The blind leading the blind

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This article is about the metaphor. For the painting by Pieter Bruegel based on the metaphor, see The Blind Leading the Blind.
The Blind Leading the Blind, Pieter van der Heyden after Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1561.

"The blind leading the blind" is a metaphor used in antiquity,[1] notably by Jesus in Matthew 15:13-14 and Luke 6:39-40 of the Holy Bible, as well as in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas (Saying 34).[2] A similar expression appears in Horace: Caecus caeco dux ("the blind leader of the blind").[3]

In Matthew, Jesus responds to a question about the Pharisees saying:

He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides [of the blind]. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."

— Matthew 15:13-14, New International Version

The use in Luke has a different context:

He also told them this parable: "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher."

— Luke 6:39-40, New International Version

A number of illustrations of the New Testament metaphor exist, the most famous being The Blind Leading the Blind by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Similar Metaphors[edit]

Metaphors of blind men leading other blind men can also be found in Indian religious traditions.

One occurs in the Upanishads:

Abiding in the midst of ignorance, thinking themselves wise and learned, fools go aimlessly hither and thither, like blind led by the blind.

Katha Upanishad [4]

Another usage can be found in the Buddhist Pali Canon:

Suppose there were a row of blind men, each holding on to the one in front of him: the first one doesn't see, the middle one doesn't see, the last one doesn't see. In the same way, the statement of the brahmans turns out to be a row of blind men, as it were: the first one doesn't see, the middle one doesn't see, the last one doesn't see.

— Canki Sutta (MN 95)[5]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, Eerdmans, 1997, ISBN 0-8028-2315-7, p. 278.
  2. ^ Gospel of Thomas: Lamb translation and Patterson/Meyer translation.
  3. ^ Sullivan, Margaret A. (September 1991). "Bruegel's Proverbs: Art and Audience in the Northern Renaissance". The Art Bulletin (College Art Association) 73 (3): 431–466, 463. doi:10.2307/3045815. JSTOR 3045815. 
  4. ^ Juan Mascaró (tr), The Upanishads, Penguin Classics, 1965, ISBN 0-14-044163-8, p. 58.
  5. ^ Canki Sutta (Majjhima Nikaya 95), translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu