048 Commentary

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This page forms part of the resources for 048 Blessed the Persecuted in the Jesus Database project of FaithFutures Foundation

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Commentary

John Dominic Crossan

Crossan [Historical Jesus, 273f] dissents from the Jesus Seminar position, and also finds himself in opposition to conservative scholars such as John P. Meier (see below). While acknowledging the strong case that can be made against the saying in the form that we have it, Crossan notes that the diverse attestation (Thomas, Q and 1 Peter) provides cause to reconsider that conclusion. After noting that the specific term "persecution" is missing from 1 Peter and may not be original to Q, Crossan offers his own assessment:

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."



David Flusser

Flusser [Jesus, 95f] comments on the light shed on this saying by the Essene texts from Qumran:

For both the Essenes and Jesus, poverty, humility, purity, and unsophisticated simplicity of heart were the essential religious virtues. Jesus and the Essenes thought that in the very near divine future, the social outcasts and oppressed would become the preferred, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," and "those who mourn will be comforted." ... Now for the first time, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can understand the phrase "the poor in spirit". It was a title of honor among the Essenes. These are the poor to whom the Holy Spirit Spirit is given. In one passage from the Essene hymnbook (1QH 18:14-15) the author thanks God for having apppointed him preacher of his grace. He is destined "To proclaim to the meek the multitude of Thine mercies, and to let them that are of contrite spirit to be nourished from the source of knowledge, and to them that mourn everlasting joy." These correspond to "the meek," "the poor in spirit," and "those who mourn" of the first three beatitudes of Jesus.

Fluuser also cites the following parallels from the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs:

And there will be one people of the Lord and one language;

And there will be no spirit of error of Beliar any more,
For he will be thrown into the fire for ever.
And those who have died in grief will rise again in joy,
And those who are in penury will be made rich,
And those who are in want will eat their fill,
And those who are weak will receive their strength,
And those who have been out to death for the Lord's sake will awake to life.
And the harts of Jacob will run with gladness,
And the eagles of Israel will fly with joy
(But the ungodly will mourn and sinners weep),

And all the peoples will glorify the Lord for ever. [TJudah 25:3-5]



IQP

The International Q Project reconstructs the original Q saying as follows:

Blessed are you when they insult and [persecute] you, and [say every kind of] evil [against] you because of the son of humanity.

Jesus Seminar

While the Fellows of the Seminar were virtually unanimous that Jesus composed the earlier Beatitudes (to the poor, the weeping, and the hungry), they were more inclined to see this saying as reflecting the early Christians' experience of persecution even if it preserves a faint echo (Gray) of the ideas of Jesus.

Samuel T. Lachs

Lachs [Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament, 68ff] agrees with many others that the Lukan version of the Beatitudes is closer to the original form than the version found in Matthew. He also notes that the arrangement of the sayings in Luke in a double set of contrasting statements is a widely attested literary device found in the Hebrew Bible and in the Jewish writings of the second temple period.

Lachs also suggests that Luke 6:22-23 is closer to the original form of the saying than Matt 5:10, which he suggests now reflects the experience of persecution and social rejection by fellow Jews. He notes that "persecution for righteousness' sake" reflects typical Matthean usage (cf. the combination of kingdom and righteousness in Matt 6:33) that stretches the usual meaning of zedeq (righteousness).

Gerd Luedemann

Luedemann [Jesus, 297] suggests that Luke 6:22-23 is part of a secondary expansion of Jesus' authentic sayings that took place in the pre-Lukan stage of the Q tradition.

John P. Meier

Meier [Marginal Jew], (II,317ff) has an extensive treatment on the Beatitudes. He concludes:

Critics usually separate the fourth Q beatitude from the other three since it is so notably different in length, form, and content. The first three are terse, the fourth is longer than the first three combined. The first three speak of particular groups of people in a state of socioeconomic distress that they have not chosen, that has nothing to do with commitment to Jesus, and about which they can do nothing. The first three beatitudes proceed to promise these people a direct reversal of their particular state of distress ... (see note 1)
The fourth beatitude speaks of those who have voluntarily undergone persecution because of their freely chosen commitment to the Son of Man (= Jesus). Instead of a direct reversal of a concrete state, the persecuted receive a general promise of reward. Moreover, the fourth beatitude differs form-critically. ... It is advisable, therefore, to put aside the fourth beatitude. Length, form and content all suggest that it did not originally belong with the collection of the first three. Moreover, in its redactional form it may well reflect the persecution experienced by the early church. (II,322)

(1) Meier completes this sentence with the words: "on the last day (i.e., the mourners will be comforted, the hungry will be fed to the full)." This betrays his prior conclusion that enjoyment of the kingdom is essentially an eschatological hope rather than a lived reality in the immediate experience of Jesus' audience. It is noteworthy that he excludes the reversal of poverty from his brief parenthetical comments, since the reversal of poverty would not fit so readily with an eschatological interpretation of the beatitudes.