Linguistics, Islam and the Beatitudes
Blessed are the Meek for they shall inherit the Land
by Joachim Martillo
In a lecture at the Harvard Divinity School two decades ago, Hans Küng pointed out that Islam provides a true witness to the life of Jesus — not the edited gentile Hellenistic version, but a genuine Semitic tradition that probably preserves the Jamesian perspective that was naturally closest to the reality of Jesus.
Evangelicals often work hard to learn scripture in Hebrew and Greek, but unless they actually learn and study the Quran in Arabic, they will never truly understand Jesus and his messianic mission, for the Quran in Arabic represents the oldest, least tampered tradition of Jesus.
Closely reading verses of the Christian and Hebrew Bibles along with ayas of the Quran can elucidate the plain meaning of all three texts and show unexpected connections.
Here is a typical English translation (New International Version) of Matthew 5:5:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
[Note that in some versions of the Christian Bible Matthew verses 5:5 and 5:4 interchange.]
The above English translation is sloppy as both the Syriac Peshitta and also the Greek version of the New Testament show.
Where the English Bibles usually have the phrase the earth, the Peshitta uses the word ar`a (Hebrew haaretz), and the Greek New Testament has the phrase ten gen, which means primarily the land and not the earth. (See versions of the verse at the end of the article.) Aramaic speakers at the time of Jesus would almost certainly have understood ar`a idiomatically as the Land of Israel or the Promised Land.
Matthew 5:5 translates into Arabic as:
al-barakatu lilmuslimina fasawfa yarithuna-l-arda. [native Arabic speaker’s translation]
tas`adu-l-muslimuna fasawfa yarithuna-l-arda. [Joachim Martillo]
The people of the land (am-haaretz) recognized that Jesus was the messiah (but not God). In return for their love, Jesus conferred upon his peasant followers the covenant of the land in a restatement of the promise to Abraham. He told the humble people (al-muslimuna, ha`anawim) that they would inherit the land (al-ard, ha’aretz) once the local religious-political elites, the local fanatics, and the imperial Romans had finished slaughtering each other.
The Quran expresses this covenantal concept explicitly in Sura 21:105.
wa-laqad katabnaa fi-l-zabur min ba`di-l-dhikri anna-l-arda yarithuha `ibadiya-l-salihuna 105
We have decreed in the Psalms, from beside (in addition to) the reminder, that the land shall be inherited by My righteous (pious — salihuna) servants.
The aya is a clear reference both to Psalms 37:11 and to the allusion that Jesus makes to this verse in the beatitudes.
יא וַעֲנָוִים יִירְשׁוּ-אָרֶץ; וְהִתְעַנְּגוּ, עַל-רֹב שָׁלוֹם.
11. wa`anawim yirshu aretz; wehit`annagu `al rov shalom
11. But the humble shall inherit the land (i.e. Palestine), and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
The phrase abundance of peace (rov shalom) is a contrast to the violence, recklessness or foolishness (jahl) of the powerful, whose empty pointless hatreds (sin’at hinam) and conflicts victimized and ruined the peasantry. (See Ibn Ezra’s commentary on this verse in the Mikra’ot Gedolot.)
The phrase rov shalom suggests Islam, which is the opposite of jahl or jahiliyya (the age of ignorance that precedes Islam).
Righteousness or piety is not an attribute that Jesus associates with the rich or the powerful, who rarely perform as many good works (as-salihat) as they could.
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. (Matthew 19:24)
By the 3rd century CE a large part of the peasantry of Palestine were followers of Jesus and practiced a form of Christian Judaism in which Jesus was Messiah but neither God nor son of God. For this reason the Talmud is consistently contemptuous of the humble people, who comprised the am-haaretz, and am-haaretz is a derogatory epithet in Talmudic, Yiddish and Modern Israeli Hebrew idiom.
Nevertheless, we have reason to believe (including one origin story of the Ge’ez or classical Ethiopic translation of the Bible) that the beliefs of Palestinian Christian Judaism spread to Hijaz where they prepared the people for Muhammad’s apostleship. When Umar al-Faruq opened Palestine to Islam, the humble people of the land (am haaretz) saw the fulfillment of the promise of Jesus in the religion of Islam, which means humility or meekness and which was a minor variant of the religion that they already practiced. As the Jewish Aramaic prayer says, yekum purqan min shemayya. Salvation shall come from the heavens. Hence the Quran which was brought down from heaven by Jibril/Gabriel is called al-furqan. [Note that Hebrew/Aramaic p becomes f in Arabic.]
By supporting the theft of Palestine from the native Palestinian peasantry and the removal or ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian peasants from their land, Zionists reject the explicit words of the Quran, the clear statement in the Hebrew Bible and the affirmation of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Obviously only God decides who burns in Hell for all eternity, but it is hard to conceive of extenuating circumstances for Zionists.
ܛܽܘܒ݂ܰܝܗܽܘܢ ܠܡܰܟ݁ܺܝܟ݂ܶܐ ܕ݁ܗܶܢܽܘܢ ܢܺܐܪܬ݂ܽܘܢ ܠܰܐܪܥܳܐ
tubihun limkika dehenun ni’rtun le’ar`a
To the meek their happiness as they will inherit the land.
Greek New Testament
Makarioi hoi praeis hoti autoi kleronomesousin ten gen.
Fortunate are the humble, because they will themselves inherit the land.
New Testament translated into Hebrew
אַשְׁרֵי הָעֲנָוִים כִּי־הֵם יִירְשׁוּ־הָאָרֶץ׃
ashrei ha`anawim ki-hem yirshu haaretz
happy are the humble because them will inherit the land.
5:4 Beati mites: quoniam ipsi possidebunt terram.
The Latin redactors of the Vulgate often selected the least plausible least idiom-aware translation of the Greek New Testament. Those that have translated the Vulgate into English have generally managed to obscure the original text even more. In this case, a reasonable idiomatic English translation is the following.
5:4 Happy are the meek because they themselves will possess land/a land/the land/earth/the earth.
I have given the possible translations of terram in order of plausibility. [Note that Latin has neither indefinite nor definite article.]
Martin Luther’s Translation
[5.5] Selig sind die Sanftmütigen; denn sie werden das Erdreich besitzen.
[5.5] Blessed are the meek; for they will possess the kingdom of earth.
The translation Erdreich (kingdom of earth) is simply unjustifiable from any of the ancient sources.
A more correct German translation resulting from a reconciliation with the Jerusalem Bible (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerusalem_Bible) translates the verse into German as follows:
[5.5] Selig sind die Sanftmütigen; denn sie werden das Land besitzen.
[5.5] Blessed are the meek; for they will possess the land.
There Is No Crime For Those Who Have Christ: Religious Violence in the Christian Roman Empire by Michael Gaddis
Imperialism and Jewish Society: 200 B.C.E. to 640 C.E. (Jews, Christians, and Muslims from the Ancient to the Modern World) (Paperback) by Seth Schwartz
James, the Brother of Jesus by Robert Eisenman
The author writes a lot of nonsense, but he does seem to scour the primary sources.
Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World by Patricia Crone and Michael Cook
The book is often cited in order to refute it. The authors attempt to construct a coherent history of early Islam without the use of any traditional Islamic sources.
Crossroads to Islam by Yehuda Nevo and Judith Koren
The authors seem to have the intent of “debunking” Islam, but the information the book supplies tends to support the hypothesis of a connection between Christian Judaism and the mission of Muhammad.
The Beginnings of Jewishness by Shaye Cohen
The author provides some useful background information, but the book is uneven. Cohen may confuse cause and effect. He dates some phenomena too late and others too early.
The oeuvre of Jacob Neusner also provides useful information about the Talmudic form of Judaism in the Greco-Roman period through the 10th century CE, but he takes texts at face value much too much. Seth Schwartz provides some correction to Neusner’s uncritical assumptions.
Visit Joachim Martillo’s site at http://eaazi.blogspot.com/