1st Synthesis Paper: On Abraham, Yahweh, and Armstrong

There was a date for when Abraham lived that I kept dwelling on after class the other night, knowing I’d seen it somewhere. In A History of God, Karen Armstrong tells us Abraham “left Ur and eventually settled in Canaan sometime between the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. We have no contemporary record of Abraham, but scholars think that he may have been one of the wandering chieftains who had led their people from Mesopotamia toward the Mediterranean at the end of the third millennium BCE”, approximately settling in the land of Canaan around 1850 BCE. (11-12)

Most of the reading that stuck out to me was Armstrong, though some were the sukkot texts Rabbi Seth brought in to class. I found it fascinating about the lulav representing the body of a person, the etrog representing the heart, and all of Israel! There is a lot of outside knowledge I bring to the class when it comes to certain aspects of what we are learning. I understand, but have not fully come to terms with the differences between scholarly work (particularly of someone raised in, who believes in a particular faith, versus a person who studies it from the outside) and everyday practice.

One instance of this frustration I have felt is Armstrong’s definition and repeated use of the term “goyim” to mean only “gentiles”, when, strictly speaking, the literal definition is “nations”, and can be used when referring to any body of peoples. Though it has come into usage in the vernacular as “gentiles”, as someone who is bound up in the study of linguistics, it’s (I feel) reappropriation is one that is disconcerting to me.

Some other instances throughout my reading of A History of God that stood out similarly was the omission of change in territorial names from Israel or Judah to Palestine, the latter being a name given by the Romans to a large region of land when they conquered the Israelites, naming it after the Israelites’ ancient enemy, the Philistines. The land of the Philistines was historically smaller than what has since been called Palestine.

Armstrong consistently referred to G-d as “Yahweh”. Within my practical experiences, I have no memory of any Jewish person(s) referring to G-d in any instance as “Yahweh”, instead using “Hashem” outside of prayer, and many other terms during prayer. “Yahweh” is, in my experiences, a very Christian way of referring to G-d, though this is a derivation of the sacred name of G-d, Yud-Hey-Vav-Hey. “Yahweh” and “Yahwist” is used by Jewish folk only in scholarly comparative religion circles.

Some questions I have going forward: Regarding the prophets, what are the differences in how Islam, Judaism, and Christianity view these folks? What meaning is there to the way the Qu’ran depicts the same stories? (I understand Islam is “correcting the mistakes” of passing the information, and of “correcting the corruption” of Judaism and Christianity, and I am curious how this shows through the Qu’ran, the hadith, and through other Islamic text and thought.) When it comes to living, and bringing the holy into everyday life, that are the reasons for kosher or halal slaughter, for covering of the head, for things like mezuzot and their counterparts (if they exist), etc? I hope we can explore these, and other issues that may come up, in the weeks to come.


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