Concept of God in Judaism and Christianity Term Paper
- Length: 26 pages
- Subject: Mythology - Religion
- Type: Term Paper
- Paper: #52966776
Excerpt from Term Paper :
Judaism and Christianity both have fairly common as well as totally contrasting religious concepts. In spite of the apparent differences and divisions it has to be understood that both these religions are like different streams of water merging in the ocean of god.
Christianity and Judaism are both religions of abrahamic origin. There are many similarities and differences between the two religions. Since Christianity originated from Judaism, it lends to the thought that both the religions are very closely related. However, in spite of their common origin, they differ considerably in some of the important issues while at the same time exhibit resemblance in many aspects. Even the monotheistic belief, which both these religions stand for, is quantified by entirely different perception of the attributes of godhead. Similarly, in the understanding of the messianic concept there is a significant contradiction giving us a hint of the vastly different nature of the religions. Let us have a brief outlook into the different aspects of godhead as represented by the two religions so that we may get a better appreciation of the inherent similarities and the conflicting doctrines that these two faiths stand for.
The Creation Theory
The theory of creation is significant and common to both Christianity and Judaism. The idea of creation as portrayed in the Genesis, which is part of the Old Testament, is accepted by both the Christians and the Jews alike. The very first chapter of 'Genesis' describes that all that exists emerged from the one God and that God took six days to create the world. Judaism confirms to the belief that God created the world out of his pure will. Since there was only a common history before the advent of Jesus there are many things in common and both the religions accept Abraham as the earliest ancestor. In the same vein, all the historical details and in particular, the life of Moses and the birth of Judaism are commonly accepted in Christian faith.
Origin of Judaism
The exodus from Egypt is marked as one of the important events in the history of mankind. Even more important was the revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai. Moses is rightly attributed as the father of Judaism, one of the ancient religions of the world. (Almost three thousand years). All we know about Moses is what we read from the Bible and hence the bible is our only source when we try to study the origin and the history of Judaism. It was Moses, who was the mentor and the leader of a group of people, under whose guidance they started to respect and worship 'Yahweh' as the god of the universe. It all began with the massive exodus of the Israelis who were slaves in Egypt. The most important instance of the miraculous happening, of the existential proof of God, occurred when the group of escaping slaves crossed the 'Reed sea' (Yam Suf). The water automatically receded to give way for them while their pursuers were drowned by the tide, which returned. It is this miraculous escape and the divinely ordained exodus, which culminated in the formation of the Israeli land that is celebrated each year as the Passover festival by the Jews. There is total agreement that it was Moses who created the monotheistic belief among the Hebrews. [Goldberg, 14-20]
The revelation at Mount Sinai completely transformed Israel as a religious nation. According to Bible, the people of Israel came to the mountain Sinai during the third month of their wandering. It was here that God came down and revealed the Ten Commandments and spoke to Moses. The Torah is considered a divine gift to the children of Israel and it is a complete and comprehensive divine exhortation. 'When God revealed the Torah, no bird chirped, no fowl beat its wings, no ox bellowed, the angels did not sing, the sea did not stir, no creature uttered a sound, the world was silent and still and the divine voice spoke" (Midrash, Exodus Rabbah, 29:9) The subservience to the one God 'Yahweh' was a vital factor in Israel's successful war against the philistines and the development of an individual Israeli nation. [Goldberg, 18]
Rambam's thirteen principles of faith
Rambam's thirteen principles of faith constitute the basic belief of the judaistic religion. The thirteen principles are 1) God exists, 2) He is eternal, 3) Unique, 4) incorporeal, 5) All prayers are to be addressed directly to God and there is no intermediation, 6) 'The words of Prophets are true' and 7) Moses is a true prophet, 8) Moses directly received the written Torah and the oral Torah, 9) There is no other Torah, 10) God is omnipresent and he knows the inner workings of each and every man, 11) Good will be rewarded and the wicked punished, 12) The Messiah will come and 13) The dead shall be resurrected.
Treatment of Evil
Judaism, as a purely monotheistic religion does not agree with the Christian viewpoint of an evil force, operating against the pure holy divinity. Christianity accepts the existence of a negative and evil aspect (Satan) as a force operating against god. Christians attribute all the evil deeds to Satan and his willful manipulations. Judaism is found wanting to explain the existence of evil in the world. The purely monotheist position of Judaism makes it impossible to attribute the evil that is rampant in the world to any radical source other than God. The Christian faith though it does not approve a dualistic doctrine, still accepts a primary evil force of Satan as an opposing force to God.
While it may be argued that the Hebrew Bible does include an occasional reference to Satan, it is understood as an angel rather than as a personification of evil. Satan, from the Jewish point-of-view, is more of an accusing angel rather than a force different from god and is always considered as subordinate to God. Even in the Lurianic Kubbalah, which to a certain extent accepts a dualistic notion accedes that 'sitra achara' or the dark side is actually a projection of the self-contraction of god. That is the expression of evil is ascribed to be God's self-contribution (tzimtzum). The judaistic philosophy is that it is God who willingly (as opposed to Satan in Christian context) expresses the evil side so that people can execute their free will. Thus one of the fundamental differences between the two religions is their perception of evil. Christianity, by including the concept of Satan seems to support the existence of a force extrinsic and opposing to god while Judaism considers evil as a self-projection of god. [Goldberg, 249]
Explanation for Suffering
In logical continuance with our discussion of Evil is the discussion on suffering. Having accepted the notion of evil as an expression of the other side of God, and as an opportunity for man to choose between good and bad, it is imperative for us to understand the implication of evil actions. Judaism attempts to explain the sufferings of human kind as a remedial and retributive action of God. However, the concept of 'retributive justice' and remedial action does not explain the expression of evil, often out of proportion as in the case of the Holocaust, which virtually decimated 1/3 of the total Jewish population. Jewish thinker's reason that God does not intercede to avert these and other catastrophical action, though it is purely under his power. The interpretation of this seemingly non-interfering nature of god (as a pure witness) is that god does not want to intervene and in human freedom of action. Suffering can also be studied from a different perspective when we deal with the concept of afterlife.
There is a mention of miracles in the Jewish Bible, as for example, we can recollect from the Hebrew Bible some miraculous happenings such as 'Ten Plague and the Crossing of the Red Sea'. According to the biblical account when Moses and the followers cross the Reed Sea the water recedes to make way for their crossing. Apart from these early miraculous events there is a general lack of miraculous incidents in the Jewish bible and even the Jewish literature seems to weigh down the concept of miracles. Judaism does not confine God as a Supernatural phenomenon. God is very much an immanent principle of the universe. Some of the Jewish philosophers like Maimonides and Albo, though they believed in miracles and the possibility of supernatural powers tended to weigh down the importance of miracles and even expounded the miracles found in bible as parable's rather than as realities. [Goldberg, 256]
Having said this it must also be added that when we discuss 'Miracles' and 'Miraculous intervention of God ', we observe that Judaism in general though it does not negate, refrains from exhortation of Divine intervention manifesting in the form of Miraculous happenings. To quote from the Genesis "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" (Genesis 18:14) 'Behold the Lord's hand is not Shortened, that it cannot…