The Historical Jesus in Context

By Amy-Jill Levine; Dale Allison Jr. et al. | Go to book overview
Save to active project

Abba and Father: Imperial Theology
in the Contexts of Jesus
and the Gospels

Mary Rose D'Angelo

One of the most widely held but problematic ideas about the historical Jesus is the claim that Jesus had an absolutely new and unique relationship with the Deity that he expressed by addressing God with the Aramaic word abba. This argument was laid out in an article in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT) by Gerhard Kittel, who interpreted the word abba as a form of baby talk and concluded that “Jewish usage shows how this Father-child relationship to God far surpasses any possibilities of intimacy assumed in Judaism, introducing indeed something which is wholly new.” Kittel was not only editor of the TDNT but also the author of Die Judenfrage (1933) and of contributions to the Nazi publication Forschungen zur Judenfrage. His arguments were expanded, supplemented, and popularized after the war by Joachim Jeremias's influential essay “Abba” and were revived against feminist calls to avoid masculine theological imagery.

In fact, the evidence that the word abba was important to or even used by Jesus is, at best, extremely slender. This word occurs only once in the Gospels, in a scene for which the Evangelist provides no witnesses (Mark 14:35–36). Mark presents Jesus at prayer in Gethsemane in terms and circumstances that recall the prayer of Joseph (see below): “And going ahead a little way he fell upon the earth and began to pray that the hour might pass from him, and he was saying, Abba! Father! (Greek: Abba ho pater) all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me. But not what I will, but what you do.” The scene reflects the theology of the Evangelist, writing sometime between the late 60s and early 80s (probably after the fall of Jerusalem in 70) rather than a historical event.

Evidence from early Judaism and Christianity begins in the second half of the first century (i.e., slightly later than Jesus) and shows that it was used by adults, both for their natural fathers and as a title honoring teachers. Paul twice attributes abba to the Holy Spirit in the community (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15). In Galatians, abba func


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
The Historical Jesus in Context


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 440

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?