The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Vol. 2

The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Vol. 2

The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Vol. 2

The Monotheists: Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Conflict and Competition - Vol. 2


The world's three great monotheistic religions have spent most of their historical careers in conflict or competition with each other. And yet in fact they sprung from the same spiritual roots and have been nurtured in the same historical soil. This book--an extraordinarily comprehensive and approachable comparative introduction to these religions--seeks not so much to demonstrate the truth of this thesis as to illustrate it. Frank Peters, one of the world's foremost experts on the monotheistic faiths, takes Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and after briefly tracing the roots of each, places them side by side to show both their similarities and their differences. Volume I, The Peoples of God, tells the story of the foundation and formation of the three monotheistic communities, of their visible, historical presence. Volume II, The Words and Will of God, is devoted to their inner life, the spirit that animates and regulates them. Peters takes us to where these religions live: their scriptures, laws, institutions, and intentions; how each seeks to worship God and achieve salvation; and how they deal with their own (orthodox and heterodox) and with others (the goyim, the pagans, the infidels). Throughout, he measures--but never judges--one religion against the other. The prose is supple, the method rigorous. This is a remarkably cohesive, informative, and accessible narrative reflecting a lifetime of study by a single recognized authority in all three fields. The Monotheists is a magisterial comparison, for students and general readers as well as scholars, of the parties to one of the most troubling issues of today--the fierce, sometimes productive and often destructive, competition among the world's monotheists, the siblings called Jews, Christians, and Muslims.


In 1982 I WROTE a small book called Children of Abraham. In it I attempted to put the three monotheistic faith communities of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in a comparative context. The work was undertaken before the appearance of my annotated collection of texts, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: The Classical Texts and Their Interpretation, and my repeated use of this latter book in the classroom. I have taught a course on the combustible mix of Jews, Christians, and Muslims in every academic orbit for more than twenty years, and have lectured on one or another aspect of the subject in a variety of venues across the country. I have learned a great deal not only from my own research and study but from listening to student and audience reactions, and even on occasion from listening to myself since I too have had the not uncommon teaching experience of hearing myself say things I didn’t realize I knew or understood. I have tried to put something of what I have learned into this new book.

Another fruit of the classroom experience is my attempt here to be somewhat fuller in my explanations. My first essay was much too condensed in its matter, too telegraphic in its style. The present effort may still suffer some of those same ills because the complexity of this subject has managed to stay well ahead of my understanding of it. The reader must just be patient: I shall do better the next time.

I have also become more venturesome and extended the time frame of the story, as far as Christianity is concerned, to somewhere beyond the Reformation. A similar decisive moment does not occur in Judaism until the nineteenth century, and I have had something to say at least about Hasidism. One of Islam’s defining experiences seems to be occurring in the very immediate present, but I have done no more than touch on it.

For all that, this remains an introduction rather than a history, a guide to some of the notions and practices shared by the three monotheistic communities, notions that have also been sources of contention among them. The hard realities of politics and economics are never very far removed from this . . .

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