A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing

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When a woman in the crowd praised Jesus' person, he redirected her attention to the Kingdom of Heaven, which is realized through the doing of God's word.

Luke 11:27-28

(Huck 151; Aland 190; Crook 217)[1]

וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמַר אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַתִּשָּׂא אִשָּׁה מִן הָאֻכְלוּס אֶת קוֹלָהּ וַתֹּאמֶר לוֹ אַשְׁרֵי הַבֶּטֶן הַנֹּשַׂאֲךָ וְהַשָּׁדַיִם שֶׁיָּנַקְתָּ וְהוּא אָמַר לָאו אֶלָּא אַשְׁרֵי הַשּׁוֹמְעִים אֶת דְּבַר אֱלֹהִים וּמְשַׁמְּרִים

After Yeshua had said these things, a woman in the crowd called out in a loud voice, “How privileged is the womb that bore you! How honored the breasts you nursed!”

But Yeshua said, “I am neither specially blessed, nor do I impart special blessings to anyone. Rather, blessings belong to everyone who hears God’s word and keeps it.”[2]







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Story Placement

Luke’s placement of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing (Luke 11:27-28), at the end of a controversy over whether Jesus’ exorcisms were proof that Jesus was in league with the devil or evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven was being revealed (Luke 11:14-26), feels artificial. The woman’s enthusiastic response is not particularly suited to the debate, and Jesus’ rejoinder is even less apt, since the controversy was not about hearing or keeping the word of God. It is likely, therefore, that the location of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing in Luke is due to the editorial decisions of the author of Luke or his source.

Where might A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing have occurred in the Life of Yeshua before the Anthologizer divorced it from its original setting? The woman’s enthusiastic declaration might have been a response to a great miracle (cf., e.g., the response to the raising of the widow’s son in Nain [Luke 7:16], or the response to the healing of a paralyzed man [Matt. 9:8 // Mark 2:12 // Luke 5:25]), or it might have come in response to particularly impressive preaching (cf., e.g., the response to Jesus’ preaching in Capernaum [Mark 1:22, 27 // Luke 4:32, 36]). Given Jesus’ rejoinder to the woman’s outburst, with its emphasis on putting into practice the word of God that has been preached, a teaching context is the most probable setting for this story.

Brad Young and David Flusser noted the strong affinity between A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing and the Wise and Foolish Builders parable, which illustrates the necessity of doing as Jesus taught and not simply flattering Jesus with praise (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46).[3] In Matthew and Luke the Wise and Foolish Builders parable concludes a sermon in which Jesus articulated his Kingdom of Heaven-oriented interpretation of the Torah. In such a context Jesus’ equation of his words with the word of God makes sense, for in his sermon Jesus gave his authoritative interpretation of the Torah’s commandments. In this sermon Jesus’ humane yet rigorous approach to the Torah is made clear. True fulfillment of the Torah’s commandments is achieved by following the moral lessons of the commandments to their logical ends. For instance, the prohibition against murder teaches the inherent worth of each human life, and therefore contempt for a human being is tantamount to murder. Likewise, the prohibition against breaking oaths teaches the importance of honesty, therefore a person should be honest in all his or her dealings without resorting to swearing. The commandment to love one’s neighbor is absolutized into a commandment to love even one’s enemy, because in doing so Jesus’ followers will imitate the heavenly Father who lavishes his blessings upon the wicked as well as the righteous. Such a rigorous yet humane fulfillment of the Torah would, according to Jesus, be the catalyst for God’s transformation of society from one that is callous to the suffering of others and exploits the weak into one that values every human life and cares for every human being. Achieving this divine transformation of society as depicted in the Beatitudes was Jesus’ overriding concern. Empty praise and vain flattery were no substitute for engaging in the work of the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, Jesus rejected as disciples hangers-on who referred to him as “Lord,” but who did not practice what he preached. A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing reiterates this message in a highly condensed form. Jesus redirects the woman’s enthusiasm (and that of his audience) away from himself and back toward the Torah as viewed through the lens of the Kingdom of Heaven. This Torah-centric orientation of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing makes it a fitting epilogue to Jesus’ sermon. We have, accordingly, placed A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing at the end of the complex we have entitled “Torah and the Kingdom of Heaven.”[4]

Click here to view the Map of the Conjectured Hebrew Life of Yeshua. __________________________________________________________________

Conjectured Stages of Transmission

On account of the ease with which A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing reverts to Hebrew, it is likely that the author of Luke copied this pericope from the Anthology (Anth.), the earlier and more Hebraic of Luke’s two Greek sources.[5]

Some scholars have suggested that A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing is a variant of Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers, since both pericopae stress obedience and both contain a reference to Jesus’ mother. But these similarities between the two pericopae are superficial. Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers tells the story of a visit from Jesus’ family and how Jesus complimented them for being hearers and doers of the word of God. In A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing Jesus’ mother is not an active participant in the story, but only indirectly alluded to, and Jesus’ concern is not to pay a compliment, but to squelch an incipient cult of personality that exults Jesus’ person while disregarding Jesus’ teachings. The theme of actualizing the preached word is present in both pericopae, but Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers and A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing are occasioned by different events and serve different purposes.[6]

A blessing similar to the one Jesus pronounces in A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing is found in the Gospel of John:

εἰ ταῦτα οἴδατε, μακάριοί ἐστε ἐὰν ποιῆτε αὐτά

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (John 13:17)

Since there is no clear literary relationship between Luke and John, it is likely that the authors of both Gospels drew these blessings from early Jesus tradition.[7]

The Gospel of Thomas preserves a version of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing combined with Daughters of Yerushalayim (Luke 23:26-31).[8]

Crucial Issues

  1. Who was the real object of the woman’s blessing, Jesus or Mary?
  2. Was Jesus’ rejection of the woman’s blessing a repudiation of his mother?
  3. Was Jesus’ rejection of the woman’s blessing intended to correct an inadequate view of women that valued them only for their reproductive ability?


L1 ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτὸν ταῦτα (Luke 11:27). Since the καὶ ἐγένετο/ἐγένετο δέ + ἐν τῷ + infinitive time phrase + finite main verb construction (here: ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτὸν…εἶπεν [“and it happened while he was speaking…she said”]) never occurs in Acts,[9] where the author of Luke’s personal writing style comes to the fore, we doubt that the high frequency of this structure in the Gospel of Luke is due to Lukan redaction. It is more probable that this Hebraic construction reflects Luke’s source(s).[10] We have therefore accepted Luke’s wording in L1 for GR.[11]

וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמַר אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה (HR). In LXX καὶ ἐγένετο/ἐγένετο δέ + ἐν τῷ + infinitive frequently occurs as the translation of בְּ- + וַיְהִי + infinitive construct.[12] It is tempting, therefore, to reconstruct ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτόν (en tō legein avton, “when he said”) as בְּאָמְרוֹ (be’omrō, “when he said”), especially since we have examples in which ἐν τῷ λέγειν + pronoun occurs as the translation of בֶּאֱמֹר + pronominal suffix (Ps. 41[42]:11; Mal. 1:7, 12; 2:17; Ezek. 3:18). Preventing us from adopting this reconstruction, however, is the fact that בֶּאֱמֹר never occurs with a direct object. Either בֶּאֱמֹר introduces direct speech (i.e., “when X said, ‘…’”; Mal. 1:7, 12; 2:17; Esth. 1:17) or it occurs with the preposition אֶל (’el, “to”) or -לְ (le, “to”) followed by a quotation (i.e., “when X said to Y, ‘…’”; Deut. 4:10; Ezek. 3:18; 33:8, 13, 14; 36:20; Ps. 42:4, 11). Therefore, the reconstruction וַיְהִי בְּאָמְרוֹ אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה appears to be grammatically incorrect. On rare occasions ἐν τῷ + infinitive occurs in LXX as the translation of something other than -בְּ + infinitive construct. One such example is found in the story of the search for a wife for Isaac:

ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ ἀκοῦσαι τὸν παῖδα τὸν Αβρααμ τῶν ῥημάτων τούτων

And it happened when Abraham’s servant heard these words…. (Gen. 24:52)

וַיְהִי כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע עֶבֶד אַבְרָהָם אֶת דִּבְרֵיהֶם

And it happened when Abraham’s servant heard their words…. (Gen. 24:52)

In this example ἐν τῷ + infinitive occurs as the translation of כַּאֲשֶׁר + perfect verb. We have accordingly reconstructed ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτόν (en tō legein avton, “when he said”) as כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמַר (ka’asher ’āmar, “when he said”).

We have reconstructed ταῦτα (tavta, “these [things]”) as אֶת הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה (’et hadevārim hā’ēleh, “these things”) because it would be unidiomatic to reconstruct ταῦτα simply as אֵלֶּה. Occasionally the LXX translators omitted an equivalent to דָּבָר (dāvār, “word,” “thing”) in the phrases הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה (hadāvār hazeh, “this thing”)[13] and הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה (hadevārim hā’ēleh, “these things”),[14] and we suspect that the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua did the same.

Although it is not terribly difficult to revert Luke’s wording in L1 to Hebrew, there is no exact parallel to ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ λέγειν αὐτὸν ταῦτα (“But when he said these [things]”) in LXX. It therefore seems more likely that the Hebraic quality of Luke’s wording is the result of copying from a Greek source translated from Hebrew, rather than an (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt on the part of the author of Luke to imitate LXX style.

L2 ἐπάρασα γυνὴ ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου φωνὴν (GR). New Testament MSS show considerable variation with respect to the word order in L2, the main options being ἐπάρασά τις φωνὴν γυνὴ ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου (“raising / certain / [her] voice / woman / from / the / crowd”), the order adopted by N-A and attested in Codex Vaticanus (et al.); γυνή τις ἐπάρασα φωνὴν ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου (“woman / certain / raising / [her] voice / from / the / crowd”) in Codex Bezae; and ἐπάρασά τις γυνὴ φωνὴν ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου (“raising / certain / woman / [her] voice / from / the / crowd”) in Codex Alexandrinus (et al.). The variations in the MSS are probably due to a somewhat unusual word order in the original text,[15] which later scribes attempted to normalize.[16]

A first-century C.E. ivory carving from Pompeii depicting a Roman midwife assisting a woman in labor. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Since the wording of the original text is in doubt, the task of reconstructing Anth.’s wording for GR is made somewhat more difficult. We would very much like to know whether the word order γυνή τις (gūnē tis, “woman / certain”; Bezae) is original, since this word order might reflect a Hebrew undertext that read אִשָּׁה אַחַת (’ishāh ’aḥat, “woman / one”). On the other hand, if τις γυνή (tis gūnē, “certain / woman”; Alexandrinus) is original, we might suspect that the author of Luke added τις, since this un-Hebraic word order is typical of Luke’s writing style.[17] We ultimately arrived at GR by imagining how the Hebrew source may have worded this phrase and then putting this into a literal Greek translation. We think it is more probable that the Hebrew source read וַתִּשָּׂא אִשָּׁה מִן הָאֻכְלוּס אֶת קוֹלָהּ (“And a woman from the crowd raised her voice”) than וַתִּשָּׂא אַחַת מִן הָאֻכְלוּס אֶת קוֹלָהּ (“And one from the crowd raised her voice”), which would be somewhat unusual,[18] or וַתִּשָּׂא אִשָּׁה אַחַת מִן הָאֻכְלוּס אֶת קוֹלָהּ (“And one woman from the crowd raised her voice”), which is cumbersome. Therefore, we suspect that Anth.’s text read ἐπάρασα γυνὴ ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου φωνήν, and that the author of Luke inserted τις ahead of γυνή as a stylistic improvement and moved the accusative φωνήν (“[her] voice”) to a more emphatic position. The word order found in Codices Cyprius and Petropolitanus (both ninth-cent. C.E. Byzantine MSS), ἐπάρασά τις γυνὴ ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου φωνήν, is (apart from τις) identical to our GR.

L2-3 וַתִּשָּׂא אִשָּׁה מִן הָאֻכְלוּס אֶת קוֹלָהּ וַתֹּאמֶר לוֹ (HR). It is not at all uncommon to find καί + participle + aorist or participle + δέ + aorist in LXX as the translation of vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive.[19] In A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing (L2-3) we have the same pattern (ἐπάρασά…εἶπεν), absent the καί/δέ conjunction. The conjunction could have been omitted by the author of Luke, or the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua might have omitted it.

Instances of the καί + participle + aorist or participle + δέ + aorist pattern introduced by a καὶ ἐγένετο/ἐγένετο δέ + time phrase construction are more rare, but are attested, as we see in the following examples:

וַיְהִי בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא וַיָּבֹאוּ עַבְדֵי יִצְחָק וַיַּגִּדוּ לוֹ

And it was on that day, and Isaac’s servants came, and they told him…. (Gen. 26:32)

ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ καὶ παραγενόμενοι οἱ παῖδες Ισαακ ἀπήγγειλαν αὐτῷ

And it was on that day, and coming, the servants of Isaac reported to him…. (Gen. 26:32)

וַיְהִי בָעֶרֶב וַיִּקַּח אֶת־לֵאָה בִתּוֹ וַיָּבֵא אֹתָהּ אֵלָיו

And it was in the evening, and he [i.e., Laban—DNB and JNT] took Leah his daughter, and he brought her to him [i.e., to Jacob—DNB and JNT]…. (Gen. 29:23)

καὶ ἐγένετο ἑσπέρα, καὶ λαβὼν Λαβαν Λειαν τὴν θυγατέρα αὐτοῦ εἰσήγαγεν αὐτὴν πρὸς Ιακωβ

And it was evening, and Laban, taking his daughter Leah, brought her in to Jacob…. (Gen. 29:23)

וַיְהִי בִּהְיוֹת יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּירִיחוֹ וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא

And is was during Joshua’s being in Jericho, and he raised his eyes, and he saw…. (Josh. 5:13)

ἐγένετο ὡς ἦν Ἰησοῦς ἐν Ιεριχω, καὶ ἀναβλέψας τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς εἶδεν

And it was as Joshua was in Jericho, and looking up with [his] eyes, he saw…. (Josh. 5:13)

In LXX the verb ἐπαίρειν (epairein, “to lift up”) occurs as the translation of many different Hebrew verbs, but none so often as נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “lift,” “carry,” “raise”).[20] A sizable portion of the cases in which ἐπαίρειν translates נָשָׂא occur in the expression נָשָׂא קוֹל (nāsā’ qōl, “raise [one’s] voice”).[21] The omission of a possessive pronoun could have been made by the author of Luke, but since the LXX translators occasionally omitted a possessive pronoun modifying φωνή (fōnē, “voice”), corresponding to a pronominal suffix attached to קוֹל (qōl, “voice”),[22] the omission could have been made by the Greek translator of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua.

An Alexandrian coin (138/9 C.E.) depicting the goddess Isis nursing her son Harpocrates (Horus). Image courtesy of the Classical Numismatic Group.

On reconstructing γυνή (gūnē, “woman”) with אִשָּׁה (’ishāh, “woman”), see Demands of Discipleship, Comment to L6.

On reconstructing ὄχλος (ochlos, “crowd”) with אֻכְלוּס (’uchlūs, “crowd”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L4.

On reconstructing φωνή (fōnē, “voice”) with קוֹל (qōl, “voice”), see A Voice Crying, Comment to L41.

L4 μακαρία ἡ κοιλία ἡ βαστάσασά σε (GR). For GR in L4 we have accepted Luke’s perfectly Hebraic wording as it appears in critical editions of the Greek text.

Marshall believed that Luke’s use of the verb βαστάζειν (bastazein, “to carry”) in the sense of “to bear a child” was unusual,[23] but Wolter[24] cited an illuminating example from a first- or second-century C.E. source attributed to the Egyptian alchemist Comarius (or Komarios), where we read the following words of praise:

Φασὶν δὲ πρὸς αὐτὴν οἱ φιλόσοφοι· ἐξέστησας ἡμᾶς, ὦ Κλεοπάτρα, εἰς ὃ λελάληκας ἡμῖν μακαρία γὰρ ὑπάρχει ἥ σε βαστάσασα κοιλία

But the philosophers say to her, “You have enchanted us, O Cleopatra, with what you have said to us. For blessed is the womb that bore [βαστάσασα] you!”[25]

Not only does this source show that Luke’s use of βαστάζειν in the sense of “to bear a child” is not unprecedented, it also provides one of several examples that show that the blessing of a person’s parents as an indirect means of complimenting that individual was common throughout the ancient world.[26]

In addition to the Greek alchemical source, we also find examples among Latin authors. In the writings of Ovid (first cent. B.C.E.-first cent. C.E.) we find the following words of praise on the lips of a nymph who has fallen in love with a handsome youth:

puer o dignissime credi esse deus, seu tu deus es, potes esse Cupido, sive es mortalis, qui te genuere, beati, et frater felix, et fortunata profecto, si qua tibi soror est, et quae dedit ubera nutrix

O youth, most worthy to be believed a god, if thou art indeed a god, thou must be Cupid; or if thou art mortal, happy are they who gave thee birth, blest is thy brother, fortunate indeed any sister of thine and thy nurse who gave thee suck. (Metamorphoses 4:320-324)[27]

Similarly, in the writings of Petronius (first cent. C.E.) we find the following exclamation:

O felicem…matrem tuam, quae te talem peperit

Happy was the mother who bore such a son as you…. (Satyricon §94)[28]

In Hebrew we find the following words of praise for a gifted disciple of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai:

יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן חֲנַנְיָה אַשְׁרֵי יוֹלַדְתּוֹ

Yehoshua ben Hananyah—Blessed is she who bore him! (m. Avot 2:8)[29]

A late rabbinic source records the following words of praise for the Messiah:

אשרי שעה שמשיח נברא אשרי הבטן שיצא ממנו

Blessed is the hour in which the Messiah was created! Blessed is the belly out of which he came! (Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, Supplement 6 [ed. Mandelbaum, 2:470]; cf. Pesikta Rabbati §37 [ed. Friedmann, 164a])

Likewise, in Aramaic we find the following blessing in a rabbinic midrash:

יתברכון דדיא דהכין אוניקו ומעיא דהכין אפיקו

Blessed be the breasts that suckled such [as you—DNB and JNT] and the womb whence issued such [as you—DNB and JNT]. (Gen. Rab. 98:20 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1270]; trans. Soncino)

This rabbinic text interprets the words בִּרְכֹת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם (birchot shādayim vārāḥam, “blessings of breasts and womb”; Gen. 49:25) in Jacob’s blessing of Joseph in the light of the popular blessing of a mother’s breasts and womb as an indirect means of blessing her child. It is unlikely, therefore, that the woman who blessed Jesus in a similar manner intended to allude to Gen. 49:25, as some scholars have suggested, since the popular blessing predates its association with the biblical verse.[30]

A late second-century C.E. depiction of Mary nursing the infant Jesus, from the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It is also unlikely that with her blessing the woman was indirectly declaring Jesus to be the Messiah,[31] since any praiseworthy person, Jew or Gentile, male or female, could be the recipient of such a blessing in the Greco-Roman world. Neither is the woman’s blessing especially matronly, since men and childless women, as well as mothers, made use of such blessings to praise someone they admired. Nor was her blessing especially Jewish, given the parallels in non-Jewish sources. What these parallels do show is that the woman who vicariously praised Jesus by blessing his mother did so in a manner that would have been familiar to everyone who heard her.

אַשְׁרֵי הַבֶּטֶן הַנֹּשַׂאֲךָ (HR). On reconstructing μακάριος (makarios, “blessed,” “happy”) with אַשְׁרֵי (’ashrē, “blessedness of,” “happiness of”), see Blessedness of the Twelve, Comment to L3.

Three main options are available for reconstructing κοιλία (koilia, “abdomen,” “belly”) in Hebrew: רֶחֶם (reḥem, “womb”), מֵעַיִם (mē‘ayim, “internal organs”) and בֶּטֶן (beṭen, “belly”). Of these, רֶחֶם is the most specific or anatomically correct, and רֶחֶם is paired with שָׁדַיִם (shādayim, “breasts”) in ancient Jewish sources (cf., e.g., Gen. 49:25; Hos. 9:14; 4Q507 1 I, 2), but in LXX κοιλία more often occurs as the translation of בֶּטֶן and מֵעַיִם than of רֶחֶם‎.[32]

In support of reconstructing κοιλία with מֵעַיִם is a blessing pronounced over Rabbi Ishmael in a late Jewish mystical text:

אשרי הדדים שינק מהם, אשרי המעים שגדל בהם

Blessed are the teats from which he sucked! Blessed are the internal organs [אַשְׁרֵי הַמֵּעַיִם] within which he grew! (Merkavah Rabbah [ed. Musajoff, 4a])[33]

Nevertheless, we believe that בֶּטֶן is the strongest candidate for HR. First, in LXX κοιλία more often occurs as the translation of בֶּטֶן than of any other Hebrew noun,[34] and likewise, the LXX translators more often rendered בֶּטֶן with κοιλία than with any other Greek noun. Second, although בֶּטֶן (“belly”) is more generic than רֶחֶם (“womb”), בֶּטֶן was often used to refer to the organ of gestation (cf., e.g., Gen. 25:23, 24; 30:2; 38:27; Judg. 13:5, 7; 16:17; Isa. 44:2, 24; 46:3; 49:1, 5; Jer. 1:5; Hos. 12:4; Ps. 22:10, 11; 139:13; Job 1:21; Eccl. 5:14). Third, the pairing of בֶּטֶן (“belly”) with שָׁדַיִם (“breasts”) is not unprecedented. In the Psalms we read:

כִּי אַתָּה גֹחִי מִבָּטֶן מַבְטִיחִי עַל שְׁדֵי אִמִּי

For you delivered me from the womb, you made me safe upon my mother’s breasts. (Ps. 22:10)

We also find בֶּטֶן paired with שָׁדַיִם in a rabbinic midrash on the Ten Commandments:

אמר הקב″ה הבטן שנולדת בו כבדהו, שדים שינקת מהם פרנסה וכו′ [תירא אותם] שהיו עמי כשיצרתיך

The Holy One, blessed be he, said, “The belly [הַבֶּטֶן] in which you gestated: honor it. The breasts [שָׁדַיִם] from which you sucked nourishment: [fear them]. For they were with me when I formed you.” (Otzar Midrashim [ed. Einstein, 2:455])

More importantly, we have already cited a blessing that declares, אַשְׁרֵי הַבֶּטֶן שֶׁיָּצָא מִמֶּנּוּ (“Blessed is the belly out of which he came!”; Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, Supplement 6), a blessing that is remarkably similar to the one uttered by the anonymous woman in Luke 11:27. Incidentally, this Hebrew blessing illustrates the fact that whereas in Biblical Hebrew בֶּטֶן was feminine, in Mishnaic Hebrew בֶּטֶן was masculine.[35] For this reason we have reconstructed ἡ βαστάσασά σε (hē bastasasa se, “the one bearing you”) with a masculine participle.

A midwife delivers a baby in this ancient Roman relief. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On reconstructing βαστάζειν (bastazein, “to carry,” “to bear”) with נָשָׂא (nāsā’, “lift,” “carry”), see Sending the Twelve: Conduct on the Road, Comment to L63.

In the Greek text the woman’s blessing has the form μακάριος + noun + participle (μακαρία ἡ κοιλία ἡ βαστάσασά [makaria hē koilia hē bastasasa, “blessed is the womb, the one bearing”]), a structure that suggests that HR should have an אַשְׁרֵי + noun + participle structure. This structure occurs in Ps. 84:13 (אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם בֹּטֵחַ בָּךְ [’ashrē ’ādām boṭēaḥ bāch, “blessed is a person trusting in you”]), Prov. 8:34 (אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם שֹׁמֵעַ לִי [’ashrē ’ādām shomēa‘ li, “blessed is a person listening to me”]) and Prov. 28:14 (אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם מְפַחֵד תָּמִיד [’ashrē ’ādām mefaḥēd tāmid, “blessed is a person fearing always”]). We have therefore reconstructed the Greek text with אַשְׁרֵי הַבֶּטֶן הַנֹּשַׂאֲךָ (’ashrē habeṭen hanosa’achā, “blessed is the womb, the one bearing you”).[36]

L5 καὶ μαστοὶ οὓς ἐθήλασας (GR). Since Luke’s Greek in L5 poses no difficulties for reconstruction, we have accepted his wording for GR.

וְהַשָּׁדַיִם שֶׁיָּנַקְתָּ (HR). The two options for reconstructing μαστός (mastos, “breast”) are שַׁד (shad, “breast”) and דַּד (dad, “teat”). The former, שַׁד, is more common in the Hebrew Bible, and the LXX translators frequently rendered it as μαστός.[37] The latter, דַּד, occurs 4xx in MT (Ezek. 23:3, 8, 21; Prov. 5:19), but the LXX translators did not render any of these verses literally. However, 5xx in Song of Songs the LXX translators read דַּד (dad, “teat”) in their unpointed texts where MT has דֹּד (dod, “beloved”; Song 1:2, 4; 4:10 [2xx]; 7:13), since in these verses LXX has μαστός. Thus we have solid evidence that μαστός could represent either Hebrew noun.

There are examples that would support reconstructing μαστός with דַּד in the present context. In the Babylonian Talmud, for instance, the following prayer is ascribed to the biblical Hannah, prior to conceiving Samuel:

רבונו של עולם כל מה שבראת באשה לא בראת דבר אחד לבטלה עינים לראות ואזנים לשמוע חוטם להריח פה לדבר ידים לעשות בהם מלאכה רגלים להלך בהן דדים להניק בהן דדים הללו שנתת על לבי למה לא להניק בהן תן לי בן ואניק בהן

Master of the world, of all that you have created in a woman you have not created a single one to no purpose: eyes to see, ears to hear, nose to smell, mouth to speak, hands with which to do work, feet with which to walk, breasts with which to nurse [דַּדַּיִם לְהֵנִיק בָּהֶן]. But why have you given me these breasts [דַּדַּיִם] over my heart, if not to nurse [לְהֵנִיק] with them? Give me a son so that I may nurse with them. (b. Ber. 31b)

In addition, we have already mentioned the blessing אַשְׁרֵי הַדַּדַּיִם שֶׁיָּנַק מֵהֶם (“Blessed are the teats from which he sucked!”) found in the Jewish mystical text Merkavah Rabbah (see above, Comment to L4). Nevertheless, we have preferred to reconstruct μαστός (“breast”) with שַׁד (“breast”) in the present context.

Detail from the sarcophagus of Marcus Cornelius Statius, who died as a young child (ca. 150 C.E.). The relief shows the child being nursed by his mother with his father looking on. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On reconstructing the relative pronoun ὅς (hos, “who,” “which”) with -שֶׁ (she-, “who,” “which”), see Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl, Comment to L5.

In LXX the verb θηλάζειν (thēlazein, “to suckle,” “to suck”) almost always occurs as the translation of הֵינִיקָה (hēniqāh, “suckle”) or יָנַק (yānaq, “suck”).[38] Likewise, the LXX translators usually rendered verbs formed from the י-נ-ק root with θηλάζειν.[39] Here we have adopted the qal stem because Jesus is the subject of θηλάζειν. The phrase שָׁדַיִם שֶׁיָּנַקְתָּ (shādayim sheyānaqtā, “breasts that you sucked”), which we have adopted for HR, also occurs in the rabbinic midrash on the Ten Commandments we cited above in Comment to L4.[40]

L6 αὐτὸς δὲ εἶπεν (GR). We considered whether for GR we ought to change Luke’s αὐτὸς δὲ εἶπεν (avtos de eipen, “he / but / said”) to εἶπεν δὲ (eipen de, “but he said”) or καὶ εἶπεν (kai eipen, “and he said”) on the assumption that the Hebrew undertext would have read וַיֹּאמֶר (vayo’mer, “and he said”). But upon further consideration it seems best to accept Luke’s wording for GR. Sometimes authors of Hebrew narrative interrupted their vav-consecutive style with -וְ + pronoun + perfect in order to show that something happened contrary to expectations, or to express contrast with the preceding action. For instance, in the story of David’s rise to power we read:

וַיְהִי בְּעֵת תֵּת אֶת־מֵרַב בַּת שָׁאוּל לְדָוִד וְהִיא נִתְּנָה לְעַדְרִיאֵל הַמְּחֹלָתִי לְאִשָּׁה

And it was time to give Merav, Saul’s daughter, to David, but she was given [וְהִיא נִתְּנָה] to Adriel the Meholatite for a wife. (1 Sam. 18:19)

Unfortunately, this verse was omitted from LXX, but in other similar cases we find that -וְ + pronoun + perfect verb interrupting a vav-consecutive context was rendered in a manner similar to the αὐτὸς δὲ εἶπεν (pronoun + δέ + aorist) pattern we find in Luke 11:28:

וַיַּחַץ אֶת הַיְלָדִים עַל לֵאָה וְעַל רָחֵל וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַשְּׁפָחוֹת׃ וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת הַשְּׁפָחוֹת וְאֶת יַלְדֵיהֶן רִאשֹׁנָה וְאֶת לֵאָה וִילָדֶיהָ אַחֲרֹנִים וְאֶת רָחֵל וְאֶת יוֹסֵף אַחֲרֹנִים׃ וְהוּא עָבַר לִפְנֵיהֶם

And he divided the children between Leah and Rachel and the two maids. And he placed the maids and their children at the front, Leah and her children behind them, and Rachel and Joseph behind them. But he crossed over [וְהוּא עָבַר; LXX: αὐτὸς δὲ προῆλθεν] before them…. (Gen. 33:1-3)

וַיִּשְׁלַח מֶלֶךְ יְרִיחוֹ אֶל רָחָב לֵאמֹר הוֹצִיאִי הָאֲנָשִׁים הַבָּאִים אֵלַיִךְ…׃ וַתִּקַּח הָאִשָּׁה אֶת־שְׁנֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים וַתִּצְפְּנוֹ וַתֹּאמֶר כֵּן בָּאוּ אֵלַי הָאֲנָשִׁים וְלֹא יָדַעְתִּי מֵאַיִן הֵמָּה׃ וַיְהִי הַשַּׁעַר לִסְגּוֹר בַּחֹשֶׁךְ וְהָאֲנָשִׁים יָצָאוּ לֹא יָדַעְתִּי אָנָה הָלְכוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים רִדְפוּ מַהֵר אַחֲרֵיהֶם כִּי תַשִּׂיגוּם׃ וְהִיא הֶעֱלָתַם הַגָּגָה וַתִּטְמְנֵם

And the king of Jericho sent to Rahab saying, “Bring out the men who came to you….” And the woman took the two men and hid them. And she said [to the king’s messengers—DNB and JNT], “Indeed, the men came to me, but I do not know where they were from. And when the gate closed at dusk the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Quickly pursue them, for you will overtake them!” But she had taken them up [וְהִיא הֶעֱלָתַם; LXX: αὐτὴ δὲ ἀνεβίβασεν αὐτούς] on the roof and hidden them…. (Josh. 2:3-6)

וַיַּרְא וַיָּקָם וַיֵּלֶךְ אֶל נַפְשׁוֹ וַיָּבֹא בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע אֲשֶׁר לִיהוּדָה וַיַּנַּח אֶת נַעֲרוֹ שָׁם׃ וְהוּא הָלַךְ בַּמִּדְבָּר

And he [i.e., Elijah—DNB and JNT] was afraid, and he rose and went for his life, and he came to Beersheva, which is in Judah, and he left his servant there. But he went [וְהוּא הָלַךְ; LXX: καὶ αὐτὸς ἐπορεύθη] into the desert…. (1 Kgs. 19:3-4)

וַיְשַׁלַּח אֶת הָאֲנָשִׁים וַיֵּלֵכוּ׃ וְהוּא בָא וַיַּעֲמֹד אֶל אֲדֹנָיו

And he [i.e., Gehazi—DNB and JNT] sent the men and they went. But he entered [וְהוּא בָא; LXX: καὶ αὐτὸς εἰσῆλθεν] and stood by his master. (2 Kgs. 5:24-25)

Since the action described in Luke 11:28 is certainly a contrast to that which is described in the preceding verse (Jesus suggests an alternative blessing), a contrast that is quite possibly counter to expectations (Jesus does not accept the compliment), it seems quite possible that the author of the Hebrew Life of Yeshua interrupted the normal vav-consecutive style of narration with וְהוּא אָמַר (vehū’ ’āmar, “but he said”). In that case, αὐτὸς δὲ εἶπεν should not be regarded as a Lukan stylistic improvement; it is rather a faithful transcription of a Greek translation that accurately reflects a Hebrew disjunctive clause.

L7 μενοῦν (GR). The compound particle μενοῦν (menoun) occurs just this once in NT.[41] There are, however, three additional instances of the related μενοῦνγε (menounge; Rom. 9:20; 10:18; Phil. 3:8). The meaning of μενοῦν and μενοῦνγε ranges from “Yes, but…” to “No, rather….”[42] Scholars who wish to protect the honor of Jesus’ mother typically adopt the former meaning,[43] while those who do not consider Mary’s honor to be at issue in this pericope prefer the latter.[44] Since we believe Jesus’ utter rejection of an incipient personality cult is the issue at stake in A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing, not the prioritization of discipleship over family ties, we think “No, rather…” best expresses the meaning of μενοῦν in Luke 11:28.

לָאו אֶלָּא (HR). The words לָאו אֶלָּא (lā’v ’elā’, “No. Rather…”) occur in various dialogues recorded in rabbinic literature. One example occurs in a baraita concerning the first-century C.E. Galilean Hasid, Hanina ben Dosa:

מעשה ברבי חנינא בן דוסא שהלך ללמוד תורה אצל ר′ יוחנן בן זכאי וחלה בנו של ריב″ז אמר לו חנינא בני בקש עליו רחמים ויחיה הניח ראשו בין ברכיו ובקש עליו רחמים וחיה אמר רבן יוחנן בן זכאי אלמלא הטיח בן זכאי את ראשו בין ברכיו כל היום כולו לא היו משגיחים עליו אמרה לו אשתו וכי חנינא גדול ממך אמר לה לאו אלא הוא דומה כעבד לפני המלך ואני דומה כשר לפני המלך

An anecdote concerning Hanina ben Dosa, who went to study Torah with Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai. And Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai’s son was sick. He said to him, “Hanina, my son, request mercy on his behalf that he might live.” He rested his head between his knees and requested mercy and he lived. Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai said, “If ben Zakkai had put his head between his knees and prayed the whole day long, they [i.e., God—DNB and JNT] would have paid no attention to him.” His wife said to him, “Then Hanina is greater than you?” He said to her, “No. Rather [לָאו אֶלָּא], he is like a servant before the king, but I am like a prince before the king.” (b. Ber. 34b)

In this story Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai rebuffed his wife’s suggestion that his disciple, Hanina ben Dosa, might be greater than he with the phrase לָאו אֶלָּא. The phrase does not imply anger or contempt, merely disagreement with his wife’s inference.

Another dialogue containing the phrase לָאו אֶלָּא occurs in a story about Ben Azzai, who lived in the second century C.E.:

בן עזיי היה יושב ודורש והאש מלהטת סביבותיו…אמ′ ליה שמא בחדרי המרכבה אתה עוסק, אמ′ ליה לאו אלא מחריז דברי תורה לנביאים ודברי נביאים לכתובים

Ben Azzai was sitting and studying and fire was burning around him. …They said to him, “Perhaps you are occupied with the sections on the chariot [i.e., with mystical contemplations—DNB and JNT]?” He said to them, “No. Rather [לָאו אֶלָּא], I am linking up words of Torah to the Prophets, and words of the Prophets to the Writings.” (Lev. Rab. 16:4 [ed. Margulies, 1:354])

In this story Ben Azzai corrects a false supposition with the words לָאו אֶלָּא. A similar correction of a false conclusion with the words לָאו אֶלָּא occurs in an imaginary dialogue between Nebuchadnezzar and the leaders of Jerusalem:

ירדה סנהדרין גדולה לקראתו אמרו לו הגיע זמנו שלבית זה ליחרב, אמ′ להן לאו אלא תנו לי את יכניה בן יהויקים ואני הולך לי

The Great Sanhedrin went down to meet him [i.e., Nebuchadnezzar—DNB and JNT]. They said to him, “Has the time come for the Temple to be destroyed?” He said to them, “No. But [לָאו אֶלָּא] give me Jechoniah son of Jehoiakim and I will go on my way.” (Lev. Rab. 19:6 [ed. Margulies, 1:436]; cf. Gen. Rab. 94:9 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1185])

Although Jesus believed that the woman’s praise for his brilliance as a teacher was misplaced, and that the emphasis ought rather to be placed on practicing what Jesus taught, there is no reason to suppose that Jesus was angry with the woman any more than there is reason to suppose that by redirecting the woman’s praise he rejected his own mother. Rather, Jesus rejected flattery that came at the expense of pursuing the way of the Kingdom of Heaven, the goal of Jesus’ teaching.

L8 μακάριοι οἱ ἀκούοντες τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ (GR). Since Luke’s wording in L8 reverts readily to Hebrew, we have adopted it for GR without alteration.

Some scholars consider ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ (ho logos tou theou, “the word of God”) to be a theme the author of Luke added to the Gospel tradition. However, the Epistle of James similarly emphasizes the importance of not merely listening to the word (i.e., Torah), but also doing it (James 1:22-25). We believe the thematic convergence of hearing and doing in Luke and James reflects the presence of the hearing-and-doing emphasis in the earliest layers of the Jesus tradition.[45]

אַשְׁרֵי הַשּׁוֹמְעִים אֶת דְּבַר אֱלֹהִים (HR). On reconstructing μακάριος (makarios, “blessed,” “happy”) with אַשְׁרֵי (’ashrē, “blessedness of,” “happiness of”), see above, Comment to L4.

First-century C.E. fresco from Pompeii depicting Danae nursing her infant Perseus. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

On reconstructing ἀκούειν (akouein, “to hear”) with שָׁמַע (shāma‘, “hear”), see Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L24-25.

On reconstructing λόγος (logos, “word”) with דָּבָר (dāvār, “word”), see Widow’s Son in Nain, Comment to L24.

On reconstructing θεός (theos, “god”) with אֱלֹהִים (elohim, “God”), see Four Soils interpretation, Comment to L21.

L9 καὶ φυλάσσοντες (GR). The ease with which Luke’s wording in L9 reverts to Hebrew indicates that we are justified in accepting it for GR.

וּמְשַׁמְּרִים (HR). In LXX the vast majority of instances of φυλάσσειν (fūlassein, “to guard,” “to keep”) occur as the translation of שָׁמַר (shāmar, “guard,” “keep”).[46] We also find that the LXX translators almost always rendered שָׁמַר with φυλάσσειν.[47] Therefore, וְשֹׁמְרִים (veshomrim, “and keeping”) is a perfectly reasonable option for HR. However, since in Mishnaic Hebrew the שׁ-מ-ר root came to be used more often in the pi’el stem,[48] we have preferred to reconstruct καὶ φυλάσσοντες (kai fūlassontes, “and keeping”) as וּמְשַׁמְּרִים (ūmeshamerim, “and keeping”).

Examples of שִׁמֵּר (shimēr, “keep,” “guard”) in conjunction with “Torah” occur in the following examples:

בן שלש שנים הכיר אברהם בוראו, והיה משמר אפילו דיקדוקי תורה

As a three-year-old Abraham recognized his creator, and he kept [מְשַׁמֵּר] even the fine points of the Torah. (Gen. Rab. 95:3 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 3:1190])

כי הוא חיי′ אם אתם משמרין דברי תורה נפשכם אתם משמרין

For it is your life [Deut. 32:47]. If you keep [מְשַׁמְּרִין] the words of the Torah, you keep [מְשַׁמְּרִין] your own lives. (Midrash Tannaim 32:47 [ed. Hoffmann, 205])

Because the text of the following example is unpointed it is difficult to determine whether the שׁ-מ-ר root occurs in the pi’el or qal stem. In any case, the sentiment expressed in this rabbinic comment deserves to be compared and contrasted with that found in A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing:

אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם לעשותה למה נאמר לפי שנ′ שמור תשמרון שומע אני כיון ששמר אדם דברי תורה ישב לו ולא יעשה ת″ל לעשותם אדם למד תורה הרי בידו מצוה אחת למד ושמר הרי בידו שתי מצות למד ושמר ועשה אין למעלה ממנו

Which I have commanded you to do [Deut. 11:22]. Why is this said? Because it was said [earlier in the verse—DNB and JNT], You must surely keep [Deut. 11:22]. I hear that when a person keeps the words of the Torah he then sits himself down and does not act. Therefore, the Torah says to do them [Deut. 7:11]. If a person studied Torah, behold! He has one mitzvah to his name. If he studied and kept, behold! He has two mitzvot to his name. If he studied and kept and acted accordingly, there is none who surpasses him. (Midrash Tannaim 11:22 [ed. Hoffmann, 43])

The rabbinic comment seems to distinguish between keeping and performing the commandments. Perhaps this distinction reflects the rabbinic emphasis on Torah study, in which case keeping the commandments might refer to retaining the content of one’s study in one’s heart (or mind). But according to the rabbinic comment, study should ultimately lead to performance. If this is the distinction the sages intended to make between keeping and performing, then the above-cited rabbinic source is an inner critique of rabbinic Judaism. It is all too easy to be satisfied with one’s learning and to never get around to actually performing the commandments. But the Torah was not given for academic discussions confined to the houses of study; Torah was given for guiding one’s conduct in everyday life.

In A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing Jesus does not draw a distinction between keeping and performing, nor was the issue he confronted satisfaction with one’s studies. Jesus’ concern was to avert a dangerous temptation on the part of his audience to substitute flattery of the teacher for the practice of his teaching.[49] Hearing Jesus teach God’s word and praising him for his exposition would not satisfy Jesus. For Jesus there could be no substitute for observing the Torah according to the way of the Kingdom of Heaven he described in his teachings.

Redaction Analysis

Apart from L2, where the author of Luke may have added the pronoun τις and moved the word “voice” to a more emphatic position, it appears that Luke’s version of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing is identical to that of Anth. This conservative treatment of his sources is typical of the author of Luke’s redactional style.

Results of This Research

1. Who was the real object of the woman’s blessing, Jesus or Mary? Jesus was the real recipient of the woman’s praise.[50] Even today it is not uncommon to compliment a child by saying, “Your mom and dad must be so proud!” This modern mode of indirectly complimenting a child is more or less equivalent to the vicarious praise of Jesus we find in A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing.

In the ancient world it was well understood that blessing a parent was an indirect means of complimenting the offspring. This understanding is made explicit in the following rabbinic midrash:

וְהָיָה כְּצֵאת משֶׁה אֶל הָאֹהֶל יָקוּמוּ כָּל הָעָם—עוֹמְדִין מִכָּאן וּמִכָּאן וּמְכַבְּדִים אוֹתוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְנִצְּבוּ אִישׁ פֶּתַח אָהֳלוֹ וְהִבִּיטוּ אַחֲרֵי משֶׁה מֶה הָיוּ אוֹמְרִים, אָמַר רַ′ יִצְחָק: אַשְׁרֵי יוֹלַדְתּוֹ מָה רוֹאָה בוֹ

And when Moses went out to the tent all the people rose [Exod. 33:8]. They stood here and there and honored him, as it is said, And each stood at the opening of his tent and looked after Moses [Exod. 33:8]. What were they saying? Rabbi Yitzhak said, “Blessed is she who gave him birth! How she took pride in him!” (Exod. Rab. 45:4 [ed. Merkin, 6:170-171])

According to this source, the people honored Moses by saying, “Blessed is she who gave him birth!” This vicarious manner of blessing is similar to the English expression “I worship the ground you walk on.” The praise is not really directed at the ground. English speakers know that the compliment is really directed at the person doing the walking.

Just as it was idiomatic to vicariously bless someone through his or her parents, so it was idiomatic to pronounce an indirect curse. That the offspring was understood to be the true target of such a curse is illustrated in a rabbinic comment on the story of the expulsion from Eden:

ארורה האדמה…על דעתיה דר′ פנחס למה נתקללה אלא כאינש דאמר יהון לייטין ביזייא דהדין מניק

Cursed is the ground [because of you] [Gen. 3:17]. According to Rabbi Pinhas’ opinion, why was it cursed? It is rather like when a person says, “Cursed be the breast that suckled such a one as this!” (Gen. Rab. 5:9 [ed. Theodor-Albeck, 1:39]; trans. Soncino, adapted)

According to Rabbi Pinhas, when God cursed the ground in the Genesis story he was really cursing Adam. God simply expressed himself idiomatically, just as when a person curses his fellow saying, “Cursed be the breasts that suckled you!”

To further demonstrate our contention that the woman’s blessing was not really directed at Mary, but toward Jesus, we note that vicarious blessings of a person’s parents are occasionally lumped together with direct blessings. The Babylonian Talmud tells a story about how Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai praised two of his disciples with the following words:

אשריכם ואשרי יולדתכם אשרי עיני שכך ראו

Blessed are you! And blessed is she that bore you! Blessed are my eyes that have seen such things! (b. Hag. 14b)

All three blessings redound to the credit of Yohanan ben Zakkai’s disciples. Direct and indirect blessings of Rabbi Ishmael are likewise grouped together in the Jewish mystical text Merkavah Rabbah:

אשרי עין שראתה אשרי הגבר שזכה לכך אשרי האם שקבלה אותו אשרי הדדים שינק מהם אשרי המעים שגדל בהם אשרי התורה שלמד בה אשרי בינה שערך אשרי זרועות שהבקו אותו אשרי שלום שרדף אשרי עיין שהציצה בו אשריך ישמעאל שזכית לכך

Blessed is the eye that saw it [i.e., the vision of the Messiah—DNB and JNT]! Blessed is the man who was worthy of this! Blessed is the mother who conceived him! Blessed are the teats from which he sucked! Blessed are the internal organs within which he grew! Blessed is the Torah in which he studied! Blessed is the understanding that he set out! Blessed are the arms that embraced him! Blessed is the peace that he pursued! Blessed is the eye that glimpsed him! Blessed are you, Ishmael, that you were worthy of this! (Merkavah Rabbah [ed. Musajoff, 4a])

2. Was Jesus’ rejection of the woman’s blessing a repudiation of his mother? Since Mary was not really the recipient of the anonymous woman’s blessing, Jesus’ rejection of the woman’s blessing should not be construed as a repudiation of his mother or of his family obligations.[51] Jesus deflected praise away from himself in order to focus his audience’s attention on the supreme importance of putting God’s word into practice.

3. Was Jesus’ rejection of the woman’s blessing intended to correct an inadequate view of women that valued them only for their reproductive ability? While we sympathize with the need to correct a reductionist view of women, it is not clear that such a view of women is what is really expressed in the woman’s blessing.[52] Just as “worshipping” the ground upon which someone walks does not really express the view that the only value the ground has is as a surface for walking, the woman’s blessing does not really imply that women are good only for producing and rearing babies. Both are figures of speech. But whatever may have been in the mind of the anonymous female interlocutor, correcting an inadequate view of the value of women was not the motive behind Jesus’ response to the woman’s blessing. Jesus understood that the woman’s blessing was intended to praise him, praise he believed verged on flattery. It was flattery of the teacher in place of acting on his teaching that Jesus confronted in A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing.


In A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing Jesus expresses his dissatisfaction with flattery and his aversion to personality cults. Jesus did not want to be praised; he wanted his interpretation of Scripture to be taken seriously and to be practiced by his followers. This pericope challenges Christians who do worship Jesus to put less stock in their devotion to Christ as an object of worship, and to direct their efforts toward implementing Jesus’ teachings in their own lives. Believers may also find encouragement from pondering whether it was precisely Jesus’ disdain of personality cults that qualified him to be the Messiah. As the anointed successor of David and as the appointed judge of all humankind, it is comforting to know that Jesus cannot be influenced by flattery. He will judge those who spoke and acted in his name not by their excess of praise for his person, but by their adherence to his instruction. Many who placed themselves at the center of their own personality cults will be humbled, while many whose faithful practice of Jesus’ instruction went unrecognized will be exalted on the day Jesus returns.

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  • [1] For abbreviations and bibliographical references, see “Introduction to ‘The Life of Yeshua: A Suggested Reconstruction.’
  • [2] This translation is a dynamic rendition of our reconstruction of the conjectured Hebrew source that stands behind the Greek of the Synoptic Gospels. It is not a translation of the Greek text of a canonical source.
  • [3] See Brad Young and David Flusser, “Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts” (Flusser, JOC, 280-300, esp. 300). Cf. Manson, Sayings, 88.
  • [4] At one time Robert L. Lindsey suggested that A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing may have belonged to a literary complex containing Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers, but for reasons we have discussed in the introduction to the “Four Types of Hearers” complex, we have found Lindsey’s suggestion to be unsatisfactory.
  • [5] Cf. Young and Flusser, “Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts,” 291.
  • [6] Cf. Fitzmyer, 2:926; Bovon, 2:129.
  • [7] See the discussion in C. H. Dodd, Historical Tradition in the Fourth Gospel (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 353-354.
  • [8] The version of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing in the Gospel of Thomas reads:

    A woman from the multitude said to Him: Blessed is the womb which bore Thee and the breasts which nourished Thee. He said to [her]: Blessed are those who have heard the word of the Father (and) have kept it in truth. For there will be days when you say: Blessed is the womb which has not conceived and the breasts which have not suckled. (Gos. Thom. §79 [ed. Guillaumont, 43-45])

  • [9] See Randall Buth and Brian Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS” (JS1, 259-317, esp. 269-270); Randall Buth, “Distinguishing Hebrew from Aramaic in Semitized Greek Texts, with an Application for the Gospels and Pseudepigrapha” (JS2, 247-319, esp. 311).
  • [10] On καὶ ἐγένετο/ἐγένετο δέ + time phrase + finite main verb as typical of translation Greek, see Buth and Kvasnica, “Critical Notes on the VTS” (JS1, 268-273); Buth, “Distinguishing Hebrew from Aramaic in Semitized Greek Texts, with an Application for the Gospels and Pseudepigrapha” (JS2, 263-270).
  • [11] Pace Manson (Sayings, 88), Bundy (349 §227), Fitzmyer (2:927), Young and Flusser (“Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts,” 291), Nolland (Luke, 2:648), and Wolter (2:110), who attribute the wording in L1 to Lukan redaction.
  • [12] See Fitzmyer, 1:119-120. In LXX καὶ ἐγένετο + ἐν τῷ + infinitive occurs as the translation of בְּ- + וַיְהִי + infinitive construct in Gen. 4:8; 11:2; 19:29; Num. 10:34[35]; 17:7; Josh. 15:18; Judg. 1:14; 13:20; 14:11; 1 Kgdms. 23:6; 2 Kgdms. 1:2; 3:6; 4:4; 3 Kgdms. 11:15; 18:4; 4 Kgdms. 2:1; 1 Chr. 15:26; 2 Chr. 5:11; 13:15; 25:16; Ezek. 10:6; Dan. 8:15. Likewise, ἐγένετο δέ + ἐν τῷ + infinitive occurs as the translation of בְּ- + וַיְהִי + infinitive construct in Gen. 35:18; 38:28. The analogous καὶ ἐγενήθη + ἐν τῷ + infinitive occurs as the translation of בְּ- + וְהָיָה + infinitive construct in 1 Kgdms. 16:23 and as the translation of בְּ- + וַיְהִי + infinitive construct in 1 Kgdms. 25:2; 2 Kgdms. 11:16; 3 Kgdms. 16:11 (cf. 1 Kgdms. 16:6).
  • [13] The LXX translators rendered הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה simply as τοῦτο or ταῦτα (leaving דָּבָר untranslated) in Gen. 20:10; Exod. 18:14; Isa. 24:3.
  • [14] The LXX translators rendered הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה simply as ταῦτα (leaving דָּבָר untranslated) in 3 Kgdms. 17:17 and Esth. 3:1. In Josh. 24:30[29] they rendered הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה simply as ἐκεῖνα (leaving דָּבָר untranslated).
  • [15] Moule (168) refers to Luke’s word order in the phrase ἐπάρασά τις φωνὴν γυνή as “whimsical”; however, Luke 18:18 has the same verb→τις→accusative→subject word order: καὶ ἐπηρώτησέν τις αὐτὸν ἄρχων (“and / he asked / certain / him / a ruler”).
  • [16] See Fitzmyer, 2:928.
  • [17] In the Gospel of Luke the word order noun→τις (both in the same case) predominates: Luke 1:5 ἱερεύς τις (“a certain priest”); 7:2 ἑκατοντάρχου…τινος (“of a certain centurion”), 41 δανιστῇ τινι (“to a certain moneylender”); 8:2 γυναῖκές τινες (“certain women”), 27 ἀνήρ τις (“a certain man”); 9:19 προφήτης τις (“a certain prophet”); 10:25 νομικός τις (“a certain Torah expert”), 30 ἄνθρωπός τις (“a certain man”), 31 ἱερεύς τις (“a certain priest”), 33 Σαμαρίτης…τις (“a certain Samaritan”), 38 κώμην τινά (“a certain village”), γυνὴ…τις (“a certain woman”); 12:16 ἀνθρώπου τινὸς πλουσίου (“of a certain rich man”); 14:2 ἄνθρωπός τις (“a certain man”), 16 ἄνθρωπός τις (“a certain man”); 15:11 ἄνθρωπός τις (“a certain man”); 16:1 ἄνθρωπός τις (“a certain man”), 19 ἄνθρωπος…τις (“a certain man”), 20 πτωχὸς…τις (“a certain poor person”); 18:2 κριτής τις (“a certain judge”), 35 τυφλός τις (“a certain blind person”); 19:12 ἄνθρωπός τις (“a certain man”); 20:9 ἄνθρωπός [τις] (“a [certain] man”); 22:50 εἷς τις (“a certain one”), 56 παιδίσκη τις (“a certain girl”), 59 ἄλλος τις (“a certain other”); 23:19 στάσιν τινά (“a certain insurrection”), 26 Σίμωνά τινα (“a certain Simon”); 24:22 γυναῖκές τινες (“certain women”).

    The reverse word order τις→noun is limited to the following examples: Luke 11:27 τις…γυνή (“a certain woman”); 13:31 τινες Φαρισαῖοι (“certain Pharisees”); 17:12 τινα κώμην (“a certain village”); 18:2 τινι πόλει (“a certain city”), 18 τις…ἄρχων (“a certain ruler”); 21:2 τινα χήραν (“a certain widow”).

    In Acts, however, the order τις→noun becomes far more frequent: Acts 3:2 τις ἀνήρ (“a certain man”); 5:1 τις Ἁνανίας (“a certain Ananias”), 34 τις…Φαρισαῖος (“a certain Pharisee”); 8:36 τι ὕδωρ (“some water”); 9:10 τις μαθητής (“a certain disciple”), 36 τις…μαθήτρια (“a certain disciple”), 43 τινι Σίμωνι (“a certain Simon”); 10:6 τινι Σίμωνι (“a certain Simon”); 14:8 τις ἀνήρ (“a certain man”); 15:2 τινας ἄλλους (“certain others”), 36 τινας ἡμέρας (“some days”); 16:14 τις γυνή (“a certain woman”); 17:6 τινας ἀδελφούς (“some brothers”), 34 τινὲς…ἄνδρες (“certain men”); 18:2 τινα Ἰουδαῖον (“a certain Jew”), 7 τινὸς…Τιτίου (“a certain Titus”); 19:1 τινας μαθητάς (“certain disciples”), 14 τινος Σκευᾶ (“a certain Sceva”); 20:9 τις νεανίας (“a certain youth”); 25:8 τι ἥμαρτον (“a certain offense”), 16 τινα ἄνθρωπον (“a certain man”); 27:1 τινας ἑτέρους δεσμώτας (“certain other prisoners”), 27 τινὰ…χώραν (“a certain land”).

  • [18] On the other hand, Luke’s εἶπεν δέ τις ἐκ τοῦ ὄχλου αὐτῷ (“But a certain one from the crowd said to him”; Luke 12:13) should probably be reconstructed as וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אֶחַד מִן הָאֻכְלוּס (“And one from the crowd said to him”).
  • [19] On καί + participle + aorist as the translation equivalent of vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive, see Return of the Twelve, Comment to L1. On participle + δέ + aorist as the equivalent of vav-consecutive + vav-consecutive, see Rich Man Declines the Kingdom of Heaven, Comment to L37-41.
  • [20] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:505. Dos Santos (137) indicates that ἐπαίρειν was one of the more common LXX translations of נָשָׂא.
  • [21] In LXX ἐπαίρειν occurs as the translation of נָשָׂא in the expression נָשָׂא קוֹל in Judg. 2:4; 9:7; 21:2; Ruth 1:9, 14; 2 Kgdms. 13:36; Ps. 92[93]:3. Fitzmyer (2:928) referred to the phrase ἐπαίρειν φωνήν (“to raise a voice”) as a “classical Greek expression” without offering any proof and without noting the LXX instances. Plummer (Luke, 305) did cite one classical Greek author, Demosthenes (De corona §369), but since this work is divided into 324 paragraphs, we have no idea what Plummer might have been referring to.
  • [22] The LXX translators omitted a possessive pronoun corresponding to a pronominal suffix attached to קוֹל in the following examples:

    וַיִּשָּׂא עֵשָׂו קֹלוֹ וַיֵּבְךְּ

    And Esau raised his voice and wept. (Gen. 27:38)

    ἀνεβόησεν φωνὴν Ησαυ καὶ ἔκλαυσεν

    Esau shouted [his] voice and wept. (Gen. 27:38)

    וַיִּתֵּן אֶת קֹלוֹ בִּבְכִי

    And he gave his voice with weeping. (Gen. 45:2)

    καὶ ἀφῆκεν φωνὴν μετὰ κλαυθμοῦ

    And he released [his] voice with weeping. (Gen. 45:2)

    וַתִּשָּׂא כָּל־הָעֵדָה וַיִּתְּנוּ אֶת קוֹלָם

    And the whole congregation raised and gave their voice…. (Num. 14:1)

    καὶ ἀναλαβοῦσα πᾶσα ἡ συναγωγὴ ἔδωκεν φωνήν

    And raising, the whole congregation gave [its] voice…. (Num. 14:1)

    הֵמָּה יִשְׂאוּ קוֹלָם

    They will raise their voice…. (Isa. 24:14)

    οὗτοι φωνῇ βοήσονται

    These will shout with [their] voice…. (Isa. 24:14)

    קוֹלָהּ כַּנָּחָשׁ יֵלֵךְ

    Her voice will go like a snake…. (Jer. 46:22)

    φωνὴ ὡς ὄφεως συρίζοντος

    A voice like a hissing snake…. (Jer. 26:22)

    וַיִּשְׂאוּ קוֹלָם וַיִּבְכּוּ

    And they raised their voice and wept. (Job 2:12)

    καὶ βοήσαντες φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἔκλαυσαν

    And shouting with a big voice, they wept. (Job 2:12)

    הֲתָרִים לָעָב קוֹלֶךָ

    Can you lift your voice to the clouds? (Job 38:34)

    καλέσεις δὲ νέφος φωνῇ

    But will you call a cloud with [your] voice…? (Job 38:34)

  • [23] See Marshall, 481.
  • [24] See Wolter, 2:110.
  • [25] Text according to M. Berthelot and Ch.-Em. Ruelle, Collection des Anciens Alchimistes Grecs (2 vols.; Paris: Georges Steinheil, 1887-1888), 2:298.
  • [26] See Menahem Kister, “Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” in The Sermon on the Mount and its Jewish Setting (ed. Hans-Jürgen Becker and Serge Ruzer; Paris: Gabalda, 2005), 117-147, esp. 135-136; Wolter, 2:110. Cf. Manson, Sayings, 88. Bundy (349 §227) noted that a story similar to A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing is told of the Buddha, according to which a princess declared, “Happy the father and mother who have such an incomparable son! Happy the wife who is blessed with such an accomplished husband!” For the Buddhist story, see P. Bigandet, The Life or Legend of Gaudama: The Buddha of the Burmese (2 vols.; 3d ed.; London: Trübner, 1880), 1:58.
  • [27] Noted by J. Green, 460. Text and translation according to Frank Justus Miller, Ovid: Metamorphoses (Loeb Classical Library; 2 vols.; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1916), 1:200-201.
  • [28] Noted by Boring-Berger-Colpe (213) and Kister (“Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” 136). Text and translation according to Michael Heseltine, Petronius (Loeb Classical Library; New York: MacMillan, 1913), 186-187.
  • [29] The same Hebrew blessing is pronounced over Moses in the following midrashic text:

    וְהָיָה כְּצֵאת משֶׁה אֶל הָאֹהֶל יָקוּמוּ כָּל הָעָם—עוֹמְדִין מִכָּאן וּמִכָּאן וּמְכַבְּדִים אוֹתוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְנִצְּבוּ אִישׁ פֶּתַח אָהֳלוֹ וְהִבִּיטוּ אַחֲרֵי משֶׁה מֶה הָיוּ אוֹמְרִים, אָמַר רַ′ יִצְחָק: אַשְׁרֵי יוֹלַדְתּוֹ מָה רוֹאָה בוֹ

    And when Moses went out to the tent all the people rose [Exod. 33:8]. They stood here and there and honored him, as it is said, And each stood at the opening of his tent and looked after Moses [Exod. 33:8]. What were they saying? Rabbi Yitzhak said, “Blessed is she who bore him! How she took pride in him!” (Exod. Rab. 45:4 [ed. Merkin, 6:170-171])

    The Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, which scholars believe may have been composed in Hebrew in the second century C.E., may bear indirect witness to the Hebrew blessing אַשְׁרֵי יוֹלַדְתִּי (’ashrē yōladti, “blessed is she who bore me”), for in that work we read: “Blessed is my mother among those who bear, and praised among women is she who bore me” (2 Bar. 54:10; trans. Charlesworth, 1:640). On the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch, see Michael E. Stone, “Apocalyptic Literature,” in Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period (CRINT II.2; ed. Michael E. Stone; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984), 383-441, esp. 408-410.

  • [30] See Kister, “Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” 136.
  • [31] Pace Manson (Luke, 141) and Young and Flusser (“Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts,” 300).
  • [32] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:773.
  • [33] Text according to Solomon Musajoff, Merkavah Shelemah (Jerusalem: Diffus Solomon, 1921). Young and Flusser (“Messianic Blessings in Jewish and Christian Texts,” 295-299) appear to assume that this blessing, like the one in Pesikta de-Rav Kahana (Supplement 6 [ed. Mandelbaum, 2:470]; cf. Pesikta Rabbati §37 [ed. Friedmann, 164a]), refers to the Messiah, but the context indicates that this blessing is pronounced over Rabbi Ishmael, who was privileged to witness a vision of the Messiah. On Merkavah Rabbah, see Ithamar Gruenwald, Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: Brill, 1980), 174-180.
  • [34] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:773.
  • [35] See Jastrow, 158.
  • [36] Alternate possibilities for HR include אַשְׁרֵי הַבֶּטֶן שֶׁנָּשָׂא אוֹתְךָ (’ashrē habeṭen shenāsā’ ’ōtchā, “blessed is the womb that bore you”) and אַשְׁרֵי הַבֶּטֶן שֶׁנְּשָׂאֲךָ (’ashrē habeṭen shenesā’achā, “blessed is the womb that bore you”). The weakness of these two alternatives is that they do not reflect the Greek text. How are we to explain the Greek translator’s decision to render -שֶׁ (she-, “that”) with a definite article in L4 ( [, “the”]) but with a relative pronoun in L5 (οὓς [hous, “which”])? And why did the Greek translator render a perfect verb with a participle in L4 (βαστάσασά [bastasasa, “bearing”]) but an aorist verb in L5 (ἐθήλασας [ethēlasas, “you sucked”])? Our reconstruction avoids such unanswered questions.
  • [37] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:898.
  • [38] See Hatch-Redpath, 1:650.
  • [39] See Dos Santos, 82.
  • [40] Additional instances of שָׁדַיִם used in conjunction with verbs from the י-נ-ק root are found in Joel 2:16; Job 3:12; Song 8:1; Lam. 4:3. Likewise, in post-biblical Hebrew we find examples such as this rabbinic comment:

    ויונקים אלו שיונקים משדי אמן

    And sucklings [Ps. 8:3]—these are ones that suck from their mother’s breasts. (Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishmael, Shirata chpt. 1 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:175])

  • [41] It is only by including instances of μὲν οὖν (men oun), used in a quite different sense, that Nolland (Luke, 2:648) is justified in claiming that μενοῦν is “predominantly Lukan in the NT.” It is this mischaracterization of the evidence that leads him to attribute μενοῦν in Luke 11:28 to Lukan redaction.
  • [42] On the uses of μενοῦν see Moule, 162-164; Fitzmyer, 2:928-929; Bovon, 2:131-132.
  • [43] See Raymond E. Brown, Karl P. Donfried, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and John Reumann, Mary in the New Testament: A Collaborative Assessment by Protestant and Catholic Scholars (New York: Paulist Press, 1978), 171-172; Fitzmyer, 2:928-929; Nolland, Luke, 2:649.
  • [44] See Manson, Sayings, 88; Creed, 162; Marshall, 482.
  • [45] See our discussion in Yeshua, His Mother and Brothers, Comment to L35.
  • [46] See Hatch-Redpath, 2:1441-1444.
  • [47] See Dos Santos, 213.
  • [48] An example of שִׁמֵּר (shimēr, “keep,” “guard”) occurs in Jonah 2:9.
  • [49] See Kister’s insightful comments in “Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” 136-137.
  • [50] See Kister, “Words and Formulae in the Gospels in the Light of Hebrew and Aramaic Sources,” 136-137; Bovon, 2:130; Wolter, 2:110.
  • [51] Ben-Chorin’s interpretation of A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing is one of the more extreme examples of the misunderstanding of Jesus’ correction of the anonymous woman’s blessing. According to Ben-Chorin, “Jesus…did not intend to share with his mother something of the revelation which he disclosed to the people in his conduct and his person. He had nothing in common with her. …He firmly deflected any praise of his mother.” See Schalom Ben-Chorin, “A Jewish View of the Mother of Jesus,” in Mary in the Churches (ed. Hans Küng and Jürgen Moltmann; Edinburgh: T&T Clark; New York: Seabury, 1983), 12-16, esp. 15.
  • [52] For the view that A Woman’s Misplaced Blessing aims to correct an inadequate view of women, see Rachel Conrad Wahlberg, “Jesus and the Uterus Image,” Theology Today 31.3 (1974): 228-230. In this essay Wahlberg criticized “the usual stereotyping of a woman in Jewish society of the first century” that reduced women to their procreative functions and their reproductive organs. Wahlberg suggested that readers “imagine someone coming up to a man, who had an outstanding son and saying, ‘Blessed is the semen which fertilized your wife’s egg.’ Or, ‘Blessed is the male organ that participated in the act which led to your conception.’” Then Wahlberg asks, “Is this any more ridiculous than praising Mary’s breasts and uterus?” Perhaps not, but Wahlberg appears to be completely oblivious to the fact that precisely the kinds of blessings she asks us to imagine are also attested in ancient Jewish sources. For instance, Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai declared in response to his disciple’s exposition:

    אשריך אברהם אבינו שאלעזר בן ערך יצא מחלציך

    Blessed are you, Abraham our father, that Elazar ben Arach came forth from your loins! (t. Hag. 2:1; cf. Mechilta de-Rabbi Ishamel, Pisḥa chpt. 16 [ed. Lauterbach, 1:90]; Mechilta de-Rabbi Shimon ben Yohai to Exod. 20:1 [ed. Melamed, 159])

    A similar blessing was pronounced over Rabbi Akiva:

    אשריך אברהם אבינו שיצא מחלציך עקיבא

    Blessed are you, Abraham our father, that Akiva came forth from your loins! (Sifre Num. §70 [ed. Horovitz, 70])

    Such examples undercut Wahlberg’s portrayal of Judaism, as well as her thesis that the woman’s blessing expressed an inadequate view of women. For in order for her thesis to be correct, it must also be true that Abraham was valued only for his reproductive organs, which is clearly not the case. Moreover, Wahlberg’s projection of “bad” patriarchal views onto Judaism and “good” feminist views onto Christianity is simply a reiteration of Christianity’s long-held tradition of attributing every religious foible to Judaism and claiming every positive religious breakthrough for itself. It is high time for theologians to abandon the binary equation of vice with Judaism and virtue with Christianity. On this problematic aspect of Christian feminism, see Tal Ilan, Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1996), 9ff.

  • David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin

    David N. Bivin is founder and editor of Jerusalem Perspective. A native of Cleveland, Oklahoma, U.S.A., Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to Jerusalem on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to do postgraduate work at the Hebrew University. He studied at the Hebrew…
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    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton

    Joshua N. Tilton grew up in St. George, a small town on the coast of Maine. For his undergraduate degree he studied at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, where he earned a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies (2002). There he studied Biblical Hebrew and…
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