**I use the term Tanakh or TNK in place of the common term, Old Testament.
Please indulge me as I engage in a mini-rant, as I am really, REALLY, cheesed off! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am reading scads of material on the Jewish context of Christianity, and I just read something that has me…, well, angry, I guess.
I do get that there is a silent anti-Semitism inherent in today’s Christianity that is so ingrained as to be unnoticed because it is so pervasive that it has become part of our faith, unintended though it may be. What we don’t understand is that we have precious little light and, because of this, we have even less reason to make inquiry into just how much we know just ain’t so!
In a post I did last spring, I demonstrated that our belief that the people of Jerusalem turned against Jesus and demanded His crucifixion was just so much twaddle. The crowds that acclaimed Him on Palm Sunday weren’t even up and about at the time that Pilate was pronouncing Jesus’ death sentence. But that doesn’t stop us from preaching about fickle crowds, does it?
Today’s Hot Shot
So what’s got me frothing at my keyboard this morning? I have just read something that makes me wonder just how institutionalized is our desire to extricate Jesus from Judaism. The wellspring for this unsettling of my emotions today can be found in, of all places, the Beatitudes of Matt. 5, considered to be one of the most sublime of Jesus’ teachings.
In v. 5, Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” This is a statement that has comforted Christians for two millennia. And yet, believe it or not, I have just read something that upsets me, because–consciously or unconsciously–translators have separated Jesus from His Jewishness via word choice.
“Inherit The Land”
If you, dear reader, are proficient in the use of a reference bible, you will quickly find that you are directed to Ps. 37:10-11:
In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
In following the reference from Matt. 5:5 to Ps. 37, we learn that Jesus, in presenting His teachings in the Beatitudes, was citing a verse from the Tanakh** that His audience would know and understand when H quoted it. When Jesus sat down and started to teach, He made statements that referenced writings in the TNK and that his audience would be able to follow and apply to what He was teaching.
The word land in the TNK had a special connotation to the Israelites, and I’m pretty sure that any Christian who takes their Bible seriously understands that connotation.
Whether it be God’s promise to Abraham that his children would possess the land, or God’s promise to Moses that the Israelites would possess the land, or Joshua’s exhortation to Israel to take possession that day of the land that God was giving them, land had a specific meaning Jesus’ audience: Canaan.
As Christians, we understand that Canaan symbolized God’s promised blessing and rest to Israel. As a result, we can be sure that the psalmist who wrote “the meek shall inherit the land” was referring to God’s promised land.
And the fact that we don’t get this connection to God’s promised land of rest when we read Jesus words in the Beatitudes Ps. 37 bothers me.
“Inherit The Earth”
And why don’t we get this connection to God’s promise of entering into His land of rest? Because of word choice in translation.
Oh, I get the argument for saying that the Greek text says “earth”; after all, the Greek word for earth is gē, which is the root from which we get words like geography and geology. I get that. But Strong’s Dictionary Of New Testament Words says that gē can be translated as both earth (the whole world) or a country/place “enclosed within fixed boundaries”. In other words, a specific place that isn’t the entire earth, such as Canaan.
And, yes, while it is defensible to argue for the use of earth in the passage, from a lexicographical standpoint, I don’t think it is defensible from either a biblical or contextual standpoint. Jesus quotes a verse from the TNK that is in keeping with the Jewish mindset and teaching that has land as its touchstone, and it is ignored by translators. The result of this decision by translators down through the centuries is this:
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” is a near-quotation of Ps. 37.11 …. The Hebrew of the psalm speaks of inheriting the “land” (‘aretz), which should be taken as a reference to the land of Israel. The [Septuagint] and hence the New Testament reads gē, which could be translated as either “land” or “earth”; the reading of “earth” serves to de-Judaize Jesus by disconnecting him from any specific concern for the land of Israel.
~ The Jewish Annotated New Testament (my emphasis)
When we remove Jesus from from the context of first-century Judaism, we lose our spiritual anchor to the revelation of God, and become free to drift, led by our own imaginings.