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  • Charles L. Cohen


Abraham is a figure from antiquity; stories about the putative discoverer of the One God contain material that may date from the third millennium bce. His name entered Old English from Hebrew as early as the eleventh century ce, although the term “Abrahamic” did not appear in its original sense—“relating to, or characteristic of the biblical patriarch, Abraham”—until 1699. “Abrahamic” in this book means principally “belonging to the group of religions comprising Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which trace their origin to Abraham,” a twentieth-century usage. This definition updates the commonplace observation that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—the “Abrahamic religions”—are somehow closely related. Not everyone likes this expression or its categorical implications. Some scholars object that the term “Abrahamic” can mislead, especially insofar as it may exaggerate the three religions’ similarities and the likelihood that Jews, Christians, and Muslims can set their differences aside. Others regard the categorization itself as incoherent, given adherents’ fundamental divisions over matters such as what scriptures they consider canonical and how they understand God’s nature....

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