Holy Land: The Rise of Three Faiths

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1 Holy Land: The Rise of Three Faiths By National Geographic, adapted by Newsela staff on Word Count 1,389 Level 1040L The Old City of Jerusalem contains some of the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Temple Mount compound, including the Western Wall, sacred to Judaism, and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century Islamic shrine with a gold dome, are seen here. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a Christian pilgrimage site, is also located in Jerusalem's Old City. Photo by: Wikimedia. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 1

2 Judaism, Christianity and Islam are the three main ancient monotheistic faiths, meaning their followers worship a single god. The visions and cultures of these three religions often conflict, sometimes violently. Yet they are connected by history and a shared reverence for the Holy Land. All three trace their origins to an ancient patriarch who is the basis of the sacred literature. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 2

3 That founding father was Abraham, a shepherd and the son of an idol maker. According to all three religions, he believed in one god, who commanded him to pack his tents and his family and leave his ancestral homeland in upper Mesopotamia. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, set out for the land of Canaan. There, according to Jewish tradition, God first appeared to Abraham and promised that his descendants would inherit all the land around him. Sarah remained childless and in despair, gave Abraham her handmaid, Hagar, who had a son named Ishmael. According to Islamic tradition, Ishmael became the father of the Arab people. According to the Jewish faith, God appeared again, saying the promise would be fulfilled through a son. This promise was fulfilled when Sarah gave birth to a son, Isaac. As a test of Abraham's faith, God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac but stopped him at the last moment. The Promised Land of Israel God's promise to Abraham was passed to Isaac and to his son, Jacob, whose 12 sons founded the 12 tribes of Israel. A famine broke out, and Jacob and his clan migrated to Egypt. Jacob's descendants are typically referred to as "Hebrews" or "Israelites." After a few generations, they were enslaved by the pharaoh. A young Hebrew named Moses was adopted into the pharaoh's household. After he killed a guard and fled to the wilderness, God called to Moses from a burning bush and told him to lead his people to the Promised Land of Israel. Moses led his people out of Egypt and into the Sinai, where he received the Ten Commandments and the other laws of the Torah, the Jewish bible. The Israelites wandered in the desert 40 years before crossing into the land God promised to their fathers. About 300 years later, the various tribes of Israelites began to unite into a kingdom. The reigns of King David and his son Solomon marked the glory years of ancient Israel, roughly 1000 B.C. to 930 B.C. Solomon is credited with building the great temple in Jerusalem that became the center of the Jewish religion. It was built on Mount Moriah, the site where Abraham was said to have offered up Isaac. When Solomon's reign ended, Israel descended into religious and political turmoil. It split into rival northern and southern kingdoms. Israel, the northern kingdom, came to an end with an Assyrian conquest in 720 B.C. The southern kingdom, Judah, survived until the Babylonian king Nebuchadrezzar sacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and carried the people into captivity. It was a period that saw the rise of prophets men of God who chastised the people for their faithlessness and who warned of hardships that would occur unless they repented. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 3

4 Jesus of Nazareth gathers followers After the Persians overthrew the Babylonians in 539 B.C., many Jews returned home. Their religious leaders set about instituting reforms that emphasized the role of the Torah in Jewish life and rooted out cultural influences that had disrupted Jewish traditions. From the about 300 B.C. onward, the Holy Land was under the control of military rulers. The Romans conquered it in 63 B.C. and held it for centuries. In A.D. 66, Jewish groups revolted against the Romans in Jerusalem, who destroyed both the city and the Second Temple. Jerusalem was in ruins and the Jews were scattered. About 35 years before Jerusalem was destroyed, a young rabbi began proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus of Nazareth was a gifted teacher and healer and people believed he raised people from the dead. Soon, wherever he went, crowds gathered to hear his teachings and to witness his amazing deeds. Love was the greatest of all the biblical commandments, he declared. He spoke reassuringly to the poor, the powerless and the peacemakers. He challenged Jewish law, and many people hated him. Less than three years after he began his teaching, Jesus was arrested in Jerusalem by Roman authorities and executed on a cross. His small band of disciples scattered. Christians refused to worship Roman gods As the New Testament describes it, the disciples encountered the resurrected Jesus a few weeks later. Suddenly, they began preaching boldly in the streets of Jerusalem. Within a few years their message began creating turmoil within Judaism. Religious leaders rejected the claim that Jesus was the Messiah. His followers were shouted down and driven out, but the number of believers continued to grow. Most early followers remained observant Jews. By the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome, the movement was becoming a separate religion. The Apostle Paul began preaching a universal message that salvation through Christ was available to all. Over the next two decades Paul and others carried that message to Rome and through the ancient world. Communities of Christianoi, or Christ's people as they became known, began to grow across the eastern Mediterranean. They refused to worship the Roman gods and were persecuted. Many believers, including Paul, were martyred. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 4

5 The hostile climate changed dramatically around A.D The Roman emperor Constantine outlawed harassment of Christians and eventually became a convert himself. Christianity became the official religion of Rome. What began as a grassroots movement of Jewish peasants was becoming a world religion and dominant cultural force. Muhammad and the rise of Islam The rise of Islam came unexpectedly in the middle of the seventh century. It was a period of growing division within Christianity, which had separated into competing sects. The Byzantine Empire was plagued by both foreign invaders and internal strife. It had been fighting with its nemesis, the Persian Empire. Communities of Jews, Christians and Pagans were scattered across the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East. Conditions were ripe for a new unifying vision to arise. In A.D. 610, the man who came to be known as the Prophet Muhammad had a vision that the angel Gabriel announced he was the "messenger of God." Over the next 22 years, the messages Muhammad received would become the Koran, the sacred text of Islam. Like the first Christians, Muhammad and his early followers did not at first see themselves as starting a new religion. They believed that God had spoken through other prophets from Abraham and Moses to David, Solomon and Jesus. However, their revelations had become altered over time, and Muhammad had been sent to restore them. When Christians and Jews failed to embrace Muhammad's teachings, his followers came to view Islam as a separate faith. Still, Islam maintained a strong connection with Christianity and Judaism. Its followers, called Muslims, retold many of the central stories of the Bible, with some important differences. The Koran describes the Patriarch Abraham as the first Muslim. Ishmael, rather than Isaac, is the favored son who received God's blessing. Jesus is considered a prophet and miracle worker, but not the son of God. Peace ends with religious wars Islam took root first in Muhammad's Arabian homeland, and its cities of Mecca and Medina became Islam's holiest sites. However, the city of Jerusalem is also sacred. Muhammad is believed to have gone to heaven from Mount Moriah, on the back of a winged horse. Mount Moriah is where the Jewish temple was built. Muhammad's followers later called it Haram al- Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, and built the Dome of the Rock and the al-aqsa Mosque there. In 633, early Muslims set out to expand Islam's domain, and five years later, Jerusalem surrendered and became a Muslim land. Within a century the Islamic empire stretched from central Asia across northern Africa and into Europe. The three faiths lived together in relative harmony. Christians, Jews and other monotheists were considered believers in God and generally left alone. With the dawn of a This article is available at 5 reading levels at 5

6 new millennium, Christian extremism ignited new antagonisms. A series of Christian religious wars called the Crusades sought to take the Holy Land back from Islam. This would not be the last time that people would fight over it. This article is available at 5 reading levels at 6

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