Judeo-Christian (or Judaeo-Christian, sometimes written as Judæo-Christian) is a term used to describe the body of concepts and values which are thought to be held in common by Judaism and Christianity, and considered, often along with classical Greco-Roman civilization, a fundamental basis for Western legal codes and moral values. In particular, the term refers to the common Old Testament/Tanakh as a basis of both moral traditions, including particularly the Ten Commandments; and implies a common set of values present in the modern Western World. The values most commonly assigned to the Judeo-Christian tradition are liberty and equality based on Genesis, where all humans are created equal, and Exodus, where the Israelites flee tyranny to freedom. Other authors discuss more broadly the Jewish beliefs in progress and moral responsibility, as hallmarks of American culture that come from the Judeo-Christian reading of the Bible. The term has been criticized by some theologians for suggesting more commonality than may actually exist. (Compare with Ebionites and Judaizers.)
The evolution of Judeo-Christian influence on America is most commonly the subject of historians looking at the development of democracy in America. The deep roots of Judeo-Christian values they explore go back to the Protestant Reformation, not the theological battles but the bloody struggle to win the right to translate the Bible into vernacular languages . (see Wycliff, Tyndale,King James Bible) This led to a religious mandate for public education so that ordinary people could read the Bible. According to some authors, this development was crucial to the birth of the Enlightenment and rebellion against divine right of kings
In the American context, historians use the term Judeo-Christian to refer to the influence of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament on Protestant thought and values, most especially the Puritan, Presbyterian and Evangelical heritage. These founding generations of Americans saw themselves as heirs to the Hebrew Bible, and its teachings on liberty, responsibility, hard work, ethics, justice, equality, a sense of choseness and an ethical mission to the world, which have become key components of the American character, what is called the “American Creed.” These ideas from the Hebrew Bible, brought into American history by Protestants, are seen as underpinning the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Other authors are interested in tracing the religious beliefs of America's founding fathers, emphasizing both Jewish and Christian influence in their personal beliefs and how this was translated into the creation of American institutions and character.
To these historians, the interest of the concept Judeo-Christian is not theology but on actual culture and history as it evolved in America. These authors discern a melding of Jewish thought into Protestant teachings – which added onto the heritage of English history and common law, as well as Enlightenment thinking - resulted in the birth of American democracy.
The earliest uses of the terms "Judeo-Christian" and "Judeo-Christianity" cited by the Oxford English Dictionary are 1899 and 1910 respectively, both discussing theories of the emergence of Christianity.
The term gained much greater currency particularly in the political sphere from the 1920s and 1930s, promoted by liberal groups which evolved into the National Conference of Christians and Jews, to fight antisemitism by expressing a more inclusive idea of the United States of America than the previously dominant rhetoric of the nation as a specifically Christian Protestant country.; By 1952 President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower was speaking of the "Judeo-Christian concept" being the "deeply religious faith" on which "our sense of government... is founded".
By the 1980s the description of the United States as built on a core Judeo-Christian culture had become ingrained, and no longer controversial.
The term became particularly associated with the conservative right in American politics, promoting a "Judeo-Christian values" agenda in the so-called culture wars, a usage which surged in the 1990s. Hot topic issues in the battles over the Judeo-Christian tradition include, in a typical example, the right to display the following documents in Kentucky schools, after they were banned by a federal judge in May 2000 as "conveying a very specific governmental endorsement of religion":
Prominent champions of the term also identify it with the historic Pilgrim/Puritan Protestant tradition. The Jewish conservative columnist Dennis Prager, for example, writes:
The concept of Judeo-Christian values does not rest on a claim that the two religions are identical. It promotes the concept there is a shared intersection of values based on the Hebrew Bible (“Old Testament”), brought into our culture by the founding generations of Biblically-oriented Protestants, that is fundamental to American history, cultural identity, and institutions.
Liberal secularists reject the use of "Judeo-Christian" as a code-word for a particular kind of Christian America, with scant regard to modern Jewish, Catholic or more liberal Christian traditions.
Usage has shifted again, according to Hartmann et al, since 2001 and the September 11 attacks, with the mainstream media using the term less, in order to characterize America as multicultural. The study finds the term now most likely to be used by liberals in connection with discussions of Muslim and Islamic inclusion in America, and renewed debate about the separation of church and state.
It is used more than ever by conservative thinkers and journalists, who use it to discuss the Islamic threat to America, the dangers of multiculturalism, and moral decay in a materialist, secular age. Dennis Prager, author of popular books on Judaism and antisemitism, Nine Questions People ask about Judaism (with Joseph Telushkin) and Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, () and radio commentator, has published an on-going 19-part series explaining and promoting the concept of Judeo-Christian culture, running for three years from 2005-2008, reflecting the interest of this concept to his listeners. He believes the Judeo-Chrisitan perspective is under assault by an amoral and materialistic culture that desperately needs its teachings.
… only America has called itself Judeo-Christian. America is also unique in that it has always combined secular government with a society based on religious values. Along with the belief in liberty — as opposed to, for example, the European belief in equality, the Muslim belief in theocracy, and the Eastern belief in social conformity — Judeo-Christian values are what distinguish America from all other countries. … Yet, for all its importance and its repeated mention, the term is not widely understood. It urgently needs to be because it is under ferocious assault, and if we do not understand it, we will be unable to defend it.
Supporters of the Judeo-Christian concept point to the Christian claim that Christianity is the heir to Biblical Judaism, and that the whole logic of Christianity as a religion is that it exists (only) as a religion built upon Judaism. Two major views of the relationship exist, namely Supersessionism and Dual-covenant theology. In addition, although the order of the books in the Protestant Old Testament (excluding the Biblical apocrypha) and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) differ, the books are the same. The majority of the Old Testament is, in fact, Jewish scripture, and it is used as moral and spiritual teaching material throughout the Christian world. The prophets, patriarchs, and heroes of the Jewish scripture are also known in Christianity, which uses the Jewish text as the basis for its understanding of historic Judeo-Christian figures such as Abraham, Elijah, and Moses. As a result, a vast chunk of Jewish and Christian teachings are based on a common sacred text.
Promoting the concept of America as a Judeo-Christian nation became a political program in the 1920s, in response to the growth of antisemitism in America. The rise of Hitler in the 1930s led concerned Protestants, Catholics and Jews to take active steps to increase understanding and tolerance.
In this effort, precurors of the National Conference of Christians and Jews created teams consisting of a priest, a rabbi and a minister, to run programs across the country, and fashion a more pluralistic America, no longer defined as a Christian land, but ‘one nurtured by three ennobling traditions: Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.” “The phrase ‘Judeo-Christian’ entered the contemporary lexicon as the standard liberal term for the idea that Western values rest on a religious consensus that included Jews.”
Through soul-searching in the aftermath of the Holocaust, “there was a revolution in Christian theology in America. …(producing) the greatest shift in Christian attitudes toward the Jewish people since Constantine converted the Roman Empire.” The rise of Christian Zionism that is, religiously motivated Christian interest and support for the state of Israel, along with a growth of philo-semitism, love of the Jewish people, has increased interest among American Evangelicals in Judaism, especially areas of commonality with their own beliefs, see also Jerusalem in Christianity. Interest in and a positive attitude towards America’s Judeo-Christian tradition has become mainstream among Evangelicals.
The scriptural basis for this new positive attitude towards Jews among Evangelicals is Genesis 12:3, in which God promises that He will bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants, and curse those who curse them, see also Covenant (biblical)#Abrahamic Covenant. Other factors in the new philo-semitism is gratitude to the Jews for contributing to the theological foundations of Christianity, and for being the source of the prophets and Jesus; remorse for the Church's history of anti-Semitism; and fear that God will judge the nations at the end of time on the basis of how they treated the Jewish people. Moreover, Israel is for evangelicals God's prophetic clock, irrefutable proof that prophecy is true and is coming to pass in our lifetime. Great numbers of Christian pilgrims visit Israel, especially in times of trouble for the Jewish state, to offer moral support, and return with an even greater sense of a shared Judeo-Christian heritage.
Public awareness of a shared Judeo-Chrisitan belief system has increased since the 1990s due to a great deal of interest in the life of the historical Jesus, stressing his Jewishness, see also Jewish Christians. The literature explores differences and commonalities between Jesus’ teachings, Christianity and Judaism.
On the other hand, the response of Jews towards the "Judeo-Christian" concept has been mixed. In the 1930s, "In the face of worldwide antisemitic efforts to stigmatize and destroy Judaism, influential Christians and Jews in America labored to uphold it, pushing Judaism from the margins of American religious life towards its very center." During World War II, Jewish chaplains worked with Catholic priests and Protestant ministrs to promote goodwill, addressing servicemen who, "in many cases 'had never seen, much less heard a Rabbi speak before." At funerals for the unknown soldier, rabbis stood alongside the other chaplains and recited prayers in Hebrew. In a much publicized wartime tragedy, the sinking of the USS Dorchester, the ships multi-faith chaplains gave up their lifebelts to evacuating seamen and stood together 'arm in arm in prayer' as the ship went down. A 1948 postage stamp commemorated their heroism with the words: 'interfaith in action."
In the 1950s, “a spiritual and cultural revival washed over American Jewry” in response to the trauma of the Holocaust. American Jews became more confident to be identified as different.
Two notable books addressed the relations between contemporary Judaism and Christianity, Abba Hillel Silver’s Where Judaism Differs and Leo Baeck’s Judaism and Christianity, both motivated by an impulse to clarify Judaism’s distinctiveness “in a world where the term Judeo-Christian had obscured critical differences between the two faiths.” Reacting against the blurring of theological distinctions, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits wrote that "Judaism is Judaism because it rejects Christianity, and Christianity is Christianity because it rejects Judaism". Novelist and theologian Arthur A. Cohen, in The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition, questioned the theological validity of the Judeo-Christian concept and suggested that it was essentially an invention of American politics, while Jacob Neusner, in Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition writes "The two faiths stand for different people talking about different things to different people".
By the 1990s Jews had joined the culture wars, and liberal Jews were likely to vigorously reject all talk of Judeo-Christian culture as attacks on separation of church and state, or even on Jewish religion. For example, as one rabbi, Gershon Winckler, puts it:
"Judeo-Christian is purely a Christian myth... The term "Judeo-Christian tradition" and "Judeo-Christian morality" are wrong and misleading. They are a slap in the face for all the great teachers throughout history, whose responses to today's moral questions would in no way resemble those of the Vatican or the Christian Right, and whose attitute towards sin, physical pleasure, human dignity, and the earth differ vastly from those of Christianity.
Law professor Stephen M. Feldman identifies talk of Judeo-Christian tradition as supersessionism
"Once one recognizes that Christianity has historically engendered antisemitism, then this so-called tradition appears as dangerous Christian dogma (at least from a Jewish perspective). For Christians, the concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition comfortably suggests that Judaism progresses into Christianity -- that Judaism is somehow completed in Christianity. The concept of a Judeo-Christian tradition flows from the Christian theology of supersession, whereby the Christian covenant (or Testament) with God supersedes the Jewish one. Christianity, according to this myth, reforms and replaces Judaism. The myth therefore implies, first, that Judaism needs reformation and replacement, and second, that modern Judaism remains merely as a "relic".
Most importantly the myth of the Judeo-Christian tradition insidiously obscures the real and significant differences between Judaism and Christianity.
In contrast,conservative Jews continued to embrace the term and meaning of Judeo-Christian, and to cherish their alliance with conservative Christians. Conservative Jewish writer and talk show host, Dennis Prager writes
How can there be such a thing as Judeo-Christian values when Judaism and Christianity have different, sometimes mutually exclusive, beliefs? The most important answer is that beliefs and values are not the same things. Of course, Judaism and Christianity have some differing beliefs. If they had the same beliefs, they would be the same religion. The very term "Judeo-Christian" implies that the two are not the same. The two religions have some differing beliefs and occasionally even some different values.
...Despite whatever differences they have, ...Judeo-Christian values system has become a uniquely powerful moral force. Among its many achievements is that it is the primary contributor to America's greatness.
...European Christianity... de-emphasized its Jewish roots, and it usually persecuted Jews ...No Christian state referred to itself as "Judeo-Christian." That identity arose with the Christians of America, who from the outset were at least as deeply immersed in the Old Testament as in the New. Rather than see themselves as superseding Jews, American Christians identified with them.These American Christians chose a Torah verse – "Proclaim liberty throughout the land" – for their Liberty Bell; learned and taught Hebrew; adopted the Jewish notion of being chosen to be a light unto the nations; saw their leaving Europe as a second exodus; had every one of its presidents take the oath of office on an Old and New Testament Bible – and while every president mentioned God in his inaugural address, not one mentioned Jesus.Of course, most Protestant Christians who hold Judeo-Christian values continue to believe that there is no salvation outside of faith in Christ. But precisely because they do hold Judeo-Christian values, they work hand in hand with others whose faith they deem insufficient or incorrect (e.g., Jews and Mormons). So while they theologically reject other faiths, evangelical Christians are the single strongest advocates of Judeo-Christian values.... such Christians have recognized the critical significance of the Jewish text – the Old Testament – which forms the foundation of Judeo-Christian values. It provided the God of Christianity, their supra-natural Creator, the notions of divine moral judgment and divine love, the God-based universal morality they advocate and try to live by, the Ten Commandments, the holy, the sanctity of human life, the belief in a God of history and that history has meaning, and moral progress. All these and more came from the Jews and their texts.
... the Christians brought the text and its values into the world at large and applied them to a society composed of Jews, Christians, atheists, and members of other religions.
Those Judeo-Christian values have made America the greatest experiment in human progress and liberty and the greatest force for good in history.
And they are exportable. In fact, they are humanity's only hope.
"Jewish groups were caught off guard. They were outraged that divestment, a tactic utilized against apartheid South Africa, was now being advocated by a major American Protestant denomination as a means of pressuring the Jewish state. "Prior to its pronouncement, had you asked me if this is on the agenda, I'd say I can't imagine it," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League.
"One of the questions that we asked, maybe the question that we asked, is: Where's the outrage? Where's the passion in the mainline churches about Palestinian terrorism?" said Mark Pelavin, director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism. "We clearly hear that outrage, and we hear that passion about the living conditions--which I would agree are deeply, deeply problematic--of the Palestinians. But we don't hear that passion about Palestinian terror; we don't hear criticism of the Palestinian leadership."...The ADL's Bretton-Granatoor said that Jewish groups and mainline churches had previously ignored their differences on the Middle East..."They've been saying similar things for awhile, and we've been pretending that they really haven't said it because we've been so proud of our work together," he said. "I think that the Jewish community is at fault for not taking them on earlier and not seeing this as a dangerous development, but I think both sides have really tried to lead each other out of discussions on the Middle East, and we can no longer do that."]].
Among some liberal churches, the influence of Palestinian Christians hostile to Jews has led to a rebirth of antisemitic imagery, belief in supercessionism, and even political action, resulting in conflicts in relations between the Jewish community and local or national churches. For example, Sabeel is a formal partner of Presbyterian U.S.A., and has been invited to put on multi-day conferences at Boston's historic Old South Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ. Sabeel's Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel conference was widely condemned by Jewish and Christian organizations because it "included imagery explicitly linking the modern Jewish state to the terrible charge that for centuries fueled so much anti-Jewish hatred and bloodshed" that "Israel is guilty of trying to murder Jesus as an infant, of killing Jesus on the cross, and of seeking to prevent his resurrection."
Sister Ruth Lautt, National Director of Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East condemned Presbyterian U.S.A. and the South Boston United Church of Christ for legitimizing Sabeel's anti-Semitic preaching. Palestinain Pastor Ateek preaches that “in this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around Him …The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.
Such programs have led to an unprecedented breakdown of cordial relations in the Judeo-Christian alliance between the liberal Protestant churches and the American Jewish community that was launched in the 1920s to combat American anti-Semitism.
This breakdown in the Judeo-Christian alliance has not gone unnoticed by concerned Christian churches and laypeople, who have formed numerous organizations to combat growing anti-Semitism in liberal Christine churches.
The Episcopal Diocese of New York ...Episcopal-Jewish Relations Committee has adopted a statement that says “church-sponsored programs to disinvest from Israel impede efforts towards a peaceful settlement by undermining the perceived legitimacy” of Israel. “Worse, they give the appearance of supporting Christian antipathy towards the Jewish people.”
The notion of a distinctive religious basis for American democracy and culture was first described and popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1840’s, in his influential book, Democracy in America. In Chapter Two, De Tocqueville describes America’s unique religious heritage from the Puritans. His analysis showed the Puritans as providing the foundational values of America, based on their strong Hebrew Bible view of the world, which included fighting for earthly political justice, an emphasis on laws and education, and a belief in the chosenness of the Jews which the Puritans identified with, giving them a sense of moral mission in founding America. As de Tocqueville observed, the Puritan’s Biblical outlook gave America a moral dimension which the Old World lacked. De Tocqueville believed these Biblical values led to America's unique institutions of religious tolerance, public education, egalitarianism, and democracy.
The principles of New England … now extend their influence beyond its limits, over the whole American world. The civilization of New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hill…. … Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. …Nathaniel Morton, the historian of the first years of the settlement, thus opens his subject: “we may not hide from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord; that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen (Psalm cv. 5, 6 ), may remember his marvellous works in the beginning … “ … The general principles which are the groundwork of modern constitutions, principles … were all recognized and established by the laws of New England: the intervention of the people in public affairs, the free voting of taxes, the responsibility of the agents of power, personal liberty, and trial by jury were all positively established without discussion. … In the bosom of this obscure democracy…the following fine definition of liberty: " There is a twofold liberty, natural … and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. … The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: … The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, among men themselves. … This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard not only of your goods, but of your lives, if need be." I have said enough to put the character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the result (and this should be constantly kept in mind) of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent disagreement, but which the Americans have succeeded in incorporating to some extent one with the other and combining admirably. I allude to the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.
This concept of America’s unique Bible-driven historical and cultural identity was developed by historians as they studied the first centuries of America’s history, from the Pilgrims through Abraham Lincoln. The statements and institutions of the founding generation that have been preserved are numerous, and they explicitly describe many of their Biblical motivations and goals, their interest in Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible, their use of Jewish and Christian images and ideas. These Judeo-Christian values were especially important at the key foundational moments of the settling of America, the War for Independence and the Civil War.
Perry Miller of Harvard University, wrote in 1956, “Puritanism may be described empirically as that point of view, that code of values, carried to New England by the first settlers. …the New Englanders established Puritanism- for better or worse-as one of the continuous factors in American life and thought. It has played so dominant a role…all across the continent…these qualities have persisted even though the original creed is lost. Without an understanding of Puritanism …there is no understanding of America.” (
This view about American history and culture has been questioned in recent decades by multiculturalists. In 2007, one prominent multiculturist professor, Jon Butler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and Howard R. Lamar Professor of American History, Yale University, published a book on religion in colonial America which, according to the reviews, explodes the myth that “the piety of the Pilgrims typified early American religion,” corrects the image of “colonial America as a type of grey, monolithic, uniformity”, is critical of the Puritans, and adulatory towards third-world contributions: “Butler explores the failure of John Winthrop's goal to achieve Puritan perfection, the controversy over Anne Hutchinson's tenacious faith, the evangelizing stamina of ex-slave and Methodist preacher Absalom Jones, and the spiritual resilience of the Catawba Indians.” (In Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776, Butler argues against a “Europeanized” or predominantly British identity of colonial America, and underlines contributions by Ibo, Ashanti, Yoruba, Catawba and Leni-Lenape.
Michael Novak, a specialist in the religious beliefs of the founding fathers, argues that because of the power of academics promoting multiculturalism, moral relativism, and secularism, academic censorship is applied to information and analysis supporting our Judeo-Christian heritage
Following 9/11, there was a break-down in interfaith dialogue that included mosques, due to the increased attention to Islamic sermons in American mosques, that revealed “anti-Jewish and anti-Israel outbursts by previously respected Muslim clerics and community leaders.”
One of the country’s most prominent mosques is the New York Islamic Cultural Center, built with funding from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Its imam, Mohammad Al-Gamei'a, disappeared without warning two days after 9/11.
Back in Egypt, he was interviewed on an Arabic-language Web site, charging that the "Zionist media" had covered up Jewish responsibility for the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He agreed with Osama bin Laden's accusations in bin Laden's Letter to America, claiming that Jews were guilty of "disseminating corruption, heresy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and drugs." And he said that Muslims in America were afraid to go the hospital for fear that some Jewish doctors had "poisoned" Muslim children."These people murdered the prophets; do you think they will stop spilling our blood? No," he said.The interview was published October 4 on a Web site affiliated with Cairo's Al-Azhar University, Islam's most respected theological academy. Immediately after 9/11, Imam Al-Gamei'a had presided over an interfaith service at his mosque. At the service the imam was quoted as saying, "We emphasize the condemnation of all persons, whoever they be, who have carried out this inhuman act." The Reverend James Parks Morton, president of the Interfaith Center of New York, who attended the service, called Imam Al-Gamei'a's subsequent comments "astonishing." "It makes interfaith dialogue all the more important," Reverend Morton said. Post 9/11 remarks made by Muslim leaders in Cleveland and Los Angeles also led to the suspension of longstanding Muslim-Jewish dialogues. Some Jewish community leaders cite the statements as the latest evidence that Muslim-Jewish dialogue is futile in today's charged atmosphere. John Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, and other Jewish participants withdrew from the three-year-old Muslim-Jewish dialogue group after one of the Muslim participants, Salim al-Marayati, suggested in a radio interview that Israel should be put on the list of suspects behind the September 11 attacks.
In Cleveland, Jewish community leaders put Muslim-Jewish relations on hold this month after the spiritual leader of a prominent mosque appeared in (a 1991) videotape …aired after 9/11 by a local TV station. Imam Fawaz Damra calls for "directing all the rifles at the first and last enemy of the Islamic nation and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs, the Jews." The revelation was all the more shocking since Imam Damra had been an active participant in local interfaith activities.
Good Jewish-Muslim relations continue in Detroit, which has the nation's largest Arab-American community. Jewish organizations there have established good relations with a religious group called the Islamic Supreme Council of North America. The group, whose members practice a form of gentle, tolerant Muslim mysticism, is said to be unrepresentative of the mainstream of American Islam.