|The Jewish Roots of Jesus (Open Lectures
Fr. F. Manns OFM
© 2006 Studium Biblicum Hong Kong
Our faith is based upon the historical figure of Jesus for whom more evidence exists than for Caesar. Christians and Jews, theologians and historians, all take an active interest in every archaeological or manuscript discovery that might shed light on the origins of our faith. Not only archaeology helps us to better understand the life of Jesus, literary sources studied with new methods can help us too.
Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith
Scholars and firm believers have sought to uncover the historical Jesus from the ecclesiological wrapping in which he is now presented in the texts. We must start with an overview of the so-called 'quests' to find Jesus.
The Second Quest revived the so-called 'problem' in Ernst Kasemann's 1953 lecture: 'The Problem of the Historical Jesus'. Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Rudolf Bultmann and others had accepted Kahler's conclusion that faith could not depend on the historical Christ since "we can now know almost nothing concerning the life and personality of Jesus ". Kasemann responded to Bultmann and suggested that information about the historial Jesus could be dug out from the gospels through critical analysis such as form criticism. During the 50s and 60s one aberration of historical inquiry was the premise that authentic and original Jesus material was to be found not in its faithfulness to his Jewish context but in its 'dissimilarity' with Judaism! Dominic Crossan has promoted Jesus as 'wandering cynic preacher', a stoic Greek philosopher who gathered disciples around himself. The rejection of Jesus as a Jewish teacher taking him from his context inevitably leaded to bland assertions influenced by Greek thought. Arguably Crossan sees Jesus as a Jewish form of cynic or gnostic philosopher.
The Third Quest has started since the 70s. One early distinction was the involvement of Jewish scholars also attempting to reclaim or recover the historical Jesus. Geza Vermes' book Jesus the Jew was provocative in its title alone - although what could be more undeniable than Jesus' Jewishness? Hyam Maccoby promoted Jesus as a Jewish revolutionary whilst Shemouel Safrai saw him as a Galilean Hasid, at least accepting some of the miraculous as a defining characteristic of this type of Jewish 'holy man'. From a Jewish understanding E.P Sanders has also written putting Jesus into his Jewish context, harmonising and explaining apparent conflicts with the Pharisees. Other Jewish angles have seen Jesus as an Essene, a Prophet, a Pharisee, a Rabbi and more - whilst these are radical the simple assertion that Jesus was a Jew still proves the most controversial.
From the Jewish side comes the affirmation that, "Jesus . . . never wished to see his fellow Jews change one iota of their traditional faith. He himself remained an Orthodox Jew to his last moment " and did not want them to change their faith.
Jesus was raised a Jew
After his birth, Jesus was presented to the Lord in the Jerusalem temple (Luke 2,22; cf. Deuteronomy 18,4; Exodus 13,2.12.15) after Mary's period of uncleanness (Leviticus 12,2-8). A sacrifice was offered for him - a pair of doves and 2 young pigeons - which indicated that his family were not wealthy (Leviticus 12,2.6.8; Luke 2,22-24). Thus Jesus was raised according to the law (Luke 2,39).
By the age of 12 we know that Jesus was growing in understanding as he was found in the temple precincts "both listening and asking questions" (Luke 2,46). The contemporary method of teaching included questioning to elicit intelligent responses, so Jesus' asking of questions may not have been just to obtain knowledge but also to teach it, indeed "they were astonished at his understanding and answers". Probably it was Jesus' bar mitzvah since Mishna Abot has it: From the age of 13 one must observe the commandments.
Memorization was the chief technique of learning. Hence, that is why Jesus' followers were able to reproduce his teachings so accurately when they were later written down as our gospels. Given this fact, it means that we can have faith in the accurate transmission of Jesus' teachings. We know from early church records that Matthew's was the earliest gospel and that it was written in Hebrew. Jesus himself must have taught in Hebrew (as all rabbis did) as he says that "not one yodh shall pass away from the law" (Matthew 5,18) referring to the smallest Hebrew letter yodh. Our Greek gospels are translations of Jesus' Hebrew teachings and possibly too of an original Hebrew gospel of Matthew .
The study of Greek in Palestine in Jesus' day was not encouraged, although it was a necessity of daily life in the diaspora lands outside of Palestine. In Sepphoris, the capital of Galilee, a few kilometers from Nazareth, Greek was the main language spoken by the roman authorities.
Access to copies of the Hebrew Scriptures was virtually universal via
the synagogues and schools. In addition, every household might purchase
one scroll according to their wealth. However, it was unlawful to make
copies of small portions out of context through fear of transmission
of error. Given all of this we can see that Jesus did not have supernatural
help in learning his Scripture but being a man he learnt it as any other
Jewish boy, as an example to us all.
He may also have worn the tephillin ('phylacteries', Deuteronomy 6,8), small boxes bound to arm and head containing the Scriptural verses: Exodus 13,1-16, Deuteronomy 6,4-9 and 11,13-21. Jesus only criticised the exaggerating of these for ostentatious exhibitionism (Matthew 23,5), a practice also condemned by later rabbis. Conventionally, these were meant to be discreet and the arm one was invisible under clothing. A rabbinic source suggests that the head one should only be worn in winter under a head band and not in Summer when it would have been conspicuous.
"As was his custom" he also attended synagogue every sabbath
(Luke 4,16) even during his travelling ministry (Mark 1.39; Matthew
4,23; 9,35; Luke 4,15.16-27.44).
Jesus said grace, or rather a blessing, before and/or after meals (Deuteronomy
8,10; Matthew 6,41; 26,26 and Luke 24,30; cf. Didache 10,1). The object
of the blessing was not the food but God, the originator/creator.
Jewish approach of the Gospels
Jewish historiography developed quickly thanks to strong personalities of which we must evoke the principal ones. C.G. Montefiore was interested in Jesus as a historian. Founder of the liberal Jewish movement, he wanted to give up the polemical attitude which had marked the Judeo-Christians relations during centuries. In two books which relate to the synoptic Gospels he has a benevolent attitude towards Jesus. He underlines many rabbinical parallels with the Gospel. He however affirmed the originality of Jesus in several points. The synoptic Gospels constitute its base of reflection: Paul and John are opposed too much to Judaism to be taken seriously by the Jews. In 1911 G. Friedlander reacted to the assertions of Montefiore in a work on the Jewish sources of the Sermon on the mountain. The tone of the writing was definitely polemical and apologetic. The positive values of the Sermon come from the first Testament and Judaism. The contents of the Beatitudes do not differ from that of Isaiah and the Psalms. As for the prayer of the "Our Father", it is only an adaptation of Ez 36,23-31. On the other hand, the teaching of the Sermon on the mountain which does not have parallels in the Jewish writings is not realistic. It relates on nonresistance and asceticism. Lastly, no Jew can agree the claim of Jesus to criticize the Torah.
Montefiore had required from I. Abrahams rabbinical notes for his writings on the synoptic Gospels which took the form of studies on the Pharisaism and the Gospels. In margin of the Gospels he arranged parallel texts, without expressing any judgement.
In 1925 J. Klausner published two volumes entitled Jesus of Nazareth, his life, his time and teaching. It was urgent for the author to restore Jesus within his natural landscape and to recall the historical background of the Gospels. Jesus, expert of the Scripture, is different from the Pharisees since he insists on the imminence of the arrival of the Messiah and on the Kingdom of heaven. His teaching related to moral commands. He spoke with authority, in a different way from the Pharisees since he refused to connect his remarks to Scripture. He operated miracles and cured the sick. Miracles and teaching were the same for him. The freedom of Jesus in front of the observance of the commands, its manner of criticizing the remarks of the sages and his association with the sinners were not likely to rejoin the sympathy of the Pharisees towards him. However nothing of what he professed could be condemned according to the Pharisaic halakah. His lawsuit would have proceeded according to sadducean laws which were more severe. Klausner recalled that Jesus was only a reformer of Judaism, while Paul had founded a new religion.
Jesus lived the Jewish Torah. The rupture with the Jewish Law and the opening to pagans were done by Paul. In the Gospels one finds no moral teaching which does not have the equivalent in the rabbinical literature. The only innovation is the personal synthesis of Jesus who summarizes the morals maxims.
A. Marmorstein, the author of an important monograph on the merit of the Fathers in the Jewish tradition, proposed to put the last supper of Jesus in the context of the Jewish Pesah Seder.
After the Second World War the conference of Seelisberg in 1947 joined together Jews and Christians on the initiative of J. Isaac. A memorandum was sent to all the Christian Churches to require from them vigilance in their presentation of the Christian message. The same living God speaks in the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus, born from a Jewish mother, chose Jewish disciples to carry his message of the love of God and the neighbour. The term "the Jews" in the Gospels is not always synonymous with "enemies of Jesus". The Passion of Jesus did not engage the responsibility of all the Jews. It must be remembered that Jews were the first ones to enter the Church.
The echo of this conference was considerable. Two works of R. Aron
presented to the French-speaking public the figure of Jesus, the Jew.
D. Flusser was convinced that the preacher of Nazareth was a Jewish
prophet who evoked by many aspects Rabbi Hillel. It s however impossible
to deny the Christian innovation. The opening operated by Jesus is visible
in three aspects: the radical command of universal love, the preaching
of a renewed morals and the original design of the Kingdom of heaven.
The command of the love of the enemies remains the exclusive characteristic
of Jesus who went further than his contemporaries. He preached the unconditional
love. He thought that the new era of salvation had already started.
The intention of Flusser was double: he wanted to release the Christian
exegetes of their exaggerated skepticism due to Bultmann and, at the
same time, to criticize certain currents of modern Judaism.
After this paroramic view of Christian and Jewish Scolars upon the historical Jesus as a real Jew, I would like to study one of the beatitude Jesus pronounced: BLESSED ARE THE MEEK FOR THEY SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH (TEN GEN).
My intention is to underline the Jewishness of Jesus' teaching and at the same time his originality. Jewish reading of the Beatitudes started with J. Lighfoot, Horae Hebraicae , Schottgen, Horae Hebraicae  and Zipser, The Sermon on the Mount, 1852. In 1909 C. Montefiore, the founder of liberal Judaism writes in his commentary on the Synoptic Gospels :
"This verse is probably an interpolation. It virtually repeats verse 3, for the aniyim and the anawim are practically the same people. It is also a mere quotation from Psalm 3,11, though the land or earth, as here understood, is not Palestine, but the regenerated world of the Messianic Age (die erneuerte Erde auf die das Himmelreich hinabkommt: Klosterman )".
The Sermon on the Mount contains only ethical sentences, no christological
ones, nothing which cannot find parallels in Judaism. The discussions
with the Pharisees are not about the nature of God, but about the Law
and its significance.
About the beatitude of the meek Friedlander writes: "It is a quotation of Psalm 37,11. See also Psalm 25,13. In the Book of Enoch 5,9 we have a parallel: "The elect shall possess light, joy and peace and they shall inherit the earth". The elect are the saints or the meek. Didache 3,7 uses Psalm 37,11: "Be meek, since the meek shall inherit the land". To inherit the land was understood in the sense of entering the messianic Kingdom (Is 60,21). The opponents of the Kingdom of God are the arrogant (Zedim). In the Shemone Esre the Zedim are mentioned as destined to be humbled by God. When this is accomplished the divine Kingdom will be established ".
P. Lapide, among others, commented also on the Sermon on the Mount . D. Flusser  compared Hillel with Jesus. Hillel was famous for his meekness. Sab 30b: "Man should be meek like Hillel and not stern as Shammai".
A few words on methodology are not superfluous. We shall start with
the structure of the text which reveals the intention of the redactor.
Then we shall classify the literary genre of the Beatitude which is
known in Wisdom literature, Qumran literature and apocalyptic milieu.
The main expressions of the text must be studied. Since the Beatitude
is a quotation of Psalm 37 we must consider the different interpretations
of this text in the different trends of Judaism and consider which one
is close to the Gospel of Matthew. Then we shall be able to see the
similarities and differences of Matthew and the rabbis. About the critical
methodology to be followed in the study of the rabbinic texts we have
written very often and do not repeat what we have said elsewhere .
The structure of the Beatitudes
The structure of the Beatitudes themselves consists of a parallel construction
in the Gospel of Matthew. The eight beatitudes, expressed with the literary
inclusion of the sentence "for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven",
are presented by E. Puech  as follows:
The order of the second and third beatitude is different in some manuscripts. We consider the beatitude of the meek as the second for different reasons, especially those proposed by A. di Lella . Di Lella started counting the Greeks words of the Matthean text. Each strophe contains exactly 36 words. In each strophe there is a beatitude with the same number of words (188.8.131.52). This symmetrical arrangement can not be accidental. The inclusions are evident : the first and the eighth beatitude have 12 words and repeat the sentence "For the Kingdom of heaven is theirs". The first two and the last two beatitudes total 20 words. It means that verse 4 or 5 cannot be a redactional addition of redoubling of v. 3 : "anwey rouah" and "anawim" are synonyms, even if Luke does not have the beatitude of the meek.
The four beatitudes of the first strophe begin with the Greek letter pi (ptochoi, praeis, penthountes, peinontes). From the parallelism of Mt with 4Q 525 and Sir 14,20 27 Puech concluded that Matthew had the original version and that Luke introduced the division in four.
The addition of the ninth beatitude puts in evidence the inclusion
of pneuma and prophetes. It proposes a new reading of the message of
the Beatitudes at the light of the Spirit.
The literary genre "Beatitude"
"Blessed is he who speaks truth with a pure heart
Blessed are those who rejoice in her
Here again we have a composition of two strophes like in Sir 14,20 27. Eight curses can be found in 1 Hen 98,9 99,2 and 99,11 16. It means that Beatitudes are known also in the apocalyptic milieu.
Before speaking of the Jewish background of the second beatitude, we have to make a rapid literary analysis of the second beatitude itself.
In the LXX makarios translates the Hebrew ashre. We find macarisms in the Psalms (25 x), in wisdom literature (Pr 5 x ; Ben Sira 11 x; Qoh 1 x; Wis 1 x) and sometimes in the apocalyptic literature . In 1 Enoch 58,2 the structure of the Beatitude is very close to that of Matthew since we have the motivation introduced by hoti. The same structure is repeated in Tob 13,14 . Qumran knows Beatitudes with a wisdom flavor .
The second Beatitude of Mt 5,4 is a quotation of Psalm 36,11 of the LXX version. The word praeis translates the Hebrew anawim. In Psalm 37 the anawim, contrary to the wicked, hope in the Lord. They are not jealous about those who succeed. They remain calm before the Lord and wait for his intervention with patience. In the Psalms six times praeis translates anawim (25,9 (variants in A,13, S R); 34,3 ; 76,10 (praeis te kardia in B S R and praeis tes ges in B2 S2); 147,6; 149,4). The concept of anawim belongs to the biblical terminology .
Is praus a synonym of ptochos? It would mean that the first and second beatitude are a repetition of the same idea in the form of a parallelism. Before answering this question we have to see some other uses of praus in the Gospel of Mt.
In Mt 11,29 Jesus invites his disciples: "Take upon you my yoke and be my disciples, for I am meek (praus) and humble of heart".
We find here a wisdom vocabulary. As God is Father, Wisdom is a mother who calls her sons to a difficult ascension. Ben Sira 4 shows her guiding his disciple and imposing on him discipline. In chapter 6 the master recommends to his disciple to do whatever he can to find wisdom and to accept her yoke. On that condition he will find true rest: "Search her out, discover her, do not let her go. Thus you will afterward find rest in her: she will be transformed into your delight. Her net will become your throne of majesty; her noose, your apparel of spun gold. Her yoke will be your old adornment; her bonds, your purple cord. You will wear her as your glorious apparel, bear her as a splendid crown" (Sira 6,27 31). Wisdom is described as a hunter. Being caught in Wisdom's net involves no loss of freedom. Rather one becomes like a king. The yoke of Wisdom does not hamper the wise but gives him a sure sense of direction in life. The yoke is compared to a gold adornment and the bonds of Wisdom to a purple cord. Purple garments and gold were worn by kings and high priests. The wise, because of his fidelity to the Law, will enjoy the splendor of royalty and the glory of high priesthood. Declaring : "Take upon you my yoke and you shall find rest", Jesus speaks with the authority of Wisdom. The same message is repeated in Ben Sira 51, 26 30 : "Submit your neck to her yoke, and let your mind weigh her message. She is close to those who seek her, and the one who is in earnest finds her".
Wisdom forms her disciples and does not remain far from those who wish to live with her: to meet her one must take the Book of Law in his hands (Sir 15,1). Ben Sira 24 develops the identification of Law with Wisdom. The Book of Baruch will do the same.
The word praus, is used in the LXX to designate Moses the humble man  (Nb 12,3) and to designate Wisdom in Sir 3,18 (S 2) and 10,14. The name prautes (anwah) is used in Sir 1,27; 3,17; 4,8; 10,28; 36,28 (23) and applied to Moses in Sira 45,4.
A second text of Matthew has to be quoted to better understand the meaning of praus. Mt 21,5 quotes Za 9,9 : "Your King is coming meek (praus) riding on an ass and a young foal". Jesus enters into Jerusalem as the messianic King who is meek. To be meek is a gesture in front of God and helps to interpret the concept of the kingdom of heaven in the Gospel of Matthew .
Rabbinic tradition attests a chain of virtues attributed R. Pinchas ben Jair. We give here the version of Mishna Sota 9,15: "Zeal leads to cleanliness, cleanliness leads to purity, purity leads to self restraint, self restraint leads to sanctity (qedoushah), sanctity leads to humility (anwah), humility leads to fear of sin (yrath heth), fear of sin leads to piety (hasidout), piety leads to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit leads to the resurrection of dead and the resurrection shall come through Elijah of blessed memory". The text with his variants in J. Sab 1,3c.20 and J. Sheq 3,47c,49; CtR 1,1; AZ 20b has been studied by P. Schafer .
Abodah Zarah 20b contains a discussion of R. Joshua ben Levi according
to which "meekness (anwah) is the most important virtue, for it
is written in Is 61,1: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He anointed
me to announce to the poor the good news (anawim)". It is not written
" to the pious", but to the poor, which means that meekness
is the most important virtue". Meekness acquires a messianic and
eschatological meaning. Qumran knows the virtue of meekness in 1 QS
The inheritance of the land
The interpretation of Ps 37 in the main movements of Judaism.
II,9 12 comments Ps 37,11 : "And the poor shall possess the land and enjoy peace in plenty. Its interpretation concerns the congregation of the poor (ebyonym) who will tough out the period of distress and will be rescued from all snares of Belial. Afterwards they shall enjoy in all¡K. of the land (haares). The end of the sentence is not clear. Dupont Sommer  reads it: "Ils se delecteront de tous les (plaisirs) de la terre et ils s'engraisseront de toutes les delices de la chair". Ebyonym and anawim are synonyms in this text.
III, 10 11 (vv.21 22) is a commentary on Ps 37,22 : "For those who are blessed by him shall possess the land but those who are cursed by him shall be cut off. Its interpretation concerns the congregation of the poor (ebyonym) to whom is the inheritance of the whole world (tebel)... They will inherit the high mountain of Israel and delight in his sanctuary (beqodsho)". Dupont Sommer translates: "L'explication de ceci concerne la congregation des pauvres qui (donnent) la propriete de toute la (fortune) qu'ils possedent, ils possederont la sublime montagne d'Israel et dans son sanctuaire ils se delecteront)".
The congregation of the poor is the Essene's community (1 QS 9,22).
IV, 2 comments Ps 37,29: The just shall possess the land and live for
ever upon it. (The interpretation concerns his chosen ones who shall
live) for thousand (generations). This is the interpretation of Dupont
Three answers are given in this Pesher : the first one speaks of the land itself, the second applies the land as a metaphor for the Temple and the last sense is applied to future life.
In 4Q 418 81 1,3.9-14 we have another text describing the remnant community
which shall inherit the land:
The text, based upon Za 13,1 and Is 11,1 and 60,21, has an eschatological flavor. To inherit the land in this context means to inherit eternal life.
Nevertheless the land of Israel had its importance for the members
of the sect (1 QS 1,5; 8,4 7; 9,3). CD 1,7 has it: "God visited
them and out of Israel and Aaron he made grow a root of plantation to
inherit his land and to get fat with the goods of his soil". It
is because of the sins of the people that God hides his face from the
land (CD 2,9.11 ; 4,10).
In apocalyptic texts
1 Enoch 5,7 8 speaks about the situation of the just : "But to the elect there shall be light, joy and peace, and they shall inherit the earth. To you, wicked ones, on the contrary, there will be a curse. Then wisdom will be given to the elect". This is the translation of Charlesworth. Dupont-Sommer translates verse 8: "Alors seront donnees aux elus la lumiere et la grace et ce sont eux qui heriteront la terre. Alors la sagesse sera donnee a tous les elus". He considers verse 8 as an addition which disturbs the text.
Jubilees 32,18-19 speaks about a vision of Jacob at Bethel. God promises him : "And I shall give to your seed all the land under heaven and they will rule in all nations as they have desired. And after this all of the earth will be gathered together and they will inherit it forever". The promise of the inheritance of the land is extended to all the earth. This sentence concerns eternal life.
The Testament of Job 33 Job asserts in a Psalm his allegiance to the
supra mundane heavenly realm where he has an eternal kingdom: "My
throne is in the upper world, and its splendor and majesty come from
the right hand of the Father. The whole world shall pass away and its
splendor shall fade. And those who heed it shall share in its overthrow.
But my throne is in the Holy Land and its splendor is in the world of
the changeless one". The Holy Land as early as Za 2,16 and Wis
12,3 refers to the promised land. But the term is used metaphorically
In hellenistic Judaism
In the Quaestiones in Genesim, third book, (Gen 15,7) he writes: "What is the meaning of the words: "I am the Lord God who led you out from the land of the Chaldeans to give you this land to inherit? The literal meaning is clear. That which must be rendered as the deeper meaning is as follows. The land of the Chaldeans is symbolically mathematical theory, of which astronomy is part... And again he grants him fruitful wisdom which he symbolically calls 'land'".
The land is a symbol of wisdom. Philo is close to Ben Sira 24,12 who speaks of the inheritance of wisdom: "In the portion of the Lord is my inheritance".
In his De Migratione Abrahae 1,1 Philo comments on Gen 12,1 3: "Leave your country. The land is symbol of the body and the house of your Father is symbol of your language".
In his De migratione Abrahae all the geographic terms have a symbolic meaning and in Quod omnis probus sit liber 75 Philo spiritualizes the cult. The symbolic interpretation starts with Is 60,19 20 where Jerusalem is seen as a symbol of the heavenly city. 1 Enoch 90,28 announces the new Temple as 11Q Templ 29 and in other texts from Qumran .
M. Sanhedrin 10,1 : "All Israel have a portion in the world to come as it is said: Thy people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land for ever (Is 60,21)". The land is a symbol of future life. Sanhedrin 110b has the same commentary.
M. Qidushin 1,10 : "Whoever performs even a single commandment it shall go well with him, and his days shall be prolonged (in this life: Rashi), and he shall inherit the land" (in the world to come: Rashi) .
Succa 29b quotes the commentary of Rab (247): Rab said: On account of four things is the property of the holders confiscated by the State treasury: on account of those who defer payment of the labourer's hire; on account of those who withhold the hired labourer's wages; on account of those who remove the yoke from off their necks and place it on the necks of their fellows and on account of arrogance. And the sin of arrogance is equivalent to all others whereas of the humble it is written: But the humble shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace". Eschatological sense is clear from the context.
LevR 36 has this text: As the vineyard the lowest tree between the fruit trees is and nevertheless brings them all in his influence, so Israel appears humble in this world, but in the future it shall inherit the land from one end to the other. Future times means the days of the Messiah.
Rabbinic Literature knows two trends: in some texts there is a real interest for the land and for the Temple , while other texts underline that the Shekinah was absent from the second Temple  and insist on the spiritualization of cult . A special privilege is attached to those who live in Israel . Of three who will inherit the coming world, one is he who lives in Israel .
Midrash Sifre Dt 32 must be quoted: "R. Jose berabbi Jehoudit said: Sufferings are beloved (hbybyln), for the Name of God (maqom) is upon the One who is visited by sufferings, for it is written: The Lord thy God punishes you. R. Nathan berabbi Joseph said: As a covenant is made with the land, a covenant is made with sufferings as it is written: The Lord thy God punishes you. And it is written: The Lord thy God gives you a good land. Rabbi Simon ben Yochai said: Sufferings are beloved for three gifts the world would like to have were given to Israel with sufferings: the Torah, the land of Israel and the world to come. The Torah, for it is written: To know wisdom and teaching (Pr 1,2). And it is written: Blessed be the man you punish and teach him the law (Ps 94,12). The land of Israel for it is written: The Lord punishes you and introduces you in a good land (Dt 8,7). The world to come for it is written: the commandment is a lamp and the Law is a light (Pr 6, 23)"
Mekilta de R. Ismael, Bahodesh 10 knows these traditions. Some elements of it are found in Berakot 5a and Sanhedrin 101a. M. Kelim 1,6 9.10 presents different steps of Holiness. The Land of Israel is more holy than other countries. The offerings can be brought from any place except the Omer. The offering of the fruits is also linked to the land . The land of the goyim is impure .
The declaration of the Holiness of the land had the purpose to encourage
Jews not to leave Israel after the wars. It is not allowed to sell land
to pagans: Leaving Israel forfeits the accumulated merit of the
Fathers. It is not allowed to participate in the feast of idolatric
people except if during these feast it is possible to buy fields or
houses: T. Abodah Zarah 1,8. Most of the law about the purity of the
land are in view of the reconstruction of the Temple .
Meaning of Mt 5, 4
Another difference with the Hebrew and the Greek version of Ps 37 is the presence of the article ten gen in Mt 5,4. Should one give importance to this detail or rather consider it as secondary?
To answer this question one has to keep in mind a second element. Mt 5 is presenting a new reading of Is 61 . Isaiah 61 announces a change in condition in the messianic times. Luke 4 shows that Jesus came to accomplish this prophetic text. Flusser  has shown that the Beatitudes should be read in this messianic context.
The article "ten gen" in the wisdom and messianic context cannot be a determinative one, but must have a generic meaning as it often has. To inherit the land means to inherit the Kingdom. The parallelism of the two first Beatitudes permits this conclusion.
The early Christian community gave also a symbolic interpretation of the land. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians 6,9-10 uses the expression "to inherit the Kingdom of God" which seems very close to Mt 5,4. The New Jerusalem is present in the Christian community according to Rev 21 and Ga 4,26. 1 Peter 1,4 speaks of the inheritance Christians got through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. In the Gospel of Matthew the framework of the Sermon on the Mount is symbolic. The Mount corresponds to Mount Sinai. There Jesus gives the new Law. He comments Is 61 and presents a synthesis of wisdom texts. Even if Matthew added his presentation the message is that of Jesus. His wisdom teaching is clearly deduced from the Q source. The meek (anawim) shall inherit the land. Since this beatitude is parallel with the first, the land (with the article) is a parallel with the Kingdom . The message of Jesus is close to wisdom again which in Pr 8,15 affirms: "Through me Kings are governing". Kingdom and Wisdom are close .
The Kingdom of God is opposed to the Kingdom of Mamon (Mt 6,24). It is against violence and the persuit of power .
If we have a rapid look at the interpretation of the Church Fathers we can conclude that the Beatitude of the meek has been interpreted as a promise to eternal life. Didache 3,7 quotes Psalm 37,11. Origen in his Contra Celsum 7,29 understands the Holy Land as a metaphor for heaven. Irenaeus of Lyon in his Adversus haereses 5,32,2; 33,1; 36,3 shows that to inherit the land means to inherit the Kingdom. If the spirit of God inherits our bodies the Kingdom will be given to us.
Augustine commented on the Beatitudes in parallel with the seven gifts of the Spirit and the seven demands of the Our Father. Since in the teaching of Jesus wisdom and the Spirit are linked together it can be interesting to comment on the Beatitudes in parallel with the gifts of the Spirit .
In the Apocalyptic milieu, in Qumran Pesher, in hellenistic Judaism and even in Pharisaic texts, Psalm 37 had a symbolic meaning. The Land was symbol of wisdom, eternal life and heaven. Matthew's Gospel is closer to rabbinic Judaism than to the other trends of Judaism. Repeating the Psalm in the future: "They shall inherit the land", Jesus gives to the land an eschatological meaning which is close to the Kingdom, since Wisdom and Kingdom were two close concepts.
 A. di Lella, "The structure and Composition of the Matthean
Beatitudes", in To touch the text. Biblical and Related studies
in honor of J. A. Fitzmyer, ed. By M.P. Horgan and M.P.Kobelski, New
York 1989, 237-242. See also PM. Skehan A.A. di Lella, The Wisdorn of
Ben Sira. New York 1987. A. Neher studied the two terms Morashah and
Nahala in the Book of Ezechiel. Morashah is linked to the heart of stone
(Ez 1-35) while Nahala which is used only after Ez 36 is positive.