1) From the readings of the Koran, I learned that there is essentially little difference if any between Islam versus Judeo/Christian beliefs regarding the presence of an afterlife. There are however some fundamental differences that deserve attention. Before looking at those differences, it is helpful to first identify the similarities of these three religious belief systems. All three belief systems derive their beliefs from the Hebrew texts (which are referred to as the Old Testament in the Holy Bible) of Genesis, Exodus, etc. Christianity departs from Judaism with the birth of Christ and the Christian belief that Jesus is the son of God, and through Jesus Christians follow God’s will as learned from Jesus’ teachings before his crucifixion and resurrection unto heaven. The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John henceforth wrote of Jesus’ time on Earth and about his teachings, for they are the way to deliver Christians to eternal salvation. Their respective books gave rise to the Biblical New Testament and represent the cornerstone of Christianity following. Judaism differs from Christianity in that Judaism does not believe Jesus was the son of Christ. This leads to a radical departure of beliefs between these two religions. Islam, like Christianity, believes in Jesus and his teachings, but Islam is of the opinion that Christianity is mistaken for believing Jesus is the son of God and a vessel through which they will be delivered into heaven. Islam teaches that there is only one almighty God, and through God alone Muslims must strive to live righteously in accordance with the Koran so they will join God and all his prophets (amongst them Jesus and Muhammad) in heaven (often referred to as Paradise). Strikingly, the Koran states that all nonbelievers of Islam, the last true teaching of God and God’s will, will be destined for Hell. Christians and Jews fall into this category of non-believers.
2) Regarding the Nativity (birth of Jesus) and Passion (death and resurrection of Jesus), we see some similarities in some of the books we have come to know from our readings of earlier Greek literature. In Luke 2, we find the reference of “an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were afraid with a great fear” (889). The angel also prescribed the name of Jesus before he was born. These references of angelic intervention from the Lord appearing before the shepherds of Bethlehem have an overtone similar to an appearance of Poseidon (or one of the other lesser gods of Zeus) in The Illiad.
Following the death of Jesus on the cross, the book of Matthew 27 mentions “tombs open[ing] and many bodies of the holy sleepers [rising] up,” as well as a great earthquake (901). The response from the Roman company commander and the guards who were charged with watching over Jesus became a sense of terror. This response can be compared to the Greek displeasure of Apollo’s wrath in Book I of The Illiad, “who aimed his needle-tipped arrows at the men [and] shot until the death-fires crowded the beach” (177).
For where this message may serve as a departure from the teachings of the Tanakh and the Jews, emphasis can be shifted over to the book of Exodus 19-20. Here, Moses scribed the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai for the Israelites’. It was clear that God meant to speak only to Moses, for from the bottom of the mountain the Israelites” exclaimed, “Speak you with us that we may hear, and let not God speak with us lest we die” (124). In summary, what can be seen is a more direct relationship meant for everyone to see and hear stemming from Jesus in the writing of the Gospels, and a more indirect way of teaching passed down by God through the prophets to the Jews.
3) This paraphrase, to which Jesus was referring to in terms of the redeemed sinner, means that in the eyes of God, repentance is equal to the saving of a life. Whereas the righteous person who does not sin is good and worthy in the eyes of the Lord, he is also already on the path to being saved. Jesus maintains that God wants all mortals to fear him and bow down before him as a means of ascending to Heaven. Therefore, life is merely a test, and one’s place on Earth bears no connotation to whether or not they will be saved in eternal life. Where this pans out in my mind as well as that of The Norton Anthology’s composers is spelled out on page 888 of the text; “All human beings were on an equal plane in the eyes of their creator. This idea ran counter to the theory and practice of an institution basic to the economy of the ancient world, slavery.” Whether we are talking about the Jews, Greeks, Romans, or any other peoples’ of this particular time, what is common throughout is a relationship with one particular God or another primarily through a pivotal figure or prophet. In my opinion, the advent of Christianity and the associated following of Jesus’ teachings brings the first and best opportunity to address the four functions of mythology as well (reference lesson 1).
I think that the distinction you mentioned of the beliefs on how people get to heaven is very important. The fact that Christians believe that Jesus is the only way, but that Muslims believe that saying this is not allowed.