Questions for Discussion
How do you describe your God?
What has impacted your views on God?
How have they changed over your lifetime?
Question for Discussion
What does the Shema prayer mean to you?
How do you translate it?
What does the word Echad mean?
How to Translate the Shema
In light of these multiple uses of echad, we must be open to reading the Shema with an open mind about what it denotes. What are our options? What makes most sense, within the Bible?
The LORD is first.
The LORD is one [God].
The LORD is the same [as whom?]
The LORD alone.
The LORD is a single [Being, Deity, Elohim].
The LORD is a unified [Being, Deity, Elohim].
The LORD is unique, the one and only [God].
Question for Discussion
Why does the Torah have so many different names for God?
Jewish Belief in Multiple Gods
There is but one God, according to Jewish religious dogma. No other exists. We tend to assume that our forefathers devoutly believed the same. But the truth is that the Bible also shows, time and again, that wasn't the prevailing system of belief among the ancient Israelites.
Did you know that there are many references to multiple gods existing in the Torah?
The different scribes who wrote most of the biblical canon believed the incorporeal world was populated by a multitude of gods, but that the Hebrews should not worship any of these other deities, only Yahweh
Arguably the most important of these gods was Ba’al (“master”), who is mentioned about 90 times in the Bible. Ba’al was an honorific title of the god Hadad, in much the same way that "Adonai" (“my master”) is an honorific title for Yahweh.
Ba’al/Hadad was the West Semitic storm god, responsible for bringing the rains. His cult was thus particularly important in arid regions, where an especially dry winter could result in mass starvation. The historic books of the Bible recount an ongoing competition between the worship of Yahweh and Ba’al, eventually resulting in the supremacy of Yahweh. It seems however that the Israelite devotion to their intangible deity stemmed in part from Yahweh coming to encompass certain characteristics of the pagan god.
It seems that what this story and other biblical stories like it are telling is that the belief in Yahweh supplanted the worship of Ba’al. In fact it seems that in some ways, Yahweh subsumed Ba’al, taking on his attributes and powers.
In the Hebrew bible God is often designated as El, recalling the chief God of the Canaanite pantheon. Furthermore, the term Elohim, which is now thought of as merely another name of God, was in Canaanite religion a term for the whole court of El. (The original Hebrew texts not having vowels, Elohim in Hebrew is basically the same as 'lhm.) Some of the other Gods featured in the Ugaritic texts are also mentioned in the Bible, not as synonymous with the Jewish God, but rather as "other gods," which are now (by Orthodox Jews) thought to mean "idols" or false gods. For example, Asherah is mentioned in 2 Kings 18.8:
Transition to True Monotheism
It was apparently only during the Babylonian Exile (about 586 B.C.E. to 500 B.C.E) and the following Second Temple period (500 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), that Judaism progressed from the belief that Yahweh is the only god that should be worshipped, to the belief that he is the only god that exists. I.e., monotheism was born.
How does Judaism differentiate between monotheism and polytheism and is there anything in between?
God, the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity unlike any other possible unity. This is referred to in the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4): "Hear Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one."
Shituf (Hebrew: שִׁתּוּף; also transliterated as shittuf or schituf; literally "association") is a term used in Jewish sources for the worship of God in a manner which Judaism does not deem to be purely monotheistic. The term connotes a theology that is not outright polytheistic, but also should not be seen as purely monotheistic.
The term is primarily used in reference to the Christian Trinity by Jewish legal authorities who wish to distinguish Christianity from full-blown polytheism. Though a Jew would be forbidden from maintaining a shituf theology, non-Jews would, in some form, be permitted such a theology without being regarded as idolaters by Jews. That said, whether Christianity is shituf or formal polytheism remains a debate in Jewish philosophy.
Jewish views, as codified in Jewish law, are split between those who see Christianity as outright idolatry and those who see Christianity as shituf. While Christians view their worship of a trinity as monotheistic, Judaism generally rejects this view.
How did the category of Shituf play out in rabbinic times?
The Talmud warns against causing an idolater to take oaths. The commentators living in Christian Germany in the 12th century, called Tosafists, permitted Jews to bring a Christian partner to court in partnership during a breakup even though the Christian would take an oath by God, which to Christians would include Jesus, by saying that so long as another deity is not mentioned explicitly, there is no forbidden oath taking place, but only an association
In the 16th Century, the terse comment is explained as follows by Moses Isserles, where it is seemingly expanded to allowing partnerships in the first place:
Today, it is permitted [to form a partnership with Christians], because when they swear on their holy scriptures called the Evangelion, they do not hold it to be divine. Even though when they mention God they mean Jesus, they do not mention idolatry since they really mean the Creator of heaven and earth. Even though they mention jointly (shituf) God's name and another name, there is no prohibition to cause someone to jointly mention [or associate] (shituf) God with another... since this association is not forbidden to gentiles.
Similarities in the Understanding of God
Descriptions of God that are given in the different traditions are somewhat similar to each other.
- In Judaism, God is known as the “First Being, without beginning or end, who brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them.”
- In Islam, “God is the All-Powerful and All-Knowing Creator, Sustainer, Ordainer and Judge of the universe.”
- In Christianity, “God is the divine being from which all things come.”
- In Hinduism, God is the “the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest from whom everything emanates.”
Origin of the 3 Monotheistic Religions
The three religions trace their origins back to Abraham, who, in Genesis, had humanity’s first relationship with God after the failures of Noah’s flood and the Tower of Babel. Judaism and Christianity trace their tie to Abraham through his son Isaac, and Islam traces it through his son Ishmael.
Each of the three religions reveres Adam and honors him as the first person, centering key theological elements on God’s creation of humanity through Adam. God is the father of humanity and the father of each religion.
Different Jewish Perspectives
A Scriptural Response
The narratives of ancient Israel, as displayed in the Tanakh, in the New Testament and in the Qur'an, are framed within and extend the terms of the religion of ancient Israel.
There is therefore strong narrative warrant for speaking of the Abrahamic Religions as sharing a common frame for characterizing God's identity as, for example, creator of the universe, revealer of His word and will, commander of human behaviour, teacher of ultimate wisdom, author of universal redemption in the time to come, a dear friend and ultimately a lover of those who love Him, the only source of our being, knowledge, and peace.
A Rabbinic Response
Within this response, there are grounds for a series of competing claims:
- There is rabbinic warrant for either affirming or denying that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and that Christians worship the same God as Jews ― overall, there tends to be more support of Muslim worship than of Christian, except for participants in European Jewish-Christian dialogue.
- There is strong rabbinic warrant for recognizing that the God to whom Jews pray makes Himself known in other ways to other peoples ― and that means other languages or religious discourses.
A Jewish Philosophic Response
Perhaps the most significant Jewish philosophic element is the elementary rabbinic distinction between plain sense (peshat) and interpreted sense (derash)... So, when one refers to "God," does that mean one is referring to some single object "out there," or is one invoking an infinite set about which one cannot measure sameness or difference? Or is one invoking that One who, however infinite and inscrutable, gives Himself here and now to the singularity of the relationship that binds this one seeker to this One who also seeks?
Do Christians believe that the Jewish God is the same as their God?
Christians believe in a triune God: God the father, God the son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.
"The question basically comes down to whether one can reject Jesus Christ as the Son and truly know God the Father," says Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. "And it's Christ himself who answered that question, most classically in the Gospel of John, and he said that to reject the Son means that one does not know the Father."
Do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God?
- The Second Vatican Council, speaking to Catholics back in 1964, affirmed that Muslims "together with us adore the one, merciful God."
Quran there's the Biblical story of Jacob asking his sons whom they'll worship after his death.
- "Jacob's sons replied, 'We will worship the God of your fathers' — Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. He is the God," Saritoprak says. "So this God that Jacob worshipped, this God that Abraham, Isaac worshipped, is the same God that Muslims worship today."
"The Muslims have a statement in our theology: Whatever you imagine God to be, God is other than that."
And Amy Plantinga Pauw, a professor of Christian theology at Louisville Seminary, says Christians can have their own definition of God while still seeing commonality with Muslims and Jews.
"To say that we worship the same God is not the same as insisting that we have an agreed and shared understanding of God," Pauw says.
The teachings of Baháʼu'lláh form the foundation of Baháʼí belief. Three principles are central to these teachings: the unity of God, the unity of religion, and the unity of humanity. Baha'is believe that God periodically reveals his will through divine messengers, whose purpose is to transform the character of humankind and to develop, within those who respond, moral and spiritual qualities. Religion is thus seen as orderly, unified, and progressive from age to age.