The Eighteen Benedictions
The most famous Jewish prayer is the Shema: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” But the Eighteen Benedictions comes in a close second. Called in Hebrew Amidah ('Standing', because the prayer was said standing) or Shemoneh Esreh (Hebrew for eighteen). Originally it included eighteen prayers. The current version has nineteen. This prayer was (and is) prayed by the Jews three times a day. In addition, it was also prayed twice a day during the daily sacrifices in the temple. This prayer originated in the second century BC. , and finally took shape in the second century AD.
In the period of the New Testament, before the fall of Jerusalem, the text was not yet completely established, but the main points were clear. Based on various manuscripts it is possible to determine with reasonable accuracy what the text must have looked like. A reconstruction of the text from the period before the fall of the temple can be found at the end of this article.
Over time there have been various changes and additions. The twelfth prayer was probably originally directed against the Sadducees. Later the text was adapted and directed against Christians. By the way, the emphasis on the resurrection in the second prayer also indicates that the prayer distances itself from the Sadducees, after all the Sadducees taught that there is no resurrection. The prayer regarding Jerusalem was adapted after the fall of Jerusalem in such a way that it became a prayer for the return of God to Jerusalem.
The New Testament
It is obvious to assume that the Eighteen Prayer must have been known in the time of the New Testament. And there are some indications of that too.
When Jesus argues with the Sadducees about the resurrection, He reproaches them: “But Jesus answered and said to them, You err, because you do not know the Scriptures, nor the power of God” (Mat. 22:29). The comment about the 'power of God' seems to be taken from the second prayer of the Eighteen Prayer. Paul also refers to this prayer. When talking about the resurrection he writes: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump" (1 Cor. 15:51-52). . The expression here translated as “in the twinkling of an eye” is strikingly similar to the expression in the same second petition.
We see a much more striking similarity with the 'Our Father'. In fact, this prayer is a shortened version of the Eighteen Benedictions. This is striking because rabbis are known to have taught their students an abbreviated version of the Eighteen Benedictions with key points for use when there is insufficient time for the full version. It is possible that the disciples' question: "Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples" (Luke 11:1) has this background. The similarities between the 'Our Father' and the Eighteen Prayer can be seen in the following overview (Mat. 6:9-13):
Our Father who art in heaven. Hallowed be Your Name.
> 3rd benediction: You are holy, and honored is your name
Your Kingdom come.
> 16th benediction: May it be your will, O Lord our God, to dwell in Zion
Your will be done, as it is in heaven, so also on earth.
> 11th benediction: Restore our judges as in times gone by, and our counselors as in the beginning; and rule over us - you alone.
Give us today our daily bread.
> 9th benediction: Give dew and rain on the ground
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
> 6th benediction: Forgive us our Father, for we have sinned against you.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
> 7th benediction: Look upon our affliction and plead our case, and deliver us for your name's sake.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
The ending is related to David's prayer after he has indicated to the people that Solomon will build the temple: 'Yours, O LORD, is the greatness, the might, the glory, the power, and the majesty. For all that is in heaven and on earth is Yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom, and You have exalted Yourself as head over all” (1 Chron. 29:11).
More striking is the similarity between the end of the Our Father and the Kaddish prayer. This prayer was prayed at the end of the meeting in the house of learning, the Beth Midrash. Later this prayer became part of the liturgy in the synagogues. A Dutch translation of this prayer is at the end of this article.
The uniqueness of forgiveness
Precisely because the Lord's Prayer has so many similarities with Jewish prayers, the difference is also striking. The Lord's Prayer speaks emphatically about the fact that we must forgive others. In fact, this point is also emphatically explained by Jesus: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). It is also clear why Jesus underlines this one point from the prayer. This thought is unthinkable for a Jew. Forgiveness comes unilaterally from God. However, Jesus teaches that the fact that our sins are forgiven by God has consequences for how we deal with what others do to us. Not surprisingly, Peter later returns to the question: “How many times shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (Matt. 18:21).
In Judaism there are three possible reactions when someone commits a sin against another. The one who sins has a debt to the other. That guilt can only be removed through sincere repentance. Repentance that is expressed in the effort one makes to correct what one has done. So the sinner must return the favor (teshuvah). When the debt is settled, the one against whom the sin has been committed gives 'mechilah'. This is actually a very light form of forgiveness. If one is moved by the sinner and feels a certain sympathy for this person, then a higher degree of forgiveness is possible, the 'selichah'. This is more a matter of mercy than grace. A step further is the complete washing away of the debt ('kapparah'). This is the ultimate form of forgiveness, which is only possible with God.
When Peter asks how many times he should forgive, Jesus answers with the parable about a servant who owes a great debt to a king. He is forgiven that debt, but he refuses to forgive a small debt from someone who owes him. In the light of Jewish thinking, it becomes clear what Jesus means by this parable. It is clear that the king refers to God. God was expected to forgive our sins wholeheartedly ('kapparah'). But when it comes to mutual relations, every debt must be corrected and satisfaction ('mechilah') will suffice. We see that happening in this parable; the servant asks for full repayment of the debt. The conclusion that Jesus Himself gives of this parable is: “So also will My heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you from your heart forgives the trespasses of his brother.” This expression 'forgive from the heart' makes it clear that Jesus completely removes the guilt of the other, something that, according to the Jews, only God can do. For if God can do this to us, then we must forgive others in the same way.
This parable of Jesus has a striking parallel with a narrative we encounter in the Talmud (Rosh Hashana 17b). The passage in question deals with an apparent contradiction in the following two texts:
Deut. 10:17 For the LORD your God is the God of gods, and the LORD of lords; that great, mighty, and awesome God, who shows no partiality [lit.: takes no face] and accepts no gift,
Num. 6:26 The LORD lift up his countenance [lit. assumes face] over you and give you peace!
The first text says that God favors no one, the second text says 'God favors you'. In Dutch it is not visible that the same word in Hebrew is used in both texts. The Talmud then provides the following explanation:
Rabbi Yosei, the priest, (…) said: I will tell you a parable. What is this case similar to? To a person who lent his friend one hundred dinars and fixed a time for the repayment of the loan before the king, and the borrower swore by the king's life that he would repay the money. The time came and he did not pay back the loan. The guilty borrower came to appease the king because he had not fulfilled the oath he had sworn during the king's life, and the king said to him: I forgive you that you have offended me, but you must still go and to placate a friend. The same is true here: Here the verse that says, “The Lord will show favor to you” refers to sins committed between man and God, which God will forgive; there the verse that says, “God favors none,” refers to sins committed between one person and another, which God will not forgive until the offender propitiates the one he has injured.
The rabbi mentioned here, known as Rabbi Yose b. Chalafta, lived in the middle of the second century. However, much of what he passed on was based on ancient traditions and it is quite possible that this story was already known in the time of Jesus.
Praise – prayer – thanksgiving
Finally, I would like to point out another similarity between Jewish prayer and prayer as taught in the New Testament. Every prayer in Judaism consists of three elements: a praise to God, the actual prayer, and a thanksgiving. We see this again in the Eighteen Prayer. These three elements are also clearly visible in the 'Our Father'. It begins with praise (“Hallowed be Your Name”), followed by prayer (“Give us this day our daily bread”) and concludes with thanksgiving (“For Yours is the Kingdom”). We also see the same threefold division in Paul: 'Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. Thank God in everything. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Eighteen Benedictions (reconstruction text before 70 AD.)
Blessed are you, O Lord our God and God of our fathers;
God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob;
Great, mighty and awesome God;
supreme God, owner of heaven and earth;
Our shield and shield of our fathers;
Our refuge in all generations.
Blessed are you, Lord, shield of Abraham.
You are mighty, you humble those who are proud;
You are strong, and you condemn the violent;
You are alive forever, and you raise the dead;
You cause the wind to blow and the dew to fall;
You sustain the living, and you revive the dead.
Like the blink of an eye, you make our salvation sprout.
Blessed are you, Lord, who raises the dead
Holy are you, and honored is your name,
and there is no God besides you.
Blessed are you Lord, holy God.
Grant us, our Father, with understanding from you,
and discernment and insight from your Torah.
Blessed are you Lord, gracious giver of understanding.
Let us repent, Lord, to you, and we will be converted.
Renew our days as at the beginning.
Blessed are you Lord, who desires repentance.
Forgive us our Father, for we have sinned against you.
Revenge our transgressions and remove them from your sight,
for your compassion is great.
Blessed are You, Lord, who forgives abundantly.
Look at our misery and plead our cause,
and deliver us for your name's sake.
Blessed are you Lord, the Redeemer of Israel.
Heal us, O Lord our God, from the heaviness of our hearts and sorrow,
and remove the sighing from us,
and procure healing for our wounds.
Blessed are You, Lord, who heals the sick of His people Israel.
Bless us, O Lord our God, this year for good, with all kinds of products,
and quickly draw near the last year of our redemption.
Give dew and rain on the ground,
So that the world is satisfied
from the storehouses of your goodness,
and bless the work of our hands.
Blessed are you, Lord, who blesses the years.
Blow the great trumpet for our freedom,
and raise a banner for the gathering of our redeemed [exiles].
Blessed are you, Lord, who gathers the outcasts of His people Israel.
Restore our judges as in times past,
and our counselors as at the beginning;
and rule over us - you alone.
Blessed are you Lord, lover of righteousness.
Let there be no hope for the apostates,
and may the kingdom of the stubborn
are quickly uprooted in our days;
and may the false teachers immediately perish;
may they be blotted out from the book of the living,
and not be written among the righteous.
Blessed are you, Lord, who humbles the stubborn.
To the righteous proselytes may your compassion abound,
and grant us a good reward with those who do your will.
Blessed are you Lord, trust of the righteous.
Have mercy, O Lord our God, with your great compassion,
on Israel your people,
and on Jerusalem your city,
and upon Zion, the dwelling place of your glory,
and upon Your temple,
and at Your dwelling place,
and over the royal house of David,
Your righteous anointed.
Blessed are You, Lord, God of David, builder of Jerusalem.
Hear, O Lord our God, the voice of our prayers
and have mercy on us;
for You are the God of mercy and compassion.
Blessed are You Lord, hearer of prayer.
May it be your will, O Lord our God, to dwell in Zion,
and may your servants serve in Jerusalem
Blessed are you Lord, whom we will serve with reverence.
We thank you, for you are the Lord our God,
and God of our fathers,
for all the good,
the loving kindness and compassion
with which you repaid us,
and which you have prepared for us
and to our fathers before us;
and when we say: our foot slipped
your lovingkindness, O Lord, sustains us [Ps.94.18].
Blessed are you Lord, for it is good to give thanks.
Place your peace on Israel your people,
and upon your city,
and to your inheritance.
and bless us all as one.
Blessed are You, Lord, peacemaker.
May his great name be exalted and hallowed
in the world which he created according to his will.
May his kingdom be recognized
in your life and in your days and in the lives of all the house of Israel,
soon and soon. Now say: Amen
May his great name be blessed now and forever.
Blessed, praised, celebrated,
and high and higher ever exalted, glorified and honored
let the name of the Holy One be praised,
blessed be he, high above every blessing, every song,
praise and comfort said in the world. Now say: Amen