Verse by Verse, the Old Testament

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(This is an excerpt from Verse by Verse, the Old Testament by D. Kelly Ogden, Andrew C. Skinner, and Ellis T. Rasmussen.)

After Jesus sat down on a certain hill in Galilee to deliver what is probably his most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, he began to lay out a series of formulaic pronouncements called the Beatitudes, because of the first words of each statement, “Blessed are . . .” In Latin the opening word is beatus, from which our English word beatitude derives. It means “to be fortunate, to be blessed, to be happy.” The literary form of each of the Beatitudes is based on an ancient Hebrew form of speech, ’ashre (pronounced ahsh-ray), a well-known literary construction in the Hebrew Bible as well as in intertestamental literature. In the Masoretic Text (the traditional text of the Old Testament) alone, “the term ashre occurs 44 times, . . . and 30 verses begin with it” (Lachs, Rabbinic Commentary, 70).

Significantly, most uses of ’ashre are found in Psalms (twenty-six times). The very first psalm begins with ’ashre— ‘Ashre ha’ish ’asher lo’ halakh . . . , “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” (Psalm 1:1).

Other examples include “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him [the Lord]” (Psalm 2:12); “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psalm 32:1–2); “Blessed is that man that maketh the Lord his trust, and respecteth not the proud” (Psalm 40:4); “Blessed is he that considereth the poor” (Psalm 41:1); “Blessed are they that dwell in thy house” (Psalm 84:4); “Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3); “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart” (Psalm 119:1–2); “Blessed is every one that feareth the Lord; that walketh in his ways” (Psalm 128:1).

Thus we see that the Beatitudes are based on an original form of Hebrew speech found more often than not in the Psalms. This might be expected given that many of the Psalms are closely related to the holy environment of the Temple and express the ultimate in praise, worship, blessing, happiness, and holiness, while the Beatitudes are a list of characteristics, attributes, and blessings possessed by those who are themselves praiseworthy, holy, or striving for holiness and who are or will be citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

[pp. 433–34]

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