“The Lord’s” Prayer?

The Our Father (or Pater Noster) is almost universally ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth as its originator, initiator, and “first-sayer.”  It certainly contains much of his teaching as described directly in the Gospels and mostly implicitly in some of the Epistles and other NT (New Testament) writings.  Thus, it is preeminently the Lord’s prayer.

However, inasmuch as it mentions the coming of God’s kingdom, the necessity for being supplied with food daily, and inasmuch as it does not mention Jesus at all – neither as recipient of the prayer nor as its mediator or facilitator – the argument can be made that the prayer – in its “primal Jewishness” – may have antedated Jesus.  This is not necessarily the case, but there is NT evidence that the prayer did not originate with Jesus, but rather with John the Baptizer.  The claim is found in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 11, vss. 1-4.

A disciple asks Jesus to teach the disciples to pray, as John taught his disciples.  Jesus replies in the words familiar to us.  What is astonishing about this episode is:

1)  That even Jesus’ own disciples recognize that John the Baptizer was a great spiritual figure.

2)  That Jesus, because he is thought to be able to quote John, is thus thought to have been familiar personally with John – and his manner of prayer.

3)   That since Jesus is thought to have been familiar with John, this could imply that it was known that Jesus had once been John’s disciple “when John was baptizing.” This would certainly explain how Jesus came to be baptized by John in that crucial, “primal” event which initiated Jesus’ career as a holy person in Israel.  John as Jesus’ mentor, of course, is an unfamiliar notion in popular Christianity, since Jesus, as the ontological Son of God, is held to know all things and is perfectly holy, and thus never had any reason for recourse to John and his “baptism for the remission of sins.”

Interestingly, there is historical support for John’s influence:  probably from the general time of his and Jesus’ ministries, he was held in high regard by non-Christian groups.  One we know of, and which survives today (barely, because of the Bush administration’s recent devastation of Iraq), is called Mandean, its followers Mandeans.  Into the present day, they revere John as the true Messiah and regard him as one of their saint-heroes.  Perhaps some of John’s followers entered the “Mandean stream” at an early date and imparted their Baptizer-lore into some extant Mandean-Gnostic school or group?

4)  Without argumentation, excuses, or debate, Jesus immediately cites the Baptizer’s prayer, citing its words not as Jesus’ own, but as another’s prayer-mode – apparently just as worthy, authentic, valid, edifying and efficacious as Jesus’ very own prayer-mode.  Again, this is astonishing in a New Testament book that in most other places (e.g., Luke, Chapters 1-through-2 entire) takes pains to make Jesus the uniquely-begotten Messiah.

5)   One can easily imagine the prayer’s stress on…

… /quick forgiveness / “daily” food / urgent hope for the Kingdom’s arrival /  within John’s desert ministry, where he and his followers (plausibly including Jesus himself) /  lived a marginal wilderness-desert existence / treated one another other as “God’s separate people” through a prototype of “Christian love”/ and eagerly searched for signs of the Kingdom’s advent / …

… originating with the Baptizer, and being reverently absorbed by his unusually talented young disciple from the Galilee, later to be cited by the Galilean when asked how the Baptizer taught him to pray.

The Lord’s Prayer is but one of a surprising number of ambiguities in New Testament literature and early Christian history.  This example happens to illustrate the great reverence in which John was held in the earliest times, and it associates Jesus’ ministry and message with John’s in ways uncomfortable and inconvenient to consensus/traditionalchristology.

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