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613 commandments Jewish law construes the Torah as having 248 positive commandments, corresponding to the potential within each human limb, and 365 prohibitions corresponding to the temptations inherent in every day.

Abbot (from Hebrew for Abba, or Father) designates the elected leader of a community of monks.

Abraham This biblical hero may never in fact have existed historically; the stories about him, however, illustrate the ideal of faithful obedience held by the Jews who canonized the tales.

AD  Anno Domini (Year of the Lord)

Advent refers to the period before Christmas. Used to be a religious fast.

Aggadah (Hebr.)”narration,” refers to non-legal teachings associated with an interpretation of the Bible.

AH  (Year of the Hijra, Muslim calendar)

Albigensians see Cathars.

Amidah (Hebr.) “standing” refers to a central Jewish prayer said standing.

Anointing of the Sickwas called Extreme Unction This ritual, sometimes called “anointing of the sick,” is the seventh sacrament in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christianity. Originally used for all who were ill, it has become a ritual enabling a person to pass from this life into the next.

Apostle’s Creed one of the oldest Christian prayers in continuous use, written between 150 to 300 CE.

Arianism (3rd/4th c.) refers to the teachings of Arius who thought that God could not have become Incarnate in the human Jesus. Rejected by Athanasius.

Ashkenazic refers to Jews of European descent.

Athanasius of Alexandria (4th c.) rejected Arianism in favor of a unity of all elements of the trinity. His view prevailed at the Council of Nicea.

Avodah (Hebr.) “work” or “service,” now refers to prayer and religious actions. Also used for sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple.

Avot. (Hebr.) “fathers” refers to a book in the Mishna recording many ethical ideas of the Rabbis.

Babylonia Center of Jewish life, especially in the Rabbinic Period, beginning with the first exile after the destruction of the First Temple.

Bachya Ibn Pakuda wrote, in Arabic, a mystical work The Duties of the Heart that continues to be important.

Baltimore Catechism This creedal statement begins with a declaration about human purpose, or teleology. Human beings are created so they might know and love God.

Baptism as a washing off of sins, is a central Christian rite marking the entrance of an individual into the faith.

Bar Mitzvah (Hebr.) “son of the commandment” refers to the moment when a Jewish boy becomes an adult with regard to his religious obligations. Today usually at age 13 and often lavishly celebrated.

Basilica refers to a church built above the tomb of a holy person. And

Bat Mitzvah (Hebr.) “daughter of the commandment” refers to the moment when a Jewish girl becomes an adult with regard to her religious obligations. Today usually at age 12 or 13 and often lavishly celebrated.

BC Before Christ

BCE Before the Common Era

Benedict of Nursia was the 6th c. founder of the Benedictines. His monastic rule became central for monastic rules throughout Europe.

Bernard of Clairvauxa 12th c. monk and mystic supported e.g. the crusades while rejecting their excesses. Preached against anti-Jewish pogroms and was a great admirer of the Virgin Mary.

Bet haknesset (Hebr.) “house of assembly,” refers to the synagogue and study hall.

Bishop from Greek “overseer,” refers to the official within the church who has the power to ordain clergy.

Brit milahalso called Bris (milah) see Circumcision

Cathars Also called Albigensians was an ascetic movement emphasizing a dualism between body and spirit, denying that Christ had taken on an actual human body. Dry  run for the Inquisition and the first target of the newly founded Dominican Order.

CE Common Era

ChabadAn acronym applied to a Hasidic group that hopes to hasten the coming of the messiah by encouraging fellow Jews to perform mitzvot.

Charisma refers to “the gift of the spirit” and characterizes Christians who claim that the Holy Spirit moves within them.

Christ (Gr.) for Hebrew messiah which means “anointed.” While Christians apply this title to Jesus of Nazareth, Jews do not identify him as their messiah. Christians also define the messiah as a divine embodiment of God, an idea that Jews do not share either.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. Based on Roman celebrations of the Solar Solstice, some Protestant denominations reject the holiday. The New England Puritans outlawed its celebration.

Christology refers to the understanding of the nature of Jesus as Christ in relation to the other members of the Trinity.

Circumcision Both Muslims and Jews circumcise boys. For Jews: A biblical commandment marking the entrance of a boy into Israel’s covenant with God. Girls are not circumcised in Judaism.

Communion see Eucharist

Confession developed in Roman Catholicism as a way of enabling Christians to gain forgiveness for their sins. Required knowledge of sins, repentance, and the confession of every individual sin as well as the acceptance of a penance designed to bring forgiveness for it.

Confirmation Christianity: As a sacrament this refers to the receiving of the gift of the Spirit. Among the Orthodox it usually occurs at the same time as baptism; in Roman Catholicism it takes place when a child reaches what is considered “the age of reason.” Judaism: A rite of passage at about age 16, after Bar/Bat Mitzvah, mostly in Reform Judaism.

Conservative Judaism a religious movement in Judaism that developed in Germany and the US that sought to conserve tradition in a modern setting.

Corpus Christi (Latin) “the body of Christ,” and refers to the consecrated bread of the Communion ceremony. By the Middle Ages in the

Council of Trent (1545-1563) began the Counter-Reformation and structured the reaction of the Catholic Church to the Reformation. It addressed a wide range of issues raised by the Reformers such as clerical discipline and formulated theological positions, affirming the authority of institutional tradition. Introduced liturgical changes.

Counter-Reformation see Council of Trient.

Covenant or brit refers to a contract between God and humans (e.g. Noah, Mount Sinai).

Creed (lit. belief) denotes formulations that defined Christian beliefs, e.g. Apostle’s Creed of the Nicene Creed.

Days of Awe 3 holidays: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot/ Shemini Atzeret.. Taken together they emphasize the need for repentance and self-examination in human life.

Deadly Sin indicates manner of sins which Roman Catholicism

Docetism “appearance” reflects a Christology which that thinks that Christ only appeared to become human. God, it was thought, could not really suffer and partake of this physical world.

DomnehFollowers of Shabbatai Zvi who live outwardly as Muslims.

En Sof (Hebr.) “Infinite”refers to God as the Unknowable in the mystical system known as Kabbalah.

Eucharist (literally: thanksgiving) denotes the central Christian ritual. Catholics believe in a literal presence of Christ in the taking of bread and wine while other churches have a more abstract understanding. Connects the believer with her community.

Exodus refers to the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt. The experience of slavery, receiving God’s word, and liberation became a model of covenantal experience. Central to Jewish self-understanding, and commemorated on Passover, Shavuot, and every Shabbat.

Extreme Unction see Anointing of the Sick.

Filioque This Latin phrase adds the term “and the Son” to the description of how the Holy Spirit is derived. Its use was a rejection of Arianism by emphasizing the equal divinity of the Father, Son and the Spirit.

Francis of Assisi was the 12th/13th c. founder of an order of mendicant friars, the Franciscans, that emphasized radical poverty and serving the poor and disenfranchised. Credited with “Oh Lord, make me an instrument of Your will” and the song to the sun.

Gaonim literally “Excellencies” refers to the leaders of academies of Jewish learning in Babylonia.

Geiger, Abrahama 19th century Jewish reformer who identified the “essence” of Judaism with universal humanistic ethics.

Gentilerefers to non-Jews.

Gnosticism An artificial term used for texts. Taken to refer to a religious movement claiming secret knowledge. Recent scholarship rejects the term and instead insists on reading these texts as legitimate expressions of the followers of the Jesus movement before the establishment of the canon, theology, rite, or the Church.

Gospel (Greek: “Good News.”) refers to the story and teachings of Jesus. While the early church produced many written Gospels, only 4, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John became canonized in the New Testament.

Gospel of MaryThe oldest surviving Gospel text. This text, preserved only in fragments and not part of the Canon, reflects a Christianity that is similar to that of the NT (traces of John perhaps), reflecting questions discussed there such as women’s leadership. Establishes spiritual maturity as a criterion for leadership.

Gospel of Thomas This Gospel, not included in the canonical Christian Bible collects teachings attributed to Jesus.

Halakhah (Hebr.) “to walk” or “to go,” refers to the Jewish legal system.

Hasidism (Hebr.) “the Pious” refers to an 18th century Jewish mystical movement that challenged traditional leadership by emphasizing new forms of worship and piety and by loyalty to a charismatic leader known as the Rebbe.

Hellenism refers to the acceptance of Greek as a language and cultureby non-Greeks.

Hermeneutics (from Greek interpreter) refers to the process by which people develop an understanding of a written text.

High Holidays see Days of Awe

Higher Criticism This academic approach to the Bible begun in the 19th c. challenged biblical scriptures on the basis of their supernaturalism and the contradictions within them. This movement studied the Bible as just another historical book. Both liberal Christianity and Fundamentalism arose in response to Higher Criticism.

Holy Orders A sacrament initiating a person into the clergy provides ordination into full sacramental powers and is a clerical equivalent to the sacrament of marriage.

Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, also used for the divine presence that infused human beings with prophetic insight.

Hybridity refers to refers to a religious practice that absorbs different cultural influences.

Indulgences These documents guaranteed their holders to a relaxation in Purgatory of some of the punishments for their sins. The selling of indulgences was opposed by Martin Luther.

John Calvin a 16th c. Reformer sought to create an ideal kingdom of God in Geneva, creating a strict rule governed by Institutes.

Jonathan Edwards a Puritan preacher emphasized that morality depended upon piety and that only through recognition of the power of the divine could people be persuaded to ethical action.

Justification by Faith is a phrase characteristic of Luther’s approach, denies that human actions can earn a person divine favor. Only God’s grace provides people with an opportunity to come into right relationship with the deity.

Kabbalah (Hebr.) “tradition” refers mostly to mystical teachings of Judaism that are seen as supplements to the Oral Law (by Kabbalists).

Karaites rejected rabbinic tradition and substituted their own emphasis on scripture alone for it, creating their own halakha while doing so.

Kavanah (Hebr.) “intention” refers to the inner direction of thought that accompanies the performance of a mitzvah or prayer.

Ketuvim (Hebr.)”the Writings” refers to the last section of the Hebrew Bible.

Laity refers to non-clergy, or non-ordained, members of the Christian church.

Lecha Dodi This mystical poem is sung on the evening of Shabbat worldwide

LentFrom being a fast of two or three days, this observance, in preparation for Good Friday, became, in the fourth century, a season of fasting in imitation of Jesus’ fast in the desert. Today often substituted by giving up TV, sweets, or Facebook.

Leon, Moses de This medieval Spanish Jewish kabbalist is thought to have composed the Zohar, a key text of the Kabbalah.

Liberation Theologydeveloped by both Roman Catholic and Protestant thinkers, demands support for the oppressed, especially the poor, sexually ostracized, etc.

Lord’s Prayer see Our Father

LXX see Septuagint.

Maariv (Hebr.) refers to the evening prayer.

Maimonides, Moses see Rambam

Marcion This early church leader wanted to sever all ties of Christianity to Judaism and rejected the Hebrew Bible, trying to establish a Christian canon purged from Jewish influences.

Martin Luther was a major 16th c. Reformer who pointed out abuses within the church. He came to reject a number of practices (indulgences, pilgrimage, clerical abuses of power, celibacy) and theological issues. He stressed the idea of justification by faith alone.

Mass see Eucharist

Mendelssohn, Moses This 18th century German Jewish thinker began the tradition of emphasizing Judaism as a religion of ethical monotheism.

Messiah (Hebr.) “anointed.” Judaism: a consecrated person with a special mission from God. Came to signify the kings of the Davidic dynasty and especially a future “son of David” who will restore the glories of a former golden age and inaugurate the ingathering of Israel. Refers broadly to beliefs or theories regarding an ultimate improvement of the state of humanity and the world, or a final consummation of history. Christianity: Jesus (note: Jews do NOT believe the Jesus is the Messiah).

Methodismbegun by John Wesley and George Whitfield in England and spread to the United States, emphasizes the accessibility of the Holy Spirit to all and illustrates both the tendency toward “enthusiasm” among some Christians and an anti-clerical aspect of many Christian movements.

Midrash (Hebr.) “to search out” refers to the process of discovering new significance to biblical passages, sometimes referred to as that that is in the text but not written down. Sometimes the new meaning discovered is halakhic, at other times it is concerned with lore or theology and thus aggadic.

Mikdash (Hebr.) a “sanctuary” or Temple.

Mincha (Hebr.) the afternoon prayer service was instituted as a parallel to the afternoon offering of sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple.

Mishna (Hebr.) “to learn” or “to recite” refers to legal teachings of the Rabbis roughly organized by subject matter. The oldest Rabbinic document, it was traditionally compiled by Rabbi Judah the Prince around 200, organized in six categories. The Talmudim comment on the Mishna.

Monasticism from monos (alone) was a central feature of the medieval church.Refers to both hermits and communal living of men and women who usually make oaths of poverty, celibacy, and obedience.

Monotheism refers to belief in a single deity.

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt and is associated with the revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai. The Book of Deuteronomy emphasizes the covenantal aspect of Mosaic teaching.0 The Rabbis call Moses Moshe Rabbenu, “Moses, Our Teacher” and see him as a rabbinic teacher.

Musar refers to ethics or morality and is the name given to a 19th century movement created as an alternative to Hasidism. Musar stresses self-awareness, the cultivation of moral attributes, and a psychological defense against the onslaughts of modernity.

Nevi’im (Hebr.) “Prophets” and refers to the second section of the Hebrew Bible: Joshua, Judges, and Kings as well as books assigned to named prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Amos.

Noachide Laws Rabbinic teachings interpret the biblical story of God’s post-flood covenant with Noah as having established a common ethical system for all human beings. 7 Noachide Laws: rejection of idolatry, prohibitions on incest and murder, and the requirement to establish courts of law.

Oliver Cromwell sought to establish God’s kingdom on earth through a

Oral Torah According to the Rabbis, all of Israel, living, dead, and future, incl. converts, received on Mt. Sinai a Written and an Oral Torah that complements the Written Torah. The Oral Torah refers to teachings created in the past, presence or future that constantly update Judaism.

Origen was an Alexandrian Church leader and prominent representative of the allegorical interpretation of the Bible. Every Biblical verse had three different meanings: the literal, allegorical, and moral.

Orthodox Judaism a religious movement in Judaism that rose in Germany. Emphasizes that loyalty to the Torah coexists with full participation in modern secular society. E.g. Samson Raphael Hirsch.

Our Father This prayer, attributed to Jesus in Matthew, quickly became the central Christian prayer and is shared by all Christian communities.

Passionrefers to the suffering and death of Jesus and points to his resurrection.

Passover see Pesach.

Paul of Tarsushad a transforming life experience and turned from persecutor to the most prominent theologian of the Jesus movement addressing gentiles (non-Jews). Author of several letters in the NT, with additional letters ascribed to him.

Pentecostalism is based on the appearance of the Holy Spirit to the apostles on Pentecost. It refers a religious life that can include conversion experiences, religious healing, millennialism, prophecy, and spiritual ecstasies.

Pesach “Passover” celebrates the exodus from Egypt. Celebrated with an elaborate ritualized meal, the Seder and by reading a haggada, a home manual recounting the interpretation of this history.

Pharisees were a Hellenistic Jewish group that decisively influenced rabbinic understandings of Judaism. Jesus was close to the Pharisees (hence the animosity the Gospels note between the Pharisees and Jesus).

Pilgrimage Christianity: This practice of journeying to places associated with relics that were thought to provide a a connection with the divine. Islam: s. hajj.

Pilgrimage Festivals refers to 3 biblically ordained holidays (Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot) and combines a celebration of agricultural cycles with historical significance.

Polytheism recognizes the diversity of human experience and identifies the various forces working on people as emanating from separate supernatural beings.

Purgatory denotes an idea of purgation, or cleansing, in the afterlife, a kind of in-between period after death in which the soul receive punishment.

Rabbi (Hebr.) “my master” has come to be the title for any qualified master of the Oral Torah in general and halachic tradition in particular.

Ramah is an acronym for Rabbi Moses Isserles who adapted the Sephardic Shulkhan Arukh for Ashkenazic Judaism. His work shows how both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews adapted halakhic ethics to meet the needs of different social and historical communities.

Rambam is an acronym for Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the great Sephardic Jewish thinker, physician, and community leader who was born in Spain and lived mostly in Cairo. Wrote the Guide to the Perplexed and the Mishneh Torah (Code of Maimonides).

Rashi is an acronym for Rabbi Solomon Isaac, the great French Rabbi who commented on the Bible and most of the Talmud.

Reconstructionist Judaism This American form of Judaism broke off from Conservative Judaism and emphasizes that Judaism is a civilization. It identifies God with all the possibilities that life holds for human self-fulfillment.

Reform Judaism a religious movement in Judaism that rose in Germany that rejected halakha and stresses the right to adapt and change Jewish tradition to make them more relevant to each generation.

Relics were material remains of saints, including objects associated with saintly figures who left no bodies on earth such as Mary and Jesus.

Revivalism are waves of enthusiastic and intense religious feelings that swept entire regions and countries. It often combines a vivid description of reward and punishment with a call for repentance. There were 4 great Awakenenings in the US, each of which gave rise to new religious movements, practices, and beliefs. Some think that we live in the aftermath of a 60s/70s Awakening.

Rule of St. Benedict describes the way of life prescribed of monks and nuns. The Regimen it prescribes is meant to tame the human will to submit to God’s.

Sabbath see Shabbat

Second Temple is the Jerusalem Temple established after the exile in Babylonia and greatly enhanced by Herod. Destroyed in 70 CE.

Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was called out to renew the Catholic Church. It established many new standards in practice and theology, noticeably a return to the medieval liturgy, the use of the vernacular in worship, as well as the relationship between Catholics and non-Christians.

Sefirot (Hebr.) “spheres of being,” refers to the emanations that the kabbalists identify as God’s presence in the world. While God in itself is unknowable, kabbalists feel that they can influence these sefirot and hasten the coming of the messiah.

Sephardic Jews are Jews claiming descent from Spain and Portugal who were expelled beginning in 1492.

Septuagint refers to the Greek translation of the Bible traditionally made by the 70 (or 72 elders) in the 3rd century BCE . Reflects the philosophical and social concerns of Jews in Hellenized Egypt and was used by both Jews and Christians until about 200 CE.

Septuagint (Seventy, often abbreviated with LXX) is a Greek translation of the Bible, used by Jews and later also Christians for centuries. Since some copies of the Septuagint are older than the Hebrew texts, these texts often preserve early readings of the Biblical text.

Shabbat commemorates the seventh day of Creation and the Exodus. Traditionally, acts associated with agriculture and workin general are forbidden,including cooking, driving, electricity. Many non-orthodox Jews do not adhere to these prohibitions but continue to mark the day as special.

Shabbatai Zvi This 17th century Turkish messianic contender arose a wave of enthusiastic followers and had profound influence on modern Jewish life.

Shacharit (Hebr.) the morning prayer service was instituted as a parallel to the morning sacrifices offered in the Jerusalem Temple.

Shavuot “Weeks” or “Pentecost” occurs fifty days after the first night of Passover. It commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and also the wheat harvest.

Shema (Hebr.) “hear,” refers to the central study session during most Jewish worship services. Its content emphasizes the unity of God–an idea which philosophers discuss and mystics struggle to experience. The Shma is recited morning and evening, but not in the afternoon worship service.

Shulkhan Arukh (Hebr.) “the Set Table” refers to the work of halakhic ethics which Joseph Karo developed on the basis of earlier Jewish legal texts. As adapted by Moses Isserles this work became normative for Ashkenazic as well as Sephardic.

Siddur (Hebr.) “order” is a prayer book

Sinai the mountain at which Moses and Israel received the Torah from God. In Rabbinic teaching Sinai is not only the source of the written Bible but also for every authoritative tradition developed by later rabbis.

Social Gospel is associated with Walter Rauschenbusch, and was a movement arguing that Christianity, following the model of Jesus, must combine religion and social justice.

Sola Scriptura Latin for “Scripture Alone” was used by John Wycliffe and Martin Luther to reject tradition as the basis of faith. This idea later (under the Pietists) came to suggest that the laity could interpret scripture on their own.

Spinoza, BaruchA Jewish philosopher, often called the first secular human, was excommunicated. His investigations of the Bible as literature laid the foundations for modern biblical studies.

Sukkot “booths” initiates an 8-day festival period culminating in Shemini Atzertet (the Eight Day of Assembly) and Simhat Torah (rejoicing in the Torah). It is a pilgrimage festival celebrating experience of Israelite wandering.

Synagogue (Gr.) “assembly” refers to the please where Jews got together for learning and prayer.

Syncretism refers to a religious practice that absorbs different cultural influences. Today often called hybridity.

Synoptic Gospels refers to the three Gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke that share several common features and differ from the Gospel of John.

Tabernacles, Feast of: see Sukkot

Talmud (Hebr.) “study” refers to a collection of writings also known as “Germara” or “conclusion” that comment on the Mishnah and expand its meanings through various interpretations and diverse alternative decisions. There are two Talmudim-a Babylonian (finished around 600) and an earlier and incomplete Jerusalem one, reflecting differences among Jewish communities.

Tefillin (Hebr.) “phylacteries,” or protective amulets worn by Jewish men (and women in non-orthodox communities) on head and arm during morning prayers. They contain texts from the Bible.

Teshuvah (Hebr.) “repentance” refers to self-examination.

The Book of Mormon Revealed to Joseph Smith by an angel, adds new material to extend the stories from both the Old and New Testaments.

The Fundamentals were series of pamphlets distributed in the early 20th c. to aid in religious revivalism as a response to higher criticism.

Torah (Hebr.) “teaching” or “guidance,” refers to the first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible, the entire biblical corpus and Jewish learning.

Transubstantiation refers to the idea that the bread and wine in the Eucharist literally become the flesh and blood of the Christ.

Trinity refers to the triune God –the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and their relationship was hotly debated, defined in the Nicene Creed and, later, in the Filioque.

Tzedakah (Hebr.) “justice” but has come to mean that charity which an individual gives to preserve social solidarity and in which the powerful protect the weaker.

Unitarianism began in Poland in the late sixteenth century but became most successful in England and the United States and asserts the unity of a single God while denying the Trinity.

Vulgate The Vulgate is the translation of the Septuagint into Latin by Jerome. It was later used by Roman Catholics as the only official Bible so that it should be read by only a few, elite, and well educated men.

Written Torah refers to the Hebrew Bible and is part of the revelation given on Mt. Sinai.

Wycliffe, John led the Lollards who were declared heretics for

YHWH the consonants of God’s name. The name is considered so secret that it is never pronounced by Jews even today.


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