In Volume 1 of David Instone-Brewer’s Traditions of the Rabbis From the Era of the New Testament we have a careful examination of which parts of the Mishnah order on agriculture (Zeraim, which begins with Berakhot or blessings) legitimately belongs to the time before 70 C.E.
To put it more simply, Instone-Brewer helps us see what parts of the Mishnah are from the time of the New Testament. To accomplish this, Instone-Brewer has worked painstakingly through a mountain of details and issues. Yet his books condense all of that research into short, easily readable references for the lazy among us who just want to see results.
I found a note from Mishnah Berakhot 4:3 that should interest all of us in the Messianic Jewish community as well as all who want to understand connections between Jewish and Christian tradition.
In this Mishnah text, the opinions of Gamaliel II, Joshua ben Hananiah, and Akiba are considered regarding the requirement to pray the Amidah (also called the Sh’monei Esrei or eighteen benedictions, the central prayer of Judaism).
While Gamaliel argued that the whole text of the Eighteen should be prayed, Joshua said only an abstract of them is required. By abstract he meant a shortened prayer that contains the essence of the whole Eighteen.
If you have not prayed the Amidah before, you may not be aware that it is a long prayer. Although the prayer traditions of Judaism have continued to expand to the point that the Amidah is merely one prayer in a very long litany of prayers (Shacharit or morning prayer in the full tradition is about a 45 minute commitment at high speed), still even by itself the Amidah is long enough to be discouraging to those who would like to pray.
From later generations in the Mishnah and Talmud we have examples of abstracts of the Amidah, such as this one from Eliezer ben Hyrcanus:
May your will be done in the heavens above,
and grant the ease of spirit to those who fear you,
and do what is good in your eyes,
Blessed is he who listens to prayer.
-Tosefta Berakhot 3:7
Instone-Brewer rates the concept of an abstract to be from the pre-70 era according to his fifth criteria: a tradition from an unnamed source which is assumed to be ancient by those discussing it in the second generation of Tannaim (c. 80-120 C.E.).
So, the idea of a shortened form of the Amidah existed in the New Testament era. In fact, says Instone-Brewer, this relates to the Lord’s Prayer:
The Lord’s Prayer appears to be an abstract of the Eighteen. It is very similar to the earliest abstract preserved in rabbinic literature, though with important differences. It was used in the early church in the same way as the Eighteen — i.e., they prayed it three times, standing, and used it as an outline for a longer prayer.
Similarities between the Lord’s Prayer and the Siddur are plentiful. Yet what struck me about this information from Instone-Brewer was twofold:
(1) Yeshua was likely engaging in a common practice, producing a shortened form of the central prayer of Judaism.
(2) That the church traditions after the New Testament era used the Lord’s Prayer like the abstracts of the Amidah: three times a day, standing, and building a longer prayer on it.
Instone-Brewer cites a few articles in support of these early church traditions for using the Lord’s Prayer. I had not realized that early Christians prayed three times a day standing.
It is one more example, of hundreds, in which we see Jewish faith and practice entering into the life of Yeshua’s followers. Sadly, these traditions were left behind long ago and are forgotten by all but a few.