Three of the major religions formed out of the early Israelite religion, this religion was essentially a precursor for Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The original scriptures of the Israelite religion were written between 900 – 100 BC. Not all of these had a directly religious origin, but were given religious significance by being collected together into a single compilation.
It was around 1200 BC that a number of tribes of diverse origin inhabited the hills of Palestine. Most of these spoke Aramaic. During this time many wars were fought with the coastal tribes’ people. Over this time the Israelite polytheism became the monotheism of Yahweh, Yahweh was one of the many gods worshiped under the polytheism of the early Israelite religion.
Yahweh was said to have a ‘chosen people’ in the Israelites, old translations of scriptures where neighbour is used refer explicitly to other Israelites and not all peoples. Scholars have found that the first five books have been largely composed of earlier documents; these have been re-arranged and edited into their current form. For example Genesis is compiled from 3 sources itself.
The belief in an eternal afterlife was largely added to the religion around the time of Jesus, this was due in large part to the influences of Persian ideas fused with the early beginnings of monotheistic Israelite religion. Modern Judaism evolved during the centuries following the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Islam is considered the youngest of the main stream religions with the birth of Mohammed around AD 570. Although Islam still references the early Israelite religion and its prophets such as Joseph, Aaron, David and Moses. Jesus is also considered in Islam as a prophet but under the name Isa. Muslims consider Abraham to be a Muslim.
Before Mohammed Islam was also a polytheistic religion of sorts. Inhabitants of Mohammed’s city of Mecca worshipped Allah as a high god among other lesser gods. The name Allah is actually derived from two words (Al) meaning the and (ilah) meaning god. This clearly translates as The God (e.g. the definitive article).
Christianity is often seen as a sole derivative from Semitic origin (Israelite), but actually has both Jewish and Roman inputs as its origins. Rather unsurprisingly it was received better outside of the Jewish world; it was essentially a reformation of the Jewish faith of the time. It was much better received by the Greco-Roman world.
Ironically some ‘mystery’ religions paved the way for Christianity. An example was a ritual used by the Cybele called the Tauroblium. An individual would be stood in a pit under a large grate; a bull was then stood over the grate and slaughtered so that its blood ran down and over the individual. It was thought that the blood washing linked them to the divinity. In a direct link these religions aimed at the spiritual not physical including a future afterlife. The ideas of this early practice are clearly seen in the albeit symbolic “washing of sins by the blood of Christ”.
Scholarship can only reveal a very limited amount about Jesus’ life. The rest is written in biblical accounts written by his followers; these are not true historical documents and differ from book to book. They tend to include legend and not fact. By AD 70 there were two sects of Christianity. The Jewish and gentile Christians. In AD 70 Rome destroyed Jerusalem and with it the Jewish Christian church, leaving only the gentile Christian church.
This left the gentile church as the only form of Christianity, what started as a reformation of a religion was now totally separate from it. Many years later we would see the crusades, trying to take Christianity back to the very lands it was obliterated from around AD 70.
Prior to the crusades in AD 312 a roman emperor was elected; this emperor was a Christian and turned over the ruling that Christianity was outlawed. Later his successors over the coming years would eventually decree that Christianity was not only legal, but that it was only religion that was permitted.
Until the council of Nicaea in AD 325 the divinity of Christ was still in debate among Christians. It was this council that firstly ruled that Christ was divine, and then selected the books that made up the bible form the vast array of possible scriptures. It was no accident that they chose scriptures that supported their decision that Christ was divine.
Another act of this roman Christian church, which was the early forbear of the Roman Catholic Church, was to appoint the idea of the trinity which is still widely held by Christians today.
The evolution from early polytheistic religions such as those of the Israelite people into the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, give rise to the argument that any one of their gods could have been ‘lucky’ enough to be selected as their all powerful deity.
More interestingly these religions pay lip service to their historical birth, they allude to the fact that they have always been monotheistic religions following one true god. But this is not true as history bears out; they were in fact made or developed by man from a pre-existent multi god soup.
This is only a brief snippet of the history of three of the major religions in the world. Further investigation and digging would no doubt uncover more interesting facts, especially looking deeper into the Nicaea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea
I would encourage the religious and non religious alike to look deeper into how religion is shaped by and administered over by man, sometimes it leaves no room for god at all.
Source: The Major Religions – T. Patrick Burke (2004)