A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the Lord’s Prayer

By Nehemia Gordon & Keith Johnson

I, like other reviewers of this book have noted, found the concept behind this journey to be one of the more intriguing component of this study of the Lord’s Prayer. Far too few attempts have been made to journey with a Jewish brother through our shared testament and, especially, the New. Most Christian studies, I would presume, that involve some form of reflection and etiology would be executed with preconceived notions derived from the perspective of a person coming from that faith tradition. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. It is understandable to undertake, as a Christian, a study of the Jewish heritage and words with the intent to arrive at a new-found conclusion by studying the context of the literature; however, the basic premise of this book, that two individuals from different faith traditions who cherish a similar sacred text could enthusiastically and collaboratively study the components of one tradition derived from the other and the contexts that inform that tradition, is refreshing. Their journey together through the Hebrew texts surrounding the Lord’s Prayer was informative, especially for a Jewish history and Israeli geography novice, such as me.

What was simultaneously interesting by way of random archeological facts and somewhat boring by way of the flow of the book was the first half of this book. While it does lay a sort of frame work for the second half of the book, so much more time could and should have been dedicated to a discussion around some of the findings and their implications, socially, historically and religiously. The story does carry a sort of adventure feel to it which could have made for great fiction but detracted from the theological robustness of this book.
Knowing that the “implications” of the findings would be different for each author, I can understand why the majority of these findings were discussed in somewhat vague, Abrahamic-faith tradition language. And, don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing. More conversations need to take place regarding the shared tradition and similarities between the traditions in order to promote interfaith peace and cooperation as we achieve God’s calling. But, as a Christian looking for more insight about the Lord’s Prayer and what that means for my life, I found myself not entirely motivated by the amount of time dedicated to research, discovery and shared experience and implications.
That being said, the last 90 pages of this book offered almost tidbits of theology which both piqued my curiosity and whet my appetite. The breakdown of every line in the Lord’s Prayer and spending an adequate amount of time discussing both the Hebrew text and the contexts in which they were written provided new insight to this reader. And, while each section revealed something new to me, the part and analysis of that prayer that most grabbed me and, I think, has the most devastating effect on many contemporary theologies while also being inspirational and excited is “Your Will Shall Be Done on Heaven and on Earth.”
Although disappointing that only a few pages were dedicated to this section, the addition of the word “shall” (an appropriate addition that was not included in the Greek version) is extremely significant. Nehemia discusses the implications:
“While the Greek version of the Avinu Prayer contains a call to action to do God’s will, the Hebrew contains a statement of fact: ‘Your will shall be done in heaven and on earth.’ (128-129)
While I am not sure that what follows this statement throughout the rest of the chapter about what this change means is entirely new nor incredibly insightful (e.g. “These Hebrew words…express the idea that our heavenly father is all-powerful” (129)), to me this change is of monumental importance.
When a Christian reads this change and hears the words of Jesus time and time again throughout the New Testament that “the Kingdom of God is upon you” and that it is now, not set in some ephemeral plane sometime after we die, it should inspire. As people suffer under in the Kingdom of Man, to know that God wants us to enact the Kingdom of God here and now on this earth should provide fresh motivation. It should spur the believer to decisive action and announce the Gospel as the good news to the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan and the oppressed. For, as the Hebrew rendition of this prayer suggests, God’s will shall be done on earth. As Christians, it is our responsibility to make that happen.
At the end, while the book’s conclusion makes sense structurally (with a resounding “Amen” chapter), I found myself left hanging, confused that this brief journey was over. I was hoping for more substance. And, again, while the journey of two men from two different faith traditions was unique and interesting, personally, I would be interested in Mr. Johnson expanding on his findings, shedding more light to the implications this Hebrew prayer may offer to a Christian in a supplemental sequel. All in all, as a light, well-written book, it’s worth reading.

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