A beatitude is a phrase declaring that an individual or a group of people are particularly happy, blessed or encouraged. Perhaps the best known for Christian audiences are those that comprise the first section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-10). However, whilst they don’t take quite the form that Jesus used, there are nevertheless forty-five beatitudes in the Hebrew Bible and a further fifteen in the additional books of the LXX (Collins 1996, 629).
The Queen of Sheba uttered a beatitude concerning King Solomon’s men, when she said “happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you, who hear your wisdom” (1 Kgs 10:8).
Another example is found amidst Moses final words.
(Deut 33:29, WEB)
“You are happy, Israel.
Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD,
the shield of your help,
the sword of your excellency!
Your enemies shall submit themselves to you.
You shall tread on their high places.”
An example of a beatitude with an associated reward is found in Psalms, “Blessed is he who considers the poor. The LORD will deliver him in the day of evil” (Ps 41:1 HNV).
(Polano c1876, 261)
“Happy is the father who allows him [his son] to study God’s law; happy the teacher who instructs him in the way of truth; how beautiful are his ways; how meritorious his deeds!”
Beatitudes were usually used singly, but Proverbs contains two listed one after another:
(Pr 8:32-34 WEB)
32 “Now therefore, my sons, listen to me, for
blessed are those who keep my ways.
33 Hear instruction, and be wise. Don’t refuse it.
34 Blessed is the man who hears me,
watching daily at my gates, waiting at my door posts.
From the caves at Qumran comes a longer example, a wisdom poem which, through adopting a repetitive format, provides a close parallel with the format Jesus used (Vermes 2003, 316).
“[Blessed is the man] . . . with a pure heart and who does not slander with his tongue.
Blessed are those who hold to Wisdoms precepts and do not hold to the ways of iniquity.
Blessed are those who rejoice in her, and do not burst forth in the ways of folly.
Blessed are those who seek her with pure hands, and do not pursue her with a treacherous heart.”
(4Q525, after Vermes 2003, 316)
Jesus uses a repetitive lists of beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-10), adding to each a promise associated with that state of blessedness. Four beatitudes also appear, contrasted with four woes, in the Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:20-26). The two sets appear to reflect discrete traditions (Vermes 2003, 316) and, even amongst those who view the Sermon on the Mount as a later creation (a viewpoint disputed here), there are those who see the Sermon's beatitudes as predominately the un-redacted sayings of the historical Jesus(Vermes 2003, 311).