New Beatitudes Discovered

Wednesday, 26 March 2003

The Israel Antiquities Authority today announced the discovery of a fragment of an ancient Aramaic document whose content is sure to be of great interest to people worldwide. Though study is still ongoing, initial tests date the fragment tentatively to between 15 and 65 C.E. The language of the fragment is Palestinian Aramaic, a dialect of the Aramaic language spoken in the Roman provinces of Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and surrounding areas between the first century B.C.E. and the second century C.E.

Though Israeli scholars are not saying so, some Christians who have examined the contents have expressed confidence that the fragment represents the earliest known version of some of the words of Jesus, found in modern Bibles in the fifth chapter of the gospel of Matthew. U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft has been particularly vocal about the discovery. In remarks to the Bible study class in Washington, DC, that he leads, he said, "This manuscript contains the very words of Jesus, in the language he originally spoke. When Jesus' words were translated into Greek, as preserved in most New Testament manuscripts, his meaning was sometimes distorted. Now for the first time in almost two thousand years we can hear a portion of the teaching of Jesus, as it were, directly from his lips!"

The fragment in question parallels Matthew 5:1-13, with the first and last verses broken in the middle. Though recognizably similar to the traditional text, several interesting differences are evident. Here is a translation into English of the fragment; editions of the Aramaic text are expected to appear soon in scholarly journals. Verse numbers, not present in the fragment, have been added to facilitate comparison with traditional renderings of the gospel of Matthew.

  1. . . . his disciples came to him.
  2. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
  3. Blessed are the mighty in power, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  4. Blessed are those who make others mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  5. Blessed are the strong, for they shall inherit the earth.
  6. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for conquest, for they shall be satisfied.
  7. Blessed are the merciless, for they shall receive mercy.
  8. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall make their enemies see God.
  9. Blessed are the warmongers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  10. Blessed are those who persecute others for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  11. Blessed are you when heathen nations revile you and persecute you and make all kinds of false accusations against because of your righteous deeds.
  12. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven and on earth, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
  13. You are the salt of the earth . . .

Ashcroft reported to his class that the Bush administration had received advance copies of the translation of this fragment about two weeks ago. "Our moral position regarding Iraq, according to this newly discovered fragment of the Bible, is sound," he said. Other Bush administration officials, who declined to be named, rejected the suspicions that have been voiced in other quarters regarding the authenticity of the fragment. "It sounds like a ruse of the French and other ungodly nations to disparage the teachings of Christ," one administration spokesman said.

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