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Version 9401 (1994 January), uncopyrightable factual information

Prepared initially by Robert A. Kraft, University of Pennsylvaniaz, 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/, <t>The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam</> [Harper, 1989]). Corrections, additions, and suggestions will be greatfully accepted: kraft@ccat.sas.upenn.edu.


* 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).


early Judaism, also sometimes called "formative," "proto-," "middle," and even "late" Judaism

Refers to Judaism in the intertestamental period (and slightly later) as a development from the religion of ancient Israel, but prior to the emergence of its classical, rabbinic form in the early centuries CE.


The most ancient Christian annual special day, commemorating the (death and) resurrection of Jesus/Joshua in the spring, at the time of Jewish Passover/Pesach (thus not a fixed day on the solar calendar). See also lent.

Ebionites, Ebionism

A Judeo-Christian sect (or category) in the 2nd-4th centuries CE; accepted much of Mosaic Torah (circumcision , sabbath, etc.) but rejected sacrifices; accepted Jesus/Joshua as messiah but not his divinity; some Ebionites opposed the doctrines of Paul.

ecclesiastical (Greek <g>ekklesia</>, "summoned group")

Pertaining to the Christian church and things associated with its governance and activities.

eclectic (from Greek, "selected")

A general term used to refer to an approach that selects particular components from different sources to create a new configuration. See also syncretism.

ecumenical (from Greek for "household," thus considering the world as a household)

Having to do with the whole Christian church. The Christian Ecumenical Councils of the 4th (see Nicea) through the 7th centuries were representative bodies that helped formulate classical Christian beliefs.

ecumenism (from Greek <g>oikoumene</>, "the inhabited world")

Ecumenism (also known as the Ecumenical Movement) is a Christian initiative to promote worldwide cooperation (with the ideal of unity) within that religion and with other faiths as well.


The name of paradise in the Jewish biblical account in Genesis 1, where Adam and Eve were created.

ein sof (Heb., "without limit")

In Jewish kabbalism, a designation for the divine -- "the unlimited one."


Generally, a term of respect often used to distinguish a "senior" person from someone younger with the same name. As a Christian church office, see presbyter.


In early Judaism and Christianity, refers to those considered to be chosen by God for a specific purpose; in some Christian predestinarian schemes (e.g. Calvinistic), "the elect" are those whom God has chosen (in advance) to have eternal life.


A term used theologically in Judaism to indicate God's choice of Israel to receive the covenant -- a choice not based on the superiority or previous accomplishments of the people, but on God's graciousness (see covenant). In Christianity, the concept of election was applied to the "new Israel" of Jesus' followers in the last times.

elevation of the host

The classical Christian priestly practice of raising the eucharistic bread above the head so that the laypeople (*laity) behind the priest can see it, at the moment of transubstantiation.

Elohim, El

Hebrew general term for deity. See also YHWH

emuna(h) (Heb., "faith"; see Arabic <a>iman</>)

See faith.

episkopos/episcopos (adj. episcopal; from Greek "overseer")

Became a technical term for the chief clergyman in charge of a city or district in classical Christian church organization. Thence the modern denominational name "Episcopal" to signify that authority is viewed as the responsibility of the bishops, not the general membership (*laity) or a single pope figure.

eretz Yisrael/Israel (Heb., "land of Israel")

In Jewish thought, the special term for the Palestinian area believed to have been promised to the Jewish people by God in the ancient covenant.

eschatology (adj. eschatological; from Greek <g>eschaton</>, "last" or "the end-time")

Refers in general to what is expected to take place in the "last times" (from the inquirer's perspective); thus the study of the ultimate destiny or purpose of humankind and the world, how and when the end will occur, what the end or last period of history or existence will be like. See also chiliastic/millenarian, apocalypse/apocalyptic, judgment, messiah, mahdi, satan.

essence (Latin, from the verb "to be")

A philosophical term used to identify that without which something would not be what it is (its "sine qua non"). For Aristotle, the distinction between the essence of a thing and its "accidents" (incidental qualities) was basic; see transubstantiation, for example.


The name of a Jewish sub-group in the 1st century CE according to Josephus, Philo and other sources. See also Qumran.

ethics (Greek, "customs"; see Latin mores [morals])

A general designation for value systems governing human activities considered to be "right" or "wrong," usually with reference to some "higher" authority (as in "you have no ethics" or "what are the ethics of this situation?"); also refers to the study of such systems.

etiology (also aetiology), from the Greek for "cause or origin"

A term used to describe or label stories that claim to explain the reason for something being (or being called) what it is. For example, in the old Jewish creation story (Genesis 2.23), woman (<h>ishshah</>) is given that name because she has been "taken out of (the side or rib of) man" (<h>ish</>).


A citron; "the fruit of goodly trees" (Leviticus 23.40) carried in procession in the synagogue with the lulab during the festival of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles).

eucharist (from Greek for "prayer of thanks")

The Christian sacrament of receiving bread (usually unleavened) and wine as the body and blood of Christ (or as symbols thereof). This term is more often used for the sacrament in the Roman Catholic (see also mass) and Eastern Orthodox churches, while communion or "Lord's supper" is more common in the Protestant traditions.

evangelical, evangelizing, evangelistic (from Greek for "gospel," thus, gospel-centered)

Those Christian churches or movements that emphasize preaching that leads to repentance and conversion; in modern Christianity, evangelical beliefs usually include salvation by faith based on a personal conversion experience and emphasis on the authority of the canonical scriptures (see also fundamentalism).

In the context of Germany or Lutheran Christianity, "Evangelical" (Evangelische) refers to the Lutheran Church; for example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

ex cathedra (Latin, "from the chair/throne")

An important term in Roman Catholic Christianity to designate the circumstance in which the pronouncement of the pope is considered infallible in matters of f aith and/or morals -- when he speaks "ex cathedra" (officially).


The act of religious authorities to deprive a person of membership or participation in the group; in Christianity, specifically exclusion from holy communion.

exilarch (from Greek, "ruler of the exile"; corresponds to Aramaic <h>resh galuta</>, "head of the exile")

A term used in early rabbinic Judaism for the head of the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia. The exilarch was depicted as an imperial dignitary, a member of the council of state, living in semi-royal fashion, who appointed communal officers and judges and was a descendant of the house of David.


See galut.


A modern philosophical position that has influenced Jewish and Christian thought significantly, with emphasis on the idea that meaningfulness must be created by people, to whom only existence is given.

Exodus (from Greek "to exit or go out")

Refers to the event of the Israelites leaving Egypt (see also Passover) and to the biblical book (see Pentateuch) that tells of that event.


Name of a person in the Hebrew Bible with whom the reestablishment of Judaism in Jerusalem in the 5th century BCE is associated. The events are recorded in a biblical book known by his name, and he is also associated with apocryphal books and traditions.


A general term for religious belief used both of an attitude (to have faith) and of a collection of doctrines (the faith). See also emuna, iman.

faqi^r (Arabic, "poor person")

In Islamic Sufism, a faqir is a mendicant who pursues spiritual as well as economic poverty.

fast, fasting

A general term for the religious rite or practice of going without food at certain times or for certain periods. See asceticism, Ramadan, sawm, Yom Kippur.

Fa^tih.a(h) (Arabic, "opening")

Al-Fatiha(h) is the title of the initial sura of the Quran, which serves Islam as a prayer used in various contexts. Compare Lord's Prayer in Christianity, kaddish in Judaism.


A daughter of Muhammad and his first wife, Khadija, and herself wife of `Ali (see also "rightly guided caliphs"). Her name was used by the impressive Shiite "Fatimid" dynasty in Egypt in the 10th and 11th centuries.

fatwa (Arabic)

In Islamic law, an advice rendered by an appropriate authority (see mufti). See also responsa in Judaism.

fiqh (Arabic)

"Understanding" in matters of religious law (sharia); Islamic jurisprudence as developed by the several schools of law (Hanbalite, Shafiite, Hanafite, Malikite). See also ijma, < A HREF="glossmr.html#qiyas">qiyas, ray.

fitnah (Arabic, "trial, testing")

A term used of early antagonism to individual Muslims, and later of threats to the health of the state (umma) as well.

fit.ra (Arabic)

In Islam, fitra is the original constitution or nature of humans as created by God, and is considered healthy.


From the Latin word for brothers, members of one of the mendicant (begging) orders as distinct from the cloistered monks.


A term originally applied to conservative, Bible-centered Protestant Christians (many of whom now prefer to call themselves "evangelicals"), but more recently extended to apply to the religiously authoritarian of all sorts (including classical Christians, Jews, and Muslims) who interpret their scriptures literally and in general favor a strict adherence to certain traditional doctrines and practices.


An angel or archangel from Jewish tradition who is closely associated with the virgin birth in Christianity, and with the revelation of the Quran in Islam.

galut (Heb., "exile")

The term refers to the various expulsions of Jews from the ancestral homeland. Over time, it came to express the broader notion of Jewish homelessness and state of being aliens. Thus, colloquially, "to be in <h>galut</>" means to live in the diaspora and also to be in a state of physical and even spiritual alienation.

Gaon (pl. Geonim,; adj. geonic; Heb., "eminence, excellence")

A title given to the Jewish head of the Babylonian academy and then to distinguished talmudic scholars in the 6th to 12th centuries.

Geiger, Abraham (1810-1874)

Early Jewish reform advocate in Germany, noted for his scholarship, his modern prayer book, and his advocacy for Judaism as a "world religion."

gemara (Heb., "completion")

Popularly applied to the Jewish Talmud as a whole, to discussions by rabbinic teachers on Mishnah, and to decisions reached in these discussions. In a more restricted sense, the work of the generations of the amoraim in "completing" Mishnah to produce the Talmuds.


An interpretative device in rabbinic Judaism which focuses on the numerical value of each word.

genizah (Heb., "hiding")

A hiding place or storeroom, usually connected with a Jewish synagogue, for worn-out holy books. The most famous is the Cairo Genizah, which contained books and documents that provide source material for Jewish communities living under Islamic rule from about the 9th through the 12th centuries. It was discovered at the end of the 19th century.

gentile(s) (Latin for people, nation)

In pre-Christian times, used to refer to non-Jewish peoples; thereafter, for non-Jewish and non-Christian (roughly synonymous with "pagan"). See also kafir.


See Gaon.

gittin (Heb.; sing


Jewish practice related to divorce. A <h>get</> is a Jewish divorce.

gnostic, Gnosticism

Derived from the Greek <g>gnosis</>, meaning "knowledge." Refers to various systems of belief characterized by a dualistic view of reality -- the God who created the material, phenomenal world (see demiurge), is different from (often antithetical to) the ultimate (hidden) God of pure spirit. Possession of secret gnosis frees a person from the evil material world and gives access to the spiritual world. Gnostic thought had a great impact on the eastern Mediterranean world in the 2nd to 4th century CE, often in a Christian form. See also mystic, and hikma in Islam.


A general designation for the deity (Hebrew Elohim, Yhwh; Greek Theos; Arabic Allah).

gospel (from the German for "good news" = Greek <g>euaggelion</>; see evangelical)

A term used in *early Christianity for the message about Jesus, and fairly soon (by extension) for writings that contained information about Jesus ("gospel according to Mark," etc., became "gospel of Mark"); the NT contains 4 "gospels" (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and there are other noncanonical gospels as well. In the Muslim Quran, "gospel" is the main term for Christian scripture.


In Christian thought, unmerited divine assistance on one's spiritual path; often conceived as a special blessing received in an intense experience, but also may include a sense of special direction in one's life.

great schism

Also known as the Eastern Schism. The "split" between the western Latin (Roman Catholic) Christian church and the eastern Orthodox churches, culminating in 1053 CE when mutual excommunications were hurled. The term is also used to describe the Great Schism of the West (also known as the Western Schism), the period of 1378 to 1417 during which there were two rival popes (one in Avignon and one in Rome).

habdalah (Heb., "separation")

The Jewish ceremony using wine, spices, and candles at the conclusion of the Sabbath. Smelling the spices signifies the hope for a fragrant week; the light signifies the hope for a week of brightness and joy.


Jewish women's zionist organization in the US.

h.adi^th (Arabic, "report, account")

A tradition about Muhammad -- what he said or did on a particular occasion; the hadiths were collected and they came to be a record of the Prophet's Sunna, which is second only to the Quran in authority for Muslims. See also isnad.

haftara(h)/haftorah (Heb.)

In Jewish liturgy, designates a specific section of the biblical prophets read in synagogue services immediately after the corresponding Torah (Pentateuch) section called the parasha(h).

haggada(h) (Heb., "narration"; see also Aramaic aggada[h])

In a general sense, in classical Jewish literature and discussion, what is not halaka (legal subject matter) is (h)aggada (pl. <h>haggadot</>). Technically, "the Haggada(h)" is a liturgical manual used in the Jewish Passover Seder.

H.ajj (Arabic)

Hajj denotes the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in the appointed sacred (12th) month (see calendar) and is one of the five pillars of Islam (din). One who performs hajj is called a muhajirun (Arabic). See also id, ihram, umra, aliya, liturgy.

hakam (pl. <h>hakamim</> or <h>hakmim</>; Heb., "the wise")

A Jewish title given to pre-70 CE proto-rabbinic sages/scholars and post-70 CE rabbinic scholars.

halaka(h)/halakha (adj. halakic)

Any normative Jewish law, custom, practice, or rite -- or the entire complex. Halaka is law established or custom ratified by authoritative rabbinic jurists and teachers. Colloquially, if something is deemed halakic, it is considered proper and normative behavior.


A ceremony related to the Jewish Levirate law of marriage, which frees the widow to marry someone other than her husband's brother. In this ceremony the widow removes a shoe from her brother-in-law's foot, which is symbolic of removing his possessive right over her. See also levirate marriage.

h.ani^f (Arabic; pl. <a>h.unafa^'</>)

In Islamic tradition, a hanif is a pre-Islamic (Arabian) monotheist whose beliefs are thought to have descended from the time of the hanif Abraham, independently of Judaism, Christianity or Quranic Islam.

Hanukka(h) (Heb., "dedication")

A Jewish festival ("of lights") that commemorates the rededication of the Jerusalem temple to more *traditional modes of Jewish worship by Judah the Maccabee around 164 BCE. See also calendar.

hasidim, hasidism (Heb., "pious ones")

The term may refer to Jews in various periods: (1) a group that resisted the policies of Antiochus Epiphanes in the 2nd century BCE at the start of the Maccabean revolt; (2) pietists in the 13th century; (3) followers of the movement of Hasidism founded in the first half of the 18th century by Israel Ba'al Shem Tov.

haskalah (Heb.)

Jewish rationalistic "enlightenment" in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. See maskilim, Mendelson, reform.


Descendants of Hashmon, a Jewish family that included the Maccabees and the high priests and kings who ruled Judea from 142 to 63 BCE.

Hassan or Hasan

In Islamic history, a son of Ali (and brother of Husayn) who abdicated his claims to be calif in favor of the first Umayyad ruler Muawiyah; usually numbered as second Imam by the Shiites.


See cantor.


A term used variously to designate such locations as the abode of deity, or the place where those favored by God will ultimately arrive, or an area of (spiritual) activity above the material earth, or the place where spiritual/ideal realities abide. See also paradise.

Hebrew (from Heb. to pass over, cross over)

An old name given to the people of Israel, and also to their language.

hegira(h) (Arabic)

See hijra

hell (also hades [Greek])

Place of punishment for the departed dead who do not attain to heaven, especially in Christian eschatology. See also sheol, Satan.

hellenism (adj. hellenistic; Greek word for "Greekish")

The civilization that spread from Greece through much of the ancient world from 333 (Alexendar the Great) to 63 (dominance of Rome) BCE. As a result, many elements of Greek culture (names, language, philosophy, athletics, architecture, etc.) penetrated the Near East.

heresy (from Greek for "sub-group, sect")

See minim, heterodox, bid`a; also orthodoxy.

heretic, heretical

See heterodox, orthodox, schismatic, birkat.


Principles of interpretation (from the Greek, "to interpret, translate"). The term is often used with reference to the study of Jewish and Christian scriptures.

Herzl, Theodor

German Jewish author of <t>Der Judenstaat</> (The Jewish State) in 1896, which served as a catalyst to the development of modern zionism.


Greek for "other opinioned." Refers to opinions or positions that differ from what is considered "orthodox" or "traditional" at the time. A less judgmental term than "heretical," but with similar import.


The mountainous area along the western-central coast of the Arabian penninsula in which both Medina (Yathrib) and Mecca are located, and which gave rise to early Islam.

Hijra(h) (Arabic; also "hegira")

The "emigration" of Muhammad and the Muslims from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE; the Muslim lunar calendar dates from that year (see AH, calendar).

hikma(h) (Arabic, "wisdom"; see Heb. <h>hokma</>)

In Islam, the highest level of human understanding, and especially the intuitive wisdom illuminating the mystic. See also gnostic.


Often called by the title "the Elder." Probably a Babylonian, Hillel was an important sage of the early Jewish period in Palestine around the turn of the era. His teachings convey the Pharisaic ideal, through many epigrams on humility and peace (found in <t>Sayings of the Fathers</> 1-2); and were fundamental in shaping the Pharisaic traditions and modes of interpretation. In rabbinic lore, Hillel is famous for a negative formulation of the "golden rule" (recited to a non- Jew): "What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it." His style of legal reasoning is continued by his disciples, known as *Beit Hillel ("House/School of Hillel"), and is typically contrasted with that of Shammai (a contemporary) and his school.

Hira (Arabic <a>h.ira^'</>)


In Islamic tradition, the mountain (and by extension, the cave or grotto there) where Muhammad began to receive the Quran.

holocaust (from Greek, entire burnt offering)

A term used in recent times to refer to the Nazi German policy to exterminate the Jewish people in the second world war period.

holy spirit (= "holy ghost" [archaic])

In Judaism, the presence of God as evidenced in the speech of the *prophets and other divine 'manifestations; in Christianity, understood more generally as the active, guiding presence of God in the church and its members.

holy water

In classical Christian tradition, water consecrated or blessed by a priest for liturgical purposes.

homoiousios and homoousios (Greek "similar" and "same" essence)

Terms used in the great Christian christological controversies of the 4th century in attempting to understand the relationship of God the father to Jesus Christ the son. See trinity. Homoousios came to be the approved term for classical Christianity.

host (from Latin for a "sacrifice")

Christian liturgical term for the element (normally unleavened bread or a bread-like wafer) in the eucharist that signifies the body of Christ. See elevation of the host.


A modern term used (sometimes pejoratively) of the position that focuses on human values and needs without special concern for arbitrary religious traditions or values. Also applied more traditionally to the embracing of classical Greek and Latin values, rediscovered through classical learning (as contrasted to late Medieval scholasticism; see also renaissance).

huppah or chuppah (Heb.)

In Judaism, the special canopy under which a marriage ceremony is conducted.


In Islamic history, a son of Ali and brother of Hassan who is martyred in 680 at Karbala and becomes a hero for Shiites.

hymn (from Greek, to sing praise)

A general term for poetic chants or songs of praise (usually to God); see piyyutim, yigdol, liturgy, prayer.

`Iba^da (Arabic)

Ibada is literally "service" to God through worship by means of the five pillars of Islam (din).

Ibli^s (Arabic, from Greek <g>diabolos</>, whence English "devil")

See Satan, angels.

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

Used frequently in "patronymics" (naming by identity of father); see also bat, bint.


Usually (in Eastern Orthodox Christianity) a painted religious image -- for example of Jesus Christ, his mother Mary, or a saint -- understood in Eastern Orthodoxy to be a copy of a heavenly image. See also aniconic.

iconoclastic ("icon smashing") controversy

A century or so, from mid-8th through mid-9th centuries, of inner Byzantine Christian contention over whether to continue to revere icons (as most monastics and unsophisticated believers tended to do) or smash them (as some political and ecclesiastical authorities proposed); the controversy was focused in Constantinople and influenced by the aniconic traditions of Judaism and Islam.

`id (Arabic, "festival, holy day")

Used in names of Muslim special days such as <a>`id al-fitr</> at the end of Ramadan or <a>`id al-adha</> during the hajj.


A Greek term for t he worship of what are perceived to be "idols" or false "gods," forbidden in the biblical traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. See also shirk.

ih.ra^m (Arabic)

Ihram denotes the state of ritual purity and dedication entered into by the pilgrim on hajj to Mecca; also the special clothing worn for the hajj.

ijma^` (Arabic)

Ijma or "consensus" (of legal scholars, representing all Muslims) is one of the four sources of Sunni Muslim jurisprudence (fiqh; see also sharia).

ijtiha^d (Arabic)

Intellectual "effort" of Muslim jurists to reach independent religio-legal decisions (thus producing ijma), a key feature of modern Islamic reform; one who exercises ijtihad is a mujtahid.

ima^m (Arabic)

"Leader," specifically of the salat prayer service in the mosque; in Shiite Islam, imam also refers to one of the revered (early) leaders of the community (a designated descendant of `Ali) who both ruled in the political sense and also interpreted doctrine with infallible, God-given wisdom.

i^ma^n (Arabic, "faith"; see Heb. <h>emuna</>)

A highly regarded religious virtue in the Quran. One who has iman (faith) is a <a>mu'min</>, "believer."

imitatio Christi (Latin, "imitation of Christ")

A Christian devotional book by Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471) and also the specific religious goal of imitating Jesus Christ.

immaculate conception

In classical Christianity, the claim that the Virgin Mary was conceived under a special dispensation of God so that she remained pure, without the original sin usually transmitted through the sexual act. Feasts celebrating her conception were popular in the middle ages, although the act of recognizing this as an official doctrine (dogma) of the Roman Catholic church was not formalized by the pope until 1854. Not to be confused with the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus.

incarnation (Latin)

A term in Christianity applied to the "becoming flesh" (human birth) of Jesus Christ.


In classical Christian doctrine, an indulgence can be obtained to help remove the required "temporal" punishment for sin, of oneself or of another; one of the catalysts of the reformation was Luther's objection to the inappropriate sale of indulgences.


See circumcision, baptism.


Refers especially to the Christian Roman Catholic court for investigating and punishing heresy. The first papal inquisitions began in the late twelfth century and were centralized under pope Innocent III; another notable court was the Spanish inquisition in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

intertestamental period

The period in which early Judaism develops, between about 400 BCE (the traditional end date for Jewish Bible = Christian "Old Testament") and the 1st century CE (composition of the Christian "New Testament"). The Jewish intertestamental literature includes the Apocrypha (mostly preserved in Greek) and the Pseudepigrapha (works from this period ascribed to ancient authors like Enoch, the patriarchs, and Moses). This literature provides important background for understanding the period of Christian origins.


One of the Israelite patriarchs, son of Abraham and father of Jacob, in the accounts in the book of Genesis.

Isla^m (Arabic, "surrender, submitting")

Islam is the name of the true religion, according to the Quran; one who submits to God is a Muslim.

isna^d (Arabic, "support")

In Islam, the isnad of a tradition (see hadith) is the chain or linkage of human reporters that authenticate the material as deriving from the time of Muhammad and his companions. Compare Christian "apostolic succession" and Jewish validation of oral law.


A name given to the Jewish patriarch Jacob according to the etiology of Genesis 32.38. In Jewish biblical times, this name refers to the northern tribes, but also to the entire nation. Historically, Jews have continued to regard themselves as the true continuation of the ancient Israelite national-religious community. The term thus has a strong cultural sense. In modern times, it also refers to the political state of Israel. Christians came to consider themselves to be the "true" Israel, thus also a continuation of the ancient traditions.


A major city in Muslim Turkey, in the area formerly called Constantinople and even earlier, Byzantium.


One of the Israelite patriarchs, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, in the accounts in the book of Genesis.

ja^hili^ya (Arabic)

Al-Jahiliya is the pre-Islamic Arabian age of "ignorancce," marked by barbarism and unbelief; Islam came to end this evil age, according to its view. The period is subdivided in some Islamic traditions -- e.g. the period of Abraham, of Jesus (or alternatively, of infidelity, of corruption, etc.).


From the religious viewpoints of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the main city in ancient Palestine (= modern Israel), where the Temple of David/Solomon had been located, Jesus/Joshua had been crucified/resurrected, Muhammad had journeyed to heaven (his <a>miraj</>), among other significant things. Thus for all three religions, in some senses Jerusalem is a or the "holy city."


Mechanical attempt to represent the special Jewish name for deity, YHWH.


Common designation for (members of) the Roman Catholic order called the Society of Jesus (abbreviated SJ), founded in the 16the century by Ignatius of Loyola.

Jesus/Joshua ("Jesus" is the Greek attempt to transliterate the Semitic name "Joshua")

The somewhat mysterious Palestinian popular figure from the 1st century CE whose death and alleged resurrection as God's Messiah/Christ became foundational for an early Jewish sub-group known as Nazarenes, from which "Christianity" ultimately developed as a separate religion.


See Judaism.

jiha^d (Arabic)

In Islam, jihad denotes "exertion" or struggle in the work of God, including, sometimes, armed force (thus, "holy war").

jizyah (Arabic)

The special tax levied on dhimmi in Islam.

Josephus or Flavius Josephus

Jewish general and author in the latter part of the 1st century CE who wrote a massive history ("Antiquities") of the Jews and a detailed treatment of the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66-73 CE (and his involvement in it), among other things.

Judah the Prince (Heb., haNasi)

Head of the rabbinic Jewish community in Palestine around 200 CE. Credited with publication of the Mishnah.

Judaism, Jew

From the Hebrew name of the patriarch Judah, whose name also came to designate the tribe and tribal district in which Jerusalem was located. Thus the inhabitants of Judah and members of the tribe of Judah come to be called "Judahites" or, in short form, "Jews." The religious outlook associated with these people after about the 6th century BCE comes to be called "Judaism," and has varying characteristics at different times and places: see especially early Judaism, rabbinic Judaism. See also Hebrew(s)rael">Israel.

judgment, final

See eschatology, <a>yawm al-din</>, hell, satan.


Personal name (Heb. Yohanan; Greek Yohannes) found frequently in Judaism in the Greco-Roman period and in early Christianity. For example, John Hyrkan/Hyrcanus (Jewish king, died 104 BCE), John the Baptizer/Baptist (contemporary of Jesus), John son of Zebedee (one of Jesus' apostles), John "the theologian" (author of the NT book of Revelation/Apocalypse), John Chrysostom (4th century church *father), John of Damascus (8th century church father). Also the name given to one of the NT gospels and to t hree letters in the NT.


In Christian thought, the state (or judicial act) of being released by God from the guilt of sin.

Ka`ba (Arabic)

The sacred cubical shrine in Mecca, toward which Muslims face in prayer and to which they make pilgrimages (see hajj); Islamic traditon claims the Kaba (or Kaaba) was built by Abraham and Ishmael (see Quran 2.124-127).

Kabala(h) or Kabbala(h) (Kabalism) (Heb. qabbala, "receiving, tradition")

A system of Jewish theosophy and mysticism. See also kavanah, Zohar.


A classical Jewish prayer (mostly in Aramaic) with eschatological focus extolling God's majesty and kingdom recited at the conclusion of each major section of each liturgical service; a long version (called rabbinic kaddish) follows an act of study; also a prayer by mourners during the first year of bereavement (see shiva,*sheloshim) and on the anniversary of the death of next-of-kin. Compare the Christian "Lord's Prayer," Islam's Fatiha.

ka^fir (Arabic)

In Islam, kafir means "infidel"; see also pagan.

kahal (qahal) (Heb., "congregation, gathering")

Used to refer to the corporate Jewish community of medieval Europe. See also synagogue, church, umma.

kala^m (Arabic, "speech")

In Islam, kalam refers especially to speculative theology (see also Mutazilite).

kalima (Arabic)

The formal content of the shahada(h) witness is called the Kalima. See also creed.

Karaism, Karaites

Derived from Heb. <h>qara</>, "scripture." A Middle Eastern heterodox Jewish group that arose in opposition to Rabbinism in the 8th century CE, and emphasized the written scriptures while criticizing the rabbinic use of "oral law."

Karbala^' (Arabic)

Karbala is the place in Iraq where Husayn, grandson of Muhammad and son of `Ali and Fatima was ambushed and killed on his way to assume leadership over the Shiites in Iraq, a tragic event commemorated each year on the tenth (<a>`A^shu^ra^'</>) of the Muslim month of Muharram (see calendar).

kasher, kashrut

See kosher.

kavanah (Heb., "intention")

A mystical instrument of the Jewish kabalists; a meditation which accompanies a ritual act.

kehilla(h) (Heb., "community")

Jewish sense of community, in a particular sense, within the larger kneset Israel.

keneset Israel (Heb.)

"Assembly of Israel," or the Jewish people as a whole. See kehilla; Muslim umma; compare Christian church.

kerygma (Greek, "proclamation")

Term used technically for the content of early Christian preaching as reconstructed by modern scholars.

ketuva(h) or ketuba(h) (Heb.)

The classical Jewish religious marriage certificate. See also *get.

Ketuvim or Ketubim (Heb., "writings")

The third and last division of the classical Jewish Bible (TaNaK), including large poetic and epigrammatic works such as Psalms and Proverbs and Job as well as a miscellany of other writings (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Qohelet, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, Chronicles).


Merchant widow who became the first wife (and business partner) of Muhammad, and mother of Fatima. Khadija was an important influence in encouraging and supporting Muhammad.

Kha^rijites (Arabic <a>khawa^rij</>, "those who split off or depart")

The name of a reactionary Islamic group that emerged during the fighting between `Ali and the Umayyad founder and tried to establish its own purified caliphate to enforce justice and a more Quran oriented Islam. They rejected "compromising" Califs such as Uthman</ A>, and `Ali in the latter part of his rule. The Kharijites never became a major force in overall Islamic history after the death of `Ali, who was murdered by a Kharijite.


See Kharijites.

khila^fah or khalifa (Arabic)

See caliph.


An Indonesian Muslim term for a religious teacher of high status.


A communal settlement in modern Israel.

kiddush (Heb., "sanctification"; derived from <h>kadosh (qadosh)</>, "holy")

A ritual of Jewish sabbath and other holy days, usually accompanied by a cup of wine, which proclaims the holiness of the day.

kiddushin (Heb., "consecration")

Denotes Jewish betrothal for marriage, signifying the sanctity of the relationship.


A Jewish headcovering worn for worship, religious study, meals, or at any other time; also called yarmulke.

Kingdom of God

The state of the world in which God's will is fulfilled; expected to be brought into being at the end of time when Christ returns.

kohen or cohen (pl. <h>kohanim</>; Heb.)

An Israelite priest, generally descended from the tribe of Levi.


See Quran.

kosher (Heb., <h>kasher</>)

"Proper" or "ritually correct"; <h>kashrut</> refers to ritually correct Jewish dietary practices. Traditional Jewish dietary laws are based on biblical legislation. Only land animals that chew the cud and have split hooves (sheep, beef; not pigs, camels) are permitted and must be slaughtered in a special way. Further, meat products may not be eaten with milk products or immediately thereafter. Of sea creatures, only those (fish) having fins and scales are permitted. Fowl is considered a meat food and also has to be slaughtered in a special manner.


See torah, commandments, oral and written law, halaka, Shulhan Aruch, nomos, shariah, fiqh.


A fermenting substance used to make bread dough rise, making it lighter with air bubbles. In Jewish ritual, leaven is not premitted at passover time, when "unleavened" bread (matzah) is a major symbol. Classical Christianity has also been influenced by this prohibition in its Easter and eucharist practices (see host).


In the Christian liturgical calendar, the period of 40 days between "Ash Wednesday" and Easter.

levirite marriage

From the Latin <l>levir</> for the Hebrew <h>yabam</>, brother-in-law; a biblical system of marriage in which the levir marries his brother's widow (Deuteronomy 25.5-10).

liberal (from Latin, "free [thinker]")

A general term used in religion discussions to indicate a person or view that breaks significantly from the conservative traditional position(s). See also modernist.


A general term used in religion discussions to indicate a person or view that attempts to interpret the scriptures and other recognized classical religious authorities in a straightforward, literal manner. See also fundamentalism, verbal inspiration, allegory.

liturgy (adj. liturgical)

Rites of public worship, usually institutionalized in relation to temple, synagogue, church, kaba, or mosque locations and traditions, but also in other formalized observances (see, e.g., pillars of Islam, calendar). See also eucharist, hajj, hymn, mass, passover, prayer, shema, sukkot, siddur.

logos (Greek, "word," "speech"; divine reason)

A Greek term found in various connections in hellenistic thought, including the philosophy of Philo the 1st century CE Alexandrian Jew where it is comparable to the Hebrew <h>hokmah</> ("wisdom"; Greek <g>sofia</>). In the Christian Gospel of John, <g>logos</> is equated with the divine functions of Jesus Christ (John 1.1-18).

Lord's Prayer (or "the Our Father")

A familiar Christian prayer attributed to Jesus/Joshua (NT Matthew 6.9-13) and comparable to the Jewish kaddish (see also Islam's Fatiha).

love feast

See agape.


The palm branch used with other plants in the Jewish Sukkot (Tabernacles) celebration.


Martin Luther (1483-1546, Germany) was the most celebrated of the protestant Christian reformers, who is credited with igniting the reformation by challenging Roman Catholic positions in his "95 theses" posted in 1517 at Wittenberg, Germany. The Lutheran denominati ons take their name from him. See also indulgence, consubstantiation.


maariv (from Heb., "evening")

Jewish synagogue evening prayer or service. See also liturgy.


See Hasmoneans, hasidim, Hannuka.

maggid (Heb., "a speaker")

A kabalistic notion of how the holy spirit is mediated to the mystic; later meant a preacher among the eighteenth-century Hasidim.

magen David (Heb., "shield of David")

The distinctive six-pointed Jewish star, used especially since the 17th century.

Mahdi (Arabic, "guided one")

An eschatological, messianic figure expected in Sunni Islam.

mah.ram (Arabic)

In Islam, mahram designates the bounds of close blood relationship within which it is unlawful to marry, and thus lawful for members of the opposite sex to associate socially (as between brothers and sisters aunts and nephews and so forth).

Maimonides, or Moses ben Maimon

A major medieval rabbi, physician, scientist, and philosopher (1135-1204), known by the acronym RaMBaM (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon). Born in Spain, Maimonides fled from persecution to Morocco and finally settled in Egypt. His Major works include a legal commentary on the Mishnah, a law code called <t>Mishnah Torah</>, and the preeminent work of medieval Jewish rational philosophy, <t>The Guide of the Perplexed</>.


Refers to what now appears to be, or to have been, the influential majority (or dominant authority) in a continuum; see classical, orthodox, traditional.

Mani, Manicheism

Mani began a consciously eclectic religious movement in the 3rd century CE in Persia that built to some extent on Jewish and Christian foundations (including a gnostic dualistic outlook) and rapidly spread throughout the inhabited world from Spain to China, surviving in some areas for several centuries.


A 2nd century Christian (and his followers) who was considered heretical by his opponents because of certain dualistic and gnostic ideas.


An old Spanish term meaning "swine," used to execrate medieval Spanish Jews who converted to Christianity but secretly kept their Judaism.

martyr (Greek, "witness")

A general term for persons who endure persecution, usually leading to death, for the sake of their religious "witness" (profession, position).

masjid (Arabic, "place of prostration")

See mosque.

maskilim (Heb., "the enlightened ones")

Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Jews who engaged in secular rationalistic studies and facilitated the acculturation of Jews to Western society; members of the haskalah.

Masoretes, Masoretic text

Derived from <h>masorah</>, meaning "tradition"; the Masoretes were the rabbis in ninth-century Palestine who sought to preserve the traditional text of the Bible (hence called the Masoretic text), which is still used in contemporary synagogues. The Masoretes were scholars who encouraged Bible study and attempted to achieve unlformity by establishing rules for correcting the text in matters of spelling, grammar, and pronunciation.

mass (from Latin for "send")

In classical (Roman Catholic) Christianity, the entire set of liturgical prayers and ceremonies surrounding the eucharist. See also Christmas.


A modern perspective in which everything is considered to be actually or potentially reducable to physical matter.


Jewish unleavened bread used at Passover.

mawlid or maulid (Arabic)

"Birthday" celebration, especially used in connection with Muhammad (<a>Mawlid al-Nabi</> = birthday of the Prophet; compare Christmas) and the saints of Islam.


The city in the west-central Hejaz area of the Arabian penninsula from which Muhammad came, and to which he returned in triumph in the hijra from Medina. The location of the sacred Kaba, central to Islamic worship (see hajj).

Medina (Arabic, "the city" [of the Prophet])

The city of Yathrib, about 200 miles north of Mecca along the Hejaz (western mountain belt) of the Arabian penninsula, in which Muhammad achieved political success (see ansar) and from which the hijra to Mecca was launched.

megillah (Heb., "scroll")

Usually refers to the biblical scroll of Esther read on the festival of Purim. Or, if indefinite, one of the five megilloth.

megilloth (Heb., plural of megillah, "scrolls")

One of five biblical scrolls in the Ketuvim: Ruth, Esther, Qoheleth, Song of Songs, and Lamentations. One of the scrolls is read on major feast and fast days; for example, Esther is read on the festival of Purim and the Song of Songs is read during Passover.

melakah (Heb.)


Mendelssohn, Moses (1729-86)

Important German Jewish thinker whose ideas helped lay the base for Reform Judaism (see haskala).


See Friars, faqir.


Jewish candelabrum with special religious significance; a nine-branched menorah is used at Hannukah, while the seven-branched was used in the ancient Temple.

merkabah (Heb., "chariot")

The "chariot vision" was an integral element of mysticism signifying a mystical vision of divinity.


Lit "anointed one"; Greek <g>christos</>. Ancient priests and kings (and sometimes prophets) of Israel were anointed with oil. In early Judaism, the term came to mean a royal descendant of the dynasty of David who would restore the united kingdom of Israel and Judah and usher in an age of peace, justice and plenty; the redeemer figure. The concept developed in many directions over the centuries. The messianic age was believed by some Jews to be a time of perfection of human institutions; others believed it to be a time of radical new beginnings, a new heaven and earth, after divine judgment and destruction. The title came to be applied to Jesus/Joshua of Nazareth by his followers, who were soon called "Christians" in Greek and Latin usage. Jesus is also "Messiah" in Islam (e.g. Quran 3.45). See also Mahdi.

mezuzah (pl. <h>mezuzot</>; Heb., "doorpost")

A parchment scroll with selected Torah verses (Deuteronomy 6.4-9; 11.13-21) placed in a container and affixed to the exterior doorposts (at the right side of the entrance) of observant Jewish homes (see Deuteronomy 6.1-4), and sometimes also to interior doorposts of rooms. The word <h>shaddai</> (almighty) usually is inscribed on the back of the container.

midrash (pl. midrashim)

From Heb. <h>darash</>, "to inquire," whence it comes to mean "exposition" (of scripture). Refers to the "commentary" literature developed in classical Judaism that attempts to interpret Jewish scriptures in a thorough manner. Literary Midrash may focus either on halaka, directing the Jew to specific patterns of religious practice, or on (h)aggada, dealing with theological ideas, ethical teachings, popular philosophy, imaginative exposition, legend, allegory, animal fables, etc. -- that is, whatever is not halaka.

mih.ra^b (Arabic)

The mihrab is the niche in the wall of the mosque that marks the direction (qiblah) to Mecca, and into which the imam prays.

mikveh or mikvah

See miqvah

milhemet mitzvah

From Heb, war of the covenant; see also jihad.


From the Latin for "1000" (see also chiliastic). Having to do with the expected millennium, or thousand-year reign of Christ prophesied in the NT book of Revelation ("the Apocalypse"), a time in which the world would be brought to perfection. Millenarian movements often grow up around predictions that this perfect time is about to begin. See esch atology.

millah (Arabic, "religion"; Turkish millet)

A general term usually used for one of the varieties of sects/religions (over against din, for the true religion of Islam), such as <a>millat Ibra^hi^m</> (the religion of Abraham). In Ottoman Turkey, millet was used for the religious groups within the empire, but is also used more generally for any major sub-group in society (people, nation, state).

min (pl. <h>minim</>; Heb.)

A heretic, sectarian, or schismatic, according to classical Judaism. The term was applied both to Christians, especially Christian Jews, and to people of "gnostic" tendencies, among others; see birkat.


Tower-like architectural feature of many mosques, from which the muadhdhin/muezzin recites the call (adhan) for prayer (salat).

minbar (Arabic)

The raised pulpit near the mihrab in a Muslim mosque, from which the Friday sermon (<a>khutba</>) is delivered. See also altar, bima.

mincha(h) (from Heb. for afternoon sacrifice)

Afternoon prayers in Jewish synagogue.


A quorum of ten Jews (for Orthodox Jews, ten males) above age thirteen necessary for public services and certain other religious ceremonies to be considered valid.

miqvah or mikveh (Heb.)

A Jewish communal bath (like baptism) for washing away ritual impurity by immersion.


A general term for special events that seem inexplicable by normal (rational) means. Miracle reports are frequent in Jewish and Christian scriptures and early traditions, while in Islam, the only "miracle" associated with Muhammad is said to be the reception and transmission of the Quran. See also *magic.

Mishnah (Heb., "teaching")

The digest of the recommended Jewish oral halaka as it existed at the end of the 2nd century and was collated, edited, and revised by Rabbi Judah the Prince. The code is divided into six major units and sixty-three minor ones. The work is the authoritative legal tradition of the early *sages and is the basis of the legal discussions of t he Talmud. See also pilpul.

mitnaged (pl. <h>mitnagaim</>; Heb., "opposer(s)")

Traditionalist and rationalistic Jewish opponents of eighteenth-century Jewish Hasidism.

mitzvah (pl. <h>mitzvot</>; Heb., "commandment, obligation")

A ritual or ethical duty or act of obedience to God's will. See also commandments.


A general term used in discussions of religion to indicate the perspective that focuses on modern applicability of religious principles. See also liberal, conservative.

monarchianism (from Greek, for "sole ruler")

An early Christian position that took various forms in the attempt to protect monotheistic ideals (the unity and soverignty of God). "Dynamic" monarchians saw Jesus Christ as God's adopted son (see adoptionism), while "modal" monarchians considered the different names used in trinity discussions to be convenient designations for ways in which the deity was perceived under various historical conditions.

monastery (adj. monastic; from Greek for "secluded dwelling")

Especially in Christianity, an isolated institution in which monks (or nuns) gather and often live communally, in a disciplined quest of religious fulfilment. See also Abbot.


The way of life or tradition of Christian monastics (monks or nuns) living in monasteries.

monk (from Greek, "a loner, a solitary person")

Especially in Christianity, persons (normally male) who pledged their existence to what they considered to be God's highest purposes, to be pursued in relative isolation from otherwise usual human pursuits (e.g. in a monastery, practicing celibacy and religious discipline).

monolithic (Greek, composed of a single stone)

Usually used with reference to rigid, fixed, unchanging systems -- often in negative statements, such as "Judaism was by no means monolithic."

monophysite (Greek, "one nature")

A post-Nicea Christian position holding that Jesus Christ had but one, divine nature (rather than both human and divine natures, as classical Christianity decided).

monotheism (Greek, one deity)

The belief that there is only one real and ultimate deity.


An early Christian group (followers of the prophet Montanus and his female prophet companions, Priscilla and Maximilla, in Asia Minor, around 160 CE) that believed that divine revelations took place in their midst, looked for the arrival of the end times (see eschatology) and resisted the growing influence of emerging classical Christianity. Tertullian became a montanist in his later Christian life.

morals (Latin, "customs")

See ethics.

mortal sin

See sin.


The great biblical personality (c. thirteenth century BCE) who is credited with leading the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and teaching them the divine laws at Sinai. He is also described as first of the Jewish prophets. Throughout Jewish history he is the exalted man of faith and leadership without peer.


English corruption of the Arabic word <a>masjid</>, "place of prostration" for performing the salat. See also mihrab, qiblah. Functionally, the mosque as an architectural entity is similar to synagogue and church.

mu'adhdhin (Arabic, "caller"; see adhan)

More popularly spelled and pronounced "muezzin," the muadhdhin serves to call the Muslim faithful to salat (prayer worship).

mufti (Arabic)

A Muslim legal scholar who can deliver a fatwa.

muha^jiru^n (Arabic, "emigrants"")

In Islam, used especially for those who accompanied Muhammad on the hijra. See also hajj.


Muhammad is the ultimate prophet/rasul of Islamic radical monotheism whose revelations are collected in the Quran and whose efforts in Arabia (died 11 AH = 632 CE) provided impetus for Islam to become a world religion.


Twentieth-century Indonesian Islamic reform movement emphasizing purity of faith and practices and service to fellow Muslims, especially through education.

mujtahid (Arabic)

A Muslim jurist who exercises ijtihad.

Muslim (Arabic, "submitter")

One who follows Islam. Also the name of a famous Islamic collector of hadith in the late 9th century.

Mutazila(h) (Arabic, "standing aloof")

The Mutazilites in Islamic history (especially 9th century CE) are the "rationalist" and speculative theologians and philosophers (see kalam) against whom the emerging classical position reacted. The issues included the nature of the Quran (created or eternal) and the problem of human free-will in relation to predestination/determinism.

mystery religions

Designation used for a group of ancient Greco-Roman religions characterized by an emphasis on a central "mystery" (often concerning fertility and immortality). In many ways, both early Judaism and *early Christianity include characteristics of such "mysteries."

mystic, mysticism (adj. mystical; from Greek for "initiant" into religious "mysteries")

A vaguely used term to indicate certain types of behavior or perspective that goes beyond the rational in the quest of what is considered to be the ultimate in religious experience (often described as union or direct communion with deity). See also kabalah, gnostic, sufi/sufism, hikma, tariqa.

nabi or navi (Heb., pl. <h>nebiim</>; also Arabic)

A "prophet" in ancient Israel; also in Islam. Muhammad is the Muslim nabi par exellence (see also rasul). "Nevi'im" (or Nebiim) became a designation for a section of the Jewish scriptures; see TaNaK.

nasi (Heb., "prince, leader")

See Judah the Prince.


See nabi.


Designation for a modern Christian approach began among liberal thinkers who saw the need to revive commitment to traditional protestant ideas such as the centrality of God's word (both written and living) and of faith and of God's grace in providing salvation from sin without withdrawing from serious rational discussion of contemporary issues.


A line of development from the philosophy of Plato that emphasized the mystical dimensions of its dualistic view of reality, so that union with the ultimate One was a major goal. Influenced the development of mysticism in each of the three religious traditions.

New Testament (= NT)

The collection of Christian canonical writings that together with "the Old Testament" (see also Apocrypha) constitute the Christian Bible.


A place in northern Asia Minor (modern Turkey) where the first "ecumenical" council of Christendom was held in 325. See also creed (Nicene), Arius, Athanasius.


A modern position that holds that ultimately nothing (Latin <l>nihil</>) can be known or understood; life has no "meaning."

nomos (pl. <g>nomoi</>)

A Greek term meaning "law" that comes to be used in similar senses to "torah", referring to the Pentateuch, all of Jewish scripture, and even proto-rabbinic halaka; an expert in <g>nomos</> is termed a <g>nomikos</>.


See New Testament.


See monk, monastic, monastery.

observance, observant

Refers primarily to religious rules and practices, and to those who are rigorous about keeping them; see calendar, cult, liturgy, commandments, halaka, law, sharia, torah, tradition (etc.).

Old Testament (= OT)

The name traditionally given by Christians to the Jewish biblical writings that together with "the New Testament" constitute the Christian Bible. For most Protestant Christians, OT is identical to the classical Jewish Bible, while for classical (Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, etc.) Christianity, OT also includes "the Apocrypha."

omer (Heb., "sheaf")

In Judaism, the sheaf of grain offering brought to the temple during Passover, on Nisan 16; thus also the name of the seven-week period between Passover/Pesah and Shabuot also known as the Sephirah. See also calendar.

oral law

In traditional Jewish pharisaic/rabbinic thought, God reveals instructions for living through both the written scriptures and through a parallel process of orally transmitted traditions. Critics of this approach within Judaism include Sadducees and Karaites.


In classical Christianity, one of the sacraments is the taking of "holy orders," or entering full-time institutional service to God and the church. See priest, monk, nun, ordination.


In Christianity, the ceremony of "investing" a person with ministerial or priestly office and authority. Rabbinic Judaism has a similar process. See also orders, apostolic succession , semikah.


Historically, scholarship by Western experts on Asia; currently, distorted representation of non-Western culture by Western intellectuals, attributed to political bias and assumed superiority. Influentially used by Edward Said in Orientalism to criticize Western treatment of Arab culture as reflective of historical domination. For

original sin

In classical Christian thought, the fundamental state of sinfulness and guilt, inherited from the first man Adam, that infects all of humanity but can be removed through depending on Christ and the grace he provides (e.g. in baptism).


From the Greek for "correct opinion/outlook," as opposed to heterodox or heretical. The judgment that a position is "orthodox" depends on what are accepted as the operative "rules" or authorities at the time. Over the course of history, the term "orthodox" has come to denote the dominant surviving forms that have proved themselves to be "traditional" or "classical" or "mainstream" (e.g. rabbinic Judaism; the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Christian churches; sunni Islam), although new, relative "orthodoxies" constantly emerge (and often disappear). See also neo-orthodoxy, orthopraxy.

orthopraxy (Greek, "correct action/activity")

In contrast to orthodoxy (right belief), the emphasis in this term concerns conduct, both ethical and liturgical. Historically, Judaism and Islam have tended to emphasize orthopraxy relatively more than orthodoxy, while classical Christianity tended to shift the balance in the other direction.

OT = Old Testament


A powerful Muslim clan that settled in what is now Turkey and established a Muslim dynasty that ruled from about the 13th century CE until 1924 (when it fell to the rebellious "young Turks"). It was the major preserver of "official" Islamic continuity in the Mediterranean and adjacent areas during most of that period.


A modern term for positions opposed to warfare (e.g. Quakerism).

pagan (from Latin for villiage peasant)

In a general sense, neither Jewish nor Christian (nor Muslim), traditionally with negative connotations (an irreligious person, heathen); see gentile, kafir. The term also has come to be adopted by some modern persons or movements that dissociate themselves from the "Judeo-Christian" tradition.

Palestine (Greek form representing "Philistines," for the seacoast population encountered by early geographers)

An ancient designation for the area between Syria (to the north) and Egypt (to the south), between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan; roughly, modern Israel.


See pope.

paradise (Greek, "park, garden"; possibly derived from Heb. <h>pardes</>)

Term used to describe the location of the creation of humankind (see garden of Eden) as well as the destination where those favored by God will ultimately arrive (especially in Islam). Also used in apocalyptic texts for one of the heavens or levels above the inhabited earth, near God.

parasha(h) (Heb., "section")

Prescribed weekly section of biblical Torah (Pentateuch) read in Jewish synagogue liturgy (ordinarily on an annual cycle). See haftarah.

pareve, or parve (Yiddish)

A Yiddish word identifying food that is neither milk nor meat. According to Jewish halakhah, foods that are pareve may be eaten with either dairy or meat. It now has the added connotation of bland or neutral.

parousia (Greek, "presence")

A technical term in Christian scholarship for the "second coming" or "return" of Jesus Christ in the end times (see eschatology).

passion (Latin, "suffering")

A technical term in Christian circles for Jesus' suffering and crucifixion.

A Passion Narrative is the part of each Gospel that tells the story of Jesus' passion. It's usually considered to begin with the anointing at Bethany and includes the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemene, the trials before the High Priest, Herod, and Pilate, the crucifixion, and the burial.

A Passion Play is a play that tells the story of the Passion. Andrew Lloyd Weber's rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar is a modern passion play.

Passover (Hebrew <h>pesah</>)

The major Jewish spring holiday (with agricultural aspects) also known as <h>hag hamatzot</> (festival of unleavened bread, <g>azyma</>) commemorating the Exodus or deliverance of the Hebrew people from Egypt (see Exodus 12-13). The festival lasts eight days, during which Jews refrain from eating all leavened foods and products. A special ritual meal (called the Seder) is prepared, and a traditional narrative (called the Haggadah), supplemented by hymns and songs, marks the event. See calendar, liturgy; also Christian Easter.


A popular name in Christian history, especially because of the significance of "the apostle" Paul in earliest Christian times. This Paul was not one of Jesus' original followers, but as a devoted Jew he at first persecuted the emerging "Christian" movement . After becoming an advocate of Jesus as messiah, Paul preached his gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, and perhaps beyond, focusing on gentile audiences. Several of the writings (letters) in the NT are attributed to Paul.


1. A common designation for the early founding figures of ancient Semitic tradition (before Moses) such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the twelve tribal figureheads of Israel (Judah, Benjamin, etc.). 2. One of the bishops of the four major early Christian centers (or Sees) -- Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, or Alexandria, with Constantinople later added as a fifth. After the break with Rome (see great schism), the term may refer to the head of any of the national divisions of the Eastern church.

patristic (Latin, referring to the fathers)

A term used especially in Christian scholarship to designate important thinkers and/or authors who helped develop the classical position -- e.g. Irenaeus, Tertullian (see montanist), Cyprian, Augustine, John Chrysostom, etc.


The sacramental rite, in Christian Roman Catholicism, consisting of repentance, confession to a priest, payment of the temporal penalty for one's sins, and forgiveness.


Especially in classical Christianity, one who does penance; also one involved in a special prolonged period of seeking forgiveness through prescribed acts.

Pentateuch (from Greek for "five books/scrolls")

The five books attributed to Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; known in Jewish tradition as <h>Torat Mosheh</> (the teaching of Moses), or simply the Torah.

Pentecost (Greek for "50th [day]")

See Shabuot/Shavuot, calendar.


See Pharisees.


See Passover, calendar.

Pharisees (Hebrew <h>perushim</>, lit. "separatists" (?); adj. pharisaic)

The name given to a group or movement in early Judaism, the origin and nature of which is unclear. Many scholars identify them with the later sages and rabbis who taught the oral and written law; Sigal and some others see them as a complex of pietistic and zealous separatists, distinct from the proto-rabbis. According to Josephus (see also NT), the Pharisees believed in the immortality of souls and resurrection of the dead, in a balance between predestination and free will, in angels as active divine agents, and in authoritative oral law. In the early Christian materials, Pharisees are often depicted as leading opponents of Jesus/Joshua and his followers, and are often linked with "scribes" but distinguished from the Sadducees.

Philo Judeus (= "the Jew") of Alexandria

Greek speaking (and writing) prolific Jewish author in the 1st century CE. Provides extensive evidence for Jewish thought in the Greco-Roman ("hellenistic") world outside of Palestine.

phylacteries (Greek for "protectors")

See tefillin.


A general term for religious devotion.


A general term for religiously motivated visit to a site considered religiously significant. In Islam, this is a central pillar (see hajj, also umra), but the practice is also extended in various directions in all three traditions (see aliya, Jerusalem, Rome); often pilgrimages are made to sites associated with saints or relics of veneration.

pillars of Islam (arkan ad-din)

The five basic devotional-ritual duties of Islam (see ibada): shahada, testifying that "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God"; salat, five daily prayer services; zakat, almsgiving; sawm, fasting during daylight in the month of Ramadan; hajj, pilgrimage to Mecca (see also umra).


Dialectical rational method of studying Jewish oral law as codified in the Talmud(s).

Pittsburg Platform

Early statement of American Reform Jewish principles. See class handout.


Medieval Jewish synagogue hymns and poems added to standard prayers of the talmudic liturgy.


Ancient Greek philosopher (4th century BCE), student of Socrates and teacher of Aristotle, whose identification of reality with the non-material world of ideas ("the ideal world") played an enormous role in subsequent philosophy and religion (see neo-Platonism, dualism). Father of "Platonism" and the Platonic Academy as a philosophical institution in Athens.


See Plato.


A general term for situations in which a variety of perspectives are accommodated, or at least tolerated, within the recognized system; e.g. America as a pluralistic society.


From the Russian word for "devastation"; an unprovoked attack or series of attacks upon a Jewish community.

pondok pesantren

An Islamic boarding school in Indonesia with a traditional curriculum based on the Quran.

pope (adj. papal; from the Latin for "father")

In Christian history, a mode of addressing important church leaders, and especially the bishop of Rome; thence it became a technical term for that bishop, as leader of the entire Catholic (universal) Church. The term is still used less restrictively in eastern orthodox Christianity. For a collection of writings and pronouncements by Roman Catholic Popes Click Here


A general term used for addressing petitions (or praise) to the deity. See amida, birkat, dhikr, dua, eucharist, Fatiha, kaddish, Lord's Prayer, maariv, mincha, salat, shemoneh esreh. See also hymn, liturgy, siddur.


The idea that one's eternal destiny is determined beforehand, from the beginning of time, by the will and plan of the deity.

presbyter (from Greek for "elder person")

In *early Christianity, one of the leaders of a community/church, sometimes synonymous with episkopos. In Protestant Christianity, the Presbyterian denomination follows the guidance of the representatives (called presbyters, the presbytery) of the affiliated congregations.

priest (see also kohen)

A functionary usually associated, in antiquity (including early Judaism), with temples and their rites (including sacrifice). In classical< /A> Christianity, the office of priest was developed (see ordination, clergy) in connection with celebration of the mass and eucharist, and with celibacy as an important qualification especially in Roman Catholicism. Islam has no equivalent for priests.

priesthood of believers

A principle of Luther and the protestant Christian reformation, that each individual believer has direct access to deity, without needing special intercession by a priest.


A general term for precedence, used especially in Christianity to refer to the position of the pope in relation to other bishops (he is sometimes called the "primate").

prophet (from Greek, to "speak for" or "speak forth")

Name given to accepted spokespersons of God (or their opposites, "false prophets"). Became a designation for a section of the Jewish scriptures; see nabi, rasul, TaNaK.


The name given to the Christian groups produced by the reformation, as opposed to Roman Catholicism (and classical Christianity in general).


early Judaism


Pre-70 CE sages who set the foundations of post-70 CE rabbinic Judaism before the ordination of rabbis became formalized in its classical sense.

pseudepigrapha (adj. pseudepigraphical), from Greek <g>pseudos</>, "deceit, untruth," and <g>epigraphe</>, "writing, inscription"

A name given to a number of intertestamental apocryphal writings that are implausibly attributed to an ancient worthy such as Adam/Eve, Enoch, Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Ezra, etc.


In classical (Roman Catholic) Christian thought, an intermediate state after death where one can finish satisfying the temporal punishments for one's sins and purify one's soul before being admitted to heaven.

Purim (see also, megillah

A Jewish festival commemorating the deliverance of Jews in Persia as described in the biblical book of Esther. Held in late winter (between Hannukah and Passover), on the 14th of Adar. See calendar.


The name given to a movement in early 17th century English Christianity that aimed at "purifying" the church (along Calvinistic lines), which was perceived to be failing in certain respects. Some puritans left England for the "new world" in search of greater religious freedom and founded the Massachusetts colony. See also congregationalism.

qabbala (Heb.)

See kabala.

qadar (Arabic)

In Islamic thought, divine determination of human actions and events; predestination by the decree of God.

qadi (Arabic)

An Islamic religious judge.

qaraite (Heb.)

See karaite

qiblah (Arabic, "orientation")

The direction towards Mecca in which Muslims situate themselves for prayer (salat), marked by the mihrab in the wall of each mosque.

qiya^s (Arabic, "analogy")

In Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), qiyas is one of the four accepted Sunni methods of deriving law (see also sharia). Legal principles from Quran or hadith can be extended by analogy to cover other similarly appropriate situations; see also ijtihad.


Nickname for "the Society of Friends," a form of protestant Christianity first associated with George Fox and his followers in 17th century England, with emphasis on the subjective spiritual aspects of religion. See also pacifism.

Qumran or Khirbet Qumran

The site near the northwest corner of the Dead Sea in modern Israel (west bank) where the main bulk of the Jewish "Dead Sea Scrolls" were discovered abound 1946. The "Qumran community" that apparently produced the scrolls seems to have flourished from the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE, and is usually identified with the Jewish Essenes, or a group like them.

Qur'a^n (Arabic, "recitation")

Quran (or "Koran") is the name given to the collection of Islamic scriptures, consisting of 114 suras (sections), believed to have been revealed verbatim orally to Muhammad over a period of time through the angel Gabriel.


The leading Meccan tribe, to which Muhammad belonged.

Rabb (Arabic, "Lord")

In Islam, a frequent title for God (Allah). From the same Semitic root as Hebrew rabbi.

rabbi (adj. rabbinic)

Hebrew, "my master," an authorized teacher of the classical Jewish tradition (see oral law) after the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE. The role of the rabbi has changed considerably throughout the centuries. Traditionally, rabbis serve as the legal and spiritual guides of their congregations and communities. The title is conferred after considerable study of traditional Jewish sources. This conferral and its responsibilities is central to the chain of tradition in Judaism.

Radical Reformation

See anabaptist.


In Islam, the 9th month, Ramadan, is the holy month of fasting, during which the Quran was first revealed. See calendar.


Acronym for Rabbi Solomon (= Sholomo) ben Isaac (1040-1105), a great medieval sage of Troyes, France. He is the author of fundamental commentaries on the Talmud, and one of the most beloved and influential commentaries on the Bible. Characterized by great lucidity and pedagogy, his comments emphasized the plain, straightforward sense of a text.

rasu^l (Arabic, "messenger")

In the Muslim shahada, rasul has specific reference to Muhammad as the special prophet (nabi) of God entrusted with a divine message: "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is God's rasul." Rasul is a type of nabi/prophet, or apostle.


A general term for the perspective that holds that everything is actually or potentially understandable by human reason. See also agnosticism, atheism, mysticism.

ra'y (from Arabic, "to see")

In Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), ray indicates personal opinion in adapting law (see sharia).


The title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim; see zaddik. To see a picture of the former Rebbe for the Lubavitcher Community,


A dissenting movement in ancient Israel generally devoted to certain ascetic practices and a simple lifestyle (see Jeremiah 35.1-19).

Reconstructionist Judaism

Founded by Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1982), this represents a recent development in American Judaism, and attempts to focus on Judaism as a civilization and culture constantly adapting to insure survival in a natural social process. The central academic institution is the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in the Philadelphia suburbs. See also Reform and Conservative Judaism.


An editor, especially with reference to ancient books such as the Jewish and Christian scriptures.


A term from ancient economic vocabulary concerning the freeing of slaves by purchasing (manumission), applied to the religious concept (especially in Christianity) of salvation from slavery to sin (being "redeemed").== in judaism?

Reform Judaism

Modern movement originating in 18th century Europe that attempts to see Judaism as a rational religion adaptable to modern needs and sensitivities. The ancient traditions and laws are historical relics that need have no binding power over modern Jews. See Pittsburg Platform, Geiger. The central academic institution of American Reform Judaism is the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, and it is represented also by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Compare Conservative and Reconstructionist Judaism.


Name given to the protestant Christian movements (and the period itself) in the 16th century in which Roman Catholicism was opposed in the interest of "reforming" Christianity to what was considered its earliest known form (found in the New Testament). See Luther, Calvin, Anabaptists.


The modern position that affirms that everything (except this statement!) is relative to the particularities of the given situation.


In popular Christian religiousity, objects or parts of the body (e.g., clothing, teeth, bones) left behind after the decay of the corpse, which are venerated for saints of the Roman Catholic and Eastern churches.


A general term for a system of beliefs and/or practices thought to enhance human contact with realities otherwise inaccessible or unperceived.

renaissance (Latin)

Name usually given to the "rebirth" of classical knowledge that erupted in the 15th century and provided background for the protestant reformation and associated events in Europe. The term is also used in other connections.


A term used especially in protestant Christianity to indicate the subjective state of sorrow and concern over sin, on the way to salvation. See also penance.


Also called <h>teshubot</>, from <h>sheelot uteshubot</> (questions and answers); answers to questions on halaka and observances, given by Jewish scholars on topics addressed to them. They originated during the geonic period, and are still used as a means of modern updating and revision of halaka. See also fatwa.


The idea that dead persons who have found favor with the deity will ultimately (in eschatological times) be raised from the dead, with restored bodily form.


A general term for self-disclosure of the divine (God reveals to humans), which is often considered to be focussed in the revealed scriptures. Also the name of a specific Christian biblical book, the "Apocalypse" (Greek, "uncovered") or "Revelation" (Latin).


Events of spiritual awakening or high religious involvement; specifically in modern Christianity, commonly in evangelical circles, special meetings to encourage such awakening or interest.


A term to describe the modern perspective that focusses on subjective feeling in relating to art and nature.

Rosh Hashanah (Heb., "beginning of the year")

Jewish New Year celebration in the fall of the year, the month of Tishri. See also calendar.

Rosh Hodesh (Heb., "beginning of a lunar month")

The New Moon Festival. See also calendar.



The seventh day of the week (Heb., <h>shabbat</>), recalling the completion of the creation and the Exodus from Egypt. It is a day symbolic of new beginnings and one dedicated to God, a most holy day of rest. The commandment of rest is found in the Bible and has been elaborated by the rabbis. It is a special duty to study Torah on the Sabbath and to be joyful. Sabbaths near major festivals (see calendar) are known by special names.


A messianic movement begun in the 17th century by Sabbatai Zvi/Zebi (1626-1676), who ultimately converted to Islam.


Especially in classical Christianity, a formal religious rite (e.g. baptism, eucharist) regarded as sacred for its perfect ability to convey divine blessing; in some traditions (especially Protestant), it is regarded as not effective in itself but as a sign or symbol of spiritual reality or truth.

sacrifice (Latin, "perform a sacred act")

A general term for the giving up of things of value for religious purposes, such as (1) liturgical sacrifices of animal life or of other valuables (grain, wine, etc.), and (2) personal sacrifices of time or money or talents or potential (e.g. taking holy orders). In classical Christianity, the death of Jesus is interpreted as a sacrifice for sin on behalf of humankind. Islam retains a liturgical use of animal sacrifice especially in connection with the hajj (see also calendar).


A general term for violation of that which is considered sacred. See blasphemy, shirk.

s.adaqa^t (or zadakat; Arabic)

Charity (voluntary alms), going beyond the obligatory zakat tax; righteous acts.


An early Jewish sub-group whose origins and ideas are uncertain. It probably arose early in the 2nd century BCE and ceased to exist when the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. Sadducees supported priestly authority and rejected traditions not directly grounded in the Pentateuch, such as the concept of personal, individual life after death. They are often depicted as in conflict with the Pharisees.


A Shiite Iranian/Persian dynasty that fought against the Ottoman rulers.


For Judaism, see hakam.


Name given to persons considered to be "holy." Used in a special sense in Roman Catholicism for deceased persons who are believed to have entered God's presence (see heaven) and thus can provide special benefits to humankind (e.g. intercession by the saints). Used more generally in protestant Christianity for all believers. See also wali, zaddik.

saki^na (Arabic)

Sakina is a divine "tranquility" that is believed to descend when the Quran is recited.

S.ala^t (Arabic)

Salat designates the obligatory Muslim prayer service held five times daily, one of the five pillars of Islam (din).


In Christian thought, most generally, liberation from the power and effects of sin; often refers to an experience or series of experiences leading to a sense of liberation; sometimes refers to the expected liberation of a Christian after death.


Another of the numerous sub-groups in early Judaism (see also Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes) and residents of the district of Samaria north of Jerusalem and Judah in what is now Israel. They are said to have recognized only the Pentateuch as scripture and Mt. Gerizim as the sacred center rather than Jerusalem. There was ongoing hostility between Samaritans and Judahites. Samaritan communities exist to the present.

Sanhedrin (from Greek for "assembly" [of persons seated together]; see also synagogue, church)

A legislative and judicial body from the period of early Judaism and into rabbinic times. Traditionally composed of 71 members.

Satan (Hebrew, "accuser/adversary")

The opponent of God (or of God's supporters) in Hebrew tradition (and thence into Christianity and Islam) who is often depicted as a fallen angel (also called "the Devil"; in Arabic Iblis) amd is considered to be in charge of evil and its influences (with "demons" as his aides), and to rule over Hell until the final judgment (see <a>yawm al-din</>).

S.awm or s.aum (Arabic)

Sawm refers to "fasting" during daylight in the month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam (din).

sayyid (Arabic)

A title borne by descendants of the Prophet Muh.ammad.

schism (Greek, "split, division")

See great schism.


One who causes a split or division (schism). See heretic, min.


A general term for highly organized and highly rationalistic scholarly developments and discussions according to well developed conventions. In Christianity, the rise of universities in 12th-13th century Europe was a high-point for scholasticism (e.g. Thomas Aquinas). Judaism and Islam experienced similar scholastic flourishing in that general period in the west (and earlier in the east, especially for Islam).


General designation for canonical or biblical writings.


A general designation for a definable sub-group, often with negative overtones. See also cult, denomination.

secular (Latin, "of this world")

A general term for non-religious, or the opposite of religious.

seder (Heb., for "order"; pl. sedarim)

The traditional Jewish evening service and opening of the celebration of Passover, which includes special food symbols and narratives. The order of the service is highly regulated, and the traditional narrative is known as the Passover Haggadah. Also one of the six divisions of the Mishna; or one of the 154 sections into which Torah/Pentateuch is divided for a three year cycle of liturgical readings in synagogue. See also siddur.

See (from Latin, "seat")

A term used in Christianity to refer to the ecclesiastical location of a bishop's authority (e.g. "the See of Rome"), and by extension to the authority itself.

semikah (Heb.)

Rabbinic ordination.

Sephardim (adj. Sephardic; Heb., Sephardi)

The designation Sepharad in biblical times refers to a colony of exiles from Jerusalem (Obadiah 20), possibly in or near Sardis{??}; in the medieval period, Sephardi(c) Jews are those descended from those who lived in Spain and Portugal (the Iberian peninsula) before the expulsion of 1492. As a cultural designation, the term refers to the complex associated with Jews of this region and its related diaspora in the Balkans and Middle East (especially in Islamic countries). The term is used in contradistinction to Ashkenazi, but it does not refer, thereby, to all Jews of non-Ashkenazi origin.

sephira(h) or sefira (Heb., "counting, number"; pl. sefirot)

See also omer. In Jewish kabala, the sefirot are the primary emanations or manifistations of deity that together make up the fulness (<g>pleroma</>) of the godhead.


Strictly speaking, refers to the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Pentateuch, probably made during the reign of Ptolemy II, Greek ruler of Egypt around 250 BCE. Subsequently, Greek translations of other portions of the Jewish scriptures came to be added to the corpus, and the term Septuagint was applied to the entire collection. Such collections served as the "scriptures" for Greek speaking Jews and Christians.

Seveners or Ismailis

One of the more influential Shiite groups, emphasizing secrecy and certain gnostical ideas. Split off from the main Shiite stream (see twelvers) at the 7th generation of recognized successive leaders, in 765 CE. See also `Alawi^s, Druzes.

shabbat (Heb., "rest")

The Sabbath.

Shabbatai Zvi

See Sabbatianism.

Shaha^da (Arabic, "witnessing")

The formal content of the shahada(h) witness is the Kalima(h): "There is no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger (rasul) of God," which serves as a kind of minimal creed for Muslims and is one of the pillars of Islam (din). The Arabic form is: <a>La^ ila^ha illa^ Alla^h, Muhammad rasu^l Alla^h</>.


See Hillel.

Shari^`a(h) (Arabic, "way to the water")

Sharia is the "way" of Islam (see fiqh; compare halaka) in accord with the Quran and Sunna (hadith), ijma and qiyas. It is the comprehensive path of duty for Muslims, including law, ritual, and life in general.

Shavuot/Shabuot (Pentecost; Heb., "weeks")

Observed 50 days from the day the first sheaf of grain was offered to the priest; also known as Festival of First Fruits. See calendar.

shaykh (Arabic)

Word meaning an old man with grey hairs, a term that came to mean a respected leader and in Islam a religious teacher or person learned in religion or respected for piety.


Jewish term for the divine presence; the Holy Spirit. In Kabalism it sometimes took on the aspect of the feminine element in deity.

Shema (Heb., "hear")

Title of the fundamental, monotheistic statement of Judaism, found in Deut. 6:4 ("Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is One"; <h>shema Yisrael YHWH elohenu YHWH ehad</>). This statement avers the unity of God, and is recited daily in the liturgy (along with Deut. 6:5-9, 11.13-21; Num. 15.37-41 and other passages), and customarily before sleep at night. This proclamation also climaxes special liturgies (like Yom Kippur), and is central to the confession before death and the ritual of martyrdom. The Shema is inscribed on the mezuzah and the tefillin. In public services, it is recited in unison.

Shemini Atzeret (the Eighth Day of Assembly)

An eight-day festival that immediately follows the seven-day festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles). See also calendarr.

shemoneh esreh (Heb., "eighteen")

The main section of Jewish prayers recited in a standing position (see amida) and containing 19 (yes!) "benedictions": praise to (1) God of the fathers/patriarchs, (2) God's power and (3) holiness; prayers for (4) knowledge, (5) repentance, (6) forgiveness, (7) redemption, (8) healing sick persons, (9) agricultural prosperity, (10) ingathering the diaspora, (11) righteous judgment, (12) punishment of wicked and heretics (birkat haminim, (13) reward of pious, (14) rebuilding Jerusalem, (15) restoration of royal house of David, (16) acceptance of prayers, (17) thanks to God, (18) restoration of Temple worship, and (19) peace.

sheol (Heb.)

Place of departed dead in (some) ancient Israel thought, without reference to punishments and rewards. See also hell, heaven.

Shi^`a (Arabic, "party," of `Ali)

The Shi^`ites believe that Muhammad designated his son-in-law, `Ali, to succeed him as leader of the umma of Islam; members of the Shiite communities (which often vary from each other on important issues) number about 10 to 15 percent of the total Muslim community today. See also Sunna, from which Shiite Islam often differs radically in a variety of ways (e.g. interpretation of Quran, eschatology, jurisprudence, worship).

shirk (Arabic)

In Islam, "association" of something with God, thus "idolatry," the one unforgiveable sin according to the Quran.

shiva (Heb., "seven")

Seven days of mourning after the burial of a close relative (as in, "to sit shiva"). See also abelut, shloshim.

shloshim (Heb., "thirty")

An intermediate stage of 30 days of less severe mourning, including shiva.


In Jewish worship, Ram's horn sounded at Rosh Hashanah morning worship and at the conclusion of Yom Kippur, as well as other times in that period during the fall.

Shulhan Aruch (Heb., "prepared table")

A code of Jewish law attributed to Joseph Karo in 1565 CE, which became authoritative for classical Judaism.

siddur (from Heb., to order)

Jewish prayer book used for all days except special holidays (see seder). See also liturgy.

Simhat Torah (Heb., "rejoicing with the Torah")

A festival which celebrates the conclusion of the annual reading cycle of the Torah. See calendar.


The sin of attempting to purchase spiritual gifts, named after Simon the magician in the NT story in Acts 8.


Transgression or offense against God's laws or wishes;; more generally in Christian belief, a continuing state of estrangement from God. See also original sin, shirk.

sira (Arabic)

The life story of Muhammad in Islam.


Name given to the early 20th century Protestant Christian movement or perspective that placed its emphasis on the application to modern society of the principles of the Gospel. see also Liberal, Modernist.

sola fidei, sola scriptura

Famous principles of the Lutheran reformation emphasizing "faith alone" as the way to God, and "scripture alone" as the source of authority and guidance.

sopher or sofer (pl. <h>sopherim</>; Heb., "scribe")

Used as a general designation for scholars and copyists in both talmudic and later literature; a "scholastic," a learned researcher whose vocation was the study and teaching of the tradition. In early times the sopher was the scholar. By the 1st century he was no longer a real scholar but a functionary and teacher of children.

stigmata (Greek, "puncture marks")

Used technically in some Christian groups and traditions to refer to the miraculous appearance on a living believer of wounds like those attributed to Jesus (especially nail imprints in the hands).


An ancient Greek philosophical position contemporary with early Platonism and Aristotleianism that emphasized the close relationship between human activity and nature, governed by reason and law. Influenced early Judaism and early Christianity significantly (e.g. Philo, Paul).


A modern position that emphasizes the personal nature of truth. See also existentialism.

S.u^fi^ (from Arabic for "wool"?)

Sufi is a general term for a Muslim mystic and/or ascetic. Sufism refers to the mystical path of Islam in general (not to a specific sect or denomination).

Sukkot (Tabernacles) (Heb., "booths, tabernacles")

Seven-day Jewish fall festival beginning on Tishri 15 commemorating the sukkot where Israel lived in the wilderness after the Exodus; also known as <h>hag haasiph</>, the Festival of Ingathering (of the harvest). See also calendar.

Sunna(h) (Arabic)

The "custom" of the prophet Muhammad, that is, his words, habits, acts, and gestures as remembered by the Muslims and preserved in the literary form of the hadith reports. The Sunna is second in authority only to the Quran for Muslims.


The majority of Muslims, who are viewed as connected to the authoritative Sunna (<a>Ahl al-Sunna wa 'l-Jama^`a</> = people of the Sunna and the broad-based community) and believe that any good Muslim can be leader; they prefer to reach agreements by means of consensus and do not recognize special sacred wisdom in their leaders as Shiites do.

su^ra (Arabic)

In Islam, a sura(h) is a section ("chapter") of the Quran, of which there are 114 in all. Suras are subdivided into <a>a^ya^t</> or "verses."

synagogue (Greek for "gathering")

The central insitution of Jewish communal worship and study since antiquity (see also bet midrash), and by extension, a term used for the place of gathering. The structure of such buildings has changed, though in all cases the ark containing the Torah scrolls faces the ancient Temple site in Jerusalem.

syncretism (Greek for "draw together, combine")

Synthesis of variegated religious beliefs derived from more than one religion or cultural/religious tradition. See also eclectic, assimilation.

synod (Greek, "gathering")

Technical term used especially in Christianity to designate formal convocations (meetings) relating to church governance. See Presbyterianism.

synoptic gospels

Name given to the first three Christian NT gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), which view the story of Jesus from the same general perspective.

Tabernacles, Festival/Feast of

See Sukkot.

tafsi^r (Arabic, "explanation, commentary")

In Islam, tafsir refers to interpretation (especially of the Quran), of which there are various types (e.g. grammatical, historical, allegorical, traditional).


A large, four-cornered shawl with fringes and special knots at the extremities, worn during Jewish morning prayers. The fringes, according to the Bible (Numbers 15.38-39), remind the worshiper of God's commandments. It is traditional for the male to be buried in his tallit, but without its fringes.

Talmud (Heb., "study" or "learning")

Rabbinic Judaism produced two Talmuds: the one known as "Babylonian" is the most famous in the western world, and was completed around the fifth centuty CE; the other, known as the "Palestinian" or "Jerusalem" Talmud, was edited perhaps in the early fourth century CE. Both have as their common core the Mishnah collection of the tannaim, to which are added commentary and discussion (gemara) by the amoraim (teachers) of the respective locales. Gemara thus has also become a colloquial, generic term for the Talmud and its study.

TaNaK (Tanakh)

A relatively modern acronym for the Jewish Bible, made up of the names of the three parts Torah (Pentateuch or Law), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) -- thus TNK pronounced TaNaK.

tanna (Heb., "repeater, reciter"; adj. tannaitic, pl. tannaim)

A Jewish sage from the period of Hillel (around the turn of the era) to the compilation of the Mishnah (200 CE), distinguished from later amoraim. Tannaim were primarily scholars and teachers. The Mishnah, Tosefta, and halakic Midrashim were among their literary achievements.

taqli^d (Arabic)

In Muslim jurisprudence, taqlid denotes uncritical adoption and imitation of traditional legal decisions. Criticized by reform-minded legal thinkers as blind imitation -- the opposite of ijtihad.

Targum (Heb., "translation, interpretation")

Generally used to designate Aramaic translations of the Jewish scriptures. See also Septuagint (in a sense, Greek Targums).

T.ari^qa (Arabic)

The Islamic Sufi special "way" of discipline and mystical insight in contrast to the sharia, the ordinary religious law; tariqa can also refer to a specific Sufi organization or method of meditation.

tawh.i^d (Arabic)

Tawhid (or tauhid) means asserting and maintaining the divine unity, Islam's central doctrine.

ta`zi^ya (Arabic, "consolation")

Specifically, in Islam taziya refers to a Shiite passion play commemorating the tragic death of the third Imam, Husayn (son of `Ali), at Karbala, in 680 CE.


Usually translated as "phylacteries." Box-like appurtenances that accompany prayer, worn by Jewish adult males at the weekday morning services. The boxes have leather thongs attached and contain scriptural excerpts. One box (with four sections) is placed on the head, the other (with one section) is placed (customarily) on the left arm, near the heart. The biblical passages emphasize the unity of God and the duty to love God and be mindful of him with "all one's heart and mind" (e.g. Exod. 13.1-10, 11-16; Deut. 6.4-9; 11.13-21). See also Shema.


In the ancient world, temples were the centers of outward religious life, places at which public religious observances were normally conducted by the priestly professionals. In traditional Judaism, the only legitimate Temple was the one in Jerusalem, built first by king Solomon around 950 BCE, destroyed by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar around 587/6 BCE, and rebuilt about 70 years later. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The site of the ancient Jewish Temple is now occupied, in part, by the golden domed "Dome of the Rock" Mosque. In recent times, "temple" has come to be used synonymously with synagogue in some Jewish usage.


Term for an agreement between two (or more) parties, such as a "last will and testament." In Jewish tradition, the covenant concept played an important role, and was translated as "testament," especially in Christian references to the scriptures of the "old covenant" (OT) and the "new" (NT).


A general term for "witness," used especially in evangelical protestant Christian circles for personal accounts of religious experience.

tetragrammaton (Greek, "four lettered [name]")



The position that affirms the existence of deity. See also atheism, agnosticism.


From Greek, "divine rule"; the idea that God should be the ultimate ruler, over or instead of human rulers. See zealots.


From Greek, "study of deity"; a general term for discussions and investigations of things pertaining to God(s), and by extension, to religious matters. One who engages formally in theological studies is called a "theologian."

thirteen principles

Statement of classical Jewish outlook (see belief) by Maimonides. See handout for details.

tila^wa (Arabic)

In Islam, tilawa is ritual recitation of the Quran.


Literally, a tenth part, usually with reference to prescribed or voluntary contributions to one's religious community. "Tithing" is often used to refer in general to systematic giving, without specific reference to the exact percentage. See also zakat.


In Christian charismatic circles, ecstatic utterance while in a state of religious excitation; sometimes regarded as a special spiritual language (see NT Paul's 1 Corinthians 14.9) or ability to speak in different languages (see NT Acts 2.1-15).

Torah, torah (Heb., "teaching, instruction")

In general, torah refers to study of the whole gamut of Jewish tradition or to some aspect thereof. In its special sense, "the Torah" refers to the "five books of Moses" in the Hebrew scriptures (see Pentateuch). In the Quran, "Torah" is the main term by which Jewish scripture is identified.

Tosefta (pl. Tosafot) (Heb., "supplement")

Tannaitic supplements to the Mishnah. Called <h>beraita</> (extraneous material) in the Talmud.


Something perceived to have been handed down (or passed along) from the past, often considered authoritative. See also mainstream, classical, orthodox.


In Roman Catholic Christian dogma, the change, during the eucharist, of the substance of bread and wine into the substance of Christ's body and blood -- the "accidents" (taste, color, shape) of the elements are believed to remain the same, but the substance or essence (in an Aristotleian sense) changes into the holy elements of the sacrifice. This interpretation was largely rejected by Protestant reformers.


In classical Christian dogma, God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit exist in perfect unity, as three "persons" in one God. The nature of this union was much debated in classical Christianity, and Western and Eastern expressions differ. See also monarchian, unitarian.


That which conforms to reality. For classical Judaism, Christianity and Islam, ultimate truth is defined and determined in relation to the ultimate reality, God. "The Truth" is attested as a way of referring to the deity in Islam (the execution of Hallaj is a memorable example), and to Jesus in Christianity (Gospel of John).


The main surviving sub-group of Shiite Islam, named for its distinctive allegience to the imam they count as the legitimate 12th in the succession. See also seveners, Zaidis.


A form of (usually biblical) interpretation wherein a person, event, or institution is viewed as foreshadowing a later one. For example, for Christian interpreters, Abraham's intended sacri fice of Isaac (Genesis 22) is seen as a "type" of the sacrificial death of Christ.


See zaddik.


See zedakah.

`ulama^' (Arabic)

The Ulama is the collective name for the top class of religious officials in Islam -- scholars "learned" in Islamic law (see sharia, fiqh).

`Umar (or Omar)

Second successor (caliph) to Muhammad (and a father-in-law). Sometimes called the "St. Paul" of Islam because of his sudden conversion and his success in spreading the message (including militarily).

Umma(h) (Arabic)

The Muslim "community" or ideal state worldwide.


The first major Muslim dynasty, established in Damascus by Mu`a^wiya the nephew of Uthman (of the Quraysh clan from Mecca) after fierce rivalry with `Ali, the last of the four "rightly guided caliphs." The events leading to the Umayyad takeover were influential in the establishment of Shiite Islam and also the Kharijite movement. After about a century (660-750 CE), the Umayyad dynasty was defeated and replaced by the Abbasids in Baghdad, but a branch of the Umayyads survived and prospered for centuries in Spain.

`umra (Arabic)

A "lesser pilgrimage," or religious visit to Mecca at a time other than the appointed month for hajj (see also calendar, pillars).


A movement with roots in the Radical Reformation of early 16th century protestant Christianity which emphasized the oneness of deity (monotheism, see also monarchianism) by rejecting the traditional doctrine of trinity and pursuing a rationalist approach to religion. It became a distinct denomination in early 19th century England. In the 1960s, American Unitarianism dissocated itself from Christianity.


The idea among some Christians that everyone will ultimately attain to the heavenly reward (salvation).

unleavened (Greek <g>azyma</>)

See leaven.


Old term for the principle of monetary interest, which is prohibited or limited under certain conditions in the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

`Uthma^n (or Othman)

`Uthman was the third successor (caliph) to Muhammad, under whom an authorized collection of Quran materials was established.


A general term for religious devotion to a particular object or person. See saint, mawlid, wali, zaddik, icon, relic.

verbal inspiration

An idea especially important for Christian protestant fundamentalism/evangelicals, holding that God established the Bible as "inspired" (usually interpreted to mean without error) in its literal meaning (see literalism, allegory).


Substitute, representative, proxy; one who takes the place of, or acts instead of, another. In Roman Catholic Christianity, the pope is considered the vicar of Christ. The pope (and other ecclesiastical authorities) may designate their own vicar. In the Church of England, the term is used to designate the priest who acts in a parish in place of the rector.

vicar of Christ

Term applied especially to the pope, as the prime "representative" of Jesus Christ in Roman Catholic Christianity.

virgin Mary (Heb., Miriam, Greek Maria), virgin birth

The mother of Jesus/Joshua is believed in classical Christian thought to have conceived and given birth to Jesus without losing her virginity (thus the "perpetual virginity" of Mary). The ideal of virginity became important for both women and men as classical Christianity developed (see celibacy, monasticism), but in protestant Christianity (in reaction to Roman Catholicism), there has tended to be much less emphasis on Mary or on virginity.


A general term for one who claims to (or is considered to) be able to see into the future, and/or is committed to changing the future in accord with particular ideals.

vulgate (Latin, "common, popular")

The official Roman Catholic Latin version of the Bible, prepared or edited by Jerome (Hieronymus) around the year 400. See also Septuagint.


Adherents of the puritanical Muslim reform movement that arose in Arabia in the eighteenth century under Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Wahha^b (1703-1787) are called Wahhabis.

wah.y (Arabic)

In Islam, wahy refers to "revelation" of the Quran to Muhammad by a kind of verbal/mental process of inspiration and communication.

wali^ (Arabic)

"Friend," "client," "kinsman," "patron"; in English wali most often means Muslim "saint" or "holy person."


See kiphah.

yawm al-di^n (Arabic, "day of judgment")

A key eschatological idea in Islam, paralleling the same concept in Judaism and Christianity.

yeshivah (pl. yeshivot)

A Jewish rabbinic academy of higher learning. See also beit midrash.


A technical Heb. term for human "inclination" to do good (yetzer ha-tov) or to do evil (yetzer ha-ra).

YHWH (Yahweh)

The sacred name of God in Jewish scriptures and tradition; also known as the tetragrammaton. Since Hebrew was written without vowels in ancient times, the four consonants YHWH contain no clue to their original pronunciation. They are generally rendered "Yahweh" in contemporary scholarship. In traditional Judaism, the name is not pronounced, but <h>Adonai</> ("Lord") or something similar is substituted. In most English versions of the Bible the tetragrammaton is represented by "LORD" (or less frequently, "Jehovah").

Yiddish (from German "Juedisch" or Jewish)

The vernacular of Ashkenazic Jews; it is a combination of several languages, especially Hebrew and German, written in Hebrew script.

yigdol/yigdal (from Heb., to be great; thence "Great is he")

A hymn/chant/poem from 11th century or earlier, frequently found at the beginning or end of the Jewish prayer book (siddur). Also found as an adopted Christian hymn.

Yom Kippur (Heb., "Day of Atonement")

Annual day of fasting and atonement, occurring in the fall on Tishri 10 (just after Rosh Hashanah); the most solemn and important occasion of the Jewish religious year. See also calendar.


See sadakat. Islamic voluntary almsgiving.

zaddik (Heb., "righteous one")

A general term for a righteous person in Jewish tradition. More specifically, the spiritual leader of the modern Hasidim, popularly known as rebbe. See also saint.


A sub-group of Islamic Shiites, with positions relatively close to those of the Sunnis, by comparison to the seveners or the twelvers.

zaka^t (Arabic)

Zakat is legal almsgiving required as one of the five pillars of Islam (din). See also sadakat.

zealot (from Greek, to be enthusiastic)

A general term for one who exhibits great enthusiasm and dedication to a cause. Specifically, a member of an early Jewish group or perspective that advocated Jewish independance (see theocracy) from Rome. See also assassins.

zedakah (Heb., "righteousness"; see tzedakah)

Term in Judaism usually applied to deeds of charity and philanthropy.

Zion, Zionism

(Mount) Zion is an ancient Hebrew designation for Jerusalem, but already in biblical times it began to symbolize the national homeland (see e.g. Psalm 137.1-6). In this latter sense it served as a focus for Jewish national-religious hopes of renewal over the centuries. Ancient hopes and attachments to Zion gave rise to Zionist longings and movements since antiquity, culminating in the modern national liberation movement of that name. The Zionist cause helped the Jews return to Palestine in this century and found the state of Israel in 1948. The goal of Zionism is the political and spititual renewal of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland. See also Herzl.

zizit (Heb., "fringes")

See tallit.


"Book of Splendor"; the chief literary work of the kabalists. The author of the main part of the Zohar was Moses de Leon (12th century) in Spain, but it is pseudepigraphically ascribed to the Palestinian tanna Simeon bar Yohai (2nd century CE), sometimes called RaShBaY (Rabbi Shimeon bar Yohai).

z.ulm (Arabic)

Zulm is the most basic Quranic term for sin (wrong-doing, wrong-dealing).

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