Qaddish and The Lord's Prayer: Jesus' Subversive Tactics

In this continuing series on the Lord’s Prayer I am looking at the Jewish prayer known as the Qaddish, and comparing it to the Lord’s Prayer.  When we compare these two prayers we see themes arise that are particularly interesting when we consider that Christ’s prayer is intentionally tweaked to include rather subversive value, which give us clues into how he understood the Kingdom of God. 

Prayer’s Important Role in the Jewish Context
The First century Jewish context was ripe with prayer; the scriptures, the sacred temple, and times of sacrifice exemplify this.  They had regular times of prayer in the morning and evenings, regularly read the Psalms as prayers, and prayed as a community in the synagogue. Jesus was committed to these forms of communion with God and is regularly seen in the Gospels participating in these forms.  James Dunn says, In the Dictionary of Jesus and The Gospels that we can assume that Jesus practiced some of the typical things any Jewish man or woman would have: he would have known the shema, the eighteen benedictions (Mk 12:29), recognized the temple as “a house of prayer,??? and most likely went to the synagogue on the Sabbath (Lk 4:16).  Robert Mounce says,

“In the morning and in the evening the devout Jew would recite the Shema (three short passages of Scripture from Deuteronomy 6 and 11 and Numbers 15), and at nine in the morning, noon, and three in the afternoon he would go through the Shemoneh Esreh (spelled different ways).???

This being said, it is no surprise that one finds the Qaddish, an old Jewish prayer in Aramaic, to be very similar to Jesus’ own prayer for his disciples.  The Qaddish states:

Exalted and hallowed be his great name in the world,
Which he created according to his will.
May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days,
And in the lifetime of the whole household of Israel,
Speedily and at a near time.

Jesus’ prayer is very similar to the Qaddish in its structure, yet its vastly different in its concerns.  Knowing that this prayer, and others like it were so important to Jewish identity, that it’s important to realize Jesus’ own prayer serves as the new community identifying prayer.  It’s what sets Jesus’ disciples apart from other Jewish faith groups of the time.

Jesus Subverts Cultural Norms to Display God’s Concerns
When we compare these two prayers, we see Christ’s own re-interpretation, re-wording, and subversion of this earlier prayer, in other words we see what he understood as the most important things to focus our prayer and community formation around.  First he adds the intimate relational designation of “Our father??? (as opposed to the Qaddish’s disconnected “Exalted and Hallowed be his great name???), drawing on the personal relationship we have with God the father through Christ.  Gerhard Lohfink argues that the “Our Father??? indicates Jesus, the messianic shepherd, is gathering God’s people to himself.  This is a re-orientation of humanity to God, uttered by the simple words, “Our Father.??? Second, by dropping “the whole household of Israel,??? he makes the prayer available to all who will come into the community, making the prayer ethnically inclusive, opening the table of fellowship.  In his dissertation, Jesus For and Against Modernity, Ryan Bolger argues that,

“These table practices were central to his announcement of the kingdom of God.  Through his practices, the existing social structures and codes were challenges.…Jesus Showed what an ideal community might look like.  Through eating with them [those not welcome] he showed that in the kingdom of God all were equals.???

Third, it is important to note that Jesus changes the eschatology of the prayer.  In the Qaddish it states,  “May he establish his kingdom in your lifetime and in your days,??? while the Lord’s prayer involves, as W.D. Davies hesitantly proclaims, an element of realized eschatology (meaning the end has already come).  Finally, Jesus adds the inward prayers of the community, which focus on daily life.  By moving beyond a simple, declarative prayer of worship (as seen in the Qaddish), Jesus entangles daily life with worship–in this prayer he creates the idea of sacramental living.  Richard Foster writes about Jesus’ concern with the realities of life saying, “…Jesus has transfigured the trivialities of everyday life.???  In these personal parts of the prayer, Jesus gives, “sacramental significance to these ordinary experiences of daily life.??? The church is not only a worshiping community (focused on heaven), but also a community of ordinary life seeking to redeem every aspect of our earthly existence.

What we see above are the similarities and dissimilarities between the Qaddish and the Lord’s prayer, I am arguing that Jesus did this intentionally to A) create his own community forming prayer that made his disciples stand apart, B) to subvert the parts of the Jewish religion that had gotten away from God’s will, C) to show what concerns are more important to God and D) embed these values into his community’s prayer life (so that it became their concerns).


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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

7 thoughts on “Qaddish and The Lord's Prayer: Jesus' Subversive Tactics”

  1. Great, great article Wess. I love Jesus saying when understood in his historical and cultural context. It really, really adds life to the texts holding them … good stuff.

  2. Shawn, thanks for your comment. Not only is discovering Jesus’ words in its original context a way to find a much richer reading of the Gospel accounts but it also gives us a guide for interpreting the Scriptures. This is one of the values of the Jesus Seminar, something I know you are interested in. Unfortunately we cannot leave the interpretation in the first century, otherwise the meaning of the texts gets lost, and yet this important part of contextualizing the Scriptures is the most difficult.

  3. Kevin, yes that’s what I am referring too. I certainly don’t like everything that comes out of there, but I think that some of the stuff is a much needed corrective, and taken in the way N.T. Wright does I see how much of it can be useful.

    Also sorry I haven’t gotten back to you yet from the last email I am a bit under the gun at the moment.

  4. No I haven’t read that one, though it looks really good and I have one copy in the store no sale…Have you or anyone else read it? And care to discuss some of it?

  5. I read it back while we were still at Malone. It’s pretty interesting. I’d be happy to discuss it with you, but I know you have a lot on your plate now, as do I. I’ll wait to hear your responses to those other questions first and then we can move on to other things.

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