Religion Comparison Religions in Ancient History: Similarities Essay

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Religion Comparison

Religions in Ancient History: Similarities and Differences

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According to Smitha, biologists have dated the earth, as well as the sun, as 4.55 billion years old, a planet that was formed by the gravitational pull of different elements. Scientists claim that life began with two important acids -- DNA and RNA. After millions of years, what started as microorganisms evolved into humans. Smitha writes that homo sapiens first emerged 60 thousand years ago in Africa. Yet before scientists isolated what they credited with the beginning of the earth and humanity, religions provided the answer for them. In fact, as long as humans have been around, there has been religion. In the ancient world, religion played a major role from society to society, and many religions of the ancient world not only played similar societal roles, but they also shared similar beliefs. The ancient world was populated with many religions, but the Middle East and Asia serve as a hotbed of religious traditions; they fostered the growth of many religions that not only contributed some of the greatest stories, art, and music to the canon of creative endeavors but that are also still practiced today. In addition, the ancient Middle East and Asia was the home of some religions that are not practiced today, but that are still a part of the rich historical tradition of the region and the world. A comparison and contrast of four of these major religions -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, it becomes clear that religion has played an important role throughout the society of the ancient world. Furthermore, a comparison and contrast of these religions suggests that they not only have vast social significance, but there are many areas in which all of these religions agree.

I. People of the Book: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Essay on Religion Comparison Religions in Ancient History: Similarities Assignment

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are three ancient religions still practiced today. Because these religions share a common origin, Muslims call Christians and Jews "People of the Book," and see them as adherents of a religion that is similar to theirs. Although Muslims claim that theirs is "the perfection of the religion revealed first to Abraham," they see Christians as Jews as more enlightened than those who practice other religions or atheists ("People of the Book"). Christians and Jews, on the other hand, tend to have a sympathetic view of each other, but do not necessarily extend that sympathy to Islam. The similarities shared among these religions can be seen in their creation stories, their theological beliefs, and their ethical and moral principals. While differences can also be found in these areas, major differences among these three religions can be seen in their ancient societies.

The Bible -- holy book of Christians and Jews -- tells of a creation story in which God created the world, including a man -- Adam. When Adam became lonely, God created a female companion for Adam with his rib. But Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden for their sin-, and were taxed with populating the world in an area where tilling the land was difficult, due to God's punishment given to the first sinners.

Similarly, the Muslim holy book -- The Qur'an -- mentions that God created the Earth and man in it. The Qur'an mentions Adam and identifies God as the father of the human race, as does the Bible. In the Qur'an, however, a creation story is not given in detail like the one in the Bible. The Bible points to a six-day creation period and a seventh day of rest. Later, God creates humans, Adam and Eve. In the Muslim tradition, however, snippets of creation story are found throughout the Qur'an, never giving a detailed timeline regarding the creation of the earth. Some believe that this lends credence to the Qur'an, suggesting that the Biblical story contradicts the scientific creation of the world that is described above (Abdullah 4). Despite this difference, both holy books present a rather similar account of the creation of Adam. Both hold that Adam was created by God, that angels played some part of a role in this creation, that Satan appears around this time, that Adam and Eve lived in the paradise of Eden, and that Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God's decree not to eat the forbidden fruit in Eden.

Despite these similarities in stories, however, there is at least one major theological difference regarding the story of Adam in the Qur'an and the story of Adam in the Bible. In the Qur'an, God forgave Adam for sinning -- or eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil -- and Adam remained God's "vicegerent" on earth despite the misdeed (Abdullah 11). The Jewish and Christian version of the story sees Adam's sins as far more severe -- Adam and Eve's punishment is not only banishment from the garden, but also death. It is because of Adam's sin that Christians and Jews consider humans to be "fallen," and to have "original sin" at birth, meaning they are in need of a savior or messiah (Abdullah 11).

The doctrine of the savior or the Messiah brings up more similarities and differences in these three religions' theologies. All three feature some of the same characters -- Moses, Abraham, and Jesus. Muslims acknowledge Abraham as the first prophet of Allah ("People of the Book"), but to the Jews, Abraham is a far more pivotal character. For the Jews, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the patriarchs of Judaism, who created the belief system as well as founded the Jewish people. Ethnic Jews are said to be descendants of these people. In the Jewish tradition, Abraham was the founder of monotheism, and was called by God to found the religion. Further, essential to the Jewish faith was the covenant between God and Abraham, which "involves rights and obligations on both sides" (Rich 6). It is the covenant as mentioned here that establishes most of the Jews' laws and theology. They believe they must perform certain actions, such as keeping the Ten Commandments and other laws, and God will give them salvation. Like Abraham, the identity of Jesus is essential in denoting the differences among the religions. All three acknowledge the fact that Jesus lived, but only Christianity and Islam note that Jesus was anything other than a simple man. Christians believe that Jesus was the Son of God and the savior of the world, the fulfillment of the promised Messiah in Jewish doctrine. Muslims do not believe Jesus is the savior, but see him as a true prophet of Allah, although a prophet of less importance than Muhammad. Both of these religions acknowledge that there will be a "second coming" of Jesus, although Muslims do not believe he really died, but simply ascended into heaven during the crucifixion. Jews, on the other hand, see Jesus as simply a false prophet, who died and was buried, never to rise again ("Comparison"). Because of and in spite of these theologies, which share similarities and differences, the ethical beliefs of these religions were in the ancient world, and continue to be quite similar. All of these religions believe humans have a choice to do right or wrong, and place importance on kindness, justice, and the golden rule. In all, punishment is reserved for those who ignore these fundamental human laws, while rewards are available to those who do good.

In the ancient world, however, the differences that the religions shared were enough to drive them to war many times over. Of course, the Jewish and Christian societies conflicted from the very outset, as Christianity was a direct threat to Judaism. Further, both religions had to deal with the external threat of the Roman Empire. After Judea lost its independence, Jews were forced to deal with Roman rulers, some of whom were sympathetic to their plight, some of whom were not. Political issues also compounded religious or spiritual ideas. For instance, Rome installed an Arab ruler of Palestine, whose son -- Herod -- became the ruler of that area. Although Herod had converted to Judaism, accepted and observed Jewish laws, and attempted to rebuild the temple, his close association with Rome and the political problems of the time caused many of the poorer Jews, who were not benefited by his policies, to disapprove of his rule. This led to a succession of revolts among Jews, which were quashed by the Romans (Smitha 4-8). Political pressure of this sort also affected Christians, who were persecuted by Jews and Romans for religions and political reasons, responding to this external threat through resilience, until Christianity was eventually made the official religion of Rome. Further, Muslims, like Jews and Christians, faced pressure from both political and spiritual channels. Economic reasons first caused Arab culture to reject Muhammad, and conflict with the Jews followed. To these threats, the Muslims responded with war ("A Concise History of Islam and the Arabs").

II. Eastern Asian Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism

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