Exhaustive, of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism

Glossary Prepared initially by Robert A. Kraft, University of Pennsylvania, and intended to be used freely in the public domain in this and any updated versions (based partly on materials from introductory textbooks by Phillip Sigal, Jacob Neusner, Michael Fishbane, Sandra Frankiel, R. Dean Peterson, Frederick Denny, Kenneth Cragg, F. E. Peters; see also Cyril Glasse/, The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam [Harper, 1989]).


* indicates that the word/term that follows is a glossary entry, except that such frequent terms as Jew(ish)/Judaism, Christian(ity), and Islam/Muslim are not so identified.

<t>...</> indicates the title of a book or similar work.
<a>...</> Arabic word, especially used in Islamic studies.
<h>...</> Hebrew (or Aramaic) word, especially used in Judaism.
<g>...</> Greek word, especially used in Christianity.
<l>...</> Latin word, especially used in Christianity.

Diacritics follow the letter to which they pertain.

Note that in the Semitic languages (Heb., Arabic), the apostrophe and reversed apostrophe distinguish between two different "a" letters.


ab (Heb., "father [of]"; see Arabic abu^)

Used in numerous phrases and constructions, such as <h>ab bet din</> (lit. "father of/in the house of judgment") for one of the presiders in the Jewish sanhedrin (see also bet/beit). See also abbot.

`Abba^sid (Abbasid).

The second major Muslim dynasty (following the Umayyads), centered in Iraq (Baghdad, 750-1258 CE), under which Islamic civilization achieved maturity.

Abbot (from Greek and Latin forms based on Hebrew av/ab, "father").

Used especially in Christian monasticism for the head or supervisor of the monastery.

`abd (Arabic, "servant [of]")

Often used in Arabic naming conventions. See also ibn, bint, abu^.

abelut (Heb., "mourning")

See shiva.

Abraham (adj. Abrahamic)

The patriarch who is acknowledged as a special early figure in the histories and folklore of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Presumed to have lived sometime in the period 2000-1700 BCE; father of Ishmael by Hagar and of Isaac by Sarah. See Bible Genesis 12-25; NT Galatians 3-4; Quran 37.83=113, 2.124-140, and frequently.

absolution (from Latin, to absolve or make to go away)

A term used especially in classical Christianity for forgiveness of sin, as when a priest grants "absolution" to one who is penitent.

abu^ (Arabic, "father [of]"; see Heb. ab)

Often used in Arabic naming conventions. See also ibn, bint, `abd.

AD = <l>anno domini</> ("year of the Lord")

See CE.

Adam (and Eve) (Hebrew for "human, man")

Name given to the first created male (with Eve as female) in the creation story in the Jewish scriptures (Genesis 1). Has been interpreted over the centuries both literally (as an actual historical person) and symbolically (as generic humankind; see allegory).

adha^n (Arabic, "call")

The adhan is the Muslim call to prayer (salat) by the muadhdhin from the mosque 5 times each day.


An early Christian interpretation of Jesus' relationship to the one God (father) which held that the exemplary human Jesus was adopted by God to be God's son and to serve in rescuing humankind. See also monarchianism.

agape (accent on final syllable; a Greek word for "love")

In early Christianity, the name given to a community fellowship meal (the "love- feast"). In modern Christian theologizing, sometimes used to indicate the highest level of love (divinely oriented).

aggada(h) (adj. aggadic; Aramaic, "telling, narration")

Jewish term for non-halakic (nonlegal) matter, especially in Talmud and Midrash; includes folklore, legend, theology/theosophy, scriptural interpretations, biography, etc.; also spelled haggada(h), not to be confused, however, with the Passover Manual called "the Haggada(h)."

agnostic (from Greek, "not knowing"), agnosticism

A general term to indicate suspension of judgment regarding the existence of God/deity (compare atheism, theism)


AH = <l>anno hegirae</> or year after the Hijra on 16 July 622 CE; the years AH (or before H) are Muslim lunar years (see calendar)

ahl (Arabic, "people [of]")

Used in technical terminology such as <a>ahl al-bayt</> ("people of the house"), for the family of Muhammad; <a>ahl al-hadith</> ("people who focus on hadith") for certain traditionists; < a>ahl al-kalam</> ("people who emphasize kalam") for a type of rationalists; <a>ahl al-kitab</> ("people of the Book"), for Jews and Christians (and some Zoroastrians/Sabaeans) as tolerated groups under Islamic rule (see dhimmi).

Akiba (or better, Aqiba) ben Joseph

Famous Jewish rabbi (c. 50-135 CE) in ancient Palestine; a major legal scholar, who established an academy in Bne Brak, and was also a legendary mystic and martyr. He was tortured and killed by the Romans in 135 CE.

`Alawi^s (Arabic "of `Ali")

An Islamic group in Syria (ruling party), Lebanon and Turkey with affinities to Shiite groups such as the Seveners and the Druzes. See also gnostic, syncretism.


A term used in modern Judaism especially for migration (Heb., "going up") to the land of Israel (see also hajj in Islam, pilgrimage). Aliya can also be used for "going up" to the altar bimah to read from Torah.


Son-in-law (husband of Fatima) and cousin of Muhammad, and the 4th of the "rightly guided caliphs," having moved his capital from Medina to Kufa in Iraq. Ali was murdered by a Kharijite in 661 CE, and is especially revered by Shiites.


Arabic word for "God"; a contraction of <a>al-ila^h</>, "the god." See YHWH.

allegory (Greek term), adj. allegorical, vb. allegorize

Usually used in reference to symbolic interpretation of scriptures or other authoritative materials, in Judaism and Islam as well as in Christianity. See midrash, tafsir.


Historically, it usually refers to a raised surface (like a table) or platform on which sacrifices were performed. Thus it came to designate the central location for liturgical functions such as reading Torah (Jewish; see bima) or administering the eucharist (Christian). Compare minbar.

am haaretz (pl. <h>ammey haaretz</>; Heb., "people of the land")

A term used in Jewish scriptures for citizens, or some particular class of citizens; in rabbinic literature, for persons or groups that dissented from or were uninstructed in rabbinic halaka and rigorous purity and tithing norms. It sometimes signifies the unlearned, sometimes is used condescendingly (boor). It was also used of the broad mass of Jewish people of the 1st century CE, who cannot be categorized into any of the sub-groups of the time. See also Pharisees.

amida(h) (Heb., "standing"; pl. <h>amidot</>)

The main section of rabbinic Jewish prayers, recited in a standing posture; also known as *tefillah or shemoneh esreh ("eighteen benedictions").

amora (pl. amoraim; Heb., "speaker")

Rabbinic Jewish teachers of the 4th and 5th centuries CE who produced the gemara for the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds.


Greek term for a religio-political federation with its common focus a sanctuary dedicated to God; an association of neighboring states or tribes in ancient Greece that banded together for common interest and protection. This model has sometimes been used to describe the situation in "the period of the judges" (prior to Saul and David) in Ancient Israel.

Anabaptists (from Greek, to baptize again, rebaptize)

Those Christians in the Protestant Reformation who taught that infant baptism was inadequate, but that baptism was appropriate for those adults who profess faith in Jesus Christ, in an attempt to emulate what was considered early Christian practice. Anabaptist groups often diverged extensively from other Christians, including other protestants -- and this aspect of the protestant movement sometimes came to be called the "Radical Reformation."

anathema (Greek, lit. something [such as a statuette] "set up" as dedicated to a deity; thence off limits for normal use)

Something or someone considered "anathema" is strongly forbidden, under a curse. The formal curse itself can be called an "anathema."

anchorite (Greek, lit. "without fixed home/location, itinerant")

A term applied to early Christian wandering hermits (living in caves, etc.), and later in general to monastics of various sorts (including the feminine form "anchoress").

angel (Greek, lit. "messenger")

Came to be used specifically for a class of extrahuman ("spiritual") beings, both good (usually) and bad ("demons", "the devil"/Satan) who become involved in human affairs; common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A leader or special functionary among the angels is sometimes c alled an "archangel" (e.g. Michael, Gabriel).

Anglicans, Anglicanism (from Anglo, "English")

Refers to the results of the Reformation movement in England under Henry the 8th, which developed largely separate from the protestant movements on the European continent. Also called "Church of England," which gave rise to what came to be called the "Episcopal" church in the USA.

aniconic (Greek, without image)

Refers to religious perspectives that forbid physical representation (pictures, statuary) of deity

ans. a^r (Arabic, "helpers")

Muhammad's Medinan supporters in the early establishment of his Arabic power base are called the ansar.


Greek term for the attribution of human behavior or characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, natural phenomena, or deity. With regard to deity, anthropomorphism became a point of theological discussion in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

antichrist (Greek, "against [the] Christ")

Term used in Jewish and early Christian eschatology to designate an evil person or force opposed to the Messiah (Christ) in the last days of the earth.

antinomian (from Greek, "opposing law")

A general term for persons or positions that consciously take a stand against the established rules and laws. In Christian tradition, a name given to those who felt that salvation by grace excused them from obeying temporal law(s).


Literally means opposed to Semites (which would include Arabic and other semitic peoples as well), but usually applied specifically to opposition to Jews (anti-Judaism).

apocalypse (adj. apocalyptic)

From the Greek, meaning "revelation." A genre of literature (attested in Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions) in which the author claims to have received revelation(s), usually about the end -time, and expresses them in vivid symbolism. The intertestamental Jewish and the early Christian apocalypses are often pseudepigraphical. The final book of the Christian NT is sometimes called (in accord with its Greek title) "the Apocalypse" (it is also known as "the book of Revelation").

Apocrypha (adj. apocryphal)

From the Greek, meaning "to hide" or "to uncover." It is used in a technical sense to refer to certain Jewish books written in the Hellenistic-Roman period that came to be included in the Old Greek Jewish scriptures (and thus in the Eastern Christian biblical canon) and in the Latin Vulgate Roman Catholic canon (as "deutero-canonical"), but not in the Jewish or Protestant biblical canons. See also Bible, Septuagint.


A formal defense of the Christian faith. Several such writings were issued by Christian "apologists" such as Justin the Martyr during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, addressed to the Roman rulers.


Greek for "ambassador, legate"; compare Arabic rasul. In early Christian circles, it was used to refer especially to the earliest missionaries sent out to preach the gospel message concerning Jesus/Joshua, among whom Paul included himself (although he had not been an associate of Jesus/Joshua); traditionally, twelve of Jesus' close associates come to be called "the 12 Apostles" (also "the 12 disciples").

Apostles' Creed

Name given to one of the earliest known Christian creeds (prior to the "Nicene creed"), used extensively among protestant groups as well as classical Christians.

apostolic succession

The idea in classical Christian circles that spiritual and ecclesiastical authority was transmitted from Jesus' apostles to thei r successors (often called bishops), and so forth in a continuous chain, usually formalized by the rite of ordination. Rabbinic ordination (semikah) is conceptually similar, tracing its succession back to Moses. In Islam, the concept of the isnad provides a weaker parallel.

aqedah (Heb., "binding" [of Isaac])

The Jewish biblical account of God's command to Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22).


See Akiba.

Aristotle, Aristotleianism

Aristotle was a famous Greek thinker (died in 322 BCE), a student of Plato, whose interpretation of what constitutes reality (metaphysics, ontology) and of how reality is organized was widely influential both in ancient times and in the "medieval" period of Judaism and Christianity, influenced by the "classical" period of Islamic learning. See e.g. scholasticism.

Arius, Arianism

Arius was a Christian presbyter in early 4th century Alexandria who argued that the Christ was the first of God's creations, through whom God made the world, etc. This position was condemned as heresy by classical Christianity (see Athanasius, Nicea), but was widely influential for a long time in that world.

arka^n (Arabic, "pillars")

See the pillars of Islam (din).

Arminius, Arminianism

Jacob(us) Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch Calvinist protestant Christian teacher and pastor whose interpretation of predestination caused much unrest and discussion.

`as.abi^yya (Arabic)

Muslim term for group feeling, national pride.

ascetic (from Greek, to hold oneself under control), asceticism

A general term for one who follows rigorous bodily and spiritual discipline to enhance spiritual experiences and rewards. Often connected with mysticism.

Ashkenazi(m) (adj. Ashkenazic)

The term now used for Jews who derive from northern Europe and who generally follow the customs originating in medieval German Judaism, in contradistinction to Sephardic Judaism, which has its distinctive roots in Spain and the Mediterranean ( see Sephardim). Originally the designation Ashkenaz referred to a people and country bordering on Armenia and the upper Euphrates; in medieval times, it came to refer to the Jewish area of settlement in northwest Europe (northern France and western German y). By extension, it now refers to Jews of northern and eastern European background (including Russia) with their distinctive liturgical practices or religious and social customs.

assassins (from Arabic <a>h.ashsha^shi^n</>, "hashish users")

A general term for persons who justify terminating the lives of their opponents on political and/or religious grounds, derived from the name given by crusaders to the Islamic Arabic Shiite Niza^ri^s in the 11th-12th centuries. For a similar development in early Judaism, see the Zealots (and *Sicarii).


The process of becoming similar to something; used in discussion of regligious and cultural developments to describe the process in which the characteristic traits of a person or group may be lost or modified during adaptation to differing surroundings or conditions. See syncretism.

assumption (of Mary)

A term used technically to indicate the "taking up" of a human to heaven (e.g. Enoch or Moses or Elijah in some Jewish traditions), applied specifically in classical Christianity to the belief that the body of the Virgin Mary was not allowed to decay on earth after death, but was "assumed" into heaven.


A 4th century Christian leader in Alexandria and Egypt who opposed Arianism and the council of Nicea and afterwards

atheism (from Greek, "no deity")

A general term for the position that there is no God/deity (compare agnosticism, theism).


Famous Christian thinker/author around the year 400 CE, who was influenced by Manicheism and neo-Platonism, but especially by Paul. He was himself very influential for Luther.


That to which submission of some sort is due, whether a person (as "the authority of the rabbi/bishop/imam") or an institution ("of the church/community") or some other appropriate focus ("of the law/scripture/tradition"). See also canon, apostolic succession, ordination, See.

Ayatollah (from Arabic <a>a^yat Alla^h</>, "sign of God")

A title used in Iranian Islamic Shiism for highly honored members of the ulama.

Av (or Ab)

A month in the Jewish calendar; the 9th of Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 586 BCE and again in 70 CE.

Ba'al Shem Tov (BeSHT; lit. "Master of the Good Name")

Founder of mid 18th century Jewish Hasidism (proper name was Israel).


In earliest Christianity, the rite of ritual immersion in water which initiated a person (usually as an "adult") into the Christian church. Very soon, pouring or sprinkling with water came into use in some churches, and the practice of baptizing infants. See also initiation, circumcision.

bar (bat) mitzvah (Heb., "son (daughter)-of-the-command-ment(s)")

The phrase originally referred to a person responsible for performing the divine commandments of Judaism; it now refers to the occasion when a boy or girl reaches the age of religious majority and responsibility (thirteen years for a boy; twelve years and a day for a girl). In Christianity, compare confirmation.

baraka(h) (Arabic; see also Heb. berakah)

In Islam, "blessing" or "spiritual power" believed to reside in holy places and persons, especially the Sufi master.

Basmala or Bismillah (Arabic)

The name for the sacred Islamic invocation "In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate" <a>bi'smilla^h al-rahma^n al-rah.i^m</> that introduces each Quranic sura (except sura 9) and is uttered frequently by pious Muslims, as before meals, before writing something down or making a speech, before conjugal relations, before reciting the Quran, and at other times.

bat (Heb., "daughter," "daughter of"; Arabic bint)

Used frequently in "matronymics" (naming by identity of mother); see also ben, *bar, ibn.


Jewish shorthand term for the Babylonian Talmud.

BCE or bce = "before the common era"

An attempt to use a neutral term for the period traditionally labeled "BC" (before Christ) by Christians. Thus 586 BCE is identical to 586 BC.


Abu^ Bakr was a father-in-law of Muhammad and became the first caliph, under whom the collection of Quranic materials was expedited.

belief (see also creed, doctrine, dogma, faith, emuna, iman)

A term with multiple applications, from general assent or fidelity to a religious idea or position (constituting someone as a "believer"), to specific reference to well defined religious conceptual objects (beliefs). In Islam, along with the general ideal of pious adherence (iman), five or six central beliefs are traditionally listed: monotheism, revelatory scriptures, angels, prophets, eschatology, and (not always included in the list) predestination. For classical Judaism, see the thirteen principles. Christianity has tended to be more preoccupied with defining beliefs (see orthodox) than have classical Judaism or Islam (see orthopraxy).

ben (Heb., "son," "son of"; Aramaic *bar; Arabic ibn)

Used frequently in "patronymics" (naming by identity of father); Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph means Akiba son of Joseph. See also bat, bint.

berak(h)ah (Heb., "blessing"; Arabic baraka)

In Judaism, an offering of thankfulness that praises God for a benefit conferred or a great event experienced (pl. <h>berakot</>). See also shemonah esreh.

berit or brit (Heb., "covenant")

Used in Judaism especially for the special relationship believed to exist between God and the Jewish people.

bet/beit midrash (Heb.; Arabic <a>bayt</>); see also midrash, synagogue

In Judaism, a place (<h>beit</> = "house") of study, discussion, and prayer; in ancient times a school of higher learning (see, for example, "house of Hillel"). Similarly, <h>bet am</> ("house of people"), <h>bet kneset</> ("house of assembly") and <h>bet tefilla</> ("house of prayer") are designations for locations/functions that came to be included in the general term synagogue; <h>bet din</> ("house of judgment") refers to a halakic law court (see also sanhedrin).

Bible (adj. biblical; from the Greek <g>biblos</> meaning "book")

Designation normally used for Jewish scriptures (TaNaK = Protestant Christian "Old Testament"; plus the Apocrypha in classical Christianity) or Christian scriptures ("OT" plus the Christian "New Testament"). See also canon, Quran, Septuagint, Vulgate


bid`a (Arabic, "innovation")

The term bida came to be used in Islam for "heresy."

bimah (from Greek <g>beema</>, "altar")

Location in a synagogue from which worship (see liturgy) is led. See also minbar.

bint (Arabic, "daughter," "daughter of"; Hebrew bat)

Used frequently in "matronymics" (naming by identity of mother); see also ben, *bar, ibn.

birkat haminim (Heb., "(bene)diction concerning heretics")

A prayer that invoked divine wrath upon Christian Jews and other heterodox Jewish groups. 12th section of the shemoneh esre.

bishop (see also episkopos)

The rank in the clergy of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches above a priest, with authority to ordain priests as well as perform other sacraments. In the early church, an elected head of the church for an entire city; now, an appointed head of a diocese (or "See"). (A few other churches, such as the Methodist and Mormon, also have the office of bishop.)


See Basmala.

blasphemy (Greek, "speak ill, defame")

A general term for speaking against the deity or things associated with the deity. See sacrilege, shirk.

born again

In modern Christianity, having experienced a true conversion and/or total dedication to Christ, usually in an intense emotional experience. Such language is usually used by "evangelical" Christians.

brit (or berit) milah (Heb., "covenant of circumcision")


In Roman Catholic Christian contexts, refers to a formal proclamation from the pope or other high religious authorities.

Byzantium (adj., byzantine)

The old Greek name for what in 330 CE became the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul), the "new Rome" and capital city of the eastern Roman Empire from the early 4th century (see Constantine) through the mid 15th (see Ottomans). This predominantly Greek speaking half of the Roman Empire comes to be called the "Byzantine" Empire by western historians. It was highly structured and bureaucratic in its political organization, thus giving rise to the modern adjective "byzantine," with the sense of excessively complex and rigid.


In general, Christianity operates on a "solar" calendar based on the relationship between the sun and the earth (365.25 days per year). The main Christian observances are Easter, Pentacost, and Christmas. The Islamic calendar is "lunar," based on the relationship of earth and moon (354 days in a year). Thus every 100 solar years are equal to about 103 lunar years. Muslim calendric observances include fasting during the month of Ramadan, followed by the feast of fast breaking (id al-fitr), and the time for pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) and associated practices such as the Feast of Sacrifice. Judaism follows a lunar calandar adjusted every three years or so to the solar cycle (by adding a second 12th month) -- thus "lunisolar." The oldest Jewish annual observances are Passover/pesah, *Shevuot, Yom Kippur and Sukkot; other ancient celebrations include Rosh ha-shana, Simhat Torah, Hannukah and Purim. See also BCE, CE, AH.

caliph (Arabic <a>khila^fah</>, "successor, deputy, vicegerent")

In the Quran it refers to people who submit in voluntary service to God and are thus empowered to carry on a free and active life as God's vice-gerents on earth; in the early history of Islam, caliph is the title for the military/political leader of the umma functioning as Muhammad's "successor" in all but the prophetic role. The "four rightly guided caliphs" are Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman, and `Ali.

calligraphy (Greek, "beautiful writing")

In general, artistic attention to the written formation of letters and words. More specifically, the practice developed especially in Muslim circles of creating attractive and often meaningful patterns and forms through the artistic manipulation of letters (usually passages from the Quran). Since classical Islam discouraged realistic (pictoral) art in religious contexts, this sort of calligraphy may have been developed in part as a decorative substitute.

Calvin, Calvinist, Calvinism

John Calvin (1509-1564) was an influential French protestant thinker and churchman who spent most of his adult life leading the Swiss Reformation in Geneva. His famous work called "Institutes of the Christian Religion" remains influential among conservative Presbyterian and related groups.

canon, canonical scripture

The books of the Bible recognized as authoritative and divinely revealed. See also Apocrypha.

cantor (from Latin, one who sings)

In Judaism, a reciter and chanter/singer of liturgical materials in the synagogue; also used similarly in Christian contexts (choir leader, etc.). Compare hazzan (Islam).


An official in the Roman Catholic Christian church next below the pope, appointed by the pope as a member of the "college" of cardinals which was formed in the middle ages to assist the pope and elect new popes.


In early Christian usage, oral instruction (Greek, catechesis) in doctrine, especially prior to baptism; can mean any official summary of doctrine used to teach newcomers to the faith.


One receiving instruction in basic doctrines (catechism) before baptism or, if already baptized as an infant, before confirmation or first communion.

catholic, catholicism (from Greek meaning "universal, worldwide")

A selfdesignation used in early Christianity to suggest universality over against factionalism (see orthodoxy, heresy); thence it became a technical name for the western, Roman Catholic church.

CE or ce = "common era"

An attempt to use a neutral term for the period traditionally labeled "AD" (<l>anno domini</> or "year of the Lord") by Christians. Thus 1992 CE is identical to AD 1992.


The practice of refraining from sexual relationships in the interest of religious purity, known in Judaism among the Essenes and developed extensively in Christianity (see monk, priest).


From the Greek for "1000." Pertaining to the (Christian) belief that Christ will reign for a thousand years in the end-times; also called millenarian (from the Latin).


Greek translation of <h>meshiah</> (see messiah, below). Applied to Jesus/Joshua of Nazareth by his followers as a title, but soon came to be treated as a sort of second name.


One who self-identifies or is identified as a follower of Jesus/Joshua the Christ (thus an adherent of the broadly defined abstract classification "Christianity").


The totality of the Christian world (with focus on extent, whereas "Christianity" emphasizes outlook/perspective).

Christmas (mass for birth of Christ)

A relatively late developing annual Christian festival (see calendar), now held on the fixed date of 25 December in most churches. In earlier times (by the 4th century), the celebration of Jesus' birth tended to be in the spring, around the time of Easter. Its observation in proximity to the winter solstice (shortest day of the year) encouraged the inclusion and development of many aspects that were not present or important in this celebration.

christology (from Greek)

Study of the christ concept/title in its various associations and applications (e.g. as royal or priestly or prophetic figure, as eschatological agent, etc.).


See huppah.

church (Greek <g>ekklesia</>, "summoned group"; see "ecclesiastical," etc).

The designation traditionally used for a specifically Christian assembly or body of people, and thus also the building or location in which the assembled people meet, and by extension also the specific organized sub-group within Christianity (e.g. Catholic, Protestant, Methodist, etc.). Similar to synagogue and kahal in Judaism. See also mosque.

circumcision (from Latin, to cut around)

The minor surgical removal of the skin covering the tip of the penis. In Judaism, it is ritually performed when a boy is eight days old in a ceremony called <h>brit milah</>, which indicates that the ritual establishes a covenant between God and the individual. In Islam, it is performed at any time up to the age of puberty, depending on the cultural tradition (e.g. birth, 7 years, puberty, etc.). See also initiation, baptism.

classical Judaism, Christianity, Islam

The forms of the religions that have survived as traditional throughout the centuries. See rabbinic, orthodox, Sunni. See also conservative.


In Christian contexts, the body of ordained men (and in some churches women) in a church, permitted to perform the priestly and/or pastoral duties, as distinct from the *laity to whom they minister. In Judaism, the rabbinate (see rabbi). Islam has no formal clergy in this sense.


See kohen. Priest (Judaism).

commandments (Heb., mitzvot; sing, mitzvah).

According to rabbinic Jewish tradition, there are 613 religious commandments referred to in the Torah (and elaborated upon by the rabbinic sages). Of these, 248 are positive commandments and 365 are negative. The numbers respectively symbolize the fact that divine service must be expressed through all one's bodily parts during all the days of the year. In general, a <h>mitzvah</> refers to any act of religious duty or obligation; more colloquially, a <h>mitzvah</> refers to a "good deed."

communion; also, "holy communion"

A term used especially in Christian Protestant circles for the sacrament of receiving bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ (or as symbols thereof), also known as the Lord's supper or the eucharist.

confirmation (from Latin, "to firm up, establish")

A Christian rite admitting a baptized person into full church membership, originally by anointing with oil. In Judaism, compare *bar (bat) mitzvah.


One of the types of protestant Christian denominations, in which church government is conducted primarily by the membership (the "congregation"), rather than by some leadership level. Early American Puritan Christianity was congregationalist.


To bless formally, especially in the context of classical Christian sacraments.


A term often used in religious discussions (frequently in express or implied contrast to "liberal" or "modernist") to indicate a relatively traditional (even classical) stance towards the matters considered centrally important. See also fundamentalist.

Conservative Judaism

A modern development in Judaism, reacting to early Jewish Reform movements in an attempt to retain clearer links to classical Jewish law while at the same time adapting it to m odern situations. Its scholarly center in the US is the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.


Co-emperor and then (from 324) sole emperor of the Roman Empire in the early 4th century CE, under whom the city of Constantinople (formerly Byzantium) was established (in 330) as the "new Rome" and capital of the Empire. He publicly embraced Christianity near the beginning of his rule, granted Christians official toleration for the first time, and was instrumental in convening the council of Nice a in 325 and in developing Constantipole as a "Christian" city. Thus he was very important for the establishment of an "officially" sanctioned Christian orthodoxy as well as the growth in Christ ian political influence and power.

Constantinople (Greek, "Constantine's city"; see also Byzantium)

The city on the Bosphorus strait at the southwestern tip of the Black Sea that became Constantine's "new Rome" in 330 CE. The modern name of the site, in Islamic Turkey, is Istanbul.


In Lutheran Christianity, the belief that in the eucharist, Jesus Christ is present mystically, along with the elements of wine and bread.

conversion, convert (from Latin, "to turn around")

In general religious usage, the act of changing alliegance from one group to another. In (especially evangelical) Christian usage, it can also mean to accept a particular interpretation of the Christian faith (see also born again).


In modern Christianity (especially of the "evangelical" sorts), the state in which one recognizes one's sinfulness and guilt before God, preliminary to experiencing conversion.


A pact between two parties. The major covenants in Jewish scriptures are God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15), and the Sinai/Moses covenant (Exodus 19-24) between God and Israel. In Judaism, the covenant (Hebrew, <h>brit</>) is a major theological concept referring to the eternal bond between God and the people of Israel grounded in God's gracious and steadfast concern (Hebrew, <h>h.esed</>) that calls for the nation's obedience to the divine commandments (mitzvot) and instruction (torah). For Christianity (e.g. Paul), God has made a "new covenant" (rendered as "new testament" in older English) with the followers of Jesus/Joshua in the last times, superseding the "old covenant" (thus, "old testament") with Moses at Sinai (see Jeremiah 31.31-34).


A general term (from Latin) for "belief" declarations or summaries such as the Christian apostles' or Nicene creeds, or in Judaism the shema affirmation, or in Islam the shahada (kalima).

crucifix, crucifixion (from the Latin, to affix to a cross)

In Christian symbolism, the cross-form (crucifix, with or without Jesus attached) is an expression of the death of Jesus/Joshua on the cross (crucifixion) and its theological significance.


A series of military operations by Christians from western Europe in the late 11th through the late 13th centuries (1096-1270) aimed at "freeing" the "holy land" of Jerusalem and Palestine from its Muslim rulers (considered "infidels" by the crusaders). The results were varied and complex.

cult (sometimes "cultus," from Latin)

A general term for formal aspects and interrelationships of religious observance, often as focused on a particular phenomenon (e.g. the "temple cult," the "cult of saints").

Da^r al-Isla^m (Arabic, "the household of submission/Islam")

The territories governed by Muslims under the sharia constitute Dar al-Islam; the term's opposite is <a>Da^r al-H.arb</>, "The Household of Warfare," those lands lacking the security and guidance of God's law.


Jewish folkhero around 1000 BCE, to whom many biblical psalms are attributed and who is credited with politically and militarily uniting the ancient Israelite amphictyony into a centralized kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. David is said to have planned for the Temple which his son and successor Solomon built.

da`wa (Arabic)

The "calling" of people to the religion of Islam; thus, "missions."

deacon (from Greek, "to serve")

the lowest ordained office in the Roman Catholic Church (together with subdeacon), originally in charge of gathering and distributing the eucharistic offerings, later a stage in seminary training. in modern Protestant churches, a deacon may be an official elected to a certain responsibility in worship or administration.

Dead Sea Scrolls

See Qumran.


A Greek term referring to the ten commandments (Heb. <h>'aseret hadibrot</>) received by Moses on Mount Sinai according to Jewish scriptures (Exodus 2O.1-17; Deuteronomy 5.1-21).

deify (see deity)

To make something or someone God-like.

deity (from Latin deus = God)

See God.

demiurge (from Greek, "maker" [literally, "one who works in the context of the community/people"])

A philosophical concept found in Platonism to designate the divine agency by which the physical world came into existence. The idea was taken over in Christian gnosticism to distinguish the creator of the physical world (often seen as evil) from the superior/good God who is completely unconnected with matter.


Subdivision within a religious movement, especially with reference to mainstream Protestant Christianity where Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. are called "denominations." Usually distinguished from "sects" or "cults" which by implication have less "official" status.

dhikr (Arabic)

"Remembering" or "mentioning" God by means of his names in response to his words in the Quran is the central practice of Sufi meditation (see also prayer).

dhimmi^ (Arabic, "protected")

Refers to one of the "people of the Book" (see ahl) who receives protective treatment in exchange for certain obligations such as paying a head tax (<a>jizya</>).


Greek "scattering." Often used to refer to the Jewish communities living among the gentiles outside the "holy land" of Canaan/Israel/Palestine.

dietary laws

For Judaism, see kosher. Islam also has certain prohibitions regarding foods.

di^n (Arabic, "religion")

In Islam, din is a general term for religion, but usually for the true religion of Islam (compare millah) or for religious practice in particular. See pillars of Islam. In other contexts, din can also mean divine judgment (e.g. <a>yawm al-din</>); compare in Judaism the <h>bet din</> (see uunder *bet/beit).


A modern conservative protestant position that divides history into various periods of divine activity (dispensations), each of which is identified by a specific characterization.


A general term for a formally defined belief (e.g. the doctrine of the resurrection in Christianity), or for the total system of beliefs ("Christian doctrine").


In Christianity, an authoritative statement of belief; official doctrine; can also be used as a general term.


An Islamic group in Israel, Syria and Lebanon, with affinities to the sevener Shiites. See also Alawi, gnostic.

du`a^' (Arabic, lit. "calling")

Individual, private prayer in Islam. See also salat, dhikr.


Refers to ideas or systems that emphasize significant polarities or oppositions, as for example with regard to reality (e.g. immaterial/spiritual versus material/physical, God vs Satan), to human nature (body vs soul), and to ethics (good vs evil).


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