Insult: A Serious Sin

I found this quote from the Talmud and it struck me, so I wanted to share it in a quick post.  It’s interesting to me time and time again how the rabbis share much thought and opinion with Jesus.  Remember that when you see Jesus quoted as saying the word “Hell” in your New Testament translation, he’s using the Greek word “Gehenna”, which is a Greek version of the Hebrew word “Gehinnom”, the place where bad people go in the afterlife.  For more on this, go to the post I wrote about it, Rethinking Hell.

With that in mind, let’s look at what one Rabbi1 said about who would go down to Gehinnom.  From the Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 58b:

Rabbi Hanina (bar Hama) said:
–“All go down to Gehinnom except for three!”
All? Can you believe it?
Rather, (say) this:
–“All who go down to Gehinnom will rise up except for three!”
Those who go down to Gehinnom and do not rise are:
–he who goes in to (another) man’s wife; and
–he who exposes his comrade in public; and
–he who hangs a bad name on his comrade.

Rabbi Hanina placed people who insult each other in the same group as those who would go down to Gehinnom and would not rise up at the end of the torment, rather they would stay there.  Jesus made a somewhat similar statement in his Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew:

“Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna.”  (Matthew 5:22)

Many Christians believe that literally you cannot call anyone a fool.  Looking at a similar rabbinic saying lends some light onto this saying of Jesus’.  Of course it’s wrong to call someone a fool and mean it with contempt!  But Jesus is making the case that insulting anyone (hanging a bad name on someone) is a big deal.  In American culture we tend to view insult as humorous.  Don’t let it became that way for you.

Peace to you,

James

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1. Hanina bar Hama died ca. 250 AD and so it is quite possible that his teaching was influenced by Christian ideas.  However, by this point in time, Christians were already firmly separated from the Jews and so I doubt that R. Hanina was influenced much if any by Christianity.

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