In Christianity, the Beatitudes (from Latin beatus, meaning "blessed" or "happy") are blessings from Jesus recorded in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke. The blessings in Luke refer to external situations while those in Matthew refer more to spiritual or moral qualities. This opening of the sermon was designed to shock the audience as a deliberate inversion of standard values, but this shock value has been lost today due to the commonness of the text.
Four of the beatitudes are found in Luke's Sermon on the Plain. Luke's Sermon has four woes in addition to the four beatitudes, and Matthew uses a similar four woes elsewhere for use against the Pharisees. Biblical scholar and author Robert H. Gundry has argued that Matthew wanted to keep the eightfold structure and consequently had to create four additional sayings.
Similar sayings are also recorded in a few of the Dead Sea Scrolls and in Jewish sources predating the Christian era. According to the two-source hypothesis, the Beatitudes originate with the lost saying gospel Q. Matthew and Luke each incorporated Q into their respective stories differently. Matthew consolidates Jesus' sayings into five important scenes, of which the Sermon on the Mount is one. Luke preserves the shorter and more shocking versions of the original, blessing those who are poor and hungry, while Matthew spiritualizes these blessings ("poor in spirit", "those who hunger and thirst for righteousness").
These verses are quoted early in the Divine Liturgy of John Chrysostom as part of the sequence called the Third Antiphon, or the Third Typical Antiphon, it is common in the Russian and Monastic Use of the Liturgy, which continues to be the liturgy most often used in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
While opinions vary as to exactly how many distinct statements the Beatitudes should be divided into, normally ranging from eight to ten, most scholars consider there to be only eight. These eight of Matthew follow a simple pattern: Jesus names a group of people normally thought to be unblessed or unblessable and pronounces them blessed (well-off and fortunate) because of the presence and availability of abundant life in God's kingdom to everyone, regardless of status, circumstances, or condition.
The beatitudes present in Matthew and Luke are:
- The poor (Matthew has "poor in spirit"). The text says that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Mourners (Luke has "those who are weeping"). The text says that they will be comforted (Luke has "will laugh").
- The hungry (Matthew has "hunger and thirst after righteousness"). The text says that they will be filled (Luke has "be satisfied").
- Those persecuted for seeking righteousness (rather than righteousness, Luke has "followers of the Son of Man"). The text says that theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The beatitudes present only in Matthew are:
- The meek. The text says that they will "inherit the earth".
- The merciful. The text says that they will "obtain mercy".
- The pure of heart. The text says that they will "see God".
- The peacemakers. The text says that they will be called "the sons of God". Other translations use the phrase "Children of God".
The last of these eight is followed by what appears to be commentaries on it, with Matthew's, according to author R.T. France, integrating elements from Isaiah 51:7. Amongst textual critics, this is seen as an attempt by Matthew and Luke to re-interpret quotations from Q that do not quite fit with their theology if read literally. That the commentary discusses the persecution of Christians, who clearly would not be able to consider Jesus' crucifixion until after it had actually happened, is regarded by most scholars as indicating the timeframe for when Matthew and Luke were written, although more fundamentalist Christians believe that this commentary is an example of prophecy. Matthew refers to only verbal attacks, while Luke also refers to excommunication, which scholars feel indicates the differences in situation between the writers.
A number of scholars, most significantly, Augustine of Hippo, have been convinced that there should actually be seven Beatitudes, since seven has historically been considered the holy number. The beatitude about the contrite heart is generally believed to have originated in Psalm 24 (as a manifestation of verses 3–5), with which it is remarkably similar, and so some believe that this was the beatitude that was later added to the other seven. Augustine himself felt that it was the eighth—about persecution of the righteous—which was the addition, since it partly parallels the first. Most modern scholars do not consider that there were originally seven, but instead propose that there were originally four: those shared with Luke.
Parallels and differences
Like several scholars, Eduard Schweizer feels that a large part of Matthew's variance from Luke is attributed to Matthew not approving of asceticism as a way into heaven in and of itself. Hence Matthew changes what Luke has as ordinary physical degradations into spiritual ones—by changing poor into poor in spirit, and hungry into hunger . . . after righteousness.
Some of the beatitudes can be found in parts of the Old Testament; for example, the beatitude concerning the meek is also found, with Matthew's wording, in Psalm 37 (v. 11). Author David Hill speculates that the beatitude about the pure in heart could actually be a mistranslation of Isaiah 61:1, and thus should have read only the contrite will see God. Since the beatitude which precedes it, concerning mourners, ever so slightly parallels Isaiah 61:2, and in a number of early manuscripts of Matthew these two beatitudes appear in reverse order, Schweizer feels the current order was implemented to better reflect Isaiah 61:1–2. In addition to such direct parallels, there are similar themes; for example, the idea of a divinely significant figure ending a fast is commonly used as a metaphor, for example, appearing in Isaiah 55, Jeremiah 31, and Psalm 107. While not a mainstream view, author Hans Betz feels that the beatitude concerning the poor can be traced back to Socrates' notion of enkrateia, explaining that the philosopher was one who had no interest in wealth—an idea adopted by the influential Cynics, who rejected wealth and saw poverty as the only route to freedom.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
Although the beatitude concerning the meek has been much praised, even by some non-Christians such as Mahatma Gandhi, some individuals have negative views of it:
- Baron d'Holbach felt that it reflected the interests of Christians when they were a small and powerless sect, abandoning it whenever they gained power.
- Friedrich Nietzsche saw the verse as embodying the slave morality of Christianity.
- James Joyce, William Blake, and Theodore Dreiser condemned it for advocating a life without striving.
Investigating the original Greek source, however, Maurice Nicoll (The Mark, The New Man) discovered that the word "praos", translated as "meek", originally meant "becoming tamed, as a wild animal is tamed", suggesting "a capacity for going against all natural resentfulness and passion and anger." Read this way, far from fostering a slave-like mentality, the Sermon on the Mount recommends developing the inner strength to manage one's automatic reactions and aversions to reach a level in oneself called the Kingdom of Heaven (Pogson, Maurice Nicoll: A Portrait, 200).
According to non-pacifists, the word peacemakers does not imply pacifism, instead applying to people who cause peace where once there was conflict. As such, this beatitude formed the heart of Augustine's argument in favour of a just war, arguing that a war that brought about greater peace was justified. The first century was in the middle of the Pax Romana and actual wars were rare, so according to author Howard Clarke, this verse may have been referring to those who merely calm disputes within the community. Although traditionally the passage is regarded as stating that such peacemakers will be children of God, Sons of God is more accurate—Martin Luther and other early Protestant translators viewed the term Son of God as an actual genealogical relationship, rather than simply a description of someone as being generally spiritual, and hence felt it could only be applied to Jesus.
Some Christians have typically seen the commentary following the beatitudes as somewhat disconcerting in its soteriology, since it emphasizes how good deeds can result in eternal rewards, and barely mentions any need for faith. Some, such as Hill, attempt to resolve this by reinterpreting divine reward as good repute. An interesting feature of the commentary as far as scholars are concerned is the manner in which it compares the audience to prophets, pointing to similarities between Jesus and the Essenes, who called each other prophets, though, as suggested by Schweizer, this may simply be a reference to Jeremiah 31:34 and Isaiah 54:13, which prophesy that one day all will be equal to the prophets.
An interpretation of the Beatitudes can be found in "Resident Aliens", by Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon. In their book Jesus is explained to be showing his audience that "In God's kingdom, the poor are royalty, the sick are blessed." "The Beatitudes are not a strategy for achieving a better society ... they are an indication ... of life in the kingdom of God ... to produce a shock within our imaginations ... to see life ... in a radical new way." Similarly, John H. Yoder, in his "Politics of Jesus" refers to Matthew 5 as part of a "call on the disciples of Jesus to renounce participation in the interplay of egoisms".
- A scene in the well-known play Godspell consists of the cast members running up to Jesus, each with a line beginning one of the beatitudes (e.g. "Blessed are the poor in spirit!"), which Jesus finishes ("for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"). After the last beatitude, the character of John/Judas ends the scene with a dark prediction: "Blessed are you! When men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely." The cast is stunned into an awkward silence by this line, and Jesus then attempts to cheer them up in the next scene and song.
- The Sting song "All This Time" (The Soul Cages) contains the line, "Blessed are the poor; for they shall inherit the earth. Better to be poor than be a fat man in the eye of a needle."
- There is a song entitled Beatitudes written by Paul Winter on his album Missa Gaia/Earth Mass.
- In the documentary Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, James Agee quotes the beatitudes in the chapter entitled "Country Letter".
- In the Chapter 2 of novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak the character Larissa Feodorovna Guishar, who "was not religious" and "did not believe in ritual", was started by the Beatitudes and thought it was about herself.
- The Beat Generation took its name, in part, from the concept of Beatitude
As one of the most famous of Beatitudes, the meek shall inherit the earth has appeared many times in works of art and popular culture:
- The title of a song in the Little Shop of Horrors musical
- The title of a song on the Frank Zappa album You Are What You Is ("The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing")
- The songs "Visions of the Night" and "Walking in your Footsteps" by The Police each contain the line, "They say the meek shall inherit the earth"
- The theme of the Rush album 2112
- An episode of the War of the Worlds television series
- J. B. Priestley's Midnight of the Desert contains a discussion of this verse by the characters as does Arnold Bennet's Anna of the Five Towns
- A parody of the Beatitudes in Monty Python's 1979 film Life of Brian includes the verse - "How blest are those of gentle spirit. They shall have the earth for their possession."
- Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan, when reminded that the "meek shall inherit the earth", replied, "Only after the violent have tamed it."
- A line rapped by Jay-Z in the song Lucifer from The Black Album.
- A line spoken by Rev. David Marshall Lee in the Larry Shue play The Foreigner.
- A line in the song The Geek by German band Wir Sind Helden.
- The Simon & Garfunkel song "Blessed", from their album Sounds of Silence.
- "Try not to forget that the meek inherit earth" is a quote from Staind's song, "How About You"
- A line in the song "Anything for Jah" by Easy Dub All-Stars
- In the episode of The Outer Limits, The Vaccine, "The meek shall inherit the Earth" was used as the end quote.
- Welsh Indie Band Gorky's Zygotic Mynci has a song titled "Blessed are the Meek" on their 1992 album Patio.
- A line in the song "The Grind Date" by De La Soul from their album The Grind Date.
- The title of a poem by Charles Bukowski.
- Title of 1980s album by jazz saxophonist Bobby Watson.
- In the song "1000 More Fools" by Bad Religion in their album No Control
- Comedian Eddie Izzard describes a scenario in his show Circle, in which the meek conclude that it's about time they actually did inherit the earth, and proceed to do so in an organised, armed revolution.
- The poem "Mushrooms" by Sylvia Plath contains the lines "we are meek...we shall by morning, inherit the earth."
- The Firefly episode "Our Mrs. Reynolds" contain the following line in a deleted scene, spoken by Mal Reynolds encouraging Saffron to act decisively: "More than 70 earths spinnin' about the galaxy, and the meek have inherited not a one."
- In the 1989 film Dead Poet's Society, John Keating (Robin Williams) says to the character Stephen Meeks "Mr. Meeks, time to inherit the earth".
- J. Paul Getty once quoted "The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights."
Other than "blessed are the meek", perhaps the most famous of the Beatitudes is blessed are the peacemakers:
- It was the personal motto of James I of England
- It is one of the main themes in "The Tale of Melibee", one of The Canterbury Tales
- It is quoted in The Godfather Part III by Don Altobello (Eli Wallach) after being approached by Vincent Corleone.
- It is quoted by Shakespeare, although ironically, in Henry VI, Part 2; and Coriolanus.
- It plays an important role in Herman Melville's Billy Budd
- This verse was famously misprinted in the second edition of the Geneva Bible as blessed are the placemakers.
- The typographic error in the Geneva Bible became parodied in Monty Python's Life of Brian where the crowd listening to the sermon mishears it as blessed are the cheesemakers.("Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products.")
- In television advertising for the third Series of Deadwood, the lead characters were depicted reciting the Beatitudes which were appropriate to their character. (e.g., Cy Tolliver recited "Blessed are the peacemakers")
- In the HBO series Carnivàle, a corrupted preacher remarks "Once you get past the striking repetition, it's really quite banal", before sneering: "Blessed are the meek. Can you imagine?"
- In Tyler Perry's Diary of a Mad Black Woman, Madea says "Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are Smith & Wesson," when referring to her gun as the reason why she has peace in her life.
- Harper, Douglas. "Beatitudes". Online Etymology Dictionary. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=beatitude. Retrieved 2008-09-09.
- "Beatitudes". Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005
- Kodjak, Andrej (January 1987). A Structural Analysis of the Sermon on the Mount. New York: Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 0-8992-5159-5.
- Gundry, Robert H. (February 1982). Matthew: a Commentary on his Literary and Theological Art. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8028-3549-X.
- Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar. The five gospels. HarperSanFrancisco. 1993. "Matthew" p. 129-270
- "Blessed are the Peacemakers at Christianity Today.
- Matthew 5-9
- France, R.T. (October 1987). The Gospel According to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary (1 ed.). Leicester: Send the Light. ISBN 0-8028-0063-7.
- Schweizer, Eduard (June 1975). The Good News According to Matthew (New Ed ed.). Atlanta: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-8042-0251-6.
- Hill, David (June 1981). New Century Bible Commentary: Gospel of Matthew. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. ISBN 0-8028-1886-2.
- Betz, Hans Dieter (1985). Essays on the Sermon on the Mount (translations by Laurence Welborn). Philadelphia: Fortress Press. ISBN 0-8006-0726-0.
- Nietzsche, Friedrich (1887). On the Genealogy of Morals.
- Clarke, Howard W (July 2003). The Gospel of Matthew and its Readers: A Historical Introduction to the First Gospel. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-2532-1600-1.
- Albright, W.F. and C.S. Mann. "Matthew". The Anchor Bible Series. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1971.
- Davids, Peter H. "Meek Shall Inherit the Earth". A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
- Kissinger, Warren S. The Sermon on the Mount: A History of Interpretation and Bibliography. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1975.
- Lapide, Pinchas. The Sermon on the Mount, Utopia or Program for Action? translated from the German by Arlene Swidler. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1986.
- McMurray, Michael. The Beatitudes: Jesus's guide to happy living. Ballan: Connor Court Publishing, 2006.
- Twomey, M.W. "The Beatitudes". A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature. David Lyle Jeffrey, general editor. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.
- "Blessed are the Meek" - School Ties 1992 film Head Master quotes to antagonise the protagonist - Daniel Green (played by Brendan Fraser).
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