The three major monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam-started in the Middle East and, despite their differences, share many key beliefs and some prophets. Judaism traces its origins to the biblical patriarch Abraham, who lived sometime between 2100 and 1500 B.C. The religious heart of Judaism lies in Jerusalem, in present-day Israel. Driven from the area by ancient Romans in the Diaspora of the first century, Jews dispersed throughout the world. Subject to frequent persecution over the centuries, as many as six million Jews were murdered during

the 20th-century Holocaust. In 1948, the state of Israel was established as Jewish homeland, although large Jewish populations also exist in many major European and American cities. Christianity evolved from Juda- ism with the teachings of Jesus, Jew born in Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago. The actual calendar date of his birth is elusive-somewhere between 6 B.C. and A.D. I. Jesus’ disciples believed he was the son of God and the promised messiah, or christos in Greek, whose death and resurrection promise salvation to his followers. Christianity spread to Europe with the proselytizing of the Apostle Paul and

other missionaries and the conversion of Constantine, emperor of Rome, eventually spreading around the world with European missionaries during later ages of exploration and empire. Christianity now has three major di visions: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. Islam is the most recent of the religions originating in the Middle East. It evolved in reaction to the polytheistic beliefs of early inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula. By the sixth century A.D., Arabs were feeling the influences of three surrounding monotheistic religions-Judaism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism (an influential faith founded by the Persian prophet Zarathustra), Into this world was born the founder of Islam, the prophet Muhammad, around A.D. 570. Muhammad taught that there was only one god, Allah; revelations passed on to Muhammad were written down as the Koran over a period of years. The moral obligations of all. Muslims are summed up in Five Pillars of Islam: prayer, charity, pilgrimage. fasting, and belief in God and his prophets. Islam has two main branches, Sunni and Shiite, which separated during the seventh century in a dispute over the legacy of leadership. Sunnis compose about 86 percent of all Muslims and dominate the Arabian Peninsula and northern Africa. Shiites form the majority in Iran and Iraq.

Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad these three men, prophets and teachers, are held to be the founders of three major world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Jewish patriarch Abraham lived in the second millennium B.C. Genesis, the first book of the Bible, tells how the devout 75-year-old man and his wife traveled to Canaan, where God promised him that his descendants would form a great nation. That nation took its name from Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, also called Israel. Jesus of Nazareth was a Galilean Jew born around A.D. I. Jesus became a traveling preacher and healer, attracting many followers. Arrested by Roman authorities in Jerusalem, he was crucified around A.D. 30