‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." And a Jewish scholar, a Christian scholar and an Islamic scholar recently explained what those words (and some others in the Bible) mean.
The representatives of the three monotheistic faiths offered their insights into the opening of Genesis, the description of the world’s creation, at a biblical study session at Central Synagogue in Manhattan.
"Creation itself is the divine light concealed," said Rabbi Sarah Reines of Central Synagogue, who referred to Talmudic, midrashic and kabbalistic sources in her presentation.
"In essence, the renewal of the world becomes a weekly event," said Rev. Christine McSpadden, associate rector of St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan, who cited the opinions of classical biblical criticism in explaining "not the how, but the why of creation."
"Creation is God’s means of displaying Himself to Himself," said Joseph Lumbard, a doctoral candidate in Islamic studies at Yale University, who drew on the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Mohammed.
A standing-room crowd of about 100 people peppered the participants with theological questions.But as significant as their esoteric opinions (which generally agreed with each other) was their presence together. The tri-faith discussion, including a Muslim representative, was part of a local trend: Islam, the fastest-growing religion in the United States, is assuming a greater visibility in interreligious programs once exclusively Jewish and Christian. A similar event (a symposium on the Torah, New Testament and Koran) was held recently at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.
Rabbi Reines called the inclusion of a Muslim scholar "an acknowledgement" of Islam’s increased role in American society.
"We’ve been trained to think of Islam as a Middle Eastern religion," she says. "It’s also right here in New York."
Lumbard’s interpretation of Islamic teachings was a reminder, she said, that "We’re all basing ourselves on the same [biblical] tradition. The doctrines aren’t so different."
"We’re talking," he said, "about the same God."