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Book: Social and Cognitive Perspectives on the Sermon on the Mount

Chapter: 10. 'Whoever is Kind to the poor Lends to Yahweh, and will be Repaid in Full' (Prov 19:17): Patterns of Indirect Reciprocity in the Book of Proverbs and in the Sermon on the Mount

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.32046


Anne Katrine de Hemmer Gudme sets out to understand the rationality of the command to give alms in secret (6:1-4) by making use of research on reciprocity and gift-giving in anthropology and evolutionary studies. Gift-giving is an open-ended form of delayed and often asymmetrical reciprocity that fosters good long-term relations. Gudme pays special attention to how the perceived rationality of alms changes when God enters the exchange as receiver and giver of favours, for instance in the Jewish Wisdom Literature. From an evolutionary perspective, altruistic giving is potentially detrimental for the individual givers, but often beneficial for the survival of the group. The idea of Big Gods―morally interested all-knowing gods―allows for a more generous attitude, since givers can hope for divine blessings. Jesus’s promise in the Sermon that “your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (6:4) is a prime example of how belief in Big Gods can promote altruism.

Chapter Contributors

  • Anne Katrine Gudme ( - agudme3630) 'University of Copenhagen'