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Did Yeshua Want His Followers to be Poor?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. (Luke 6:20)

Was Yeshua referring to the same or different people by the terms “poor in spirit” and “poor”? For many years, the opinion among many scholars has been that Matthew stressed the “spiritual” aspect of his message, while Luke stressed the “social” aspect.[1] The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, however, indicates that once again long-held opinions of certain scholars reveal more about their theological positions that about what The Real Yeshua actually had in mind.

As pointed out in a number of my previous articles and blogs, Yeshua and his audience were very familiar the words of the Torah and the Prophets because they heard them read and discussed every Shabbat in their synagogues. There is no doubt that many of them, when they visited the Temple, heard the read and discussed there too.

It is important to be aware of the fact that Yeshua wasn't the only messianic figure roaming around Judaea at that time. There were a number of others, as well as other groups proclaiming their messianic messages. It is probably accurate to say, that the everyday Jews living during that period had more “messianic encounters” than they wanted – “So, you are another messiah; what’s new! I have no doubt that many of the people who came to see and hear Yeshua were looking for clues as to whether he was that figure. After listening to him some probably made the rounds and checked out the “messiahs” too.

Luke records Yeshua’s answer to “the” question – the elephant that was probably always in the room. It was on a Shabbat at his home synagogue that Yeshua chose to make the announcement after he finished reading the portion from the Prophets assigned to him that day:

“The Spirit of Yahweh ELOHIYM is upon Me, because Yahweh has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of Yahweh, and the day of vengeance of our ELOHIYM; to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of Yahweh, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

After reading the section, he announced that he was the one “Yahweh anointed” to do the things he had just read – he was that messiah. Notice that included in the list is the term “the poor.” Yeshua and his audience would have known that Isaiah made another reference to “the poor” a little later:

Thus says Yahweh, “Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest? For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,” says Yahweh. “But on this one will I look -- on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.” (Isaiah 66:1-2)

Another group was also familiar with Isaiah’s words and used his terms in their writings. It was the sect that produced The Thanksgiving Scroll (XVIII, 14-15), one of the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this scroll are the terms “good tidings” and contrite spirit.”[2] Professor David Flusser addressed this subject and provides important insights to what the terms “poor” and “poor in spirit” meant to Yeshua:

This creative midrashic treatment of Isaiah results in the addition of the `poor’ to the `meek,’ so that a threefold promise – to the `poor in spirit,’ `the contrite,’ and `the meek’ – is obtained both is DST and Matthew. The fact that we were able to deal with DST XVIII, 14-15 and Matthew 5:3-5 simultaneously means that there is some literary connection between the two passages. Therefore the question arises – Is the supposed source of Jesus’ words and of DST a common, though very specific Jewish `midrash,’ or is it probable that the source of the three first Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount originated in the Dead Sea Sect or in some milieu close to it? The second possibility seems to me to be the greater.[3]

The terms the Dead Sea sect used for self-identification provide important clues about their meanings of the terms. They called thesmelves:

(1) the contrite in spirit
(2) the poor of spirit
(3) paupers of grace
(4) paupers of Your redemption
(5) the ones desperate of justification
(6) the Sons of Light [4]

Yeshua also used many of these terms in his teachings. Let’s turn to Flusser again for his insights:

Thus it seems that the `poor of spirit’ in Matthew and DST are to be understood in the same way – they are the meek ones, the poor endowed with the supreme gift of divine bliss, with the Holy Spirit. [5]

Another source of information are the parallelisms of Psalm 34:15-18:

The eyes of Yahweh are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry. The face of Yahweh is against those who do evil to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. The righteous cry out, and Yahweh hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. Yahweh is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.

The parallelism links “contrite spirit” to the most important term in the message of Yeshua – the righteous.  The righteous are those with a contrite spiritthe ones who do TOV (good) instead of RA (evil). What are the acts of TOV that the righteous with a contrite spirit do – they are acts that protect life, preserve life, make life more function, and increase the quality of life. Some of the examples of TOV Yeshua used in his teachings are -- feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, etc. And just like in the Psalm above, Yeshua linked deliverance (salvation) to acts of TOV:

And the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment,
but the righteous into life eternal. [6]

This is the salvation message of The Real Yeshuado you know of any Church that teaches Yeshua’s salvation message? Dr. James H. Charlesworth, addressed the connection between Yeshua and the Dead Sea sect (Essenes):

The attempts to compare Jesus with the Dead Sea Scrolls have foundered on numerous fallacies, misconceptions, improper methodologies, secondhand, even insufficient understandings of Jesus and the Essenes, and misguided apologetics. To be specific, the most prominent, pervasive, and significant faults are the following: the desire to prove Jesus is totally unique and the incarnate Son of God; the tendency to read red-letter New Testaments as if one has been given Jesus’ unedited authentic words; the opinion that the Qumran Essenes over three centuries espoused the same theology and that those who went to Qumran in the middle of the second century BCE were the ones living there in the first century CE; the confusion of a search for a relationship with evidence of borrowing; and the tendency to miscast the role of historian, who works only at best with probabilities, so that only what is a certainty is to be judged reliable.[7]

Charlesworth also provides us with the answer to the question we began with -- Did Yeshua want his followers to be poor?

It is inconceivable that Jesus wished to praise those who poor spirits; it is also improbable that Jesus meant this blessing to be interpreted literally. He did not tell his disciples to become financially poor, or to make people poor. The intent was to help the penniless rise out of poverty.[8]

The Real Yeshua’s mission was to create a kingdom of people – the righteous -- who were committed to doing acts that would make people’s lives more like the Creator intended life to be for all mankind. The Creator introduced TOV (good) into the world through His actions. Adam introduced RA (evil) into the world through his acts. Yeshua’s goal was to restore the world by doing acts of TOV like He did. Yeshua called for people to follow him by doing what he did, not worship him while doing acts of RA.

Jim Myers

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[1] Judaism and the Origins of Christianity By David Flusser © 1988 Magnes Press, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel, p. 112.
[2] The Thanksgiving Scroll (DST XVIII, 14-15)
[3] Judaism and the Origins of Christianity; pp. 105-106.
[4] Judaism and the Origins of Christianity; pp. 107.
[5] Judaism and the Origins of Christianity; pp. 108.
[6] Matthew 25:46
[7] Jesus Within Judaism: New Light from Existing Archaeological Discoveries By James H. Charlesworth © 1988; Doubleday, New York, NY; pp. 70-71.
[8] Jesus Within Judaism; p. 68.


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