Scripture (Holy Book)
Another feature shared by the religions of the Middle East is their compilation of a sacred scripture considered to be the divinely inspired preachings of their prophets. The holy book of Zoroastrianism, the Avesta, contains the Gathas or hymns of the prophet Zoroaster, augmented by other prayers to Ahura Mazda and laws for the proper conduct of life. The scripture of the Jews, the Hebrew Bible, is a compilation of the history of the children of Israel and the teachings of their prophets; it coalesced gradually between about 500 and 100 BCE. Christians add to the Hebrew Bible (which they usually refer to as the “Old Testament”) their own “New Testament” (Gospels), which relates accounts of the life and teachings of Jesus and describes the history and teachings of the early Christian community in the century or so after Jesus’ death. The holy book of Muslims, the Qur’an (Koran), contains the revelations they consider their prophet, Muhammad, to have received directly from God; these were compiled shortly after Muhammad’s death in 632 CE.
Fred M. Donner
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago
1. In what ways do the concept of monotheism and the central belief in prophesy relate to one another?
2. This essay clearly explains each of the similarities between the monotheistic faiths within the Middle Eastern religious paradigm. However, there are stark differences between polytheism and monotheism—apart from the quantity of deities one worships. In particular, with regard to the degrees of difference in the areas of prophesy, revealed scripture and final judgment. Using what you know about polytheistic faiths, and inferring from reading the main essay, describe how polytheistic faiths would stand apart from the Middle Eastern religious paradigm concepts of prophesy, revealed scripture, and final judgment.
3. Donner explains the enormous growth of Christianity and Islam through their proselytizing character, whereas Judaism, and its smaller population of faithful, is non-proselytizing. Generally speaking, what challenges would/has each faith encounter(ed) through history as related to their proselytizing or non-proselytizing character?