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“The Lord appeared to Abraham, and said unto him: ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be thou complete.’” Genesis 17:1

Unlike the multiplicity of gods of ancient religions, tangibly represented by idols of wood, clay, or stone, the one God of Abraham was unseen and in fact unseeable. With a leap of faith unknown in his time, Abraham embraced the belief in a single God, and in so doing entered into a covenantal relationship. In exchange for his faith and obedience, God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous “as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17). In what many see as fulfillment of the biblical pledge, adherents of the Abrahamic faith traditions today number nearly four billion people, more than half the population of the entire world.

Abraham represents only a single example of revelation, however. For each of the Abrahamic faiths, another distinctive revelatory experience, inextricably linked to a single seminal figure, would pave the way for the growth and the differentiation of each faith tradition.

For Jews, Abraham is the first of the Patriarchs, a direct ancestor of the “Children of Israel” in the Hebrew Bible and of the Jewish People to the present day. Christians trace the family tree of Jesus back to Abraham through both Mary and Joseph, while Muslims trace the lineage of the Prophet Muhammad through Abraham’s eldest son, Ishmael. Though the importance of physical descent from Abraham is emphasized only in Judaism, it is the spiritual legacy of Abraham’s righteousness, and specifically his promulgation of the belief in one God, that cause him to be held in such high esteem in all three faith traditions.

“May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid." George Washington, 1790

For Jews, he is Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses, our Teacher), the great lawgiver, who, according to the biblical text, led his people out of bondage in Egypt and to the very portal of the Promised Land. It was to Moses on Mount Sinai that God gave the Torah, the great collection of divine commandments and regulations. For Christians, the New Testament presents Moses as one of the prototypes of Jesus. For Muslims, he is the great Prophet and Messenger Musa, and in the Qur’an he is the most obvious prophetic precursor of Muhammad. Moses is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and in the Qur’an more than any other person. The chronology presented by the biblical account indicates that Moses lived in the 13th–12th centuries BCE (Before the Common Era).

For Christians, this Jewish preacher from Nazareth was the Messiah, the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies that heralded the arrival of an Anointed One (Mashiah, Christos) who would bring salvation to Israel. The New Testament accounts of his miraculous birth, the numerous miracles he performed, and his crucifixion by the Romans and subsequent resurrection further demonstrated to his followers Jesus’ divine status as the Son of God. For Muslims, he is ‘Isa,born through a miraculous conception to the virgin Maryam (the only woman named in the Qur’an),and the last great Messenger and Prophet before the birth of Muhammad. Judaism recognizes none of the prophetic, messianic, or divine attributes afforded Jesus by Christianity and Islam. For Jews, Yeshu is most often seen as a first-century CE Galilean teacher-preacher, a dissident interpreter of Jewish law, and the central figure around whom the nascent Jewish sect of Christianity was formed after his death.

For Muslims, Muhammad, born in Mecca in Arabia about the year 570 CE, is the last and greatest of the series of messengers sent by God to humankind. According to the Qur’an, it was Muhammad who, at the command of the angel Gabriel, began to recite to his fellow Meccans the messages transmitted by the angel directly from God. He and his early followers emigrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE, the initial year of the Islamic calendar. For the next decade, until his death, Muhammad continued to communicate the divinely-originated revelatory messages that would one day constitute the Qur’an. The Jewish and Christian theological traditions were both firmly established by the time of Muhammad’s revelation. Therefore, neither tradition explicitly acknowledges Muhammad’s status as a prophet, though he is recognized by both as the founder of the final Abrahamic monotheistic faith tradition.

(top) "And the Lord drowned Egypt while Israel walked on dry land in the middle of the sea." In: Haggadah. Jacob Sofer ben Judah Leib Shamash of Berlin, scribe. Hamburg, AM 5491 (1731 CE). NYPL, Dorot Jewish Division. Digital ID 1244038.

(middle) The Sermon on the Mount. In: Gospel Lectionary (Farnese Lectionary; Towneley Lectionary), in Latin. Giulio Clovio and followers, illuminators. Rome, ca. 1550–1560. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division. Digital ID 1610036.

(bottom) The scales remind viewers of the weighing of souls that will occur at the end of time. In: Religious Anthology. Ottoman Empire, 19th century. NYPL, Manuscripts and Archives Division.