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

Chapter: 3. Perception of Risk in the Sermon on the Mount

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.32048


By means of insights from risk research, Rikard Roitto considers how the Sermon convinces its readers to accept its risky ethics. The human estimate of risk is based largely on emotions associated with reward, dread, moral appreciation, trust and other factors, and the Sermon’s rhetoric skillfully guides the listeners’ emotional appreciation of the dangers and rewards involved in abiding by its ethics. The dangers involved in an ethics that makes one vulnerable is countered by dread-invoking images of the final judgment and promises that God will make sure that the righteous will not lack basic material resources. The ethics is also portrayed as both prototypical for those who belong to the Kingdom of Heaven (the Matthean community) and morally superior to ordinary ethics, which would have led its readers to a positive emotional evaluation of its injunctions. This, in turn, would have repressed negative emotions of danger, since humans tend to strive for uniform emotional responses. In a final section, Roitto discusses the potential social effects of the risky ethics of the Sermon and suggests that it had the potential to encourage the Matthean community to remain in socially risky interaction with other Jewish groups.

Chapter Contributors

  • Rikard Roitto ( - rikardroitto) 'Stockholm School of Theology, Sweden'