Wednesday, February 23, 2011
What Does "Anawim" Mean? The Long Answer
I have often said that the Hebrew word "anawim" means "the poor who seek the Lord for deliverance". As a good example of this, one can look at Psalm 37, where verse 11 states, "the anawim shall inherit the land", from which Jesus received his statement, "the meek shall inherit the earth.". The longer answer is below, from Raymond Brown's tome, The Birth of the Messiah:
"The word Anawim represents a plural from the Hebrew anaw which, along with its cognate ani is a word for 'poor, humble, afflicted.'
"Although this title ["Anawim"] meaning the 'Poor Ones' may have originally designated the physically poor (and frequently still included them), it came to refer more widely to those who could not trust in their own strength but had to rely in utter confidence upon God: the lowly, the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, the widows and the orphans. The opposite of the Anawim were not simply the rich, but the proud and self-sufficient who showed no need of God or His help.
"There is considerable scholarly debate about the pre-exilic origins of the Anawim, and about the extent to which they constituted a class or community and not merely an attitude of mind. But a good case can be made for the contention that in post-exilic times the Anawim regarded themselves as the ultimate narrowing down of the remnant of Israel. The concept that God was not going to save His whole people but only a remnant was redefined many times. When the Northern Kingdom (Israel) was destroyed in 722, the Southern Kingdom (Judah) regarded itself as that remnant. When part of the Southern Kingdom was taken into captivity to Babylon (598 and 587), with part of the people left behind in Palestine, both exiles and Palestinians tended to regard themselves as the remnant.
"Eventually, under the catalyst of defeat and persecution, the remnant was redefined, not in historical or tribal terms, but in terms of piety and way of life. The parallelism in Psalm 149:4 equates the people of God with the Anawim: "The Lord takes pleasure in His people; He adorns the Poor Ones with victory." (see also Isaiah 49:13; 66:2). Very often, woven together with this piety of dependence on God was a "Temple piety". The mixture is explained by the fact that the appeal for God's deliverance of His Anawim was made in the psalms, and thus in a cultic setting. The "Poor Ones" showed their trust in God by being faithful to the times of prayer and sacrifice...
"The existence of a Jewish Christian Anawim is not purely hypothetical. In Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37 Luke describes with nostalgia... the Jewish Christian community at Jerusalem. These people sold their possessions and gave their wealth for distribution to the needy; thus they certainly qualify to be deemed "Poor Ones". Their poverty was leavened by piety, including "Temple piety" for they devoted themselves to prayer and attendance at the Temple...
"In his discussion of the Epistle of James, Dibelius has shown the presence of a dominant Anawim mentality in a strongly Jewish writing composed in Greek quite late in the century. He argues that the traditional attitude of the Poor Ones, seen in Jerusalem Christianity early in the century, continued in the non-Pauline churches of Diaspora Judaism later in the century."
-Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah, pp. 350-351, 354-355.