Did Jesus Meditate? Evidence from the Bible and Ancient Palestine

  • By: Ryan Kane
  • Updated: May 10, 2022
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Did Jesus meditate? In short, yes — but it depends on the definition of meditation used. Biblical records show Jesus spent much time in solitary prayer and contemplation. In addition, some Jewish teachers in the time of Jesus were beginning to adopt a more personal, mystical approach to religion.

There’s significant debate about whether Jesus meditated.

The record shows that Jesus certainly spent extended periods of time in solitary prayer and contemplation. There are also historical records that indicate that some Jewish teachers in the time of Jesus were beginning to adopt a more personal, mystical approach to religion.

Whether these facts support the idea that Jesus meditated largely depends on what definition of meditation is used.

In the article below, we’ll look at Biblical examples of meditation, examples of Jesus meditating, and different definitions of meditation.

We’ll also take a look at ancient Palestine for any evidence that other Jewish people of Jesus’s time meditated.

Did Jesus meditate?

Did Jesus Meditate Summarized
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While we can’t draw a direct parallel between today’s meditation techniques and what Jesus may have done, a couple of things are clear from the Biblical and historical record.

First, Jesus was shown in the Bible to frequently enter deep states of prayer, for long periods of time, alone and in quiet places. He spent this time in prayer, contemplation and reflection. Many of the characteristics of modern meditation are present, and there are even stronger parallels with Jewish meditation from the middle ages to today.

Second, the tradition of Jewish mysticism was beginning among certain religious teachers in Palestine during the time of Jesus. In these circles, the emphasis on personal, mystical religious experience was growing.

By the standards of Jewish meditation, it seems clear that Jesus’s solitary retreats into prayer would have qualified. By the standards of modern mindfulness meditation, there are differences.

Whether or not it makes sense to label Jesus’s frequent prayer, contemplation and reflection “meditation” is a question of what definition of meditation is being applied.

What was Biblical meditation?

First, it’s important to note that today, the language of meditation most commonly brings imagery of an Eastern spiritual context.

However, meditation is broader than a single practice or technique. There are also centuries of Christian, Jewish and Islamic meditative practices.

Meditation in the Bible would have looked more like modern-day Christian, Jewish, and Islamic meditation than secular or Eastern-style meditation.

In the Jewish Palestinian context Jesus would have lived in 2000 years ago, meditation would have likely been understood as a period of solitude, prayer, contemplation and reflection, with the goal of understanding the will of God.

However, there are also examples Jewish mysticism beginning to emerge in Jesus’s time, which may have had an increased focus on mystical practices in addition to promoting a greater closeness to God.

How did Jesus meditate in the Bible?

How did Jesus Meditate in the bible
Jesus often meditated and prayed for long periods of time in seclusion

When Jesus prayed, he often did so on his own in very secluded places for long periods of time.

The length, intensity and solitude of these sessions of prayer might be reasonably categorized as a form of meditation, contemplation and reflection.

“Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up and slipped out to a solitary place to pray.”

Mark 1:35

“After He had sent them away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.”

Matthew 14:23

Another example is when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his arrest and crucifixion. In this instance, Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake with him while he prayed:

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

Matthew 26:36

Jesus is also said to have gone into the desert to pray and fast for forty days and forty nights. While it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, an extended spiritual quest like this could likely put someone in a highly meditative and reflective state.

What does the Bible say about meditation?

The Bible contains multiple examples of meditation. The word meditation is most often used to convey the idea of “meditating on God” in some form.

In this case, reflection and prayer can be considered a type of meditation. This isn’t the same as modern mindfulness meditation, but there are similarities, including time alone for reflection and self-knowledge.

A few examples:

“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.”

Psalm 119:15

“I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search.”

Psalm 77:6

“May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.”

Psalm 104:34

Was meditation common in ancient Palestine?

Did people meditate in ancient palestine
Meditation is referenced often in the Bible, but in the context of “deep prayer and contemplation in solitude”

Meditation by the definition of “deep prayer and contemplation in solitude” was common in the Bible, going back thousands of years.

Jewish spiritual practices were also evolving around the time of Jesus, in mystical ways that went beyond prayer and into inner, personal, mystical experiences.

Starting in the 1st century CE, the origins of Jewish mysticism began to appear:

“As early as the 1st century CE and probably even before the destruction of the Second Temple, there were sages or teachers recognized by the religious community for whom meditation on the Scriptures—especially the creation narrative, the public revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the Merkava vision of Ezekiel, and the Song of Solomon—and reflection on the end of time, resurrection, and the afterlife were not only a matter of the exegesis of texts recognized to be of divine origin but also a matter of inner experience.”

Encyclopedia Britannica

Jewish mysticism, and mysticism in general, is a term that “applies to the attempt to establish direct contact, independently of sense perception and intellectual apprehension, with the divine—a reality beyond rational understanding and believed to be the ultimate ground of being.”

One of the most famous Jewish sages of that time, Rabbi Akiva, was born shortly after the time of Jesus, in 50 CE. According to the book Meditation and Kabbalah by Aryeh Kaplan, there are historical records indicating Rabbi Akiva experienced states similar to meditation.

We don’t know if Jesus would have been exposed to these practices during his time in Jerusalem and during his formative years.

However, he lived at a time where some Jewish leaders were beginning to incorporate mystical elements into their teachings.

What is Jewish meditation?

Jewish meditation
Jewish people praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Modern Jewish meditation has its early roots in first-century teachings like those described above, and was expanded significantly by the Jewish mystical practices present in the Kabbalah.

When defined based on Kabbalah traditions and modern-day Jewish practices, Jewish meditation is about giving direction to prayer, promoting a greater closeness to God, disciplining the mind, and bringing greater awareness to the mind.

According to BBC Religion’s overview of Jewish meditation, common goals are:

– heighten one’s understanding of the Torah

– develop an understanding of ritual and other religious observances

– give direction to prayer

– increase one’s awareness of others’ needs

– promoting a greater closeness to God

– disciplining the mind, so that one has greater ability to focus mentally

– bringing an awareness of those regions of the mind that had previously been ‘unconscious’

BBC

Yes, Jesus likely meditated

Yes, Jesus likely meditated — but it would’ve been different than today’s mindfulness meditation.

To recap:

  • The Bible references many instances of meditation going back centuries, but they are in the context of silent contemplation, prayer, and openness to God’s will
  • In Jesus’s time, mysticism was beginning to grow among certain Jewish leaders, leading to a more personal and spiritual interpretation of the religious experience
  • The Bible documents Jesus frequently going off for long sessions of contemplation and prayer in solitude
  • What Jesus was doing can be considered meditation, and may have even had mystical spiritual elements, but would have much more in common with today’s Christian contemplative prayer than with modern mindfulness meditation

Further exploration

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