES to make their political points. Today’s politicians (and I would say the great majority of the electorate) continue to ignore the full of Old Testament scripture, especially the book of Leviticus, in establishing and defending their political views. If we are to use the Old Testament to inform our political views, shouldn’t we use those scriptures in their entirety? If so, questions become abundant as illustrated in this excerpt from the television series “The West Wing” in which the President of the United States played by Martin Sheen addresses this point:

    From “The West Wing”
    Scene: The President speaking to a conservative “radio doctor”.

    I like how you call homosexuality an abomination. (Lev. 18: 22). I want to ask you a couple of questions. I’m interested in selling my youngest daughter into slavery as sanctioned in Exodus 21: 7.

    She’s a Georgetown sophomore, speaks fluent Italian, always cleared the table when it was her turn. What would a good price for her be? While thinking about that, can I ask another? My Chief of Staff insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself or is it ok to call the police?

    Here’s one that’s really important because we’ve got a lot of sports fans in this town. Touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean ( Lev. 11: 7). If they promise to wear gloves can the Redskins continue to play football? Can Notre Dame?

    Does the whole town really have to be together to stone my brother John for planting different crops side by side? Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing garments made of two types of threads?

    Lev 14:9; says that on the 7th day he shall shave all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows and wash his flesh.

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  • Herb wrote, “I believe. . . .that Jesus probably existed, and that Muhammed definitely existed.

    The name Jesus did not exist until the 17th century. There was no one named Jesus in Biblical times. Jesus is a later Greek name. The spelling Jesus was not in the original King James Bible. The Aramaic or Hebrew name would be close to Joshua. There are men in the Bible named Joshua. Why weren’t they renamed Jesus?

    Jesus, when we speak of him, is the man depicted in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is no other Jesus. These fantastical stories are larded with accounts of miracles. Even the widely admired Sermon on the Mount is associated with the miracle of the five loves of bread and two fish feeding a multitude of 5,000 with twelve baskets of bread and fish left over. Applying critical thinking and Occam’s Razor, are these tales more likely historical or made up?

    If one applies similar examination to the historical Muhammed, he doesn’t fare much better.

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  • Neodarwinian – The clip you offer is good entertainment. It also indulges our wish fulfillment from imagining ourselves in an egocentric position of supreme power crushing the helpless little people whose views have frustrated and angered us. Martin Sheen’s “President” behaves shamefully. Unprovoked he singles out, attacks and humiliates a woman, invited as a guest to a White House gathering of radio talk show hosts. After a withering sarcastic tirade laced with personal insults that she must suffer in silent subordination, he demands that she stand in his presence. It’s a “feel good” exercise crafted by the writers to allow liberals to get off in a little make-believe television. If a born again Christian President were depicted having his way with an openly secular female radio talk show host at a similar gathering, the scene would feel more abusive to us than funny. Either way the President comes across as an abusive prick banishing those he disagrees with to silenced darkness rather than welcoming, respecting and embracing all the Americans he has sworn to serve. Maybe Charlie’s disposition would have been better suited for the role.

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  • 6
    Cairsley says:

    The original Hebrew name is Yehoshua (English transliteration), and its Aramaic form is ‘Yeshua’. The Greek language, in which the New Testament was written, lacks the phoneme ‘sh’ that occurs in the Aramaic, so the name was transcribed into Greek as ‘Iesous’, the final ‘s’ replacing the final ‘a’ of the Aramaic to fit the name better into the Greek inflectional system. From the Greek version of the name came the Latin ‘Iesus’ or ‘Jesus’ (the letters of ‘i’ and ‘j’ being but two forms of the same letter in the Latin alphabet), and this was in use in Latin since at least the second century of the Common Era and was retained by Jerome when he wrote his Vulgate translation of the Bible in the late fourth century. This Latin form is the basis for the name in Western European languages, hence ‘Jesus’ in English. The Latin vocative form ‘Jesu’ is also occasionally found in devotional writings and hymns in English (e.g. “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”).

    The Hebrew name ‘Yehoshua’ is transcribed into English as ‘Joshua’ in the case of the Old Testament character who succeeded Moses as the leader of the Hebrews. The unwitting founder of the Christian religion was in his time, when Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the colloquial language of the Jews, known by the Aramaic form of the name (Yeshua), so the Greek adaptation of it became ‘Iesous’ rather than ‘*Iosous’.

    As to the historical existence of Jesus the man, you may find Did Jesus Exist? by Bart C. Ehrman of interest. This is one of the few books written specifically to examine the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus by an expert in the relevant field.

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  • I am going to skip the specifics of this article and bring up something that has been on my mind. I am a scientist and a secular humanist. I am in complete sympathy with Dawkins and his proponents but lately I feel that some of the attacks (not that this article is one of them) on religion can be somewhat counterproductive. Entering the arena aggressively will inevitably solicit the same response in return. Nobody changes, nobody moves in this emotionally charged situation. As important religious leaders, such as Pope Francis, attempt to steer religious dogma in the direction of loosening up and extending boundaries (witness the Vatican’s recent statement about global warming) there should be room for a pat on the back rather than returning to the hackneyed accusations of the number of people unjustly killed, relocated or traumatized in horrible ways in the history of Christendom and other organized religions. In the little red book that became the bible of the “cultural revolution” engineered by Mao Tse Tung, he stated that change can only be effected at the end of a gun. This is the kind of fundamentalism that will always be damaging to humankind. I am not saying that we should turn the other cheek, but I urge others of my kind to be eager to praise religious leaders when they even takes baby steps in the right direction. Remember, they have powerful enemies within. Thank you for your consideration.

    Michael Schwartz

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  • Michael and to others too,

    It is not all very well saying have an aggressive argument but when one feels marginalised and discriminated against because they are atheist or agnostic what does one do?

    When I feel personally that I am judged against some archaic beliefs and not about who I am or what I have to offer then I get angry really angry. It does not matter if Jesus existed or who Mohamed was etc. it must be about what we have become. How can we evolve to be a better civilisation based on our knowledge of God or Science as are they not both the same thing.

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  • And this book you just noted – was completely ripped apart by “There was No Jesus, There is no god” – Raphael Lataster – ISBN 9781492234418.
    Clearly, and I have read a couple of dozen other books on the subject, the historical facts to support a historical jesus are basically non-existent – he’s as real as Harry Potter or Sherlock Holmes…..

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  • What?!?

    Do you think this sanctimonious bitch, who also refused to stand when the President of the US entered the room, was bullied?

    A bully, a religious nut bag bully, got her comeuppance with quotes from her own buy-bull.

    Disagrees with?!? This ” woman ” and her ilk would suborn the Constitution and discriminate ( or worse! ) against citizens of the United States.

    Beliefs, especially in this case, precede actions and I am damn glad people like this woman are constrained in our society from doing what they really want to do based on the ” holy ” book.

    This is not about liberal/conservative so much as it is about religious overreach and it’s containment. She got off light. Entertainment this may be but it brings into sharp relief why we separate church and state in this country.

    By the way, don’t start accusing me of being liberal ( as you define the term ) as I am anything but your dichotomous splitting of the country.

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  • 12
    Cairsley says:

    Thank you, M27Holts. Dr Lataster’s book is on my booklist, so I will get to it in time. From what I know of Dr Lataster, his skeptical approach is certainly welcome, as is his critique of the methodology of what has become standard biblical criticism. Nevertheless, however unhistorical someone can argue that texts of the New Testament may be as references to any man named Jesus, there remains the question of how to account for a community of people identified as followers of an unfortunately executed rabbi, who continued to have sufficient faith in him to seek ways of reinterpreting his ignominious execution that would enable them to retain their hope in whatever it was that he had taught them. For it was such a community that gave rise to what we now recognize as Christianity, and the collection of writings that make up the New Testament is clear historical evidence of that community. The Jesus of Christian faith is very clearly a mythical creation, but it is quite another question whether there was someone who initiated a small movement within Judaism that eventually gave rise to such communities as Christians and Ebionites.

    Bear in mind, as Dr Lataster himself insists, that history is and can only be about probabilities, since, as in this case, the evidence we have to go on may well be scarce, and it must in any case be kept in its historical context, without which it has no significance. This historical question has to be separated from the religious question about the believableness of the Jesus of Christian faith, for they are two very different questions. I fear that Dr Lataster and Jesus mythicists in general are failing to keep these two questions apart.

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  • Melvin
    May 1, 2015 at 3:08 am

    If a born again Christian President were depicted having his way with an openly secular female radio talk show host at a similar gathering, the scene would feel more abusive to us than funny. Either way the President comes across as an abusive prick banishing those he disagrees with to silenced darkness rather than welcoming, respecting and embracing all the Americans he has sworn to serve.

    All opinions are not equivalent.
    Your confusion is that the competent put down OF a pompous prick, is NOT the same as an attempted put-down BY a pompous prick!

    Similarly when I call Ham a deluded scientific illiterate, that is NOT equivalent to him calling me one! Reality, evidence and facts do exist!

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  • Neodarwinian and Alan 4: Though critically acclaimed “The West wing” has been declared by critical consensus a soapbox, or more precisely, a soap opera for Hollywood liberalism. We should not lose sight of the fact that we are watching fiction, not “real people” but a contrivance of screenwriters who put words into the mouths of actors.

    For the record, I’m a progressive and I agree with the substance of Martin Sheen’s speech. The confrontation could be re-worked credibly between a radio talk show host and her caller, peers at a dinner party after a few glasses of wine, or flaming comments on a blog post but not on a studio set of the White house with the protagonist depicting the President of the United States.

    The president initiates the kind of argument that is false to the protocols of presidential hospitality, respect for citizens in civil society, the ethics of his office, and reckless to his political survival. However slick, the scene is contrived to create delusions of grandeur in the target TV audience through the projection of power and hate into wish fulfillment. What the abstract conflict is “about” pales in significance to the manipulative, self-indulgent, disingenuous way it is portrayed. Shameful.

    The little woman radio bigot sits nervous then terrified in the presence of the most powerful man on the planet. She is little more than an effigy, a virtual non-character stuffed with straw. The president does not know her personally nor is she speaking out of turn to confront or insult him. He despises her radio show and inexplicably turns on her, giving her a piece of his mind that puts her and her ilk in their place. It is not lost on the American audience, the magnitude of the power differential; that the President’s word in this one-sided “argument” is final and settles the matter once and for all. He strides out of the room assuring the viewer that the Almighty has destroyed the quivering bitch in the crossfire of his wrath and power.

    A moment’s reflection identifies the actress as a stand-in for Rush Limbaugh combined somewhat roughly with one of the right-wing Fox News beauties. Any president would be keenly sensitive to the significant voter constituency of Americans supporting these media celebrities along with many other undecideds. He would be compelled by political imperatives, protocol, ethics and common decency to treat her as respectfully as any other constituent -regardless of how he feels about her views.

    Unprovoked, the leader of the free world is shown attacking and humiliating a woman who is implicitly not welcomed by her government as a citizen because of her worldview. The scene becomes a wet dream for the megalomaniac side of our imaginations that wish we could be “President Martin Sheen” empowered to hurl their enemies into outer darkness. This is not dramatic license. This is dramatic propaganda.

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  • Why did the president pick her out of the crowd anyway?

    We in the US do not stand on much protocol but in that building when the president is on his feet everyone else, barring crippling conditions or other protocol reasons, is on their feet.

    It’s not the man, it is the office that is respected here.

    Hardly an unprovoked attack and as I said before this is not a liberal/conservative issue so much as an illustration of how we must be constantly on guard against people who would trample the separation of church and state for religious reasons.

    By using the bible against this bigot one sees that picking and choosing what parts of that nonsense you will represent is stupid, bigoted and delusional. Yet people like her exist and would institute a theocracy for beyond anything envisioned by Limbaugh or Fox cuties.

    Also the president caught this woman in her pretentious use of a PhD ( English lit ) to give her call in show pseudo intellectual gravitas. A pet peeve of mine, and I assume others, is the overuse of the word ” doctor ” by these pseudo intellectuals who can not confine that use to academia where it belongs. I had a chemistry teacher illustrate this point nicely. ” Here ( at college ) I am Dr Lin, out there I am Mrs Doris Lin. ” Most PhD’s I read just use their name and their academic credentials are on the back fly leaf. This woman was caught in here pretentiousness and that was one of the best parts of this illustrative clip for me.

    Now, see this or not, but I think you are seriously wrong here.

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  • We in the US do not stand on much protocol but in that building when the president is on his feet everyone else, barring crippling conditions or other protocol reasons, is on their feet.

    I considered and concede the point. Within the dramatic context of the show, however, it functions as a disingenuous plot device. Her lone figure sitting against protocol while everyone else stands in the presence of the president is used as the ostensible – not the dramatic -reason for attracting his attention. Sedentary body language, presumably a silent display of disrespect or protest, does not get mention until the final showdown. Usually assistants would handle the problem discretely by whispering in her ear. No president would stoop to playing the petulant martinet at a White House gathering. If she refused to stand he could have ignored her and let the media and public opinion castigate her.

    On the main conflict portrayed in the scene, we are speaking past each other to different points. The president confronts the radio talk show host with a lecture, a humiliating tirade because he finds her religious fundamentalism with its rejection of homosexuality infuriating. (She is content to sit silently. She does not engage the President or “ask for what she gets“). I personally understand and support the content of what he says but not in this contrived role as President of the United States speaking to guests invited to the White House. The scriptwriters use Martin Sheen as a surrogate liberal big mouth not only to express skeptical views about the Bible but also to bring down authoritarian wrath on a private citizen in order to delight and titillate sympathetic viewers. Plain speaking is a crowd pleaser as long as plain speaking supports “our” beliefs. The problem is that the “President” gratuitously demonizes and isolates a citizen under color of the highest authority in the land. His last utterance is tantamount to a command. “You there, woman, stand in my presence (or else).” The scene is saturated with political ambiguity. The president may speak his mind from a bully pulpit to declare partisan positions, his own views and feelings, offering them for debate within the messy democratic process of government and the court of diverse public opinion. He does so, of course at his own risk. For obvious reasons, as president representing the People of the United States, he does not seize ordinary citizens by the throat for holding views which diverge from his own. He does not bait them, he does not mock them, he does not demean them, he does not humiliate them, he does not threaten or shun them. Because of his special role at the pinnacle of power in a democracy charged with protecting the rights and dignity of all the people he adheres to a strict code of conduct. He does not, cannot and should not “act” with the reckless abandon of Martin Sheen in “The West Wing.”

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  • BS!

    It is a TV show that made a point beyond the TV show. Of course it is contrived and she did get what she deserved, especially if one picks up on the implied backstory.

    This was a learning experience via TV, not a Broadway play or a multimillion dollar movie.

    ” For obvious reasons, as president representing the People of the United States, he does not seize ordinary citizens by the throat for holding views which diverge from his own. He does not bait them, he does not mock them, he does not demean them, he does not humiliate them, he does not threaten or shun them. Because of his special role at the pinnacle of power in a democracy charged with protecting the rights and dignity of all the people he adheres to a strict code of conduct. He does not, cannot and should not “act” with the reckless abandon of Martin Sheen in “The West Wing.” ”

    You really don’t get TV, do you?

    Your continual parsing of trivialities is beginning to exhaust me, so have the last word if need be. I am through here.

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  • Well, this thread has lost its way long before I saw it.

    I logged in to comment on the notion that Muslims ‘honor’ the Tanakh and the New Testament.

    They Don’t. Mohammed (though proudly illiterate) insisted that Jewish and Christian scriptures predicted his career as prophet. When he discovered to no one could manage to find any such thing, he declared that both sets of books were ‘corrupt’ and unreliable.

    Christians have maintained that Isaiah and other OT books contain predictions of Jesus, but no serious Jewish scholars have ever been convinced. Much depends on cherry-picking and selective mistranslation from Hebrew into Greek. Almost no early Christian writers had access to accurate version of the OT, they only knew it through the Septuagint, a translation into Greek, with several fraudulent books and chapters added.

    The notion that Jesus didn’t exists is really almost trivial. One recent ‘scholar’ has books and documentaries out declaring that Mohammed didn’t exist. Ehrman goes over the ‘positives’ which are rather weak, more importantly, he presents the ‘negatives’ and shows how feeble most of them are. Like claiming that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays, citing shortage of biographical information…it looks vaguely reasonable until you realize that NO OTHER author of that time had much data left after their deaths.

    Whoever Jesus was (if anybody) our surviving sources about him are so garbled, mutually contradictory, and laden with forgeries that his existence as an individual person just doesn’t mean very much.

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  • Melvin’s parsing of the scene is unfathomable to me.

    President Bartlet is asked how he beat an opponent once. He can’t recall.

    In the meeting with the radio talk show hosts and shock jocks. He is troubled by the presence of a homophobia promoting radio host.

    He establishes that she has herself called doctor on air having a Phd in English Lit. She is entirely a person who will seek out spurious authority to promote her success.

    Bartlett demonstrates the spurious authority of her homophobia. He demonstrates that scripture is comprehensively terrible as a source of literal moral truths. She knows this. She is a Literature Phd.

    She has no respect for the lives of the homosexuals she judges on air. She is no respecter of even the office of the president.

    Being intolerant of the intolerant is no paradox but a moral requirement of us all.

    In front of a room full radio hosts Bartlet remembers how he beat the guy. Speaking out and speaking honestly.

    I have Hitchen’s love for the US and defend (as Bartlet would) the speech of homophobes, but the US is drowning in a sea of faux respect and has its speech too often muffled with euphemism, all the while free to manufacture and market sex and pious hatred on industrial scales. Of all people, being President of a country brave enough to champion such free speech, Bartlett needs to be allowed a little of this also.

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  • It is a TV show that made a point beyond the TV show. Of course it is contrived and she did get what she deserved, especially if one picks up on the implied backstory.

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a president who told people off by telling it like it is -people like me, Neodarwinian, Alan4, Phil Rimmer and the rest of the gang? Sheen repudiates THE BIBLE scornfully without qualification in the White house where his every word will go viral in the media. He not only tells the fundamentalist but the whole country that the Bible commands slavery, stoning for minor offenses, human trafficking, the prostitution of children. What most Christians will hear is “Your so called Holy Book is superstitious bronze age trash filled with ‘abominations.’ how can you be so stupid and immoral as to live your lives by such ignorant atavistic teachings?” This is the message that will be framed in mortal offense for significant voting blocks in the country. These voting blocks pumped up with offended sympathizers will send Sheen packing for his blaze of candor. My point is that the message itself is phony within a dramatic context that would have you believe Sheen like all presidents is a savvy consummate politician. My point is that the message, delivered by a calculating politician, is not crafted with even the minimum tact required to win the American electorate. The screenwriters loaded the blunt critique to please progressive secular humanists, atheists and skeptics, in the TV audience. Sheen’s parting quip, “That’s how I did it (won a previous election)” is ridiculous. Within the wish-fulfillment slick parameters of the show we can indulge in the illusion that the president is “one of us,” in reality one of a tiny distrusted constituency which by itself could not elect a dog catcher in the U.S.

    I’ll cut to some brief examples of how politics works. Abraham Lincoln wore out his voice trying to assure the South that he had no intention of abolishing slavery..Barack Obama told the country that he believed marriage was between one man and one woman..but that his thinking on the issue had “evolved” coinciding with polls that showed growing support for gay marriage…After the Sandy Hook massacre, Obama put Joe Biden in charge of sensitive negotiations for a bill that would legislate some revised minor regulations on gun sales (the proposed legislation showed a glimmer of hope for passage but was ultimately defeated in Congress with lobbying pressure from the NRA)…A FRONTLINE documentary reported that President Obama never used the term “gun control” – not even once – during the process. He preserved political capital while letting his vice president do most of the controversial dirty work fronting for the bill.

    I’m puzzled why people keep explaining to me what Sheen’s character actually says (Bravo! We say the same thing here all the time) and the implicit backstory of why he despises the homophobic fundamentalist talk show host. I’m sympathetic to what he does, but the lecture, delivered in a context, saturated with political consequences for every utterance, is inexplicably inserted as an ideological set piece, incredibly divisive and politically suicidal. I’m disappointed that some folks here cannot understand the ethical and political constraints on presidential speech because of his official obligation to represent, or at least respect, all Americans to the best of his ability. However justified we believe our views to be, however justified those who oppose us feel their views to be, the president must avoid being seen as blatantly discriminating – castigating, mocking, ridiculing or humiliating individual citizens or the constituencies they represent, especially at White House gatherings where the whole country is watching how the President-Host greets his invited guests.. (Indeed, his best efforts at bipartisan charm are never completely successful). I hope this practical-art-of-politics approach to the flawed scene clarifies my position. I’ve had my say. Yes, John. Back to topic. Thanks.

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  • What most Christians will hear is “Your so called Holy Book is superstitious bronze age trash filled with ‘abominations.’

    Bartlet is a Christian. Why do you think most other Christians won’t agree with him, that scripture for most people doesn’t work in that ludicrous way? Why weren’t George and Ira Gershwin lynched in the streets for “It ain’t necessarily so”?

    Do you think your “careful, now” approach to political power might be the very root of the distressing fact that the USA remains as a total outlier amongst “civilised” countries, the most right wing, punitive, religious and selfish of countries, yet full of nice people? Like the RCC what is at its rotten, institutional heart? When should power acquiring expediency end and morality begin?

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  • Religion:
    Catholic & religious:

    “The President’s a deeply religious man. . . . He worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Catholic League. He spent eight months traveling around the country discouraging young women from having abortion. . . . He does not believe that it’s the government’s place to legislate this issue, but that’s never stopped him from playing his role as a moral leader. Something that cost him dearly in the campaign.” — Leo [#101],
    “I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover.” [#101]
    He uses a rosary as the time of execution approaches for a man, who he holds the power to save. Later he asks a priest to hear his confession. [#14]

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  • ” God is merciful and just. God will punish the guilty and reward the righteous. If you don’t believe that, then you are forced to admit that the world is completely unjust.”

    False syllogism or non sequitur? Or just spoof?

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  • That one is for all those who SELECTIVELY cite the “homosexuality is an abomination” passage. It’s RIGHT THERE next to that passage that the above “abominations” are cited as well. Throughout history tyrants, dictators, charlatans, and other miscreants of all persuasions have twisted and contorted scripture for their own purposes and today is no exception. George W. Bush said he ran for president because God told him to! Seriously. George W. Bush. If God were to speak to anyone in the entire planet, it would be George W. Bush? The guy that thought “Free Willy” was a movie about a guy who couldn’t get his fly open? The guy who so eloquently demonstrated that most of our imports are coming from overseas? The guy who said we “misunderestimated him.” Yes, that’s a God I can get behind because – obviously – he really does take care of fools and drunks, sometime both at the same time! Oh, right. Then after he was elected he started two wars, one with a completely uninterested 3rd party, where thousands & thousands of innocent civilians were killed. Sounds reasonable to me, I guess.

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