Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

"God of Our Fathers": Rabbinic Liturgy and Jewish-Christian Engagement

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

"God of Our Fathers": Rabbinic Liturgy and Jewish-Christian Engagement

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)


In the traditional Jewish liturgy, prayers of supplication very commonly begin with "May it be your will, O Lord, our God and God of our fathers" (or in the singular, "my God and God of my fathers"). Most familiar is the opening of the Jewish prayer par excellence, the Amidah, in which God is addressed as "our God and God of our fathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob," in allusion to Ex 3.15.1 It is popularly thought - no doubt from reading rabbinic literature as it appears in the printed editions - that this is an ancient form of address that was already widespread in the tannaitic and amoraic periods in both Erets Israel and Babylonia. However, a closer look at the textual witnesses of this literature suggests otherwise. Though the form of address to God as "God of our fathers" ("I]TTQX Tn1PS) is indeed found here and there in the Bible, Apocrypha, and Oumran scrolls,2 as are other forms of address to God,3 the use of "God of our fathers" begins to become widespread in the liturgy, it will be argued here, only in the third and fourth centuries CE. in Erets Israel.

Why was this so? Why did the formula "God of our fathers" prevail over other formulae, and why then? I suggest that the struggle of the rabbinic community with the challenges posed by the Christian church is an important factor in the spread of this formula, and that it is also possible to detect various Christian responses to its use among Jews. The present study, then, reveals an episode in the history of Jewish liturgy and sheds light on the intricate relationship of the two rival communities, rabbinic and Christian.


Though the form of address to God as "God of our fathers" is mentioned in mBik 1.4: "When a proselyte . . . prays in the synagogue, he says 'God of your fathers'; and if his mother was an Israelite, he says 'God of our fathers'," the mishnah does not specify the liturgical context in which this was said, and it is by no means clear that a particular prayer with fixed words was involved.4 Indeed, this formula does occur at the beginning of prayers of supplication in two mishnaic passages as they appear in our printed editions. However, a careful study of the direct and indirect attestations of these passages and the history of their redaction and transmission casts doubt on the originality of the formulation in both places.

1. mPes 10.7:

R. Akiba says: Thus may the Lord our God and God of our fathers bring us in peace to other appointed times and festivals, rejoicing in the rebuilding of your city and joyful in your Temple worship.

This reading is found in all direct attestations of the mishnah, as well as m most manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud m which this mishnah appears (at bPes 116b). However, the words "and God of our fathers" are absent in MS Vatican 109 and MS Sassoon-Lunzer of the Babylonian Talmud, and this raises doubt as to whether these words appeared at all in the original text of this mishnah.

A study of early versions of the Passover Haggadah in which this blessing is cited shows that in many early Haggadah texts the words "God of our fathers" are not found.5 In his analysis of the Haggadah, Goldschmidt observes that the words of R. Akiba according to this version do not fit the context of the mishnah as well as they should, and thus that it does not seem that the formulation in the mishnah before us is R. Akiba's original one. In his view, the version we have in the Haggadah is the remnant of a kind of piyyut included in the Haggadah at a relatively late stage. Under the influence of the Haggadah it was then introduced by scribes into the better manuscripts of the Mishnah copied in the first half of the second millennium.6 Consequently, it is entirely possible, indeed likely, that the words "and God of our fathers", or perhaps even the whole passage including these words, were not part of the original text of this mishnah. …

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