By Chinonso Maduforo
The concept of communal identity among religions is partly dependent on an analysis of how each one recognizes covenants, said a professor last Wednesday.
Carol Bakhos, a professor of Jewish studies and the study of religion at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke at the Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at this university about how ancient Christian and Islamic communities addressed claims to the Abrahamic covenant compared to the Jewish community.
Bakhos, reading from a paper she wrote, broke down her lecture into three parts. Part one focused on the Hebrew Bible, while part two highlighted the New Testament of the Christian Bible and part three looked at the Quran.
In reference to the covenant in the Hebrew Bible, Bakhos explained that it is “the primary means in which people are in relationship with God.” It was made with Abraham and his offspring, different than the one made after the flood that wiped out humanity, Bakhos said.
Through the book of Genesis and Rabbinic literature, Bakhos offered examples of affirmations that the Israelites were the ones chosen by God, descending from Isaac due to the covenant.
Bakhos referenced Rabbinic literature, in which the covenant is seen as an affirmation of Israel’s “status over Ishmael” and Abraham’s other children—the “non-elect,” despite the concept of the birthright. The literature, according to Bakhos, also “maintains the marginalization of other peoples.”
For Christians, Bakhos said that in the New Testament—although still exclusive—the covenant is “open to anyone who wants to participate through belief in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.” It is unclear, Bakhos said, whether this “new covenant,” in comparison to the first, is one of “fulfillment or supersession.”
In this new covenant, according to the apostle Paul, “the family of Abraham is transformed from a genealogical to a spiritual family through Isaac,” which is demonstrated as a community of believers in Jesus, said Bakhos.
Nevertheless, Bakhos concluded that an essential point is that the Abrahamic covenant shapes the relationship between believers and nonbelievers.
In the Quran, Bakhos stated that the covenants mentioned refer to “agreements that God makes with prophets and their followers.”
However, while the book mentions the covenant and believers, it is unclear “who constitutes the believers; whether the ‘believers’ consistently refers to the same people throughout the Quran,” said Bakhos.
In one chapter of the Quran, Bakhos inferred that the believers who are spoken of “constitutes Jews, Christians and the associationists—the Pagans, all of whom [sic] accept Muhammad’s teachings.”
“The prophet does not bring a new revelation, nor does God make a new covenant,” said Bakhos, and what he brings “is not only for Jews and Christians, but also, and perhaps primarily, for the Pagans, for whom covenantal language is irrelevant.”
Concluding her main points, Bakhos said, “the discourse of covenant” is important to understand Judaism and Christianity, but the same cannot necessarily be said of Islam.
The lecture was followed by a brief Q&A session.
A few students were present in the packed room. They quickly realized they knew little about the topic.
For Sierra Weinkam, a junior American studies major, the event made her want to do more research on her own. Weinkam, who was raised religious, said the lecture made her conscious of some “ignorance,” as she “didn’t understand a lot of the vocabulary” used, as well as a lot of the ideas shared.
Nevertheless, she thought the lecture was very interesting. “I was kind of surprised because it was a paper reading, so I thought it was going to be monotone and boring. But she did a good job kind of deviating from the paper and expounding on ideas,” said Weinkam.
Similarly, Alief Dharmawan, a senior psychology major, learned how “ignorant” he was as a practicing Muslim, as well as in the other Abrahamic religions. He realized that “practicing a religion and knowing a lot about a religion is actually two different things.” The event showed him how interested he is “in finding other paths.”
Alex Levit, a senior government and politics major, also had no prior knowledge of the subject. He said it was “definitely information to take in.” He could relate to some information, such as the background of the Torah, as someone who lived in Israel with a Jewish background.