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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
A word used at the conclusion of a prayer, or in other connections, to express affirmation, approval, or desire. It is derived from the Old Testament Hebrew, and is perhaps the most widely known word in human speech; being familiar to Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans. It occurs thirteen times in the Masoretic text of the Old Testament, and in the Septuagint in three additional passages (Jeremiah 3:19, 15:11, Isaiah 25:1). From these passages it is possible to trace in part the gradual development of Amen from an adjective (or, according to Barth, "Die Nominalbildung in den Semitischen Sprachen," 5c, 7b, a noun, meaning "firmness," "certainty") into an indeclinable interjection.
The primitive use of Amen is in 1 Kings, 1:36, where also it serves to introduce an affirmative answer. This introductory Amen occurs also in Jeremiah 28:6; but in another passage (11:5) Jeremiah shows familiarity with the detached Amen. The detached Amen is that use of the Amen in which the expected answer is omitted and left to be inferred from the context. Numbers 5:22 (in which Amen is repeated twice), Deuteronomy 27:15 et seq., and Nehemiah 5:13, show that the detached Amen was employed in solemn oaths for which the brief Amen was more effective than a whole sentence.
Similar to the detached Amen is the use of the Amen in Nehemiah 8:6, 1 Chronicles 16:36, and Psalms 106:48, from which it is learned that during the Persian epoch Amen was the responsory of the people to the doxology of the priests and the Levites. Too little is known, however, of the Temple worship of that period to make it possible to determine whether, as Graetz holds, Amen and Amen Halleluiah were the only responsories used. The passages in Psalms parallel to that cited above (41:14, 72:18-19, 89:53) make it apparent that the responsory was longer; and there exists a reliable tradition (Tosef., Ber. 7:22; Ta'anit, 1:11,16b; Yer. Ber. 14c, end; Soṭah, 40b) that at a period not far removed from the oldest Pharisaic traditions Amen was not generally employed in the Temple liturgy. The opposite view of Graetz in his attempt to distort the evident meaning of the text in this Tosefta is disproved by Sifre, Deuteronomy 32:3,306, which clearly shows that in ancient times the usual responsive formula in the synagogue and the Temple was: "Blessed be the name of the glory of his kingdom for ever and ever" () . Thus the statement in the Tosefta becomes intelligible: while synagogues adopted the Amen, the Temple preserved the longer form. Even in later times—at least during the existence of the Temple—the Amen could not entirely supplant the longer responsory ; and the ( ("Praised be the great Name [that is, the Tetragrammaton] for ever and ever") is a combination of the synagogue Amen with the Temple formula , the Aramaic equivalent of which is . This explains the great significance which the Talmud (Shab. 119b) and the Midrash (Eccl. R. on 9:14,15) attaches to the blessing, a remnant of the Temple liturgy.
Since the rabbis paid strict regard to precise arrangement of prayer-formulas, naturally the use of Amen in the liturgy was rigorously determined by them. The Amen as a responsory of the people is already spoken of by the rabbis, but it is to be noted that Amen was only the responsory to the reader's doxology ("Blessed art thou, O Lord!" Mishnah Ta'anit, 2:5; Suk. 51b. It is here recorded that in the great synagogue of Alexandria the attendant, at the conclusion of the reader's doxology, signaled the congregation with a flag to respond Amen). Of equal importance with this doxology was the priestly blessing, to each verse of which the congregation responded Amen (Mishnah Soṭah, 7:3). As expressly stated in a Baraita (Ber. 45a), the use of Amen at the conclusion of a prayer, mentioned in Tobit, 8:8, must have been very common among Jews in ancient times. Still, the Christian custom of concluding every prayer with Amen seems to have brought this use of Amen into bad repute among the Jews (Ber. c.); and it was decided in Babylonia, about 400, that only at grace after meals the third benediction (originally the last) should conclude with Amen (Ber. c.), while in Palestine (Yer. Ber. 5:4) Amen was used at the end of the last doxology. In the Middle Ages the Spanish ritual followed the Palestinian custom; the German and Polish Jews conforming to the Babylonian usage (compare "ShulḦan 'Aruk," § 1, 136, end, and the commentaries thereon).
Desiderative and Responsive Amen.
The use of Amen in response to the expression of a good wish can be traced back to the first century of the Christian era (Ket. 66b); whence is derived the medieval custom of suffixing an Amen to every possible expression of a desire. Especially favorite phrases are ("Amen! may this be the will" [of God]) generally used after prayers which do not conclude with a doxology; ("May he live to see good days, Amen!"), a formula usually appended to the name in letters; and ("And let us say Amen!"), with whichthe reader concludes a special prayer or a prayer for a private person. The later responsive Amen is employed at the beginning and the conclusion of grace after meals (Ber. 47a); for, according to the rabbis, every doxology must be responded to with an Amen.
The meaning of Amen is discussed by Rabbis Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Simon ben YoḦai. The former, a younger contemporary of the Apostles, says: "When the dwellers of Gehenna chant their Amen at the very time that the holy name of God is praised by the congregations . . . the doors of hell yield and angels carry them in white robes into paradise on the last day" (Eliyahu Zuṭṭa ). That this utterance is not a later invention, is proved by the kindred sayings of Simon ben YoḦai (Shab. 119b, Midr. Tehil., 31:22). A poetical account of the power of Amen is given in Yalḳ. 2:296 to Isaiah 26:2, in which the final release from hell is described as follows:
"After God shall have publicly revealed the new Messianic Torah, Zerubbabel will recite the Ḳaddish. His voice will be heard throughout the world, so that all dwellers upon earth, as well as Jewish sinners and righteous heathens in hell, will exclaim, 'Amen!' Moved to pity by this Amen from the dwellers of hell, God will bid the angels Michael and Gabriel release them from hell and place them in paradise; which command the angels will forthwith proceed to carry out."
A similar Haggadah occurs in Siddur R. Amram (13b, foot), which is referred to by Hogg ("Jew. Quart. Rev." 9:17). The legend regarding a pious Jew who once neglected to answer Amen to the doxology, recounted by Jaffe in his introduction to "Lebush," , belongs to the Middle Ages.
Amen in the New Testament.
As the Amen was widely employed in the Jewish liturgy in the time of Jesus and the New Testament authors, Amen occurs extensively in the New Testament. But the use of almost one half the number of Amens found therein (fifty-two out of one hundred and nineteen) is peculiar to the New Testament writings, having no parallel in Hebrew (see however, Dalman, "Worte Jesu," p. 186); for, as is never the case in Hebrew, the Amen is sometimes found at the beginning of a sentence without reference to what precedes. The explanation of Delitzsch that this Amen is an erroneous form of the Aramaic ("I say"), is disproved not only by the fact that is exclusively Babylonian-Aramaic, but by the further fact that is used exclusively in a hypothetic sense (against 'Er. 32a), while in the New Testament, Amen expresses certainty. Another peculiarity is the use of ὁ Aμην in Revelation 3:14 as a designation of Jesus. The attempted explanation of this use from 2 Corinthians 1:20 is altogether unsatisfactory.
The primitive Christian Church borrowed the Amen, as it did most of its liturgy, from the Jewish synagogue. Of especial interest is the following passage of Paul (1 Corinthians 14:16), "When thou shalt bless with the spirit (), how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned (ἰδιώτου ) say Amen?" Paul here speaks of the reader's duty to recite his prayers aloud in order that the ignorant people might have compensation in answering the Amen to the doxology. The very same teachings are given by the rabbis (Tosef., R. H.  12; Gemara, ib. ἰδιώτου ; compare also "ShulḦan 'Aruk OraḦ Ḥayyim," § 124, 4-6; § 139, 6). It is known that in the time of Justin Martyr (about second century) Amen was pronounced after prayer and the Eucharist ("Apologia," i § 65, 67). Jerome shows by his "ad similitudinem cœlestis tonitrui Amen reboat" ("Commentarius ad Galatas," preface to book ) that the Church had adopted from the Synagogue even the practise of enunciating the "Amen with the full power"—of the voice (Shab. 119b).
In accordance with the less public character of Mohammedan worship, Amen is very little used among the followers of Islam. Still it is universally employed by them after every recital of the first sura, the so-called Surat al-fatiḦa.
- Ber. 1:11-19;
- Blau, Rev. Ét. Juives, 31:179-201;
- Brunner, De Voce Amen, Helmstadt, 1678;
- Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, pp. 185-187;
- Delitzsch, Zeitschrift für Lutherische Theologie, 1856, pp. 422 et seq.;
- Grätz, in Monatsschrift, 1872, pp. 481-496;
- Hogg, Jew. Quart. Revelation 9:1-23;
- J. Caro, ShulḦan 'Aruk, § 54, 2; § 56, 2; § 129, 6-10; § 215;
- Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, s.;
- Baidawi and Zamakt Shari on first sura;
- Maimonides, Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah, , Tefillah, 8:9, 9:1-4;
- Nestle, Expository Times, January, 1897, pp. 190 et seq.;
- Psalms 62 et seq., et seq.;
- Weber, De Voce Amen, Jena, 1734;
- Wernsdorf, De Amen Liturgica;
- Wolf, Curæ Phil. in N. T. on Matthew 6:13, and 1 Corinthians 14:16.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Amen'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​a/amen.html. 1901.