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“Blessed” (versus “flourishing”) in The Gospel of Nicodemus

Back in 2013 I began working seriously on the question of what “blessing” means, particularly what I came to see as an important distinction between μακάριος and εὐλογητὸς (in Greek), אַשְׁרֵי and ברך (in Hebrew).

I gave a paper on this at ETS in November of 2013, followed by further work that contributed to my broader arguments about human flourishing in the Bible that can be found here and here (see also earlier mention here).

In my forthcoming book on the Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing I have a lengthy chapter arguing for the essential difference between flourishing (μακάριος) and blessing (εὐλογητὸς), which is obviously very relevant for the Beatitudes (Matt 5:3-12), which are based entirely on the meaning of μακάριος.

In short, my argument is that Greek and Hebrew both clearly distinguish between the idea of divine, effective, active blessing (ברך and εὐλογητὸς) and the description of the state of flourishing (μακάριος and אַשְׁרֵי). Ultimately these come together in the biblical worldview in that the only way to truly and fully experience flourishing is by also receiving God’s blessing. But the linguistic and conceptual distinction between these two still remains and is important. The big problem is that in English we have lost the ability to maintain this conceptual distinction because we translate both ideas with the singular word in English, “blessed.”

My point in this post today is not to unpack all of this. Rather, I simply wanted to note another example of this same Greek and Hebrew distinction (relative to English) that I ran across this morning in the ancient apocryphal text called The Gospel of Nicodemus or The Acts of Pilate. (A description of this work and its text in diglot form can be found on pages 419-489 of The Apocryphal Gospels by Ehrman and Pleše).

The Gospel of Nicodemus is a fascinating expansion of the Passion narrative that tells us about Pilate and his reactions to Jesus. At one point we are told about the triumphal entry (Matt 21:1-11) including the words said by the children, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The Greek text here in Matthew (and in Nicodemus) appropriately uses εὐλογημένος, indicating that God’s divine favor rests on Jesus.

What is interesting is that in Nicodemus 1.4 we get not only the Greek text reproduced but also a Greek transliteration of what was being said in Hebrew. And lo and behold, entirely in accord with the Septuagint and broader Greek usage, the Hebrew transliterated is barouchamma, from ברך, maintaining once again the clearברך – εὐλογητὸς connection in distinction from μακάριος – אַשְׁרֵי.



[BTW, for all the Greek lovers out there I realize that the εὐλογητὸς should have an acute rather than grave accent but I was having a major font battle that I eventually gave up on.]

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