Who Are the Real Chosen People?: The Meaning of Chosenness in Judaism, Christianity and Islam

Explores the idea of covenant, and the expressions of supersessionism as articulated through the scriptures of the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Reuven Firestone, PhD

6 x 9, 176 pp | 978-1-59473-248-5

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What Does It Mean to Be “Chosen”? Why Did God Have to Choose?

“To be chosen can have a range of meaning from the mundane to the holy, but in all cases it means to be singled out and preferred over others. In a deep sense that permeates much or most of Western culture, having been chosen communicates a sense of something that is extraordinary, is transcendent, and entitles a reward. What is assumed in this sense of the term is that God has done the choosing and the reward is something that is unequaled, for what could possibly equal divinely ordained eternal happiness?”

—from the Introduction

Religious people who define themselves as monotheists have often advanced the idea that their relationship with God is unique and superior to all others. Theirs supersedes those who came before, and is superior to those who have followed. This phenomenon tends to be expressed in terms not only of supersessionism, but also “chosenness,” or “election.” Who is most beloved by God? What expression of the divine will is the most perfect? Which relationship reflects God’s ultimate demands or desire?

In this fascinating examination of the religious phenomenon of chosenness, Reuven Firestone explores the idea of covenant, and the expressions of supersessionism as articulated through the scriptures of the three major monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He explores how and why the ongoing competition and friction between these religions came about, and offers thoughts about how to overcome it.

“A tract for our times.... Fair-minded ... and historically informative.... Deserves a wide readership to help Jews, Christians and Muslims ... understand more deeply one of the central elements of their religious heritage.”

Dialogue & Alliance

“The first careful, fair, and thorough comparison of how the concept functions in the three major Abrahamic religions…. Required reading.”

Harvey Cox, Hollis Professor of Divinity, Harvard University

“Polemic-free [and] informative.”


“Scholars and laypeople, believers and skeptics alike will profit greatly from this informative and thought-provoking book.”

Rabbi David Ellenson, PhD, president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion

“Accessible, [but] clearly anchored in a scholarly core.”

Catholic Library World

“Does the reader a favor by not glossing over the hard issues that confront us, rather offering a timely analysis of the concept of chosenness.”

Akbar Ahmed, PhD, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University

“Fair and careful.... Accessible ... will aid those interested in greater self-understanding and those wishing to engage the difficult issues of interfaith dialogue. Highly recommended.”

Congregational Libraries Today



Introduction: The Language of Chosenness vii
1 In the Beginning ɠ1
2 Chosenness in the Ancient Near East 11
3 Best Practice Models and Religious Success 35
4 Chosenness and Covenant in the New Testament 57
5 Chosenness and Covenant in the Qur'an 73
6 Chosenness and Covenant in Rabbinic Literature 85
7 The Merit of the Ancients 91
8 The Legacy of Chosenness 115
9 Does Redemption Require Election? 131
Conclusion: Retaining Our Uniqueness while
Affirming the Other 147
Notes 151
Suggestions for Further Reading 157