Religious Foundations of Western Civilization: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

By Woods, Thomas E., Jr. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2007 | Go to article overview

Religious Foundations of Western Civilization: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam


Woods, Thomas E., Jr., The Catholic Historical Review


General and Miscellaneous Religious Foundations of Western Civilization: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Edited by Jacob Neusner. (Nashville: Abingdon Press. 2006. Pp. xvi, 686. Paperback.)

With Religious Foundations of Western Civilization, Jacob Neusner has assembled a substantial volume of writings, from a dozen contributors, on the three monotheistic religions of the West-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.The essays in this book cover historical, theological, and philosophical topics, and consider each religion in itself as well as the historical interaction of the three religions in the context of Western civilization. Shaded sections include excerpts from important primary sources, from antiquity to the recent past.

Neusner has navigated a sensitive topic with brilliance and sensitivity: each of these religious traditions is treated fairly and respectfully, yet without omitting the historical blemishes on each tradition's record.

Students doubtless think of these three religions as inveterate antagonists, or at least inherently unfriendly. But in his discussion of Averroes, Maimonides, and Aquinas, Seymour Feldman reminds readers that "during the medieval period there existed a continuous and mutually profitable conversation amongst some of the intellectual giants of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam" (p. 209). (The essay is followed by excerpts from Averroes' Decisive Treatise, Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, and Aquinas' Summa Theological) At a stroke, Feldman addresses the myth-still widespread among students and the general public-of the intellectually moribund Middle Ages and demonstrates the possibility of fruitful intellectual exchange among representatives of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

A section on "Zionism, Imperialism, and Nationalism" includes essays entitled "Zionism," "Christian Imperialism," and "Political Islam." Of particular note is Neusner's sound and dispassionate overview of Zionism, a phenomenon that initially attracted the opposition of Orthodox and Reform Judaism, both of which viewed the Zionist program as a secularization of the divine promise that the Jews would one day be restored to the land. Neusner concludes that there is "no more probative evidence" of the ongoing significance of religion in Western civilization than this fact: "Much of the history of the West from World War II to the present would be written in the conflict between Zionism and the State of Israel and Arab nationalism and the state of Palestine" (p. …

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