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The Meek Shall Not Inherit The Earth — The Shepherds Will.

“man carrying white lamb painting” by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash
Definition of meek: 1.) enduring injury with patience and without resentment 2.) deficient in spirit and courage 3.) not violent or strong — Merriam-Webster

As a child I was raised a Catholic and as such was exposed to many elements of the Bible. In particular, time was given to the Sermon On The Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the earth.” This is also reinforced in the Catholic teachings as one of the Beatitudes. These are the 8 blessings listed by Jesus during his sermon. Even if you weren’t raised in the Christian religion, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “the meek shall inherit the earth” at some point in your life.

I’ve always heard the phrase or saying and just took it at face value and thought nothing else of it. Recently, I was listening to a random podcast where one of the participants brought up this saying. He threw out a random line where he mentioned that it was translated wrong and the real translation makes the verse completely different. The word translated as “meek” actually was something much different and turned the phrase on its head.

This idea caught my interest and I did some quick research on my own. Apparently, there was some issue with the translation and it was creating a bit of buzz on the internet. The original Bible story was written in Greek. The original Greek word translated as “meek” was “praus” (prah-oos). Strangely enough, the ancient Greeks often used this term in regards to the military.

Odd isn’t it? Why would a military term be used to describe the word meek?

The actual term was generally used in regards to a war horse. These amazing animals were caught in the wild and were completely feral. They were broken to their rider’s will, but still retained their strength and power. This power was just focused under the control of their rider. These horses could run over 30 miles per hour, would charge head long into infantry units with spears and swords, and charge at full speed down ravines. The strength and power never left, but it could be called forth by the nudge of a leg from their rider or a quick tug on a reign. The rough translation of the Greek term was power under control.

This error is nothing nefarious, it’s just a translation that’s a bit off. Word use differs from culture to culture and language to language. It’s not unusual to have a certain word that doesn’t translate well into another language. One word may actually need a few different words in its conversion to create an accurate translation. Sometimes, it may never make proper sense.

Perhaps this section of the Sermon on the Mount was actually teaching something a little different than originally reported. Could it be the quiet and mild won’t inherit the earth after all? Maybe those who are powerful, but check that power carefully are meant to inherit the earth. Images came into my mind from things I have read as an adult that make me think this is probably true.


David And Goliath: David Was Not A Simple Meek Shepherd

David and Goliath, a colour lithograph by Osmar Schindler (c. 1888)

If you’ve lived on this earth for any time, you’ve heard the story of David and Goliath. It’s the ultimate underdog story. A small shepherd boy, named David, stands against this massive soldier and defeats him. The story is mentioned over and over anytime a weaker opponent faces a stronger one. It’s a biblical story, but it’s ingrained in our modern language. It’s said over and over without even giving much thought to its source.

Nothing can be thought of as more mild or meek than a shepherd. If I say the word shepherd, you immediately think of a simple person with a staff and cloak. You can see them carefully taking care of mild animals, such as sheep and goats. The idea of Christ’s Good Shepherd may also come into your thoughts. Where a shepherd goes on a journey to find his one lost sheep and carry it home.

A few years ago, I read a book Malcolm Gladwell wrote called “David And Goliath.” It’s about misfits and underdogs and how their apparent weakness can give them strength. Gladwell examines the story of David and Goliath and sees the story misinterpreted. In Gladwell’s view, David actually has the advantage in the story. Much like the misuse of the term praus, Gladwell sees the story in a much different light.

That’s crazy, how can a simple shepherd with a sling shot have an advantage versus an armored giant?

Gladwell examines the military types that existed in the ancient world. There was generally infantry, cavalry, and ranged fighters. The ranged fighters used spears, slings, maybe bows and arrows. Its generally thought that the ranged fighters had an advantage against infantry, in particular heavy infantry. Goliath just happened to be heavily armored — so, heavy infantry.

The next thing Gladwell examines was the simple sling. When David comes to face the heavily armored Goliath, the only weapon he has is a sling. The immediate idea of this item is almost something of a child’s toy. Gladwell soon found that the sling was and is still a devastating weapon in the right hands. Some scientific research has shown that ancient Roman slings had similar stopping power to a 44 caliber magnum hand gun. Gladwell also found that experienced users of a sling had a range of 200 yards and could hit a bird in flight.

Discovery Civilization Video — showing the power of an Aztec sling

David also wore no armor as well. At one point in the Biblical story, King Saul begs David to at least put on armor to face the giant. David says he’s never worn armor, so it would be a disadvantage to him. This initial view of the story is that David is going on a suicide mission and through the power of God, he defeats this terrifying giant.

In Gladwell’s view, David is on no suicide mission, he knows exactly what he’s doing. David is not meek, during his time as a shepherd, he’s fought lions and wolves when defending his flock. He doesn’t plan on fighting Goliath in the way a solider would fight him. David plans on fighting Goliath in the way he would fight a wolf or lion.

David uses the superior technology of a ranged weapon. David also uses the superior tactic of range to fight the giant. As an experienced user of a sling, David could find the open spot on Goliath’s armor and land a devastating shot. Because he wears no armor, David can move quickly to keep away from the giant. David did not exhibit meekness, he demonstrated praus. In a time when his country and king needed him, David used the power within him and his skill with a sling to defeat the heavy infantry soldier Goliath and save his country.


The Nazi Invasion And Occupation Of Crete In WWII

“white concrete buildings near ocean during daytime” by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash
“When you live in a place like this — small, by itself — you’re brought up to give help, not wait for it. When your neighbor needs something, he needs you. The person he knows. Not the army. Not the police. You. And if you’re not there, someday you’ll have to look him in the face and explain. The Germans didn’t know us, and they believed they could not lose. They believed they’d never have to look anyone in the face and explain. They’d never have to pay for what they did. And I believe that is why we defeated them” — Yiorgos Pattakos, Greek resistance member on Crete — Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougal

The war was going badly for the Allies. France had fallen to Nazi control and after repulsing Italian forces, Greece had fallen to the Nazis after a subsequent invasion. The British moved their troops from mainland Greece to Crete and planned to defend the island with help from native Greek forces. The Nazis had other ideas, however, they wanted the island and planned an invasion. The Germans had an interesting idea on how to gain control of the island. Due to the British strength at sea, the Germans would use an airborne invasion.

The Germans would use a full airborne assault to capture the island, spear headed by paratroops — the Fallschirmjäger. The Germans figured these elite airborne-based commandos would have no problem subduing the island from British stragglers and meek Greek shepherds. They immediately found out that they were wrong. As McDougal reports in his book, the German general commanding the operation, pulled out his service revolver and was prepared to end his own life when he heard the initial reports.

After eventually committing about 30,000 troops to the invasion, the Germans took airports on the island and officially won the battle. However, the Germans soon found that they didn’t subdue the island. A small force of British special forces, backed up by a powerful Greek resistance movement made the Nazi’s lives a living hell. The Germans would have to keep a large force on the island to keep it under control as a result.

In McDougal’s book, he describes that the Greeks on Crete called a Cretan who reached adulthood a “dromeus” or runner. A person was thought to be an adult when they were strong enough to run to someone’s aid. These shepherds and villagers were not meek, as the Nazis would soon find out. They had experience repelling invaders and fighting from the times of Alexander The Great. Sabotage of equipment and death met the Germans frequently. The Greek villagers and shepherds also hid British special operation forces at the risks of their own lives and families.

The ultimate incarnation of the Greek defiance took place when a decorated German general on Crete disappeared. This German general was on a smaller island surrounded by 30,000 fellow German soldiers and he magically disappeared. A British commando group heavily aided by Greek resistance made this possible. This group kidnapped the general and took him through the mountains for eventual evacuation. The British and Greeks tried to make it look like he was evacuated by sea, but the Germans saw through this rouse.

Major General Heinrich Kreipe

The Germans immediately dropped leaflets throughout the region. These leaflets warned the Greeks that if the general wasn’t returned immediately, whole villages would be executed and burned down. The Greeks kept silent and villages burned and whole towns lost their lives — no one said a word. The more the Germans threatened, burned, and killed, the more the Greeks on Crete resisted. The general was eventually evacuated from the island — the Nazis never got their general back.

McDougal went to the island of Crete and retraced the footsteps of the kidnappers. On many sections of their path, they literally followed goat paths shepherds would use to herd their flocks. At points, the paths they followed made no sense. Of course they didn’t make sense to a human, they were created by a goat. A goat by instinct would know the best way up a hill, it wouldn’t follow a general path as a human would see it. This haphazard trek would also make it difficult for German patrols to find them.

When Hitler invaded Crete, he imagined he’d occupy an island of meek shepherds. He never imagined such a strong organized resistance. These simple people were not meek as expected, they exuded praus and directed their power against the foreign invaders when needed. They had a lineage of fighting off invaders and were able to live in a mountainous remote island successfully. They were a strong and proud people with history, much different than the meek shepherds the Nazis had in mind.


Conclusion

“Blessed are the shepherds, they shall inherit the earth.”

I’m sure the meek are wonderful people, however, meekness isn’t a characteristic you would need in a time of stress. A shepherd may be thought of as a meek character with a simple staff who tends to a flock of fragile creatures. On the other hand, this shepherd will easily do battle with a lion or wolf if it approaches his flock. The sling he carries is not a child’s toy, it’s a powerful weapon that can lay low a ferocious beast.

I don’t see the meek as inheriting the earth as the original parable mentions. I see the shepherd as inheriting the earth. The shepherd may appear meek, but he’s filled with the characteristic of praus. He’s gentle to his flock, family, and village, but at the appropriate time he unleashes his power at a source of danger. This shepherd will fight lions and wolves. Sometimes he’ll do battle with a giant if necessary. On occasion, he’ll even tangle with an island full of Nazis and steal a general from under their very eyes. This shepherd is not meek, he’s the very epitome of what the ancient Greeks meant by praus.

Thank you for reading my ramblings. If you enjoyed what you’ve read, please share.

Also, I’d highly recommend Christopher McDougal’s book “Natural Born Heroes” as well as Malcolm Gladwell’s book “David And Goliath” if you’d like to read more about the topics I mentioned.