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A central prayer in Christianity is the Pater Noster (or the Lord’s prayer), which Jesus taught his disciples. The central prayer of every Jewish prayer service is the Amidah (or Shmone Esre). Both are roughly from the same time. But are they in any way similar?

In this post I am going to look at the structure of both prayers. The Pater Noster is pretty short. As my Jewish readers might not know the prayer, here is the complete text as given in the gospel of Matthew [this is from Wikipedia, I am confused about what the actually used English version is, sorry if I got it wrong; it doesn’t really matter though, we are concenred with the content and structure here, not the exact words]:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9–13)

The Amidah is pretty long, it consists of 19 blessings (or petitions) that can be grouped into three sections: praise, request and gratitude. What I am going to try to do in this post is to associate the lines of the Pater Noster to the parts of the Amidah. As the text of the Amidah is pretty long, I will only give you the topics of the blessings, you can use any siddur (Jewish prayer book) to look up the complete text, but it doesn’t matter so much for our purpose here.

The first part of the Amidah (praise) consists of three blessings:

1. G-d, helper of our forefathers
2. G-d the almighty who raises the dead
3. G-d the holy one

There is a very nice correspondance of the first part of the Amidah to the first two lines of the Pater Noster. The first blessing/line establishes who we are talking to, each with a special twist that ties into the self image of the religion. Judaism’s main concept is the chain of unbroken tradition starting at the forefathers and continuing onward. G-d is the one who chose the Jewish people and helps them throughout history. In contrast this, Christianity uses a location,heaven, to specify who is the addressee of the prayer. I’m not very well versed in Christian theology, but to me this has associations of universalism, G-d is not with any special human group, but he is there for all of us – just like Christianity claims to be more universal than Judaism [I might be totally off here though]. The second line of the Pater Noster corresponds to the third blessing of the Amidah in invoking the holiness of G-d as way of praise.

The second part of the Amidah (request) in the weekday version consists of thirteen blessings which I am not going to list here completely. Rather I will put the rest of the Pater Noster as given by Matthew here again and after each line I will indicate the corresponding blessing of the Amidah in brackets:

Your kingdom come, [15. Coming of the messiah]
your will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, [9. Sustenance, a good year]
and forgive us our debts, [6. Forgiveness for all sins]
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, [7. (Personal) Redemption]
but deliver us from evil. [7. (Personal) Redemption]

As you can see most of the topics of the Pater Noster are reflected in the Amidah (we wouldn’t expect the reverse to be true, as the Pater Noster is so much shorter). There is no explicit place where the Amidah prays for G-d’s will to be done in heaven and earth, but there are a few sentences that start with phrases like “yihye ratzon miLfaneycha” or “yihye leRatzon” (both meaning something like “it shall be your will”), so I would argue the idea that G-d’s will is the thing that really counts is definitely there in the Amidah. That there is no line parallel to forgiving our debtors is probably due to the fact that nowhere in the Amidah we are talking about us. As an example here the translation of the complete blessing about forgiveness:

Forgive us, our father, for we have erred. Pardon us, our king, for we have wilfully sinned. Because you pardon and forgive. Blessed are You, G-d, the gracious One, who always forgives.

All blessings in the Amidah follow the same pattern. First a concrete petition (here to forgive). Followed by a reason why G-d should do whatever we ask for, usually appealing to some attribute of G-d (here his pardoning nature). The last sentence thanks G-d in advance for doing what we ask for. The Amidah is not a place for us to tell G-d something or promise something. Its purpose it to praise, petition and thank him.

The version of the Pater Noster as given in Matthew stops at this point, but in the protestant version of the prayer (and maybe in others?) there’s an additional line:

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

The most similar part of the Amidah would probably be when Kedusha is inserted into the third blessing as it is repeated aloud. In this part the community praises G-d as the ruler of all whose glory fills the earth. Praise is the first part of the Amidah, not the last (although every petition ends with a praise, or rather a thank-you-in-advance-for-doing-what-we-want as discussed above).

The third and last part of the Amidah (gratitude) contains a plea that G-d hear our prayer (and restore the temple), thanks for everything we have, and finally asks for peace. All of this is missing in the Pater Noster [you know, haughty war-loving ungrateful Christians – just joking!!].

So, is there a 1-to-1 correspondance? No. Are there similarities? Yes. Are these surprising? Maybe not so much. If you want something from someone, it is common courtesy to say something nice first, then proceed to what you actually want and in the end thank in advance or say someting like "you are so great". This is what both prayers do. It would be interesting to look at other prayers from other religions that were definitely not influenced by Judaism to see if this format of prayer is exceptional or universal.

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