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JEWISH AND HINDU BELIEFS AND THOUGHT PATTERNS

Comparing and Contrasting Various Aspects of the Two Most Ancient Religions of the World

Syed M. Waqas

Seminar in World Religions


Fall 2015
Department of Biblical Studies
Cincinnati Christian University, Ohio
Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

CONTENTS

Chapter Page

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Introduction 3

2. Metaphysics and Divinity 5

3. Divine Communication with Human Messengers 11

4. Role in Shaping Social Fabric 19

5. Bibliography 24

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

INTRODUCTION

The religion of the ancient Israelites and the religion developed in the Indus and Gangetic

plains are the two most ancient religions of the world as we know it today. The Indian religion,

which we call Hinduism, and the Israelite religion, that is known to us as Judaism, have been the

two dominant systems of faith, particularly in the last three thousand years of history, in terms of

origin, development, and shaping off the subsequent religious evolution of man.1 Each of these

dominates the religious life and ethos of the two halves of the world, which borders one another

in the heartland of ancient Persia.

There came into being many other religious movements that primarily—and sometimes

exclusively—depended upon the these mother faiths. Two predominantly missionary faiths, for

instance, Buddhism and Christianity, took birth from the wombs of the mainstream mother

religions, Hinduism and Judaism, respectively. Moreover, Islam and Zoroastrian religion can

offer yet another example to furnish the case in order to gauge the impact left by the two

aforesaid faiths in the process of their growth. This subject, however, appears somewhat remote

in the present study of Hinduism and Judaism.

Both Hinduism and Judaism represent a long evolution of complex historical and

paradigmatic edification and brinkmanship. This evolution does not necessarily have to be

viewed and critiqued as a systematic engineering of multifaceted and multifarious trends of

criticism to achieve a monolithic picture; instead, we ought to make sense in their relative

religious complexity, which is yet rooted in the duality of simplicity with respect to cognate

nature.
1
Hinduism is a more recent rendition of the Indian religion in academia, which, in its correct historical sense, is
called Brahmanism.

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

There are three main areas marked off to be studied and analyzed within a comparative

framework in the present paper. Since the subject itself demands an exhaustive research in many

volumes, it is impossible to touch upon all of the nuanced areas of the religions in question. It

appears, therefore, wise to limit the work to the three main aspects that are most crucial to every

major or minor religion. These three topics are the concept of deity/divinity, divine

communication with humanity through messengers, and shaping of the social fabric.

The Biblical references cited in this paper have been adopted from the New International

Version (NIV) of the Holy Bible, whereas the translations of the Hindu resources have been

taken from various sources, such as materials available on internet and Hindu books written or

translated into English.

Since the areas chosen here overlap to a great degree, some of the themes and details will

keep resounding throughout the paper. Another important feature of the paper is the use of

special Sanskrit characters for the transliteration of Hindu religious terms into English. This

might cause some confusion at certain occasions, but it will definitely grant more genuineness

and credibility to the research. In the case of direct quotations, however, the transliteration is

kept in its original form as appeared in the sources.

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

METAPHYSICS AND DIVINITY

Judaism, the final version of the ancient Israel’s national religion, is the faith system that

claims to be the most ancient champion of the true monotheistic thought in the stream of

religious consciousness.2 The claim is certainly not without evidence because the subsequent

monotheistic tradition owes its origin to the existence of Judaism prior to it. The Israelites, being

themselves slaves in ancient Egypt, were not a purely monotheistic people. The first book of the

Hebrew Bible, Genesis, portrays those Israelites as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and

Jacob, towering figures in the Bible whom we know as the "Biblical Patriarchs."

However, the evidence of history does not necessarily support this theory of the origin

and evolution of the nation that was entrusted with the religion of one all-powerful God, Israel.

The historical view of the origin of the Israelites’ religion refuses to entertain the idea of a divine

encounter in absolute terms and assumes that the Israelites borrowed their concept of God and

system of metaphysics from the Egyptian religion.3 There are all kinds of concepts and

arguments about the creation and cosmology in the Book of Genesis, which is often pulled into

two directions in order to connect it with the Egyptian religion on the one hand and with the

Mesopotamian pagan religions on the other.4

Since it is beyond the scope of the present paper to evaluate the historicity and claims of

the two religions under consideration, it is of little practical value to get into such areas of

historical criticism and study of mythology, therefore. What can be, however, a real benefit

2
Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, Belmont, CA: Dickens Publishing Company, 1966, p.3
3
E.A. Wallis Budge, From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, Toronto: General Publishing Company, 1988, p.44
4
John N. Oswalt, The Bible among the Myths, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009, pp.100-102

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

throughout this paper is the methodological device of phenomenology, which is deemed as

crucial in the sociological and comparative study of religions called epoche.5

The God who called upon Moses in the burning bush on Mount Horeb did not introduce

himself with his personal name, but by his attribute of eternity, ‘the one who exists forever.’ He

called himself Y-H-W-H, the tetragrammaton appellation that the Israelites initially used as the

name of their God.6 Theologically, and quite probably semantically, the concept behind the

usage of such a unique term was that only one God exists in the universe, who is the creator and

cherisher of everything, whereas every other deity ‘does not exist’ in reality—but only in the

minds of people as figments.

The Israelite theology and metaphysics strictly revolved around the absolute unity of

God, even though the Israelites themselves got into idolatry. The most popular Hebrew formula

for the declaration of faith, for instance, is called Shema which is an articulate profession of the

oneness of God and his association with his people. Shema reads as:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your

heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

(Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

The Hebrew Bible is littered with references to the God of Israel, Yahweh Elohim, who

has interacted with the Israelites across the board and has shepherded the tiny nation of Israel

through thick and thin of the course of history. He cut a covenant with Israel through Moses and

5
Robert C. Solomon, From Rationalism to Existentialism, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001,
p.165
6
The word has been reconstructed and is most commonly pronounced as Yahweh which many believe is very close
to the original Hebrew pronunciation. Ancient Jews, however, thought this name was too holy to be said in vain;
therefore, they used the word Adonai wherever these four letters occurred in the Hebrew Bible.

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

gave them the Law. The guiding principle for the Law was the Ten Commandments. The first of

the Ten Commandments, for instance, is the cornerstone of the Hebraic covenant. It reads:

“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

(Exodus 20:3)

The next two Commandments also address the same problem of polytheism and icon-

worship inherent in the pagan religions, declaring that the Israelites must not carry out any of

those pagan practices in imitation to their neighbors. It was the foundation of their relationship

with God, upon which the building of covenant would rest. However, if the oneness was

compromised, the God of Israel would judge them in the capacity of a ‘jealous God.’7

Historically, this Hebraic covenant was the most durable of all covenants of the ancient

Near East. It not only outlasted them, but also maintained its uniqueness under the strict code of

monotheistic paradigm as expressed in the first three Commandments. The Israelites did not

always honor their covenant with God and frequently roamed around in the search of other

deities. It is why they were punished and disciplined on various occasions by the very God who

had saved them from the Egyptian tyranny.8 This particular feature, therefore, makes the Israelite

religious conception stand in distinction from polytheistic religions, especially Hinduism, which

is the other religion to be surveyed in this paper. If we, even for a moment, remove the doctrine

of monotheism from the foundations of Judaism, its colossal building of metaphysics, theology,

prophetic history, and ritualism will immediately collapse.

7
Exodus 34:14
Won W. Lee, Punishment and Forgiveness in Israel’s Migratory Campaign,Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans
8

Publishing Company, 2003, pp.173-174

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

Hinduism, on the other hand, is a religion of rich mythology that manifests its religious

experience in the plurality of gods and diverse metaphysical truths. The religion of ancient India

did not see the divine force as one; instead, it splits what is divine into a range of distinct divine

entities. The generic term the Hindu theology employs for denoting the central force or being of

the universe is Paramātmā, "Supreme Self," whereas its more religiously-tilted rendering—

which also squares with the monotheistic conception of the Supreme Deity—is Paramēśvara,

meaning "Supreme God." The generic Sanskrit term for a male god is deva or devtā, whereas the

terminology used for a female goddess is devī. These terms are assigned to every god of Hindu

mythology from the most ordinary divinity to the highest one as a general appellation, which

often serves as a prefix or suffix of the personal name of a god or goddess. While Jewish thought

pattern sternly opposes the anthropomorphosis or personification of a transcendent God and his

revelation into images, the Hindu thought pattern solely operates on the principle of divine

revelation into mūrtīs, "images of gods," and avātāras, "divine incarnations," to achieve the same

end-goal.9

Hinduism is paradoxical—often self-contradicting—in a number of ways on its

foundational concept of God. The religious literature produced under the banner of Hinduism is

by no means monolithic, which creates a rather greater discrepancy in relation to what we

understand in terms of divine, meta-divine, theogony, theology, and theophany. The religious

literature, broadly consisting of the religious experiences of Hindu "sages" (Sanskrit riśī) and

"seers" (Sanskrit rūśī), does not offer a crystal-clear picture of the nature of God. This apparent

flaw of Hinduism in the eyes of a postmodern reader will, however, appear to be a quality of

9
Veronica Ions, Indian Mythology, New York: The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited, 1967,p.38

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

Hinduism and Hindu religious philosophy will directly touch the heart of the postmodernism

philosophy.

Hinduism, in other words, does not offer a monolithic picture of its religious spectrum;

instead, the picture continues to diversify for a good Hindu deductive reason seeking to glorify—

even deify—the plurality of the cosmos. In fact, the plurality offers an insight into the

Brāhman’s power of creation, which never comes to an end. Notwithstanding this, the concept of

the plurality and multiplicity of gods also corresponds with the idea of universal prison, saṃsāra,

which poses serious challenges to a follower of Hinduism at every stage of karma-stricken life in

his attempt to earning mokśā, "salvation" or "liberation" from the universal prison.10Although

faith (Sanskrit śraddhā) implies little more than the observance of the rites and rituals as

stipulated in the Vedas, the Hindu sages were obsessed with the religious questions of the

Ultimate Reality and immortality from the earliest times.11 In one of the sacred Hindu Scriptures

called Brihadāranyaka Upaniśad, for instance, a sage is recorded to have uttered the following:

From the unreal lead me to the real;

From darkness lead me to light;

From death lead me to immortality.12

Hindu mythology is understood to have developed the idea of a divine triad in the earliest

times that governs over everything. The triad emerged as an influence of the solar cults of India

and had different deities in it during the Vedic Age. However, in the last thousand years of the

Indian religious tradition, the universally governing triad has consisted of Brahma, Viśnū, and

“Hinduism Glossary of Terms” (accessed on 9/18/2015, http://www.shaivam.org/unglossa.htm)


10

Mariasusai Dhavamony, Classical Hinduism, Documenta Missionalia – 15, Rome: Gregorian University Press,
11

1982, pp.21-22
12
Dhavamony, Classical,p.22

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

Śiva—‘the creator, the cherisher,’ and ‘the destroyer.’13 These three persons of the Godhead are

coequal and are therefore worshipped as three faces of the same God. The Sanskrit expression

for the Hindu triad is Tri Mūrtī Eko Deva, “three faces, one God.” This is the maximum the

Hindu mythology could apparently get close in the pursuit of resemblance to the biblical doctrine

of God.14

Doctrinally, Judaism and Hinduism are antitypes of one another, per se. The two

proclaim to be the receptacle of the Ultimate Reality from diametrically opposed angles, which

only outdo one another rather than mutually complementing or supplementing. However, on the

other hand, if we are keen to observe the truth of the ultimate religious experience, the finding

would be startlingly similar. It is the act of restoring the broken relationship with the Supreme

Being in order to rejoin him in complete freedom from the limitations of existence, the ultimate

goal, which is sought in the magico-spiritual quest of both of these religions.

13
Ions, Indian, pp.40-41
14
In fact, such a Triad-Godhead conception of God is almost identical to the Trinitarian understanding of
Christianity.

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

DIVINE COMMUNICATION WITH HUMAN MESSENGERS

One of the most essential elements of theistic religious movements is the communication

of the supernatural force(s) with human beings. Human beings live in a material world—that we

call ‘natural’—and man is therefore subject to those limitations placed on him by the Nature. It

is, therefore, impossible for man to earn the knowledge of the supernatural realm and the divine

archetype for humankind on his own. This limitation compels man to accept the phenomenon of

"divine revelation,"15 which distinguishes for the intelligent creature between the inspired

guidance and human wisdom. In those religions that center upon the idea of God, revelation or

inspiration constitutes the bedrock of all religious experience, precepts, concepts, and ethos.

Human wisdom is always contingent upon, and subsequent to the knowledge and wisdom sent

down from the other world according to the monotheistic worldview.16

Judaism is unique in some ways among the religions that, by essence, revolve around the

concept of God—the one God. Historically, the national religion of the Israelites was not an

ancient myth repackaged into a new belief system, as is often contended by some ancient Near

Eastern mythologists.17 It is, instead, a faith that broke radically with the ancient religious

traditions and introduced an entirely new concept of the supernatural on the religious horizon. It

claimed that there was only one God, the all-powerful creator of every living and non-living

being in the scheme of creation. Every conceivable or inconceivable thing was, therefore, within

the domain of that sovereign God.18 The Egyptians also had an obscure idea of the one God

The word ‘revelation’ will be used interchangeable henceforth. However, when a distinction between the two is
15

required, it will be stated.


16
Aaron Chalmers, Exploring the Religion of Ancient Israel: Prophet, Priest, Sage & People, Downers Grove, IL:
Intervarsity Press, 2012, p.85
17
Budge, Fetish, pp.8-9
18
Genesis 1

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principle, which they later on identified with the disc of the sun; nevertheless, it was insufficient

and incomplete by all the standards of transcendence and omnipotence. The Egyptian one god,

introduced by the Pharaoh Amenhotep VI who later renamed himself as Akhenaton, still

represented the phenomena of nature that were understood as the collective source of life.19 It did

not, therefore, qualify to be the "Supreme Deity" in accordance with the monotheistic tradition

that was to take a crystallized form later on in the biblical tradition.

The Israelites, on the other hand, came up with a new theology that was unheard of

before in the ancient Near East. We must not forget that it was a period of ‘kingdoms’ and Egypt

was the superpower of the known world with a strong centralized institution of kingship. The

Pharaoh was regarded as a god himself to whom all the divine powers were relegated by the

gods. This resulted in the concentration of all real and imaginative earthly powers in him. For a

slavish nation like the Israelites to introduce a revolutionary doctrine in the existing religious

weltanschauung was unimaginable. Religion belonged to the powerful—a powerful king of a

powerful nation. Therefore, a slave nation could not have thought up a radically new idea of one

sovereign God in the first place, and if they had somehow conceived such an ideology, it was

impossible, let alone being plausible, that they would have ever been heard and entertained the

powerful and other ethnic groups. It was but a blasphemy in the sight of the ruling nation.

The Israel's exodus from Egypt was a direct result of a miraculous rescue, which still

speaks for the power of one God in the Jewish mind. This designed the national experience of the

Jewish salvation that would transform into a cosmic salvific plan when subjected to Christian

theology in the first century. The effect of the monotheistic doctrine could have taken a different

route by turning into a process of psychological invigoration; nevertheless, the presence of God

19
Budge, Fetish,p.138

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was tangible for the Israelites and therefore the experience continued to be firsthand and real. To

a great extent, the ancient Israelites thought that the God Moses had spoken of was a ‘God of

their own.’ Their most critical understanding of the cosmos and structure of reason could not

have possibly gone beyond the point of henotheism, because, after deliverance from Egyptian

slavery, they had no greater desire than dissociating themselves as well as their God from the rest

of the world. It was the reason why they instituted a similar cultic activity of magical ritualism

afterwards in order to please their God and be in a strong relationship with him.20

The divine inspiration of the Hebrew Bible is strongly believed in, and advocated within

the books of the Hebrew Bible, Tanakh. The Hebrew word generally employed to denote divine

inspiration is ru’akh, meaning "breath" or "act of blowing."21 There are quite a few instances in

the text of the Hebrew Bible where the writers claim divine origin for the words transmitted. For

instance, Deuteronomy 18:15-22 is a long text that is exclusively dedicated to the principle and

properties of God’s inspiration to man. Similarly, other books of the Hebrew Bible further

elaborate upon the principle already laid out in the Pentateuch, establishing the fundamental

status of inspiration being continued even after the age of Moses. Jeremiah 10:1-2, for instance,

says:

Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. This is what the Lord says:“Do not learn

the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are

terrified by them.

20
Budge, Fetish,p.9
21
William L. Holladay,A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B.
Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988, p.334

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Similarly, 2 Samuel 23:2-3 makes an explicit reference to the role of the Holy Spirit in

the inspiration of God’s Word to man in addition to briefly hinting at the dynamics of the

inspiration process. The verses read:

The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue. The God of Israel

spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: ‘When one rules over people in righteousness, when

he rules in the fear of God.’

Furthermore, Psalms 45:6, 95:7, 102:25-27, Isaiah 7:14, Hosea 11:1 etc. all claim divine

origin for the writing process of the Hebrew Bible and shed light on the rationale,

instrumentality, and role of inspiration in Israel. This grants modern readers a powerful insight

into the soul and mind of the Jewish religion, which the Hebrew Scripture is a reflection and

introspection of. Interestingly enough, even the core doctrine of one God rests upon the rock of

inspiration in the monotheistic framework, because, logically, God and his absolute oneness

could not be known without this vital connection.

We will now turn to Hinduism. The forces of the divine also communicate with human

beings in Hinduism. The Hindu gods were (and are) actively as well as proactively engaged in

their communication and correlation with humankind in fighting against evil to fend it off of

man. The gods of Hinduism are not remote heavenly creatures in Platonic sense, nor do they

have a resemblance with the Semitic concept of a transcendent deity, because the thread of

Hindu tradition is theologically focused on the cycle of events in this world, particularly the

Indian Subcontinent. This particular worldview of Hinduism limits the knowledge as well as

performing ability of their gods to the territory packed between the Hindukush, the Himalayas,

Sindh, and Sri Lanka in all four directions. The world beyond is not known to their gods—not

even to the supreme one, Brahma—because Hindu sages could not fancy the world outside in the
14
Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

ancient times. The engaging of Hindu gods in an interactivity with man could range from

battleground to the kitchen of the household. Every god had a different responsibility, which was

always contingent upon a particular human need and their invocation.22

The concept of divine inspiration and revelation to mankind is not altogether absent from

the Hindu religion. The terminal of inspiration may not have the same characteristics as that of

the Israelite religion, it does nevertheless serve a similar function. Hindu mythology is too subtle

to be rendered as a pagan religion, technically speaking, which earns it the status of a complete

religious system in its own right with a ‘league of religions’ within it.23 There is a refined

philosophy seeking after the true knowledge of the Reality and personal enlightenment behind

the façade of mythology. For the ordinary Hindus, for instance, it is a religious culture littered

with idols of gods that offer them a direct personal revelation. Beyond this tangible revelation,

however, the sages experience an entirely different world of metaphysical mysteries and eternal

truths. It is only their imagination, often perceived as spiritual climaxing, that can possibly reach

those Eucharistic heights in the Hindu experience of communion.

Since there are innumerable gods in the divine vehicle of Hinduism, they interact in

person or via agencies with humanity to transmit their will and word for given situations. They

often reveal themselves to their favorite individuals in person and teach highest forms of wisdom

to unlock the secrets of the universe.24 The main Sanskrit term for what can be the closest

resemblance to the biblical inspiration is sampradāna, meaning "giving" or "teaching."25 The

concept of inspiration is, however, best understood in Hinduism under the term śrūtī (regular

22
Ions, Indian,p.38
23
Malcolm Pitt, Introducing Hinduism, New York: Friendship Press, 1955,p.2
Cf. Bhagavad Gita in which Lord Kriśna teaches Arjuna the mystery of appearance and reality, and why it is
24

important for him to see beyond the lie of appearance instead of being driven in emotions in order to fulfill the will
of his Lord.
25
Kim Knott, Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998,p.13

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

English transliteration, shruti), which, in the plainest sense, means "what is heard." Encyclopedia

Britannica defines this particular term in the following words:

Shruti, (Sanskrit: “What Is Heard”) in Hinduism, the most-revered body of sacred literature,

considered to be the product of divine revelation. Shruti works are considered to have been

heard and transmitted by earthly sages, as contrasted to Smriti, or that which is remembered by

ordinary human beings. Though Shruti is considered to be the more authoritative, in practice

the Smriti texts are more influential in modern Hinduism. The revealed texts encompass the

four Vedas, the Rigveda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda, and the Atharvaveda, and

the Brahmanas (ritual treatises), the Aranyakas (“Forest Books”), and

the Upanishads (philosophical elaborations on the Vedas that form the basis of much of later

Hindu philosophy and theology).26

Another concept pertinent to the present subject that exists at the heart of Hinduism is

that of avātāra, “incarnation.” Revelation of the divine forces—even that of the Supreme

Being—is understood to be a kind of incarnation rather than the transmission of a propositional

content.27 Śri Kriśna is, for instance, one of those many incarnations of the Supreme Deity who

became extremely well-known in the Hindu culture. Incarnation is, therefore, an additional

portal of God-man communication and interaction in war and peace in Hinduism, which finds

no intrinsic room or precedent in the Israelite religion. If we were to draw a resemblance at all

between the avātāra principle of Hinduism and a similar precept in the Semitic tradition,

avātāra would conceptually, though remotely, conform to the Christ of the New Testament,

particularly as understood in John 1:1-3 and 1:14.

26
Encyclopedia Britannica (Accessed on 9/22/2015: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Shruti)
‘Revelation’ is being used here in a distinct fashion from ‘inspiration.’ It means revelation of the self in a personal
27

form.

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

In Kaṭha Upaniśad, one of the most ancient Hindu books of metaphysical truths and

wisdom, the following words of an ancient Hindu sage invite the Western mind's attention for

taking the rationale of revelation into its Hindu context and reconstructing it with the

application of epoche:

This Self cannot be won by preaching him;

Not by sacrifice or much lore by heard;

By him alone can he be won whom he elects;

To him this Self reveals his own true form.28

Smṛitī is yet another broad category of religious Hindu literature, which is sacred for the

Hindus even though it is not inspired. The word itself means ‘what is composed’—or more

appropriately ‘what is thought up’—and technically it should not be treated as a parallel for the

inspired Vedic literature. The Hindu belief system, however, fluctuates in this particular area

and believes that certain elements of the smṛitī literature are inspired likewise. This category

holds, for instance, the most notable epic poems of the Hindu religion, the Mahābhārata and

the Rāmāyaṇa, which are the odysseys of gods-men and good-evil centrism and thus rendered

as partially inspired. Bhāgavad Gitā is the most sacred Scripture of Hindu religion that falls

into this category—in fact, only second to the Vedas in holiness—which is believed to be

inspired. The Bhāgavad Gitā, therefore, finds its way into the Vedanta literature along with the

Upaniśads and the Sūtras.29

If we were to list Hindu literature according to the nature of each book into a respective

categories, the śrūtī category—which is the one grounded in inspiration—would receive the
28
Dhavamony, Classical,p.23
29
Andrew J. Nicholson, Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, New York:
Columbia University Press, 2010, p.7

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

Vedas, the Upaniśads, the Brāhmanas, and the Aranyākas, whereas the Vedangas, the

Upāvedas, the Upāngas, the Darsānas, the Purānas, the Sūtras, and the Śāstras would make

their appearance in the smṛitī category.30 This certainly speaks for the careful composition,

redaction and arrangement of the ancient Hindu thought process into what is known as the

Hindu Scriptures today.

Our general perception of Hinduism is that of a polytheistic system bearing the nature

of paganism, which it is certainly not in its religious philosophy. A closer look will not only

correct this misconception, but it will also shatter the superficial view of Hinduism’s purely

human origin and theological shallowness that a Western mind generally upholds. Hinduism

indeed rivals the Abrahamic tradition in every aspect of religious experience, formation, and

morphing into sub-systems. We cannot, therefore, deny the grandeur of the Indian epiphany by

brushing it off under the rug of distant Western view. Any generalization of Hinduism based on

the Western religious experience, particularly the one emerged from the biblical worldview, is

fundamentally untenable. The most crucial difference that can confidently be ascertained

between the religious traditions of Judaism and Hinduism is, nevertheless, that of the nature of

the Supreme Being, which is viewed as absolute in oneness in Judaism, while Hinduism views

this Reality as emanating from every single unit of the universe in a personal form.

30
Hindupedia (Accessed on 9/23/2015: http://www.hindupedia.com/en/Smriti)

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

ROLE IN SHAPING SOCIAL FABRIC

The national religion of Israel and the national religion of India, both, have played a

remarkable role in the processes of shaping the culture and social life of their followers in their

indigenous environments. Judaism was the forerunner of Christianity, which captured the

world’s attention in the fourth century of the Common Era and dominated the religious stage of

the world after the conversion of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great. Had it not been

for the national religion of the Jews to have created a socio-religious fabric based on one-God

paradigm, Christianity would not have emerged in history, let alone accomplishing the goal of

world domination.31 In this particular scenario of plowing the land and planting the seeds,

Hinduism is not a different case either, for it gave birth to a universally directed and globally

outreaching missionary religion of the Vedic tradition, Buddhism.

The monotheistic religion of the nation of Israel is a long stream of consciousness and

chain of events that covers a span of over three thousand years to this point in today's world.

Although being a tiny nation in size, the power of the ideology it exported to the world is

beyond conceptualization, rhetorically speaking. The Jewish social life owes its origin to the

early phase of the Israelite history after deliverance, which left behind the legacy of

monotheism and a set of sacred writings, the Torah. The Torah or the Law was a binding force

for the impertinent motley of the Israelites, which successfully protected their identity, if not

unity, against foreign ideological and cultural invasions. In spite of having gone through

catastrophes that could pose an existential threat, the religion of the ancient Israelites survived

and did not cease wielding its influence on the world around.

31
This is referred to in Matthew 28 as the Great Commission of evangelizing the world.

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Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

From the religious, semantic, and psychological points of views, it was the religious

contour of Judaism that watered the subsequently grown plants of both Christianity and Islam.

It is important to note that these two religions have been in competition with one another for

the world supremacy for last fourteen hundred years. Notwithstanding their mutual conflict, the

motivation that commonly steers their religious psychology is their claim of divine origin and

adherence to the one-God doctrine. They owe these prominent religious features to Judaism,

because it was the religion of the ancient Israelites that brought this idea into being and

revolutionized the religious thinking, speaking from a sociological perspective. Moreover, the

Israelites took a step farther and instituted a ritualistic system that guarded the fundamental

position of the religion in order to continue their contingency upon their savior God. The Law

introduced a cultic system of 613 socio-religious, civil, and criminal laws to keep the

overlapping religious, societal, and legal mechanism in operation, whereas the institution of

oracle continued to speak from God by raising inspired leaders, prophets, and priests to oversee

the process.32

It was indeed due to this particular culture that Judaism outlived almost all of the

ancient pagan cults, surviving to this day. In other words, it was a code of life embedded in a

primitive agrarian environment, which proved flexible enough to adapt to the phenomenon of

change with the time-passage through biblical times.33 However, once the age of the prophets

ended, it gave birth to the age of the Rabbis during the Second Temple Judaism period, who

afterwards took the charge and kept the wheel of adaptation and renovation moving in the form

of the Talmud, ‘the oral Law.’

32
Jacob Neusner, The Rabbis, the Law, and the Prophets, Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America,
2008,pp.25-26
Hebrew Bible’s age of writing
33

20
Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

The law of kosher, for instance, is a fine example to furnish the case of religious

influence on Jewish social life. The Israelites were instructed to avoid from eating any kind of

meat that was not kosher. It was a ritual observance of the dietary law in the cultic practice of

primitive Israelite religion, which survived all the way down to the present times. The

observance of kosher is, therefore, still practiced today. Its observance has, nevertheless,

assumed the role of a cultural activity more than a purely religious practice. Circumcision is yet

another example of how Jewish society and culture underwent a radical transformation subject

to the influence of the Law, which was ab initio a religious document. As a matter of fact, these

two main characteristics of the Jewish past and hundreds of other socio-religious features have,

at large, bound the Jewish Diaspora together after their exile from Palestine in the 6th century

BCE into a psychological bond of unity.

Hinduism, on the other hand, appears to have performed in relatively more favorable

circumstances. The area of its operation, for instance, was far larger than that of the Israelite

religion, whereas it incessantly enjoyed, by and large, the patronage of local principalities and

kingdoms resulting in mass following. There was no "Assyrian" attack, nor any

"Nebuchadnezzar," in the history of Hinduism that might lead to the loss of national tribes or

bring about national deportation and dislocation. The religion of the Hindus happened to have

been in the upper hand up until the arrival the Delhi Sultanate of the Muslim Rule in India.34An

exception to this general truth could be King Asoka’s reign in which he sought to promote

Buddhism throughout Indian and outside at the expense of Hinduism after his conversion to the

Buddhist faith.

34
Satish Chandra, Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals (1206-1526), New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications,
2005, p.25

21
Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

The story of Buddhism is also interesting and of great relevance in our survey of

Hinduism’s influence on Indian cultural fabric. Buddhism and its sister faith Jainism both

appeared on the Indian scene as a rebellion against the long, unbroken tradition of Hindu

ritualism. It was the struggle of a restless soul against the ruthless clutches of karma, "deeds,"

and himsā, "violence." Siddhārtha Gautama set out on the quest for finding true inner peace

that could break the shackles of karma and saṃsāra that propel the cycle of transmigration and

rebirth. He was equally upset with the prevalent violence that sought origin in the Hindu

concept of yudh, "sacred warfare," and therefore he denounced himsā, "violence," to promote

ahimsā, "non-violence."35 Siddhārtha’s meditation and mortification walked him through the

challenges of the physical world and led his way to achieving the most desired nirvāna,

"enlightenment"—or more appropriately "spiritual awakening." He, therefore, got turned into

the enlightened one, the budha (English Buddha), and his followers conferred the title of

mahātma, "great soul," upon him out of respect for his salvific role.

Buddha is the Christ of India, who represents untiring struggle and sacrifice against an

everlasting socio-religious conflict of India’s religious culture that is quite blatantly visible in

the temple worship, religious rituals, caste system, and festivities. The Hindus constantly live in

the shadows of this conflict, which hampers their freedom of choice, whereas the event of

Buddha ushered in a new era of hope and freedom. A faithful Hindu always sees himself on the

disadvantage due to bad karma and a degenerated faith. The tension of the upkeep of social

rituals in the name of dharma never reaches an ominous stage. With Buddha, therefore, the

Hindus found a new revelation of salvation in practical terms that had existed only in theory in

Hinduism prior to the nirvāna doctrine of Buddhism. Hinduism after Buddha was no longer the

35
Lella Karunyakara, Modernisation of Buddhism, New Delhi: Gyan Publishing House, 2002,p.102

22
Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

same, because the Hindus were now able to see light at the end of the tunnel. It triggered a

revolution in the religious culture of Hinduism and thus the Vedic religious tradition

experienced a major schism within for the first time in its history of existence.

It is, therefore, correct to state that it is difficult to distinguish between the sacred and

the secular in Hinduism by separating what is religious from what is social. It is a unique code

of life in its own right that reflects pagan elements at the lowest social stratum and refined

wisdom and philosophy at the topmost. Hinduism’s social character gives a tangible existence

to an otherwise theoretical system of doctrines and discourses. Even Buddha and Mahavira

emphasized upon the importance of good conduct and middle path in every aspect of life in

their teachings. The frame of reference these two great reformers of the Indian religion used for

their teachings was no other than the cosmos of the Vedic religion preached by the Brahmans.

23
Jewish and Hindu Thought Patterns

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