Saturday, December 19, 2015

Another Famous Quote that Never Happened

Growing up Lutheran as I did, I remember hearing the Pastor quote us a saying from the Saintly Doctor Luther:

"Even if I knew the World would end tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today."

It's a delightfully optimistic quote. 

Only problem is, it totally never came out of the mouth of Martin Luther.

There are a number of wonderful and charming quotes that are "widely attributed" to famous people that have no true source text you can find or quote.

For instance, Saint Augustine is widely quoted as having said, but never did really say:

"He who sings prays twice."

"We are Easter People and Alleluia is our Song."

Delightful thoughts. It's sad the people who created these lines didn't just release them as original works and let them soar. But St. Augustine never said them.

What's particularly surprising about the erroneous Martin Luther quote is that the oldest reference to it comes from a bulletin of the Hessian Church in 1944! In other words, it's not just erroneous, it's surprising recent in creation. The man who would have first told me this quote was born before the first appearance of this claim!

Nevertheless, the sentiment expressed in this "Luther Quote" is quite ancient. And the original quote deserves therefore to be spread far and wide. And that's why I publish this post.

In the Avot of Rabbi Nathan (31b), Yohanan ben Zakkai is quoted as having said:

אִם הָיְתָה נְטִיעָה בְּתוֹךְ יָדָךְ וְיֹאמְרוּ לָּךְ "הֲרֵי לָךְ הַמָּשִׁיחַ", בּוֹא וּנְטַע אֶת הַנְטִיעָה וְאַחַר כָּךְ צֵא וְהַקְבִּילוֹ.
"If you are holding a sapling in your hand and someone tells you, 'Come quickly, the Messiah is here', first finish planting the tree and then go to greet the Messiah."

In other words, live in the moment and work to prosper this moment and tomorrow, no matter what you think tomorrow will bring.