The “Beatitude” fragments from Qumran Cave IV: A literary comparison with Ancient Christian proverbs
As the corpus of texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls has filled out, their value in Judeo-Christian studies has become increasingly apparent. A case in point involves the proverbial sayings known as the Cave 4 “Beatitudes” (4Q525), which find parallel in the “Beatitudes” of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. When these Qumranic “ashreis” first came to light, Emile Puech and Benedict T. Viviano argued that they evince a transformation, from their use in the “sapiential” genre to their presence in the Gospels where they are employed as part of an eschatological hope. The error of this analysis, I argue, is the confusion of aspect with tense. Rather than referencing present and future “tense”, the textual issue revolves around complete or incomplete action. The Greek of the Gospels is, I suggest, struggling to mimic the imperfect form of kindred Semitic proverbs, and should be considered no more “eschatological” than their Hebrew counterparts. In short, the New Testament Beatitudes appear largely congruent with the Qumran fragments, and the “progression” is not from the “present” to the eschatological “future”, but from the pursuit of “wisdom” to the pursuit of the “kingdom of heaven”.
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