The Amidah Prayer: A New Translation

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, The Lord’s Prayer, is most likely an abbreviated version of the Amidah (“Standing,” in Hebrew) or Eighteen Benedictions. I think it is important for Christians to be familiar with this central prayer of Jewish religious life.1

The prayer is very ancient, some of the changes to it being made 200 years before the time of Jesus. The prayer is also very beautiful, full of scriptural quotations and allusions. Every Jew was obligated to pray the Eighteen Benedictions daily. However, in times of emergency, one was permitted to pray a shortened form of the Eighteen, such as the Lord’s Prayer.

Rabbi Eliezer, a younger contemporary of Jesus, taught this abbreviation of the Eighteen:

May your will be done in heaven above, grant peace of mind to those who fear you [on earth] below, and do what seems best to you. Blessed are you, O LORD, who answers prayer.

Note the phrases “your will be done” and “in heaven above…[on earth] below” are both also found in the Lord’s Prayer. The Phrase “grant peace of mind” in the prayer Eliezer taught parallels the phrase “deliver us from evil” in the prayer Jesus taught.

The characterizations of God, which always follow “Blessed are you, O Lord”), can be used to summarize each benediction. If they are
strung together, they comprise a nice description of God:

God is the shield of Abraham, the one who revives the dead, the holy God, the gracious giver of knowledge, the one who delights in repentance, the one who is merciful and always ready to forgive, the redeemer of Israel, the healer of Israel’s sick, the one who blesses the years, the one who gathers Israel’s dispersed, the King who loves righteousness and justice, the one who smashes enemies and humbles the arrogant, the support and stay of the righteous, the one who rebuilds Jerusalem, the one who causes salvation to flourish, the one who hears prayer, the one who restores the divine presence to Zion, the one whose Name is the Beneficent One and to whom it is fitting to give thanks, and the one who blesses Israel with peace.

(Note that the headings summarize each benediction or blessing are for reference only, and are not recited.)

Praying hands

THE AMIDAH

1. THE GOD OF HISTORY:

Blessed are you, O Lord our God and God of our
fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, the
great, mighty and revered God, the Most High God who bestows
lovingkindnesses, the creator of all things, who remembers the good deeds
of the patriarchs and in love will bring a redeemer to their children’s
children for his name’s sake. O king, helper, savior and shield.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the shield of Abraham.


2. THE GOD OF NATURE:

You, O Lord, are mighty forever, you revive the
dead, you have the power to save. [From the end of Sukkot until the eve
of Passover, insert: You cause the wind to blow and the rain to fall.]
You sustain the living with lovingkindness, you revive the dead with great
mercy, you support the falling, heal the sick, set free the bound and keep
faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like you, O doer of mighty
acts? Who resembles you, a king who puts to death and restores to life,
and causes salvation to flourish? And you are certain to revive the dead.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who revives the dead.

3. SANCTIFICATION OF GOD:

[Reader] We will sanctify your name in this world just as it is sanctified in the highest heavens, as it is written by your prophet: “And they call out to one another and say:
[Cong.] ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.'” [Isa. 6:3]
[Reader] Those facing them praise God saying:
[Cong.] “Blessed be the Presence of the LORD in his place.” [Ezek. 3:12]
[Reader] And in your Holy Words it is written, saying,
[Cong.] “The LORD reigns forever, your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah.” [Ps. 146:10]
[Reader] Throughout all generations we will declare your greatness, and to all eternity we will proclaim your holiness. Your praise, O our God, shall never depart from our mouth, for you are a great and holy God and King. Blessed are you, O Lord, the holy God. You are holy, and your name is holy, and holy beings praise you daily. (Selah.) Blessed are you, O Lord, the holy God.

4. PRAYER FOR UNDERSTANDING:

You favor men with knowledge, and teach mortals understanding.
O favor us with the knowledge,
the understanding and the insight that come from you.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the gracious giver of knowledge.

5. FOR REPENTANCE:

Bring us back, O our father, to your Instruction;
draw us near, O our King, to your service;
and cause us to return to you in perfect repentance.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who delights in repentance.

6. FOR FORGIVENESS:

Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned;
pardon us, O our King, for we have transgressed; for you pardon and forgive.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who is merciful and always ready to forgive.

7. FOR DELIVERANCE FROM AFFLICTION:

Look upon our affliction and plead our cause,
and redeem us speedily for your name’s sake,
for you are a mighty redeemer.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the redeemer of Israel.

8. FOR HEALING:

Heal us, O Lord, and we will be healed;
save us and we will be saved, for you are our praise.
O grant a perfect healing to all our ailments,
for you, almighty King, are a faithful and merciful healer.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the healer of the sick of his people Israel.

9. FOR DELIVERANCE FROM WANT:

Bless this year for us, O Lord our God,
together with all the varieties of its produce, for our welfare.
Bestow ([from the 15th of Nissan insert:] dew and rain for) a blessing upon the
face of the earth. O satisfy us with your goodness, and bless our year
like the best of years.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who blesses the years.

10. FOR GATHERING OF EXILES:

Sound the great shofar for our freedom,
raise the ensign to gather our exiles,
and gather us from the four corners of the earth.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who gathers the dispersed of his people Israel.

11. FOR THE RIGHTEOUS REIGN OF GOD:

Restore our judges as in former times,
and our counselors as at the beginning; and remove from us sorrow and
sighing. Reign over us, you alone, O Lord, with lovingkindness and
compassion, and clear us in judgment. Blessed are you, O Lord, the King
who loves righteousness and justice.

12. FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF APOSTATES AND
THE ENEMIES OF GOD:

Let there be no hope for slanderers,
and let all wickedness perish in an instant.
May all your enemies quickly be cut down,
and may you soon in our day uproot, crush, cast down
and humble the dominion of arrogance.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who smashes enemies and humbles the arrogant.

13. FOR THE RIGHTEOUS AND PROSELYTES:

May your compassion be stirred, O Lord our God,
towards the righteous, the pious, the elders of your people
the house of Israel, the remnant of their scholars, towards proselytes,
and towards us also. Grant a good reward to all who truly trust in your
name. Set our lot with them forever so that we may never be put to shame,
for we have put our trust in you.
Blessed are you, O Lord, the support and stay of the righteous.

14. FOR THE REBUILDING OF JERUSALEM:

Return in mercy to Jerusalem your city, and dwell in it as you have promised.
Rebuild it soon in our day as an eternal structure,
and quickly set up in it the throne of David.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who rebuilds Jerusalem.

15. FOR THE MESSIANIC KING:

Speedily cause the offspring of your servant David to flourish,
and let him be exalted by your saving power,
for we wait all day long for your salvation.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who causes salvation to flourish.

16. FOR THE ANSWERING OF PRAYER:

Hear our voice, O Lord our God; spare us and have pity on us.
Accept our prayer in mercy and with favor,
for you are a God who hears prayers and supplications.
O our King, do not turn us away from your presence empty-handed,
for you hear the prayers of your people Israel with compassion.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who hears prayer.

17. FOR RESTORATION OF TEMPLE SERVICE:

Be pleased, O Lord our God, with your people Israel and with their prayers.
Restore the service to the inner sanctuary of your Temple,
and receive in love and with favor both the fire-offerings of Israel and their prayers.
May the worship of your people Israel always be acceptable to you.
And let our eyes behold your return in mercy to Zion.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who restores his divine presence to Zion.

18. THANKSGIVING FOR GOD’S UNFAILING MERCIES:

We give thanks to you that you are the Lord our God
and the God of our fathers forever and ever.
Through every generation you have been the rock of our lives, the shield
of our salvation. We will give you thanks and declare your praise for our
lives that are committed into your hands, for our souls that are entrusted
to you, for your miracles that are daily with us, and for your wonders and
your benefits that are with us at all times, evening, morning and noon.
O beneficent one, your mercies never fail; O merciful one,
your lovingkindnesses never cease. We have always put our hope in you.
For all these acts may your name be blessed and exalted continually,
O our King, forever and ever. Let every living thing give thanks to you and
praise your name in truth, O God, our salvation and our help. (Selah.)
Blessed are you, O Lord, whose Name is the Beneficent One,
and to whom it is fitting to give thanks.

19. FOR PEACE:

Grant peace, welfare, blessing, grace, lovingkindness and mercy to us
and to all Israel your people. Bless us, O our Father, one and
all, with the light of your countenance; for by the light of your
countenance you have given us, O Lord our God, a Torah of life,
lovingkindness and salvation, blessing, mercy, life and peace.
May it please you to bless your people Israel at all times and in every hour with your peace.
Blessed are you, O Lord, who blesses his people Israel with peace.

~~~~

1 The prayer is known as the “Eighteen” because it originally consisted of eighteen benedictions. The twelfth benediction (against apostates) was added around 70 AD. For more on this topic, see New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin (En-Gedi, 2007). 

Photos: MathKnight and Zachi Evenor [CC BY 3.0], Praying Hands by jill, jellidonut… whatever [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Jesus’ View of Pacifism

(Chapter excerpt from New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, with permission.)


The idea that Jesus taught pacifism arose primarily due to the misunderstanding of a number of his sayings. When viewed from a Jewish perspective, the gospel passages on which pacifism is based point to a quite different conclusion.

Many people over the years have seen Jesus as a pacifist—and for good reason. Here was a man who apparently was willing to die rather than defend himself, a man who taught his disciples not to kill, not to resist evil, to love their enemies, not to fear those who kill the body, and that only those who are willing to lose their lives will be able to save them.1 Jesus’ teachings seem very much like those of such popular pacifists as Tolstoy and Gandhi, and indeed, Tolstoy based his views on gospel passages.2

But did Jesus teach that it is wrong to defend oneself against attack? Did he really mean that we should not resist evil? Such a view seems to contradict what we read elsewhere in the Bible. In Romans 12:9, for example, Paul says that one should “hate what is evil,” and in James 4:7 we read that we are to “resist the devil.” It is clear from passages in Luke 22 that Jesus’ disciples were armed,3 and Jesus himself advised them to purchase swords.4

These apparent contradictions may be reconciled by recognizing the Hebraic nuances of the gospel texts, and by developing a deeper understanding of the Jewish background to Jesus’ words.

Kill or Murder?

One verse that is commonly cited in support of Jesus’ pacifism is Matthew 5:21, which most English versions of the Bible render, “You shall not kill.” The Greek word translated “kill” in this passage is a form of the verb phoneuo. This verb was always used as the equivalent of the Hebrew verb ratsah in the Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Ratsah is the word used in the sixth commandment in both Exodus 20:13 and its parallel, Deuteronomy 5:17. It seems quite certain that in Matthew 5:21 Jesus was quoting the sixth commandment.

The words phoneuo and ratsah are both ambiguous and can mean either “kill” or “murder,” depending upon the context. However, God himself commanded capital punishment for such crimes as deliberate murder (Ex 21:12–15), rape (Deut 22:25–26), kidnapping (Ex 21:16), adultery (Lev 20:10; Deut 22:22), sorcery (Ex 22:18), and many other crimes. The sixth commandment, therefore, must be a prohibition against murder, not killing as such.

In spite of this, the King James Version of 1611, and the revisions of 1885 (Revised Version) and 1952 (Revised Standard Version), used “kill” rather than “murder” in translating Jesus’ quotation of this commandment.5 Although most recent translations of the Bible have corrected this mistake,6 the use of “kill” in the King James Version and its successors has strongly influenced many English-speaking Christians’ views of self-defense.

Another saying of Jesus on which his supposed pacifism is based is found in Matthew 5:39a. It is usually translated, “Do not resist evil,” or “Do not resist one who is evil.” However, when Jesus’ saying is translated back into Hebrew, it is seen to be a quotation of a well-known Hebrew proverb that appears with slight variations in Psalms 37:1, 8 and Proverbs 24:19.7

This Hebrew maxim is usually translated, “Do not fret because of evildoers,” or “Do not be vexed by evildoers.” Bible translators apparently have supposed from the contexts of this maxim in Psalm 37 and Proverbs 24, which emphasize that evildoers will be destroyed, that the righteous should not be concerned about evildoers or pay them any attention.

This supposition is strengthened by the second half of Psalms 37:1 that, as it is usually translated, advises that one should not be envious of such evildoers. It thus appears that the verb translated “fret” or “be vexed” is correctly translated. However, elsewhere in the Bible this verb always seems to have some sense of the meaning “anger.”8 Furthermore, the two parallels to this verb in Psalms 37:8, both synonyms for anger, suggest that the verb in Matthew 5 must also have that meaning.

The verb in question is from the root h-r-h, whose basic meaning is “burn.” From this root meaning is derived “anger,” a sense that all Hebrew words from this root have in common. (Note that in English also, many verbs expressing anger have something to do with fire or burning—be hot, burn, boil, flare up.) In some occurrences of this root, anger is a result of jealousy or rivalry. Saul’s jealousy of David caused him to fly into a rage (1 Sam 20:7, 30). This nuance of h-r-h is also reflected in the use of “contend” in Isaiah 41:11: “Shamed and chagrined shall be all who contend with you” (JPS).

The particular form of the verb used in our proverb is a form for intensive action and thus expresses a passionate anger. This furious anger leads to a response in kind. Such anger results in a rivalry to see who can get the better of the other, and in each round of the competition the level of anger and violence rises. This amounts to responding to evil on its own terms, to competing in doing wrong with those who wrong us.

Do Not Try to Outdo Evildoers

The New English Bible’s translation of Psalms 37:1 and 37:8 is unique: “Do not strive to outdo the evildoers or emulate those who do wrong. For like grass they soon wither and fade like the green of spring”; “Be angry no more, have done with wrath; strive not to outdo in evildoing.” This seems to be the only version of the Bible that reflects the Hebrew “anger” verb’s nuance of rivalry or competition.

Likewise, the Good News Bible is apparently the only translation of the New Testament that uses “revenge,” or anything similar, to render Matthew 5:38–39:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who does you wrong. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.

It is surprising there are not other versions that translate in the same way. Following “But I tell you,” the context demands “Do not take revenge,” since the first part of verse 39 speaks of “an eye for an eye,” in other words, punishment that is a response in kind.

In idiomatic English, Matthew 5:39a might read simply, “Don’t try to get even with evildoers.”9 Not “competing” with evildoers is very different from not resisting evildoers. Jesus was not teaching that one should submit to evil, but that one should not seek revenge. Jesus’ statement has nothing to do with confronting a murderer or facing an enemy on the field of battle. As Proverbs 24:29 says, “Do not say, ‘I will do to him as he has done to me. I will pay the man back for what he has done.’”

English mistranslation of Matthew 5:39a has created a theological contradiction, but when Jesus’ saying is correctly understood, it harmonizes beautifully with other New Testament passages:

See that none of you pays back evil with evil; instead, always try to do good to each other and to all people. (1 Thess 5:15)

Do not repay evil with evil or curses with curses, but with blessings. Bless in return — that is what you have been called to do — so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Pet 3:9)

Bless those who persecute you. Bless them, do not curse them. Do not pay anyone back with evil for evil…. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with everyone. Beloved, do not take revenge, but leave that to the wrath of God. (Rom 12:14, 17–19)

Or, as Jesus commanded, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44). Our response to evil does have to be resistance — it is morally wrong to tolerate evil. However, we also must continue to show love for the evildoer.

It should be noted that loving and praying for one’s enemies in no way precludes defending oneself when one’s life is in danger. One is morally obligated to preserve life, including one’s own. Jesus never taught that it is wrong to defend oneself against life-threatening attack. However, he consistently taught his disciples to forgive and not to seek revenge against those who had insulted or wronged them. As Proverbs 20:22 counsels, “Do not say, ‘I will repay the evil deed in kind.’ Trust in the LORD. He will take care of it.” Our responsibility is not to respond in kind to offenses directed against us. That only prolongs and perpetuates the evil. We are not to “be overcome by evil,” but to “overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21).

Not only does a pacifistic interpretation of Jesus’ sayings contradict many biblical passages, but pacifism was never a part of Jewish belief. According to Scripture, for example, a person who kills a housebreaker at night is not guilty of murder: “If a thief is seized while tunneling [to break into a house], and he is beaten to death, the person who killed him is not guilty of bloodshed” (Ex 22:2). The rationale is that the thief is ready to murder anyone who surprises him, thus one may preempt the thief.

The Jewish position on this issue is summed up in the rabbinic dictum, “If someone comes to murder you, anticipate him and kill him first.”10 The rabbis taught that if one is in danger of being murdered, he should defend himself, even if there is a measure of doubt about the intention of the attacker. Furthermore, if another person’s life is threatened, one is obligated to prevent that murder, if necessary by killing the attacker.11 The rabbis ruled that a person who is pursuing someone else with intent to murder may be killed.12 In light of this, it is very unlikely that Jesus, a Jew of the first century, would have espoused pacifism.

When we examine Jesus’ words from a Hebraic-Jewish perspective, we can see what has been obscured by mistranslation and lack of familiarity with Judaism. The passages construed to support pacifism actually condemn revenge rather than self-defense. It is not surprising that this interpretation is consistent with Jesus’ other teachings and the rest of biblical instruction.

~~~~~

To explore this topic more, see  New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2006.

1 Mt 5:21; 5:39a; 5:44; 10:28; 16:25.

2 See Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God Is within You, trans. Constance Garnett (New York, 1894; repr. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984).

3 Lk 22:38, 49.

4 Lk 22:36.

5 In addition to the King James Version and its revisions, such versions as the New Jerusalem Bible, The Living Bible and The Amplified Bible render Matthew 5:21 as “kill.” However, The Living Bible and The Amplified Bible show inconsistency by translating the sixth commandment using “murder” (Ex 20:13; Deut 5:17).

6 Rendering Matthew 5:21 by “murder” or “commit murder” are the New English Bible, New International Version, New American Standard Bible, New American Bible, Good News Bible, New Berkeley Version and the New Testament translations of Goodspeed, Moffatt, Phillips, Stern (Jewish New Testament) and Weymouth.

7 I am indebted to Robert L. Lindsey for drawing my attention to the connection between Matthew 5:39a and these three passages. Psalm 37:1 and Proverbs 24:19 read al tithar bamere’im (Do not be furiously angry with evildoers). Psalm 37:8 reads al tithar ach lehare’a (Do not be furiously angry; it can only do harm).

8 See the entry harah in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 5:171–76.

9 “Wrongdoers” might be preferable to “evildoers.” As the context, which mentions insults and lawsuits, shows, Jesus probably was not speaking primarily of confrontations with criminals or enemies on the field of battle, but of confrontations with ordinary acquaintances who have committed an offense.

10 B. Sanhedrin 72a.

11 This ruling was based on Leviticus 19:16: “You must not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is at stake” (New English Translation).

12 M. Sanhedrin 8:7.

(Photo credits: Francois Polito [CC BY-SA 3.0], Bullying)

Miracle on the Sea of Galilee

The following article is an excerpt from New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin. It can be found at En-Gedi’s bookstore

He [Jesus] got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to push out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Teacher, we have worked all night and caught nothing! However, if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they enclosed a great school of fish … when Simon Peter saw it, he fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:3–6, 8)

Understanding more about ancient fishing on the Sea of Galilee allows us to paint, in vivid detail, this scene of one of the first miracles of Jesus’ ministry as it occurred, likely during winter on the lake shore at Heptapegon near Capernaum.1

Peter and the other fishermen were using a trammel net to catch musht (Tilapia galilea; “St. Peter’s fish”). They fished at night and stopped their work at dawn because in the light of day the fish could see the netting. Before the fishermen turned in for the day, they carefully washed
their nets and hung them to dry. If the linen nets were not dried promptly after use they would rot in a short time.

From the gospel account we learn that Jesus arrived at the lake shore while the fishermen were still washing their nets, and immediately got into one of the boats and began to teach. If the washing of the trammel nets took place shortly after dawn, then Jesus must have begun teaching very early in the morning.2

Jewish sources support this picture of the diligence and faithfulness of teachers in Israel during this period, and the people’s eagerness to learn Torah. From rabbinic literature one learns that the rabbis taught in every conceivable venue and at any time of the day or night.

Here we have an example of a rabbi teaching in the early morning, perhaps as early as 7:00, from a boat moored offshore. A crowd large enough to cause Jesus to use a boat as a teaching platform had gathered, despite the early hour.

The Tough Work of the Fisherman

Was it just by chance that Jesus chose fishermen as disciples, or had their difficult work especially prepared them for the task for which they were chosen? The Sea of Galilee fishermen were tough. Their bodies were wet much of the time, even in the winter, for it is during the winter when fishing is at its best on the Sea of Galilee — the musht season is in the winter, as is the sardine season. The winter is also the rainy season in Israel, and it often rained on the fishermen during those long winter nights when they were out on the lake.3 (In those days there were no rubberized rain gear like today’s fishermen wear!)

The fisherman’s work was also difficult physically, entailing rowing to and from the fishing sites, hauling in heavy nets and lifting catches of fish. Cast-net fishermen had to dive under the water repeatedly to retrieve their nets. Most fishermen worked all night and slept during the day. We can image that a typical fishing village like Capernaum was quiet until 12:30 or 1:00 p.m., with mothers shushing noisy children or any dog that barked.

Put yourself in Peter’s place, having worked all night in a small boat, in the cold, in the dark, perhaps in the rain. How would you feel if while washing your nets shortly after dawn, dead tired after a long night of fishing, someone climbed into your boat and asked you to row him out into the lake, and then you had to sit in the boat waiting for several hours while that person spoke to an audience?

Before long, your patience would be wearing thin because you would not only be sleepy, you would begin to be very hungry as well. Imagine then being ordered to go back to work, to let down your nets again — after they had already been washed! What chutzpah on the part of Jesus!

Where was Jesus when he said to Peter, “Push out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch”? Where was Jesus when Peter fell at his feet in shock and amazement? Our impression of the story in Luke 5:1–11 is sometimes colored by a similar story found in John 21:1–14. We often unconsciously harmonize these accounts even though the story in John takes place after the resurrection.

We picture Jesus standing elegantly on the beach, perhaps with an arm outstretched towards Peter’s boat some distance offshore. We envision Peter jumping out of his boat, swimming ashore, falling on his face on the beach before Jesus, and then climbing back aboard his boat to drag the loaded net ashore. This is due to the influence of John’s account which has Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, jumping out of his boat which was 200 cubits (about 90 meters) from land and swimming ashore.

However, in Luke’s story, Jesus is in Peter’s boat when he tells Peter to push out into the deep water and begin fishing again. Jesus is also in the boat when Peter falls at his feet immediately after the loaded fish nets are hauled into the boat.

It may seem to us from English translations of this story that Peter alone maneuvered the boat into position for Jesus’ teaching session, that Peter alone took his boat out to deeper water, and that Peter single-handedly let down the nets.

But Jesus’ command — “Push out [plural] into the deep water and let down [plural] your [plural] nets for a catch” — indicates that there was at least one other fisherman from Peter’s crew who got into the boat with Peter and Jesus. Also the statement in verse 7, “they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them,” shows that Peter was not the only fisherman in the boat.

The trammel net boat was normally manned by four fishermen. It is therefore likely that there were two or three other fishermen who got into the boat along with Peter. (The trammel net boat could with some difficulty be operated by a crew of two — one crew member rowing and the other playing out and hauling in the nets.)

If only two people besides Peter and Jesus got into the boat, then perhaps Jesus served as the crew’s fourth member. If three got in then Jesus was in the way, since in a boat of this size — fifteen to eighteen feet long — there was barely room for four fishermen, their nets and other equipment.

This alters the usual picture we have of Jesus’ lakeside teaching session: as the crowd listened to Jesus, they saw him in a boat flanked by two to four fishermen. Furthermore, we have to picture Jesus, as the nets were being hauled into the boat, crowded into a corner of the boat and partially covered with nets and fish — unless he had replaced the fourth crew member and was helping to pull in the nets. Had Jesus himself spent time fishing on the Sea of Galilee?

The Miracle of the Catch

When Peter saw the enormous catch, he fell down in the boat in front of Jesus crying, “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man!” The text adds that Peter and those with him were astonished “at the catch of fish which they had taken.” Did these fishermen react this way because statistically it was unlikely that they would catch fish, not to speak of a near-record catch, after having worked all night and caught nothing?

Yes, this partially accounts for their shock. The unlikelihood of now catching enough fish to be worth their while financially is also indicated by Peter’s initial response. He didn’t immediately do as Jesus said, but first argued a little: “Lord, we have worked all night and caught nothing.”

But there is more to these Galilean fishermen’s reaction of amazement than the catch itself or its size. Until the introduction of transparent nylon nets in the mid-1950s, trammel net fishing was done only at night. In the daytime, the fish could see the nets and avoid them.

The miracle was that the fish swam blindly into the net. In addition, in trammel net fishing the fish had to be scared into the nets after the nets had been put in place. Although possible, it does not seem from Luke’s account that the fishermen made a commotion to frighten the fish.

What was it, then, that caused Peter to fall in fear at Jesus’ feet? Apparently, it was the timing of the miracle. It was amazement at Jesus’ ability to, as we say, “call the shots.” Immediately after he finished preaching, when it was convenient for him, Jesus compensated these fishermen for their inconvenience.

The confidence of Jesus stands out. To teach a crowd of people Jesus apparently did not mind the inconvenience he caused these fishermen, because he planned to reward them for their service and knew that he could do so whenever he wished. We see this same confidence demonstrated by Peter after Pentecost when Peter, knowing in advance what he was going to do and what would be the result, healed a lifelong cripple (Acts 3:6).

Jesus was not unaware of the tiredness of the fishermen and their frustration at not having caught anything after working so hard all night. He knew that they were dead tired and wanted to go home and go to sleep. He also knew of their general need for income and their particular lack of it after this unsuccessful night of fishing.

He removed their frustration at having wasted a night’s work and blessed them with enough fish to compensate them not just for the few hours he took of their time but with as many fish as they would normally have caught in several nights of good fishing. The catch described in Luke 5 was about three-fourths of a ton — as much as a trammel net fishing crew would normally take in two week’s work, allowing for nights like the one that Peter and his crew had just experienced when nothing is caught.

~~~~

Once again, this article is an excerpt from New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin. It can be found at En-Gedi’s bookstore

 

1 This chapter is based on the research of Mendel Nun, who spent a lifetime studying the ancient fishing methods used on the Sea of Galilee. Since Jesus spent so much time on or near the sea, and his first disciples were Sea of Galilee fishermen, Nun’s work is important in illuminating many gospel stories.

2 Nun has also shown that in the story of the miraculous catch, Peter could only have been using a trammel net or a veranda net, a variation of the trammel net. He could not have been fishing with a seine because it was not used near Heptapegon/Capernaum. The floor of the lake in that area of the coast is so rocky that the seine would have continually gotten hung up on the rocks. And it is unlikely that Peter was using a cast-net because he was fishing with a boat and crew.

3 For more on trammel net fishing on the Sea of Galilee, see “Let Down Your Nets” by Mendel Nun, Jerusalem Perspective 24 (Jan/Feb 1990), pp. 11–13.

“Miracle on the Sea of Galilee” was adapted and abridged from the article, “The Miraculous Catch (Luke 5:1–11): Reflections on the Research of Mendel Nun,” by David Bivin, which is available online at www.JerusalemPerspective.com.

Photos: Kirsten Young on Unsplash, Xavier Smet on Unsplash, Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

First-century Discipleship

by David Bivin 

Jesus and Disciples

 

Like other sages of his time, Jesus demanded his disciples’ total commitment. They were to put the “kingdom of Heaven” (Jesus’ band of full-time disciples) before all else. They were to “hate,” that is, put second, father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and themselves, as well (Luke 14:26). Following Jesus to learn Torah from him was to take precedence over every other endeavor.

The call to be a sage’s disciple in first-century Israel often meant leaving relatives and friends and traveling the country under austere conditions. It also meant total commitment. A prospective disciple first had to be sure his priorities were in order.

Consider the words of the man who said to Jesus, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family” (Luke 9:61). Jesus’ reply shows that only those who were prepared to commit themselves totally to him would be welcome: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). 

This is emphasized in Jesus’ response to another man who offered to follow him, but only after “burying his father.” “Let the dead bury their dead,” Jesus told him (Luke 9:60; Matt 8:22).

Apparently, Jesus’ replies were directed towards persons whom he had invited to leave home and serve a full-time apprenticeship with him. This form of discipleship was a unique feature of ancient Jewish society.


Sacrifice

According to Mishnah, Peah 1:1, a person “benefits from the interest” in this world from certain things such as honoring one’s father and mother, while “the principal” remains for him in the world to come. “But,” the passage goes on, “the study of Torah is equal to them all.” Jesus said something similar: as important as honoring one’s parents is, leaving home to study Torah with him is even more important.

To the rich man mentioned in Luke 18, the call to follow Jesus meant giving up all his wealth. The price was too high for him and he did not become one of Jesus’ disciples. Peter reminded Jesus that he and the others who had accepted Jesus’ call were different: “We have left everything to follow you.”

“Amen!” said Jesus — in other words, “Yes, you have done that and it is commendable.” Jesus went on to promise that anyone who had made the sacrifice of total commitment for the sake of the kingdom of God would receive something of much greater value than what he had given up, and, in addition, eternal life in the world to come (Luke 18:28-30).

Commitment
Jesus did not want his prospective disciples to have any false expectations and he frequently stressed the need to count the cost before making a commitment to him:

Which of you, if he wanted to build a tower, would not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he had enough money to complete it? …likewise, any of you who is not ready to leave all his possessions cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:28-33)

Jesus was clear about the degree of commitment that was required of a disciple:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and himself as well, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26-27)

In this context, the word “hate” does not carry the meaning it normally has in English usage, but seems to be used in a Hebraic sense. In Hebrew, “hate” can also mean “love less” or “put in second place.” For example, Genesis 29:31 states that Leah was “hated,” but the context indicates that Leah was not unloved, but rather loved less than Jacob’s other wife Rachel. Note that the preceding verse specifically says that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.

A second illustration of this particular Hebraic shade of meaning of the word “hate” is found in Deuteronomy 21:15: “If a man has two wives, one loved and the other hated….” Here too, the context shows that the “hated” wife is only second in affection and not really hated in the English sense of the word. Likewise, in Jesus’ statement, he is saying that whoever does not love him more than his own family or even his own self cannot be his disciple.

Jesus also alluded to the rigors of the peripatetic life of a sage when he said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:57-58). The burden Jesus’ disciples had to bear was a heavy one, but not unlike what disciples of other first-century sages had to bear, and would not have been considered extreme by the standards of first-century Jewish society.

Another hardship a disciple could face was being away from his wife. Disciples commonly were single, but since marriage took place at a relatively early age (usually by eighteen according to the Mishnah [m. Avot 5:21]), many disciples had a wife and children. For example, the mother-in-law of one of Jesus’ disciples is mentioned in Luke 4:38. If married, a man needed the permission of his wife to leave home for longer than thirty days to study with a sage (m. Ketuvot 5:6).

Like a Father
Despite the many hardships, nothing compared with the exhilaration of following and learning from a great sage, and being in the circle of his disciples. A special relationship developed between sage and disciple in which the sage became like a father (see my “Call No Man ‘Father’”). In fact, he was more than a father and was to be honored above the disciple’s own father, as this passage from the Mishnah indicates:

When one is searching for the lost property both of his father and of his teacher, his teacher’s loss takes precedence over that of his father since his father brought him only into the life of this world, whereas his teacher, who taught him wisdom [i.e., Torah], has brought him into the life of the World to Come. But if his father is no less a scholar than his teacher, then his father’s loss takes precedence…. If his father and his teacher are in captivity, he must first ransom his teacher, and only afterwards his father—unless his father is himself a scholar and then he must first ransom his father. (m. Bab. Metz. 2:11)

If the thought that someone could ransom his teacher before his own father seems shocking, it is only because we do not understand the tremendous love and respect that disciples, and the community at large, had for their sages.

Similarly, Jesus’ not allowing a prospective disciple to say good-bye to his family before setting out to follow him may seem cruel. However, Jesus’ first-century contemporaries would have seen this as quite reasonable and normal. What Jesus meant would have been perfectly clear to them when he said, “No one can be my disciple who does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.”

~~~~

New LightTo explore this topic more, see New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, En-Gedi Resource Center, 2006.

Photos: Johannes Plenio on Unsplash, Evgeni Evgeniev on Unsplash

New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus

New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesusby David Bivin
© 2006, En-Gedi Resource Center
Softcover, 208 pages, $13.99

Download a sample chapter (pdf)

David Bivin is the founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective, a journal that explores the Jewish context of the Gospels. He has traveled and lectured internationally for more than 25 years, and is the author of hundreds of articles on that subject.

New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus is a collection of some of his best writing on the Jewishness of Jesus, edited for the general reader. The book examines Jesus’ lifestyle as a first-century Jewish rabbi, and looks at how his words would have been understood within the larger framework of first-century Judaism. Many scholarly footnotes make it a valuable help to those who want to study in depth.

“In Jerusalem, David Bivin has interacted for decades with some of the best Jewish scholarship in the world. This book displays many of the brilliant Hebraic gems the author has mined that help illuminate the pages of the Gospels. Clearly written and very readable, Bivin shows why Christians need rabbinic sources if they intend to know and understand Jesus in his first-century Jewish setting. New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus is a valuable resource for every serious student of Scripture.”

— Marvin Wilson, Author of Our Father Abraham: The Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith

Order New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus ($13.99).

Insights into Jesus of Nazareth Seminar

IJN-Set1Insights into Jesus of Nazareth

His Words, His Wisdom,
His World

Conference Seminar

Available as an 8-DVD set or mp3 CD (audio only). Order below.

© En-Gedi Resource Center, 2006

15 hours of in-depth presentations by leading scholars on Jesus’ first-century context. Filmed at the Jerusalem Perspective 2006 Conference in Jerusalem, Israel, June 19-20, 2006. 

Presentations:

The Value of Translating Matthew, Mark and Luke to Hebrew
David Bivin, Editor of Jerusalem Perspective

A Hebraic Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus
Randall Buth, Director, Biblical Language Center

Is Jesus Superior to the Law?  -and-
Jesus’s High Self-Awareness and the Christology of Paul
Dwight A. Pryor, President, Judaic-Christian Studies Center

Why Rabbinic Literature Is Pertinent to the Study of the Gospels  -and-
Jesus Among the Rabbis: Spiritual Life and Leadership
Brad Young, Professor, Oral Roberts University

The Mikvah and Ritual Immersion in Jesus’ Day
The Recently Discovered Pool of Siloam
(Audio online at link)
Ronney Reich, Archaeologist, Haifa University

The New Testament in the Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls
Hanan Eshel, Archaeologist, Bar Ilan University

Was Jesus Buried in the Garden Tomb? (DVD only)
Gabriel Barkay, Archaeologist, Bar Ilan University

Jeremiah’s New Covenant and Jesus’ Movement
Serge Ruzer, Professor, Hebrew University

Jesus, the Sin-Fearer
David Pileggi, Rector, Christ Church

Jesus’ Teaching Style Illustrated by His Response to Martha’s Anxiety
Lenore Mullican, Professor, Oral Roberts University

The Pastoral Relevance of Who Wrote the First Gospel -and-
The Importance of Bible Geography for Understanding Jesus
Halvor Ronning, Director, Home for Bible Translators

.

IJN Cover+border

 
8-DVD Set: $59.99



Audio mp3 CD: $29.99



Both DVD & Audio: $79.99

.
Also included on DVDs (not audio CD)

A tribute to David Flusser by James Charlesworth
• A documentary about Robert Lindsey and David Flusser
• Baritone Horst Krueger performing songs of Jerusalem and conference music composed by Robert Lindsey.

© Produced by the En-Gedi Resource Center in cooperation with JerusalemPerspective.com. All rights reserved.

Praying with Intention

by Lois Tverberg

“Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart. ” Psalm 24:3

The prayers that Jesus and Paul prayed were a combination of spontaneous petitions and traditional prayers that were prayed at certain times of day. One of them that is still prayed today is called the “Amidah” or “Eighteen Benedictions.” (1) It is quite lengthy, and consists of prayers for all the various concerns of the Jewish people. For thousands years since Jesus lived, these petitions have stayed nearly the same.

In contemporary Protestant culture, we tend to disdain rote prayer, preferring the intimacy of spontaneous prayer and feeling that a repeated prayer is empty and hollow. We wonder how a person could avoid just “going through the motions.” The answer is a concept that the rabbis developed known as “Kavanah.” The word means “direction,” “intention,” or “devotion,” and the idea behind praying with kavanah is that you set the direction of your thinking toward God, and toward praying the memorized prayer “with all your heart.”

A person who has kavanah focuses his entire being on prayer, and is undistracted by the chaos around him. He may have said the same prayer a thousand times, but his mind is sunk so deeply into the words that he is experiencing new insights and feelings from them today that he has never experienced before.

In synagogues, above the ark that holds the Torah scrolls, there is often a plaque that says, “Know before whom you stand.” That is just what it means to have kavanah in prayer – to have a sense of standing in the presence of God, to know that you are addressing the sovereign Lord of the universe.

When I used to pray after crawling in bed, I would often fall asleep before finishing my prayer. After thinking about the lack of reverence this has for God, I now make myself kneel or stay awake in some way, or pray at a time of day when I’m more awake. He deserves our best, not our least efforts in prayer.

Kavanah can go beyond prayer as well – our lives should also show it too. We should live each hour and day with devotion and intention, being aware of God’s presence all around us. When we do this, our lives will truly be the reflection of Christ, whose every desire was to please and honor God in every way.


1The Amidah: A New Translation, by David Bivin, is available here.

Time to Pray

by Bruce Okkema

But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” Luke 5:15-16

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Luke 6:12

When I examine my life as to whether I am spending enough time in prayer, I have yet to be able to say that I am. Even when I devote a lot of time to this, it seems I can always do more. Is this true for you as well?

Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer everyday as we read in many accounts throughout the gospels. As a faithful Jewish man, he would have prayed the full Shema1 twice every day, as well as the “Amidah” or “18 Benedictions”2 at the very least. If you try this yourself, you might be surprised at how long it takes, but you will begin to realize why this was done.

Perhaps you do want to pray more, but you just can’t think of any new ways to make your prayer life deeper. You are not alone, there are many people who feel this way and as long as you make a commitment to do something about it, you can be encouraged that there are many places to turn for help.

The best place to start, is to pray specifically for God’s help in improving your prayer life. It is almost certain you will get a positive answer; can you imagine that the Lord would not help you in this? You can also begin using scripture as a guide for your prayers. Study some of the great prayers of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, Jesus, Paul, Peter … praying them for yourself. Also, look at any Christian bookstore and you will find many books on prayer with good ideas about where to start and suggestions on methods to use.

Of course the difference is not made by the quantity of time you spend in prayer or about a particular method you use, but rather your sincerity in doing it. Try to follow Jesus’ example of praying often and praying long. You will find that that more time you spend in prayer, the more time you will want to spend in prayer.


(1) See the English Translation of the text of the full Shema
(2) ”The Amidah Prayer: A New Translation” by David Bivin

The Gentle Eyes of Leah

by Lois Tverberg

Woman's EyesLeah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful.

Genesis 29:17

Most of us have read the passage above about Jacob’s wives as describing Leah’s bad eyesight. We may assume that she squinted because of her eyes, and perhaps was plain and homely too. If she lived today, we might imagine her as an awkward wallflower with thick glasses.

Looking at the Hebrew a little more closely suggests that the word translated as “weak,” rach, may have been a more positive description. It can mean “weak,” but we can see other nuances in the following verses:

Genesis 18:7 Then Abram ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender (rach) calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it.

Isaiah 47:1 “Go down, sit in the dust, Virgin Daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, Daughter of the Babylonians. No more will you be called delicate (rach) or pampered.

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle (rach) answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

From these passages and others, we can see that the word rach can mean tender or gentle, and when used to describe a woman (as in Isaiah 47:1), it can connote delicateness or refinement. The passage seems to be a way of contrasting the lesser beauty of Leah with the greater physical attractiveness of her sister, which was why Jacob favored Rachel.

Could Leah’s tender eyes been God’s preference? Even though Jacob loved Rachel more, God consistently came to Leah’s aid by blessing her with children – six sons and one daughter to Rachel’s two sons. But nothing Leah did seemed to be able to win the love of her husband. Instead, Rachel’s sons Joseph and Benjamin were Jacob’s favorites, and she was the wife he truly loved.

It is interesting that God’s choice was not toward the beauty of Rachel, but of Leah, whose son Judah was the ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus. Perhaps he wanted Jesus to inherit Leah’s gentle eyes.


Photo: يبي صح

Note: This article is based on “Leah’s Tender Eyes,” by David Bivin, at www.jerusalemperspective.com.

Dying to Have Life

by Lois Tverberg

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. – John 12:24-26

In this passage in John, Jesus focuses on a seed, as he does in other parables about bearing fruit for God’s kingdom. But here, Jesus doesn’t just advise us to pluck out weeds of distraction that might choke the growth of our faith. He proclaims that the seed itself needs to perish in order to multiply and bear fruit; that we need to die to our basic desires in order to live for Jesus and receive life that endures for eternity.

Fishers of Men
The parable’s logic becomes clearer in light of the expectation of first-century disciples. A disciple was supposed to show utter dedication to his rabbi, acting as his “servant” and following him everywhere he taught. To do this one had to embrace a lifestyle of traveling, lack of comfort and sleep, as well as rigorous study of the Torah and the rabbi’s interpretation of it. Some quotes about it include,

This is the way [to acquire knowledge] of the Torah: eat bread with salt, drink water by measure, sleep on the ground, live a painful existence, and labor [studying] the Torah. (1)

The words of Torah are not retained by one who is lazy regarding them, and not by those who study surrounded by luxuries, food, and drink; but rather by one who ‘kills himself’ over them, denying himself physical indulgences; one who does not allow his eyes to sleep nor his eyelids to slumber. (2)

Other rabbis expected their students to “kill themselves” in their studies in their desire to learn the Bible. How much more should Jesus, our rabbi and Lord, expect that we sacrifice our time and lives to learn his words, and live by them too.


(1) As quoted in New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, by David Bivin, p 25.

(2) Maimonides, Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:12. (Commenting on Shabbos 83b, B. Talmud.)

Photo: Edith OSB