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The Jesus Seminar and the Beatitudes

None of the beatitudes in Matthew score a red result, unlike the version found in Luke 6. For reasons similar to those given by various scholars in the notes listed above, but see especially Samuel Lachs, the Seminar considered the sayings addressed to the gentle, the merciful, the pure in heart and the peacemakers to be inauthentic.

While Lachs offers some textual emendations that provide for a better fit of these sayings with the core beatitudes, it still seems unlikely that these sayings can be attributed to Jesus.

For ease of reference, the Seminar's voting decisions are shown in the color-coded text that follows:

3 Congratulations to the poor in spirit!
Heaven's domain belongs to them.
4 Congratulations to those who grieve!
They will be consoled.

5 Congratulations to the gentle!
They will inherit the earth.

6 Congratulations to those who hunger and thirst for justice!
They will have a feast.

7 Congratulations to the merciful!
They will receive mercy.
8 Congratulations to those with undefiled hearts!
They will see God.
9 Congratulations to those who work for peace!
They will be known as God's children.

10 Congratulations to those who have suffered
persecution for the sake of justice!
Heaven's domain belongs to them.
11 "Congratulations to you when they denounce you
and persecute you and spread malicious gossip about you
because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad! In heaven you
will be more than compensated. Remember, this is how they persecuted
the prophets who preceded you.
[Scholars Version]

Beatitudes in Jewish and Christian Tradition

The extensive discussion of the Beatitudes in the second volume of John P. Meier's encyclopedic study of Jesus [A Marginal Jew: II. Mentor, Message & Miracles, pp. 317-336] is also well worth consulting.

Meier locates the beatitude as a specific form of wisdom teaching known in ancient Egypt, Greece and Israel. Within the Hebrew Scriptures, the beatitude is found especially in the Psalms and in the Wisdom literature:

On the face of it, a beatitude is a cry of admiration, congratulation, and felicitation: "O the happiness of the one who [does such and such]!" The wisdom teacher shows by such descriptions of the happy person what actions or attitudes make for true and lasting happiness in this life. Implicitly the teacher exhorts his students to follow the cousre of action or kind of life he describes in his beatitude. Hence, while formally descriptive, the beatitude is functionally parenetic: the happiness explicitly described is implicitly held up as a goal to be pursued. (p. 323)

Examples of Beatitudes from the Hebrew Bible


1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;

2:12 Happy are all who take refuge in him.

32:1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

32:2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

33:12 Happy is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.

34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

40:4 Happy are those who make the LORD their trust, who do not turn to the proud,

41:1 Happy are those who consider the poor; the LORD delivers them in the day of trouble.

41:2 The LORD protects them and keeps them alive; they are called happy in the land.

65:4 Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts.

84:4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.

84:5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

84:12 O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

89:15 Happy are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your countenance;

94:12 Happy are those whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law,

106:3 Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.

112:1 Praise the LORD! Happy are those who fear the LORD, who greatly delight in his commandments.

119:1 Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD.

119:2 Happy are those who keep his decrees, who seek him with their whole heart,

127:5 Happy is the man who has his quiver full of <children>.

128:1 Happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways.

128:2 You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.

137:8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us!

137:9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!

144:15 Happy are the people to whom such blessings fall; happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

146:5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,



3:13 Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding,

3:18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.

8:32 And now, my children, listen to me: happy are those who keep my ways.

8:34 Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.

14:21 Those who despise their neighbors are sinners, but happy are those who are kind to the poor.

16:20 Those who are attentive to a matter will prosper, and happy are those who trust in the LORD.

20:7 The righteous walk in integrity-- happy are the children who follow them!

28:14 Happy is the one who is never without fear, but one who is hard-hearted will fall into calamity.

29:18 Where there is no prophecy, the people cast off restraint, but happy are those who keep the law.

31:28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:


Other examples

Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved [Deut 33:29]

How happy is the one whom God reproves; [Job 5:17]

Happy are you, O land, when your king is a nobleman, [Eccles 10:17]

Happy will you be who sow beside every stream, who let the ... [Isa 32:20]

Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it ... [Isa 56:2 ]

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. [Jer 17:7 ]

Happy are those who persevere and attain the thousand three ... [Dan 12:12 ]



Jewish writings of the Second Temple Period

As beatitudes continue into the Jewish apocalyptic writings around the turn of the eras we see the development of series of beatitudes collected into sets of 3 or more sayings, sometimes with matched pairs of blessings and woes:


O happy are those who love you,
and happy those who shall rejoice over your peace;
and happy are all those who will grieve over all your blows,
for they shall rejoice in you and see your glory forever.
My spirit, bless the Lord the great king.

[13:15-16 -- Sinaiticius version only]


1 Enoch

Woe unto those who build oppression and injustice!
Who lay foundations for deceit.
They shall soon be demolished;
and they shall have no peace.
Woe unto those who build their houses with sin!
For they shall be demolished from their foundations;
and they shall fall by the sword.
Those who quickly amass gold and silver,
they shall quickly be destroyed.
Woe unto you, O rich people!
For you have put your trust in your wealth.
You shall ooze out of your riches,
for you do not remember the Most High.
In the days of your affluence, you committed oppression,
you have become ready for death, and for the the day of darkness and the day of great judgment.
Thus I speak and let you know:
For he who has created you, he will also throw you down upon your own righteousness!
There shall be no mercy (for you).
And he, your Creator, shall rejoice at your destruction.
(O God), your righteous ones shall be a reproach to the sinners and the wicked.
[1 Enoch 94:6-11] (OT Pseudepigrapha)

(1 Enoch continues in similar vein from 95:1 to 100:9)


2 Enoch

Happy is the person who reverences the name of the Lord,
and who serves in front of his face always,
and who organizes his gifts with fear, offerings of life,
and who in this life lives and dies correctly!
Happy is he who carries out righteous judgment,
not for the sake of payment, but for justice,
not expecting anything whatever as a result;
and the result will be that judgment without favoritism will follow him.
Happy is he who clothes the naked with his garment,
and to the hungry gives his bread!
Happy is he who judges righteous judgment for orphan and widow,
and who helps anyone who has been treated unjustly!
Happy is he who turns aside from the secular path of this vain world,
and walks in the right paths, and who lives that life which is without end!
Happy is he who sows right seed, for he shall harvest sevenfold!
Happy is he in whom is truth, so that he may speak the truth to his neighbor!
Happy is he who has compassion on his lips and gentleness in his heart!
Happy is he who understands all the works of the Lord,
performed by the Lord, and glorifies him!
[2 Enoch 52:1-14] (OT Pseudepigrapha)

Happy is he who opens his heart for praise,
and praises the Lord.
Cursed is he who opens his heart to insults,
and to slander against his neighbor.
Happy is he who opens his lips, both blessing and praising the Lord.
Cursed is he who opens his lips for cursing and blasphemy, before the face of the Lord.
Happy---is he who glorifies all the works of the Lord.
Cursed is he who insults the creatures of the Lord.
Happy is he who organizes the works of his hand, so as to raise them up.
Cursed---who looks to obliterate the works of others.
Happy is he who preserves the foundations of the fathers, where they have been made sure.
Cursed is he who destroys the rules and restrictions of his fathers.
Happy is he who establishes peace.
Cursed is he who strikes down those who are in peace.
Happy is he who speaks peace, and he possesses peace.
Cursed is he who speaks peace, but there is no peace in his heart.
[2 Enoch 52:1-14] (OT Pseudepigrapha)


Ben Sira

Happy are those who do not blunder with their lips,
and need not suffer remorse for sin.
Happy are those whose hearts do not condemn them,
and who have not given up their hope. [14:1-2]

Happy is the person who meditates on wisdom
and reasons intelligently,
who reflects in his heart on her ways
and ponders her secrets,
pursuing her like a hunter,
and lying in wait on her paths;
who peers through her windows
and listens at her doors;
who camps near her house
and fastens his tent peg to her walls;
who pitches his tent near her,
and so occupies an excellent lodging place;
who places his children under her shelter,
and lodges under her boughs;
who is sheltered by her from the heat,
and dwells in the midst of her glory. [14:20-27]

I can think of nine whom I would call blessed,
and a tenth my tongue proclaims:
a man who can rejoice in his children;
a man who lives to see the downfall of his foes.
Happy the man who lives with a sensible wife,
and the one who does not plow with ox and ass together.
Happy is the one who does not sin with the tongue,
and the one who has not served an inferior.
Happy is the one who finds a friend,
and the one who speaks to attentive listeners.
How great is the one who finds wisdom!
But none is superior to the one who fears the Lord. [25:7-10]



The fragmentary text 4Q525, The Blessings of the Wise, now has 4 beatitudes but may originally have been a longer series:

... with a pure heart, and does not slander with his tongue [---]
Blessed are those who adhere to his laws, and do not adhere to perverted paths. [---]
Blessed are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst out in insane paths. [---]
Blessed are those who search for her with pure hands,
and do not pursue her with a treacherous heart. [---]
Blessed is the man who attains Wisdom, [---]
and walks in the law of the Most High,
and directs his heart to her ways, [---]
and is constrained by her discipline
and always takes pleasure in her punishments;
and does not forsake her in the hardship of wrongs,
and in the time of anguish does not abandon her,
and does not loathe her. [---]
For he always thinks of her,
and in his distress he meditates on her
and in all his life he thinks of her,
and places her in f ront of his eyes in order not to walk on paths [ ... ]

4Q525 (4QBeat)
[F.G. Martinez & E.J.C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. II,1053f]

Beatitudes in early Christian texts

Sayings Gospel Q

Blessed are <you> poor, for God's reign is for you.

Blessed are you who mourn, for you will be consoled.

Blessed are <you> who hunger, for <you> will eat <your> fill.

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

[International Q Project translation]



Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death. (18:3)

Jesus said, "Congratulations to the one who came into being before coming into being. (19:1)

Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the (Father's) domain. For you have come from it, and you will return there again." (49;1)

Jesus said, "Congratulations to the poor, for to you belongs Heaven's domain." (54:1)

Jesus said, "Congratulations to the person who has toiled and has found life." (58:1)

Jesus said, "Congratulations to you when you are hated and persecuted; 2 and no place will be found, wherever you have been persecuted." (68:1-2)

Jesus said, "Congratulations to those who have been persecuted in their hearts: they are the ones who have truly come to know the Father. 2 Congratulations to those who go hungry, so the stomach of the one in want may be filled." (69:1-2)

[Complete Gospels]



Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed the mourners, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed those hungering and thirsting for justice, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed the merciful, for they shal be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed those persecuted for the sake of justice, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they revile you and persecute you and say every kind of evil against you [falsely] for my sake. Rejoice and be glad for your reward is great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets [who were] before you.



Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.

Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.



If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (13:17)



Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. (Rom 14:22b)



Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (1:12)

But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act--they will be blessed in their doing. (1:25)


1 Peter

But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. (3:14)

If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. (4:14)


Revelation to John

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of the prophecy,
and blessed are those who hear and who keep what is written in it;
for the time is near. (1:3)

And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them." (14:13)

See, I am coming like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and is clothed, not going about naked and exposed to shame. (16:15)

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." (19:9)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. Over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him a thousand years. (20:6)

See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book. (22:7)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city by the gates. (22:14)


Beatitudes in Rabbinic texts

Samuel T. Lachs [A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke] observes that the beatitude is frequently found in rabbinic literature, and cites the following as representative examples:

... and R. Johanan b. Zakkai said ... 'Happy are you, our father Abraham, that Eleazar b. Arakh came forth from your loins.' [T. Hag. 2.1]

R. Jose the priest went and told what had happened before R. Johanan b. Zakkai, and the later said,
'Happy are you,
happy is she who bore you,
happy are my eyes that I have seen this.' [B. Hag. 14b]

Happy is the king who is praised in his house!
Woe to the father who had to banish his children,
and woe to the children who had to be banished from the table of their father. [B. Ber. 3a]