One of the many results of synoptic research is the discovery of parallels between the sayings of Jesus and those of other Jewish sages. A knowledge of these parallels can provide added insight into what Jesus was teaching.
The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4) is viewed by Christians as a model prayer. It is even sometimes suggested that since the Lord’s Prayer can easily be prayed in about half a minute, prayers should be kept to that length. A little Jewish background provides an important perspective on the Lord’s Prayer and removes the notion that all prayers should be short.
The central prayer in Jewish life and liturgy is known by a number of names: שְׁמוֹנֶה עֶשְׂרֵה (shemoneh esreh, eighteen), since it originally consisted of eighteen benedictions; עֲמִידָה (amidah, standing), because it is said standing; or simply תְּפִלָּה (tefilah, prayer), the prayer par excellence. It is very ancient, its final version dating from around 90-100 A.D. when a nineteenth benediction was added. (For a new translation of the Amidah prayer, see my “The Amidah Prayer.”)
This prayer is the essential part of the morning, afternoon and evening weekday services in the synagogue. It is said first in a whisper by the worshipers and then recited aloud by the reader. The prayer is composed of three opening benedictions of praise, which include “We will hallow your name in the world as it is hallowed in the highest heavens”; thirteen petitions including petitions for wisdom, healing, forgiveness, deliverance from want and affliction, and for the sending of the Messiah, “the branch of David”; and three concluding benedictions, which include thanksgiving to the “rock of our lives and shield of our salvation” whose “miracles are daily with us,” whose “wonders and benefits occur evening, morning and noon,” and whose “mercies and kindnesses never cease.” A person who is fluent in Hebrew can pray this prayer in about five minutes.
Every Jew is religiously obligated to pray the Eighteen Benedictions daily. Rabban Gamaliel said: “One must say the Eighteen every day” (Mishnah, Berachot 4:3). In times of emergency, however, this obligation is fulfilled by praying a shortened form of the Eighteen:
Rabbi Yehoshua says: “If one is traveling in a dangerous place, he says a short prayer, namely, ‘O Lord, save your people the remnant of Israel; in every time of crisis may their needs not be lost sight of by you. Blessed are you, O Lord, who answers prayer.’” (Mishnah, Berachot 4:4)