The Abrahamitic Worldview

It is certainly reasonable to consider further elaboration of my brief account of the Abrahamitic worldview necessary, as does one commentator.

This was my brief outline: “This is the teaching of the Creation of Man, the Fall of Man from his Original State in Paradise, the Promises of God to Man in History, the Salvation of Man from sin, the Damnation of some in Hell and the Salvation of others, as Bodily Resurrected, in a Future Messianic Kingdom, a New Jerusalem, a New Earth, or a Heaven that is simply a continuation of the present Human Existence with all its ordinary human desires fulfilled.” It is certainly the case that more needs to be said about this for the purposes of a deeper analysis.

The teaching seems first to have to some extent at least the appearance of a purely tribal religious “ideology” of worldly conquest and power. Such thinking was not uncommon, although, at least from our perspective, the Abrahamitic version seems exceptionally ambitious. The tribal God promises, through his Prophets, future domination for its People, which is to convert other nations to the worship of the God. This thinking is still clearly visible in the Christian Gospels. Originally, there was hardly any clear and developed ideas of an afterlife at all, and even at the time of Jesus this was simply denied by the Sadducees. The religion was about the worldly well-being, success and Historical Mission of the People through their keeping the Covenant with and obeying the Law of the God. Gradually, the ideology is developed. The God, originally just one of many such Gods, the Gods of other tribes, is elevated above them, and at a late stage is even proclaimed to be the Only God, the others now no longer even existing. And this God is then also the Creator of All, of the World, even out of Nothing – no longer, as at an earlier stage, the demiurge who orders some original chaotic matter and creates forms out of it.

The Promises to the Hebrews, and all of the Hebrew scriptures, are of course reinterpreted by the Christians and the Muslims. The Salvation from the Fall is likewise differently conceived in the three branches of Abrahamism. Yet the soteriological and eschatological visions also have many things in common. They are notoriously obscure and contradictory, something that is often accounted for by reference to mystery and the nature of religious language. But at the same time they are part of Dogma and somehow still to be taken literally.

Basically, Salvation seems to signify the Restoration of the Lost Paradise. It is, in other words, a state of created, earthly perfection without sin or disobedience, in accordance with the sanctified thisworldliness of the Hebrew Scriptures, but involves a theological development of the original idea of the future worldly Kingdom Promised to the People. But since people (psycho-physical Created Men) obviously die, the question arises who among the individuals of the People will be saved and enjoy the fulfillment of the Promises. According to the Sadducean position corresponding to those Scriptures, it could of course only be future generations of the People and other peoples converted to the God, those who happen to live at the time of the Messiah. But others came up with the idea that the dead, Created Men would Rise from their graves and take part in the future Restored Paradise. This idea was taken over by Christianity as Dogma.

Then there was the question of how, when, and precisely where this state would be achieved. This is simply impossible to understand from the various Scriptural accounts of the three religions. The Apocalyptic literature is here added, and it all becomes just a hopeless maze of contradictions. For the Jews, continued or renewed obedience to the Law is all that is needed for future life in the Messianic Kingdom, and the Muslim teaching is similar in this regard. For the Christians, faith in the Incarnation (emphatically quite as psycho-physical in one of its two natures as Created Man) of the God, or of One of what is by them considered to be the Three Persons of the God, and some sanctification through the Sacraments is needed. There is a Second Advent of the Second Person, a Judgement, a Thousand Years’ Kingdom, a New Jerusalem “coming down” to earth, indeed, a New Earth and a New Heaven, where the Saved, the Resurrected psycho-physical Created Men, according to St Paul transformed by the Spirit, ultimately will live in temporal everlastingness.

Not only is it impossible to get a coherent idea of all of this. It is also starkly incompatible with Scriptural passages pointing towards transcendence and eternity rather than the future, and in which some degree of esoteric or philosophical thinking can be discerned. There are people ascending to Heaven in the present, after death or even while still alive. Best known are perhaps the sayings of Jesus to the effect that the Kingdom is actually “within”, and that one of the robbers crucified together with him would be with him in Paradise “today”.

Anyway, such, it seems to me, is the Abrahamitic worldview, in a little more detail. Still further detail is found in the Personalism category in the fragmentary notes (in Swedish) on selected secondary works relevant to the study of some aspects of the history of the concept of person, also available on my History of Ideas website.

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Jan Olof Bengtsson D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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