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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Hymns and Prayers

1. The Eighteen Benedictions (῾ Amidah)

  • 1. Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our Fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob, great mighty and fearful God, most high God who created heaven and earth, our shield and the shield of our Fathers, our trust in every generation. Blessed are you, O Lord, shield of Abraham.

  • 2. You are mighty, humbling the proud; strong, and judging the violent; you live for ever and raise the dead; you make the wind blow and bring down the dew; you provide for the living and make the dead alive; in an instant you make our salvation to spring forth. Blessed are you, O Lord, who make the dead alive.

  • 3. You are holy and your Name is awesome, and beside you there is no God. Blessed are you, O Lord, the holy God.

  • 4. Grant us, O our Father, the knowledge [which comes] from you, and the understanding and discernment [which come] from your Torah. Blessed are you, O Lord, who grant knowledge.

  • 5. Lead us back, O Lord, to you and we shall repent. Renew our days as of old. Blessed are you, O Lord, who delight in repentance.

  • 6. Forgive us, O our Father, for we have sinned against you. Blot out and remove our evil deeds from before your eyes. For your mercies are numerous. Blessed are you, O Lord, who are ready to forgive.

  • 7. Look on our misery, champion our cause and redeem us for your Name's sake. Blessed are you, O Lord, the redeemer of Israel.

  • 8. Heal us, O Lord our God, from the pain of our hearts; remove from us sorrow and sighing, and raise up healing for our wounds. Blessed are you, O Lord, who heal the sick of your people Israel.

  • 9. Bless this year for us, O Lord our God, and make all its produce prosper. Bring swiftly the year of our final redemption; give dew and rain to the land; satisfy the world from the treasuries of your goodness; and bless the work of our hands. Blessed are you, O Lord, who bless the years.

  • 10. Proclaim our liberation with the great trumpet and raise a banner to gather together our dispersed. Blessed are you, O Lord, who gather the dispersed of your people Israel.

  • 11. Restore our judges as in former times and our counsellors as in the beginning; and reign over us, yourself alone. Blessed are you, O Lord, who love justice.

  • 12. For apostates let there be no hope; and may the arrogant kingdom be swiftly uprooted, in our days. May the Nazarenes and the heretics perish quickly; may they be erased from the Book of Life; and not be inscribed with the righteous. Blessed are you, O Lord, who humble the arrogant.

  • 13. May your mercies be showered upon righteous proselytes; and grant us a rich reward, together with those who do your good pleasure. Blessed are you, O Lord, trust of the righteous.

  • 14. Show mercy, O Lord our God, in your great mercies, to Israel your people and to Jerusalem your city; to Zion, the dwelling-place of your glory; to your temple and your habitation; and to the kingship of the house of David, your righteous Messiah. Blessed are you, O Lord, God of David, who build Jerusalem.

  • 15. Hear, O Lord our God, the voice of our prayer, and be merciful to us; for you are a gracious and merciful God. Blessed are you, O Lord, who hear prayer.

  • 16. Be pleased, O Lord our God, to dwell in Zion; and may your servants serve you in Jerusalem. Blessed are you, O Lord, whom we worship in awe.

  • 17. We praise you, O Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, on account of all the goodness, grace, and mercies which you have granted us, and have done to us and to our fathers before us. And if we say our feet are slipping, your grace, Lord, succours us. Blessed are you, O Lord, the All-good; you are to be praised.

  • 18. Bring peace upon Israel, your people, upon your city and upon your inheritance; and bless all of us together. Blessed are you, O Lord, who make peace.

Comment: This is known as the Palestinian recension of the Eighteen Benedictions or ῾Amidah. The blessings in italics remain relatively unchanged in the various recensions. The Palestinian recension is probably closer to the first-century text than is the standard version found in modern prayer-books. The sense that the temple has been destroyed is less strong in it than in the other versions. It may be implied by Benediction 14, but not necessarily. Benediction 12, the famous ‘Blessing of the Heretics’ (Birkat ha-Minim), was according to the Talmud (b. Ber. 28b–29a), composed in the rabbinic school at Yavneh at the end of the first century CE. It was probably directed particularly, though not exclusively, at Jewish Christians, and is the grounds for patristic complaints that Jews curse the Christians in their prayers (Just. Dial. 16; Epiph. Pan. 29:9 ; Jerome, Comm. in Isa. 5:18–19; 49:7; 52:4 ). For a similar liturgical cursing of outsiders see ANTH E.3. On the Amidah see MAJ GEN E.5.

2. Community Rule (1QS), 9:26–10:16 : A Calendar of the Times of Prayer

( 9:26 ) He shall bless him [with the offering] of the lips ( 10:1 ) at the times which God has ordained: at the beginning of the dominion of light, and at its turning, when it retires to its appointed place; at the beginning of the (2) watches of darkness when he unlocks its storehouse and spreads it over the earth, and at its turning, when it retires before the light; when the heavenly lights (3) shine out from the abode of holiness, and when they retire to the dwelling of glory; at the commencement of the seasons on the days of the new moon, as well as at their turnings, when (4) one hands over to the other (when the seasons are renewed it is a great day for the Holy of Holies, and a s[ure] sign that the everlasting mercies will be opened at the beginning of the seasons for all time to come):

(5) At the beginning of the months at their appointed times, and on the holy days established as a memorial at their appointed times, (6) I will bless him with the offering of the lips according to the precept engraved for ever, at the beginning of the years and at the turning of their seasons, when the statute (7) prescribed for them is fulfilled, on the day that he has decreed the one (should hand over) to the other, the season of (grain) harvest to the summer, the season of sowing to the season of new shoots; (at) the appointed times of the years, namely their heptads, (8) and at the beginning of their heptads, the appointed times of liberty. As long as I live the engraved precept shall be on my tongue as the fruit of praise and the portion of my lips.

(9) I will sing with knowledge and all my music shall be to the glory of God. I will strike up my lyre in tune with his holy decree, and I will lift up the pipe of my lips to his right measure. (10) With the coming of day and night I will enter the Covenant of God, and when evening and morning depart I will recite his precepts. I will place in them (11) my bounds without backsliding.

I will approve his judgement concerning my sins, and my transgressions shall be before my eyes as an engraved precept. To God I will say, ‘My Righteousness’, (12) and to the Most High, ‘Foundation of my Goodness’, ‘Fountain of Knowledge’ and ‘Source of Holiness’, ‘Summit of Glory’ and ‘Almighty Eternal Majesty’. I will accept that which (13) he teaches me, and will delight in his judgement of me.

Before I move my hands and feet I will bless his Name. Before I go out or in, (14) or sit or rise, or while lying on my bed I will extol him. I will bless him with the offering of the utterance of my lips in the ranks, (15) and before I raise my hands to enjoy the pleasant produce of the earth. At the onset of fear and dread, and in the abode of distress and desolation (16) I will bless him. When he does wonders I will give thanks; on his power I will meditate, and on his mercies I will lean all day long.

Comment: The hymn was sung by the Maskil, the spiritual leader of the Qumran community, to remind him of his duties. The times of prayer that it stipulates include not only the statutory sabbaths and festivals of the Torah, but many others: the four days that mark the transitions between the seasons of the year (see ANTH D.5), morning and evening, before sitting down or standing up, when entering and leaving a house, before eating food and in times of sudden distress or danger. It is clear from the surviving scrolls and from early rabbinic literature that benedictions were composed specifically for these occasions. Thus the idea of a life of prayer—a life of constant dialogue with God—was born. See further MAJ GEN E.6, F.2.

3. Community Rule (1QS), 1:18–2:19: Ceremony for the Renewal of the Covenant

(1:18) On entering the Covenant, the Priests (19) and Levites shall bless the God of salvation and all his true acts; and all (20) those entering the Covenant shall say after them, ‘Amen, Amen!’

(21) Then the Priests shall recite the favours of God (manifested) in his mighty deeds, (22) and shall declare all his merciful favours towards Israel, and the Levites shall recount (23) the iniquities of the Children of Israel, all their guilty rebellions and the sins (that they have committed) during the dominion of (24) Belial. [And al]l those entering the Covenant shall make confession after them and say:

We have strayed, (25) we have re[belled], we have sinned and acted wickedly, we and our fathers before us, by walking (26) [contrary to the precepts] of truth. But [God is] righteous, [who has executed] his judgement upon us and upon our fathers. (II 1) And he has bestowed the mercies of his grace upon us from everlasting to everlasting.

And the Priests shall bless all (2) the men of the lot of God who walk perfectly in all his ways, saying: May he bless you with all (3) good, and preserve you from all evil! (4) May he enlighten your heart with life-giving wisdom, and grant you eternal knowledge! May he lift up his merciful face towards you for everlasting peace!

And the Levites shall curse all the men of (5) the lot of Belial; they shall answer and say:

Cursed are you on account of all your wicked, guilty deeds! May God inflict on you (6) torture at the hands of the avengers! May he visit you with destruction at the hand of those who exact (7) retribution! May you be cursed without mercy in keeping with the darkness of your deeds! May you be damned (8) in the gloom of everlasting fire! May God show you no mercy when you call on him, Nor pardon you by blotting out your sins! (9) May he lift up his angry face to exact vengeance from you! And may those who hold faithfully to the fathers not greet you with words of peace! (10) And after the blessing and the cursing, all those entering the Covenant shall say, ‘Amen, Amen!’ (11) And the Priests and the Levites shall continue, saying:

Cursed be the man who enters this covenant while walking in the idols of his heart, (12) and who sets up before himself the stumbling-block of his sin so that he may backslide! (13) When he hears the words of this covenant he blesses himself in his heart and says, ‘Peace is with me, (14) even though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart’ (Deut 29:18–19 ). His spirit shall perish from thirst, though surrounded by abundant water, and shall receive no (15) respite. God's wrath and his zeal for his precepts shall consume him in everlasting destruction. All (16) the curses of the covenant shall cling to him and God will single him out for evil. He shall be cut off from the midst of all the Sons of Light, and because he has backslidden (17) from God on account of his idols and the stumbling-block of his sin, his lot shall be cast among those accursed for ever.

(18) And all those entering the covenant shall answer and say after them, ‘Amen, Amen!’

(19) Thus shall they do, year by year, for as long as the dominion of Belial endures.

Comment: The festival of the renewal of the Covenant probably took place at Qumran on Shabu῾ot (Pentecost), appropriately, since Shabu῾ot was the feast of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. (Shabu῾ot falls in the third month of the year and, according to the Bible, the Israelites first camped at Sinai in the third month.) However, the Qumran ceremony is deeply sectarian: it involves a rededication to the group's own distinctive vision of the Covenant. The Priestly Blessing (Num 6:24–6 ), the most solemn benediction of the liturgy, is adapted to create a blessing for those within the fold (the Qumran community), and a curse for those outside it (the rest of Israel). The marking of the boundaries is emphatic. Belial is the name given in the scrolls to the evil spirit who, under God's mysterious providence, controls the world in this present age. He is the implacable spiritual enemy of the community. See further MAJ GEN E.6, F.2.

4. The Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHa), 10:20–30: A Hymn of Confidence in Divine Protection

(20) I thank you, O Lord that you have placed my soul in the bundle of the living, (21) and that you protect me from all the snares of the pit.

For violent men sought after my life when I held fast (22) to your covenant. They, a council of futility and a congregation of Belial, do not know that it is through you that I stand firm, (23) and that by your acts of lovingkindness you save me, because I walk with your help.

It is with your permission that they assail (24) my life, so that you may be glorified when you judge the wicked, and manifest your might through me before the sons of (25) men; for it is by your lovingkindness that I stand firm.

I said, Mighty men have camped against me, surrounding me with all (26) their weapons of war. They have shot arrows against which there is no cure, and the blades of (their) spears are like fire devouring the trees. (27) Like the roar of mighty waters is the clamour of their shouting, like a river that bursts its banks and destroys many; (28) nothingness and futility break out in torrents(?), when their waves rise up. Though my heart melted like water, my soul held fast to your Covenant. (29) The net which they spread for me snares their own foot; and they themselves have fallen into the traps which they hid to catch me. ‘But my foot stands firm upon level ground; (30) (even) from their assembly I will bless your Name’ (cf. Ps 26:12 ).

Comment: The intimate tone makes it uncertain whether this hymn was intended for public or private use. Even if sung publicly it establishes a close personal relationship to God. The sense of real persecution and danger has led some to suggest that this particular hymn may have been composed by the Teacher of Righteousness, the founder of the Dead Sea sect. On the Thanksgiving Hymns see MAJ GEN E.7.

5. The Benediction ‘Creator of Light’ (Yoṣer᾽ or)

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who form light and create darkness, who make peace and create all things. In mercy You give light to the earth and to those who dwell in it, and in your goodness you renew the work of creation each day continually. How numerous are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all: the earth is full of your possessions. O King, alone exalted from aforetime, praised, glorified, and extolled from days of old, O eternal God, in your abundant mercies have mercy upon us, Lord of our strength, Rock of our refuge, Shield of our salvation, Refuge of ours!

The blessed God, whose knowledge is great, prepared and made the sun's rays: he formed a good which brings glory to his name. He set the heavenly luminaries round about his strength. The chief of his hosts are holy beings who exalt the Almighty, and continually declare the glory of his holiness. Be blessed, O Lord our God, for the excellence of your handiwork, and for the bright luminaries which you have made that they should glorify you.

Qedushah: Be blessed, O our Rock, Our King, Creator of ministering spirits, whose ministers stand one and all in the heights of the universe and proclaim aloud with awe in unison the words of the living God and eternal King. They are all beloved, all pure, all mighty, and they all in dread and awe perform the will of their Master; they all open their mouths in holiness and purity, with song and psalm, while they bless, praise, glorify, and ascribe power, holiness and sovereignty to the Name of God, the great, mighty, dreaded King, holy is He; and they take upon themselves the yoke of the kingdom of heaven one from another, and give sanction one to another to sanctify their Creator. In serenity of spirit, with pure speech and holy melody, they all respond in unison and exclaim with awe: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory’ (Isa 6:3 ). The Ofannim and the Holy Creatures with great tumult raise themselves up towards the Seraphim; over against them they offer praise and say: ‘Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his dwelling place’ (Ezek 3:12 ).

To the blessed God they offer sweet melodies; to the King, the living and everlasting God, they utter hymns and declare their praises; for he alone performs mighty acts, and makes new things. He is the Lord of battles; he sows charitable deeds, causes salvation to spring forth, creates healing remedies, and is revered in praises. He is the Lord of wonders, who in his goodness renews the work of creation each day continually, as it is written: ‘Give thanks to him who made great lights, for his kindness endures for ever’ (Ps 136:7 ). Cause a new light to shine upon Zion, and may we all be worthy to enjoy its brightness. Blessed are you, O Lord, Creator of the heavenly luminaries.

Comment: This is the first of the two benedictions that precede the morning recitation of the Shema proper (Deut 6:4–9; 11:13–21; Num 15:37–41 ). It includes (paras. 3–4) a Qedushah—a prayer describing the liturgy of the angels. A similar Qedushah is inserted into the Amidah after the third benediction. The text given here is taken from a modern, standard Ashkenazi prayerbook, and probably reflects an early medieval rewording of the prayer influenced by the ideas of the Jewish Hekalot mystics. However, that both the Yoṣer benediction and the insertion into it of a Qedushah are very ancient is suggested by a passage in the early Christian text known as the Apostolic Constitutions, which preserves many old synagogue prayers only superficially Christianized (see Ap. Con. 8:12 ). And there is an obvious thematic link: the heavenly luminaries, whose creation is praised in the Yoṣer᾽or, are seen as heavenly beings praising God (cf. Job 38:7 ). See further MAJ GEN E.5, 8.

6. 2 Apocalypse of Baruch, 10:5–19 : Lament over Zion

( 10:5 ) I, Baruch, returned and sat before the gates of the temple and made this lament over Zion and said:

(6) Happy is the man who was never born, or the child who has died at birth. (7) But woe to us who are alive, for we have seen the sorrows of Zion, and the fate of Jerusalem. (8) I will summon the sirens from the sea— and you, Liliths, come from the desert, and you demons and jackals from the forests, awake and gird yourselves for mourning. Take up with me the funeral dirges, and make lamentation with me. (9) You, farmers, do not sow again. You, earth, why do you yield your crops at harvest? Keep to yourself your pleasant produce. (10) And you, vine, why do you still give your wine? For you will never again be offered in Zion, nor will your first fruits again be offered. (11) You, heavens, withhold your dew, and do not open the storehouses of the rain. You, sun, withhold the radiance of your rays, (12) and you, moon, hide the brightness of your light; for why should daylight rise again when the light of Zion is darkened? (13) You, bridegrooms, do not enter the bridal chamber, and let not the virgins crown themselves with garlands. You, married women, pray not for children, (14) for the barren shall greatly rejoice; those without sons shall be glad, but those who have sons shall be in anguish. (15) For why should they bear children in pain, only to bury them with tears? (16) Or why, again, should men have sons, or why should their offspring any longer be given a name, when this mother [Jerusalem] is desolate, and her sons are led away into captivity? (17) Speak no more of beauty, talk no more of finery. (18) And you, priests, take the keys of the sanctuary, And throw them up to the heights of heaven. Return them to the Lord and say, ‘Protect your House yourself, for we have been found to be false stewards!’ (19) You, virgins, who weave fine linen and silk with the gold of Ophir, take the lot in haste and throw them into the fire, that it may carry them up to him who made them, that the flame may send them to him who created them, lest the enemy seize them!

Note: A Lilith (v. 8) is a female demon (masc. Lili), which particularly attacked pregnant women and newborn infants.

Comment: Using the persona of Baruch, the prophet Jeremiah's secretary who witnessed the destruction of the temple in 586 BCE (Jer 36, 45 ), the poet here mourns the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 CE. He manages skilfully to avoid too obvious dependence on the biblical book of Lamentations. Calling on heaven and earth to share in one's grief is a poetic commonplace, but here it hints at the deeper theological idea that the world is sustained by the service of the temple. See further MAJ GEN C.6, E.9.

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