043 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 043 Blessed the Poor in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

Crossan Inventory | 043 Literature | 043 Parallels | 043 Commentary | 043 Poetry | 043 Images


John Dominic Crossan

Crossan treats this saying [Historical Jesus] (270-74) as part of a longer discussion of the divine commonwealth as a "Kingdom of Nobodies." In classic style, Crossan begins:

It is hard to imagine a saying more initially radical ... and thereafter more safely relegated to the confines of normalcy if not banality.

Crossan draws on Aristophanes, Plutus, as the classic text for the distinction between Poverty (penian) and Beggary (ptocheias). The goddess Penia rejects the blurring of distinction between poverty and beggary, insisting:

But the life I allot to my people is not,

nor shall be, so full of distresses.
'Tis the beggar (ptochou) alone who has nought of his own,
nor even an obol possesses.
My poor (penetos) man, 'tis true, has to scrape and to screw
and his work he must never be slack in;
There'll be no superfluity found in his cot;
but then there will nothing be lacking.

[cited in Historical Jesus, 271]

Crossan observes:

Aristophanes might create a goddess known as Poverty, the divine personification of the deserving and hard-working poor, and so quite properly opposed to the leisured laziness of the idle rich, but he created no goddess known as Beggary, gave no apotheosis to Destitution. That is, however, exactly what Jesus did. He spoke, in shocking paradox, not about a Kingdom of the Poor but about a Kingdom of the Destitute. ... The beatitude of Jesus declared blessed, then, not the poor but the destitute, not poverty but beggary. ... Jesus spoke of a Kingdom not of the Peasant or Artisan classes, but of the Unclean, Degraded, and Expendable classes.

Crossan concludes his discussion with observations about the "almost synonymous" remaining beatitudes: 059 Blessed the Sad [1/3], 96 Blessed the Hungry [1/2] and 048 Blessed the Persecuted [1/3]:

I judge that Jesus said, speaking no doubt from his own experience, something like "Blessed are the abused and rejected," and the early communities said, speaking from their own increasingly dangerous situations, "Blessed are the persecuted." As John Kloppenborg put it, having paralleled that beatitude's acceptance of social abuse with similar Cynic experiences, "those who proclaim, 'Blessed are the poor' will find themselves hated and reviled."

International Q Project

[IQP] reconstructs the original Q saying as follows:

And [rais]ing his [eyes to] his disciples he said,
"Blessed are <you> poor, for God's reign is for you."

Jesus Seminar

The views of the Seminar may be represented as follows:

  • Thom 54
  • Thom 54
  • Luke 6:20
  • Luke 6:20b
  • Matt 5:3
  • Matt 5:3
  • PolPhil 2:3b

(On some occasions a text was reconsidered at more than one session of the Seminar, sometimes resulting in a different color grading.)

The Fellows of the Seminar were virtually unanimous in their view that Jesus is the author of the first three congratulations. They were also convinced that the Lukan versions of those addressed to the poor, the weeping, and the hungry are more original.

Gerd Lüdemann

In discussing Luke's version of this saying, and the Beatitudes in general, Lüdemann [Jesus] (297) concludes:

The earliest stratum of the beatitudes goes back to Jesus. This judgment is based on two observations: (a) the beatitudes form a much longer series in Matthew and there consist of ten individual blessings (Matt. 5.3-12); here we can already note processes of growth within the tradition (cf. Matt 5.7-9). (b) Luke 6.22/Matt 5.11-12 (cf. Thomas 68.1) are focused on the situation of the post-Easter community and are clearly of later origin.

[After a paragraph on the "spiritualization of the beatitudes in Matthew" (but note the contrasting view by Lachs above) he continues:]

Around the historical nucleus we have two rings of expansions in Q (vv. 22-23) and the expansion by Luke himself (vv. 24-26), neither of which, like the introduction (v. 20), has any claim to historicity. By contrast the criteria of growth, offensiveness and difference support the historicity of vv. 20b-21.

John P. Meier

Meier argues for the dependence of Thom 54 on Matthew and Luke [Marginal Jew] (II,333). This is one element of his extended treatment of the beatitudes (pp. 317-336).

Meier's use of possible linguistic parallels from Qumran is a classic example of the maximalist use of scanty evidence. Compare his "However, it must be noted that 'poor in spirit' or a close equivalent is found more than once at Qumran." (p. 321) with the more measured tone of the details at n. 121 on p.380.

On balance, Meier concurs that the Lukan form of this saying is most likely closer to the original forms of the tradition than Matthew's list with its "tendency to spiritualize, moralize, and generalize the beatitudes."