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Judeo-Christian (also spelled Judaeo-Christian) is a term used to describe the body of concepts and values which are thought to be held in common by Christianity and Judaism, and typically considered a fundamental basis for Western legal codes and moral values.


Source of the term

Christianity emerged from Judaism in the century after the death of Herod the Great. Christians brought from Judaism its scriptures; fundamental doctrines such as monotheism; the belief in a Messiah, a term that is more commonly known as Christ (christos in Greek) and means 'anointed one'; form of worship, including a priesthood, concepts of sacred space and sacred time, the idea that worship here on Earth is patterned after worship in Heaven, and the use of the Psalms in community prayer. Christianity dropped some fundamental Jewish practices, however, particularly the Jewish covenant on male circumcision, and its most significant early prophet, Paul of Tarsus, himself a Roman citizen, made a point of preaching to the gentiles of the Roman Empire, leading eventually to the religion's modern popularity.

Users of the term Judeo-Christian, pointing out that Christians and Jews have many sacred texts and ethical standards in common, also generally hold that Christians and Jews worship the same God.

The term was invented in the United States of America in an attempt to create a non-denominational religious consensus or civil religion that, by embracing Judaism, avoided the appearance of anti-Semitism. The first-known uses of the terms "Judæo-Christian" and "Judaeo-Christianity", according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are 1899 and 1910 respectively. The original uses of the term have faded, and it now usually refers to a general Western religious background. The term is commonly used by historians and academics as a shorthand for the predominant religious influences upon Western culture.

For a systematic look at this subject see: Comparing and Contrasting Judaism and Christianity

Problems with the term

The term Judeo-Christian has been criticized for implying more commonality than actually exists. In The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, Jewish theologian-novelist Arthur A. Cohen questions the theological appropriateness of the term and suggests that it was essentially an invention of American politics. [1]. It has also been criticized by some for excluding or marginalizing Islam, the third major Abrahamic religion. Sometimes the terms Judeo-Islamic or Judeo-Christo-Islamic are used to more fully incorporate Islam into this umbrella.

Fundamental differences between the two religions

Judaism and Christianity have many areas of agreement, as well as sharply defined ethical and religious systems that are in some areas opposites. Generally neither Jews nor Christians want to have their distinctive traits removed by an oversimplification. Opponents of this term claim that the concept collapses these important differences, and effects a modern appropriation of Jewish identity to Christian values. They point to the traditional Christian claim that Christianity is the logical progression of, and heir to, Biblical Judaism, as precedent.

A further problem with the notion of a Judeo-Christian tradition is that in fact neither Judaism or Christianity is monolithic. Tremendous variations occur in both religions which have influenced each other over the past 2,000 years. Moreover, Judaism and Christianity each have widely diverging views of their respective relationship to the other, and a complex joint history. So although there are popular themes, or common views, no one group, or view, can claim to speak for either religion, and each religion comprises a scattering of traditions and beliefs which vary in universality, based around a common core, rather than a definitive description. A measure of the scale of this variation, is that even internally to each religion, there exist some Christians and Jews who hold that other Christians and Jews are not in fact the same religion.

Despite this, the mainstream view and approach, at least in current times, is mostly peaceful living side by side, with strong inter-dialogue at many levels to reconcile past differences between the two groups. According to Jewish teaching, Christians are accepted as worshipping the same God, and likewise many Christians emphasize common historical heritage and religious continuity with the ancient spiritual lineage of the Jews.

Perceived exclusion of Islam

The term Judeo-Christian is seen by some to imply a rejection of Islam, the third major religion to trace its roots to the same common culture. The term Judeo-Christian values is commonly used in the West, and many Muslim scholars view this term as emblematic of a disconnect between Western-culture Christianity and Islam. Attempts have been made to unite this split, followed closely by attempts to discredit them. The term Judeo-Christian-Islamic has been coined to describe the values shared by the common history of the three religions. This term has been used, for example, by Abrahamic faith gatherings held in various cities of the U.S., which are designed to promote mutual understanding, and have drawn the participation of Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Columbia University professor Dick Bulliet has an up-coming book about this topic called "Islamo-Christian Civilization,".

Others however denounce this inclusion, arguing that Islam lacks basic features in doctrine that Christianity and Judaism share, and also because they believe that Judaism and Christianity has shaped the cultural settings of Europe while Islam has been outside of this development. Others argue that this term is appropriate, since they believe all three claim monotheism and share many similar beliefs and traditions -- Christians believe in the Gospel, Jews believe in the Torah only (and not the Gospel) and do not recognize Jesus, while Muslims believe in the Torah, the Gospel and believe in Jesus. They also argue that Islam had a major influence on bringing Europe out of the Dark Ages into the Age of Enlightenment, through the culture and sciences that the Europeans learned from the Muslims during that period.

Regardless of features in common, in a practical sense, these three religions stemming from common roots, their cultures, and their mutual interactions, have together been responsible for shaping much of the modern world, so a common inclusive term for the combined traditions of all three is often seen as an appropriate umbrella term.

See also


  • Cohen, Arthur A. The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Harper & Row, New York, 1970.
  • Hexter, J. H. The Judaeo-Christian Tradition (Second Edition). Yale University Press, 1995.
  • Neusner, Jacob. Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition. Trinity Press International, Philadelphia, l99l.

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