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Did Jesus teach his disciples to hate their parents?

Some claim that Jesus taught his disciples to hate their mother and father. If true, that would obviously make Jesus to be an immoral and unethical teacher, immoral, since one of the Commandments is to honor one's mother and father. Understanding the Jewish background to Jesus' teaching puts an entirely different light on his words.

Jesus' statements in question are:

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:34-37

and

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26

There are four things that show the real meaning of Jesus' statements:

1. These sayings of Jesus reflect a common Jewish understanding of the day.

Jewish understanding was that the messianic era would be preceded by a time of disharmony in family and social relationships. By these sayings, Jesus was announcing the messianic age and his own messiahship.

In fact, Jesus was quoting from the Jewish prophet Micah who spoke of the messianic age in these terms:

Do not trust a neighbor; put no confidence in a friend. Even with her who lies in your embrace be careful of your words. For a son dishonors his father, a daughter rises up against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies are the members of his own household.

Micah 7:5-6

Micah had been speaking of judgment that was to come upon Judah because of her corruption and moral failure. This judgment, Micah previously said, would take the form of a siege by an outside enemy. In this context, social relationships would fall apart and even close relatives would no longer trust one another. This social deterioration would be the end result of Judah's immorality and sin. In Second Temple and rabbinic Jewish literature, this same passage and similar descriptions characterize the final "day of the Lord." See Jewish Quotes below for citations.

Beth Moshe claims that in Micah, "the situation is seen properly as evil and not desirable....Jesus, in contrast, says a sword and dissension are his goals." (Judaism's Truth Answers the Missionaries (New York: Bloch Publishing, 1987), p. 203.) But this fails to recognize the background to Jesus' words in Jewish literature. Jesus is not encouraging hate. Rather, he is saying that social networks will be torn apart because of his words and actions--as the end results of the people's sin, not because his goal is dissension.

So then, in much Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period, the Kingdom of God is preceded by a time of dissension such as Micah portrays. The implication of Jesus' words is that he is about to bring in the Kingdom of God, accompanied by this breakup of personal relationships. This happens not because it was Jesus' goal, but because when the Kingdom comes, sin stands out in sharp relief.

2. Jesus in fact reiterated the commandment to honor one's mother and father.

Jesus affirmed the commandment to honor parents in word and action:

For God said, "Honor your father and mother," and "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death."

But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, "Whatever help you might otherwise have received form me is a gift devoted to God," he is not to "honor his father" with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition."

Matthew 15:4-6

"If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired." Jesus replied, "Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself."

Matthew 19:17-19

For Moses said, "Honor your father and your mother," and "Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death." But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: "Whatever help you might otherwise have received form me is Corban (that is, a gift devoted to God)," then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.

Mark 7:10-13

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to this mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

John 19:25-27

F. F. Bruce, late Rylands Professor of biblical criticism and exegesis, University of Manchester, England, remarked:

Jesus himself censured those theologians who argued that people who had vowed to give God a sum of money which they later discovered could have been used to help their parents in need were not free to divert the money from the religious purposes to which it had been vowed in order to meet a parental need. This, he said, was a violation of the commandment to honour one's father and mother (Mark 7:9-13).

The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), pp. 119-20.

3. Jesus' saying not only announced the messianic age but was a reminder that loyalty to God takes precedence over loyalty to family when the two come in conflict.

This principle is found in both the Hebrew Scriptures and in rabbinic writings.

In The Hebrew Scriptures we find the story of Moses and the tribe of Levi. Levi was the tribe from whom came the priests who taught the Law and led in worship. Moses praises this tribe using language that reminds us of Jesus' statements about family:

"He said of his father and mother, 'I have no regard for them.' He did not recognize his brothers or acknowledge his own children, but he watched over your word and guarded your covenant. He teaches your precepts to Jacob and your law to Israel. He offers incense before you and whole burnt offerings on your altar. Bless all his skills, O LORD, and be pleased with the work of his hands. Smite the loins of those who rise up against him; strike his foes till they rise no more".

Deuteronomy 33:9-11

Moses is not saying that the Levites had no concern for their own parents, nor that they literally failed to recognize their siblings. Honor for parents was part of the Law. Yet family bonds did not take precedence over God's requirements. So Moses praises the tribe in hyperbolic terms. The truth is that it takes mature love rather than hatred to show honor to one's mother and father yet to give precedence to God's requirements.

Samuel Tobias Lachs, Professor of History of Religion at Bryn Mawr College, remarked concerning Matthew 10:37. Interestingly, here we see an example of a case from the Talmud where a teacher takes precedence over a father.

On the greater duty to serve the teacher over a parent, note: "If a man went to seek his own lost property and that of his father, his own has priority; if his own and that of his teacher, his own has priority; if that of his father and that of his teacher, his teacher's has priority, for his father brought him into this world, but his teacher, who has taught him wisdom, brings him into the world-to-come."

A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Hoboken: Ktav; New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1987), p. 188, citing Mishnah Baba Metzia 2:11.

4. The word "hate" in the Bible is often used to express priority and preference rather than emotional hatred.

For example, in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 the word refers to a preference rather than an emotional hatred. The same is true of Malachi 1:2-3.

If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love [literally, the hated wife], when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father's strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

Deuteronomy 21:15-17

"I have loved you," says the LORD. "But you ask, 'How have you loved us?' "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" the LORD says. "Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his mountains into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals."

Malachi 1:2-3

In addition, the same sense of "hate" occurs in rabbinic literature such as Exodus Rabbah 51:8. See the supporting statements below.

Supporting Statements

Second Temple and rabbinic sayings concerning family strife in the messianic age.

First Enoch 56:7 (in regard to Israel's enemies; ca. 2nd-1st c. BCE)

And they shall begin to fight among themselves; and (by) their own right hands they shall prevail against themselves. A man shall not recognize his brother, nor a son his mother, until there shall be a (significant) number of corpses from among them. Their punishment is (indeed) not in vain.

First Enoch 100:1-2 (in regard to unspecified "sinners"; ca 2nd c. BCE)

(1) In those days, the father will be beaten together with his sons, in one place; and brothers shall fall together with their friends, in death, until a stream shall flow with their blood. (2) For a man shall not be able to withhold his hands from his sons nor from (his) sons' sons in order to fill them. Nor is it possible for the sinner to withhold his hands from his honored brother. From dawn until the sun sets, they shall slay each other.

Jubilees 23:19 (in regard to a sinful generation among Jewish people; ca. 2nd c. BCE)

Some of these will strive with others, youths with old men and old men with youths, the poor with the rich, the lowly with the great, and the beggar with the judge concerning the Law and the Covenant because they have forgotten the commandments and covenant and festivals and months and sabbaths and jubilees and all of the judgments.

Fourth Ezra 6:24 (in regard to "the end of the age"; ca. 1st-2nd c. CE)

At that time friends shall make war on friends like enemies, and the earth and those who inhabit it shall be terrified, and the springs of the fountains shall stand still, so that for three hours they shall not flow.

Commentator Max Margolis on Micah 7:6 (20th c.)

In the Mishnah (Sotah ix.15) our verse is embodied in a passage descriptive of the conditions which are to obtain in the period immediately preceding the advent of the Messiah (comp. also Matthew x. 35f.; Luke xii.53). Similar thoughts and phraseology occur in the apocalyptic writings (Baruch lxx.3 ff.; IV Ezra v.9; vi.24; Enoch ii) and in the Midrashim (Sifre on Deut. xxxii.36; Pesikta rabbeti, p.4b: 75a, and elsewhere; Derek eres zutta, ch. x; Cant. rabba, ch. ii; comp. also Sanhedrin 97a ff.). The idea underlying these expectations is that evil must have run its course before the good can come. The hope in the triumphant advent of the Kingdom of God is intensified by the very contemplation of the evil as it exists. When the moral corruption is greatest, salvation is surest; or, as the rabbis says, "out of distress cometh relief" (Midrash Shoher Tob on Ps. xxii; Jer. xxx.7 is appositely quoted).

--Margolis, Max L. The Holy Scriptures with Commentary: Micah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1908).

Samuel Tobias Lachs, Professor of History of Religion at Bryn Mawr College, on Matthew 10:21:

Family problems were to be characteristic of the Last Days. . . .It is a very common motif in the apocalyptic literature. E.g., "In that generation the sons will convict their fathers and their elders of sin and unrighteousness . . . and they will strive one with another, the young with the old, the old with the young." "And they shall hate one another, and provoke one another to fight, and the mean shall rule over the honorable, and those of low degree shall be extolled above the famous."

--A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Hoboken: Ktav; New York: Anti-Defamation League, 1987), p. 183, citing Jubilees 23:19 and 2 Baruch 70:3.

Lachs on Matthew 10:34:

The spirit of this deterioration of family relationships is reflected in rabbinic treatment of Micah 7:6, where it is explained as prelude to the messianic coming: "With the footprints of the Messiah presumption shall increase and death reach its height . . . children shall shame the elders and the elders shall rise up before the children, for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, a man's enemies are the men of his own house. The face of this generation is as the face of a dog, and the son will not be put to shame by his father." Similarly, "And in that generation the sons will convict their fathers and their elders of sin and unrighteousness . . . and they will strive with one another, the young with the old and the old with the young."

--Ibid., p. 186


Craig Keener, Professor of New Testament, Hood Theological Seminary, on Matthew 10:35-36:

The context of Micah 7:6, cited here, describes the awful evils in the land and the untrustworthiness of even the closest relatives and friends that would continue until the Lord would come to vindicate those who hoped in him. Given the belief held by many Jewish people that a time of sufferings would preceded the end, the disciples would probably have understood this saying as suggesting that they were already experiencing the sufferings of that time.

--The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p. 75.

The word "hate" in the Bible and Rabbinic Literature

F. F. Bruce, late Rylands Professor of biblical criticism and exegesis, University of Manchester, England:

We know that in biblical idiom to hate can mean to love less. When, for example, regulations are laid down in the Old Testament law for a man who has two wives, "one beloved and the other hated" (Deut. 21:15), it is not necessary to suppose that he positively hates the latter wife; all that need be meant is that he loves her less than the other and must be prevented from showing favouritism to the other's son when he allocates his property among his heirs. The RSV indicates that positive hatred is not intended by speaking of the one wife as "the loved" and the other as "the disliked," but the Hebrew word used is that which regularly means "hated," and it is so rendered in the AV.

That hating in this saying of Jesus means loving less is shown by the parallel saying in Matthew 10:37: "He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." In Matthew's Gospel these words are followed by the saying about taking up the cross and following Jesus: the implication of this sequence is that giving one's family second place to the kingdom of God is one way of taking up the cross."

--The Hard Sayings of Jesus (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 120.

Exodus Rabbah 51:8

By three names is this mount known: The mountain of God, 'Mount Horeb' and Mount Sinai. . . .Why 'The mountain of God'? (Exod. 18:5). Because it was there that God manifested His Godhead. And Sinai? Because [it was on that mount] that God showed that He hates (sane) the angels and loves mankind.

In Hebrew there is a play on words between Sinai and the word for "hate" which is sane'. The footnote in the Soncino edition explains the saying that God hates the angels and loves mankind: "By giving them His Torah, though the angels desired it.--'Hates' is not meant literally, but simply implies that He showed greater love for man."

--Soncino Exodus Rabbah, p. 571.

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Colman M. Mockler Distinguished Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts:

But these antonyms, ahavah ("love") and sin'ah ("hate"), are also used with a special flavor in Deuteronomy 21:15-17 as meaning the loved one and the hated, that is, the less-loved one. In Greek, the same Semitisms are carried over in the antonymic use of agapan/misein with the same special flavor in Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13 "where, in dependence on Dt. 21:15-17 and Ex. r., 51(104) [footnote--on Ex. 38:21 'Why is the mount of the Law called Sinai? Because God disregarded (sane') the lofty and loved (ahav) the lowly'] they mean 'to prefer' ('to be faithful to') and 'to slight' ('to despise'). We have here a Hebraism, as in the requirement for discipleship." This last reference is to the two parallel lists of requirements for discipleship; Matthew 10:37 uses the formula ho philon huper eme, "He who loves . . . more than me," while Luke 14:26 simply parallels it by saying kai ou misei "If any one comes to me and does not hate. . . "

The reference to Esau, father, mother, wife, children, brothers, or sisters is not one of psychological hatred, but one of preference, temporary disregard for higher purposes, and exclusive separation.

In the case of Jacob and Esau, the love of God signaled an election and call for service ("To be a blessing to all the nations") that had not come to Esau. But Esau was not hated as God held evil in contempt, for Esau was the object of deliverance in the end times in Amos 9:12 and Obadiah 19-21.

--Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan, 1983), p. 252. The original Hebrew and Greek fonts were transliterated for the web.

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-2 # klondikeone 2013-08-11 17:15
In Luke 14:26 the word hate is in the Greek dictionary as mimetis, which means to love less. You are to love less your father, mother, sister and brother and even yourself. You are to love God more than anything.
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-2 # Nick 2012-11-22 05:10
He never says to hate your family but to love your enemies, love your neighbor as yourself, and if you hate someone its as if you murdered them. He never said to hate anyone. Just dont love them more than you love God. And live to please God and not your parents or people. Now God and the devil can speak to you through people and also straight to you, but it is up to you to figure out weather its God or not and submit to God no matter what. When you submit to God the devil will flee from you
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0 # ken mock 2012-06-10 14:19
this statement also appears in Thomas (logia #55....however in the context of Thomas, father and mother metaphorically represent culture....logia #4; the old man will not hesitate to ask a seven-day-old baby....the old man represents cultural meme contamination (family, church....etc)....th e baby represents uncontaminated truth......
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-2 # Aldo 2011-06-20 00:03
“Jesus has taught hatred by saying that a Christian should hate his father and mother?” Luke 14:26 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” This is called “hyperbole” – a statement of extremes, contrasting Love with Hate for emphasis’ sake. The Bible often does this (proverbs 1324, 29:24) Jesus tells us that the first and greatest Commandment is to Love God with all our heart soul and mind (Matthew 22:37-38). As much as we treasure our spouse and family, and even our own life, there should be no one whom we love and value more than God, no one who takes precedence in our life. To place love for another (including ourselves) above God is Idolatry. Yours in Christ Aldo Melchizedek Lombardi
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+2 # Ian 2007-03-01 15:47
The Baptist Church can't have it both ways- either the context of phrases is important or it is not: if it is not important then there is no way to justify Luke 14:26; if it is important, then it cannot quote Jewish scriptures out of context. The Baptist Church, which funds Jews for Jesus, needs to stop preying on unobservant Jews and focus on its own flock.
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0 # Jesse 2012-11-05 00:43
I'm not a Baptist, but from the Baptists I know, context is important to them. Where have they quoted Jewish Scriptures out of context? If you are going to make an accusation, you need to have evidence. Also,no one is "preying on unobservant Jews". Jews For Jesus is simply sharing God's Word and proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. JFJ is simply folllowing Jesus post-Resurrection commandment to "go into all the world and preach the gospel", that the world may believe on Him and be saved. This is not about getting someone to join a church or to adopt a religion. This is about the gospel, how from the beginning, all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, but if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
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0 # melissa 2006-06-06 14:01
Mordecahi - Every time I read your posts, I just shake my head, and think "willingly ignorant". God have mercy on you. Why do you even come here, if what is presented here is so, in your opinion, wrong? You're reasons are obvious to those of us with spiritual eyes, you have been found out. But, praise God, the Holy Spirit is bigger than you, and He can get through to those who are earnestly seeking. You'll get your reward in due time.
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+1 # Mordechai 2006-05-31 22:18
Malvina: You are saying that Jesus' family thought him nuts because he wasn't eating due to the crowd that followed him into a house? Were Jesus' family Italian? Were they so overprotective of their thirty-something-yea r-old Jesus that they had to make sure he ate? It seems that lack of eating wasn't the kicker because Jesus then asked who his mother and brothers were. He gave a very nice answer, but seemed to forget to tell his mother that he was ok. Good honour to his mother, right?
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-2 # Malvina 2006-05-30 20:33
Josh, How awesome it is of GOD to include Mark 3:21 in the Bible! Why would He do that? I think He did that to show us that Jesus worked so hard to accomplish His mission before His death that He didn't even take time to eat, and because He wasn't eating, His own people (family) thought He was "out of His mind". You should read before and after Mark 3:21. I also recommend any commentaries on the Bible...they will help you understand better the content of each verse.
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+1 # Josh 2006-05-04 11:41
So Jesus said we should love our enemies but hate our family? Maybe Abraham's family though him to be nuts, but Jesus is actually recorded as being accused of being nuts (Mark 3:21).
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0 # Malvina 2006-04-29 21:45
Josh, Jesus said to love our enemies. If you can love your enemy then you definitely can love your family even through the disagreements of faith. Don't forget what Abraham did in order to follow God. He left his family. I'm sure they thought he was nuts.
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0 # Josh 2006-04-26 21:24
Doesn't the old testament, or torah, say one should love one's neighbor like oneself? So one should love a friend, and all the more so should one love one's relative. If what you say is true, Jesus would be saying to love God so much that by comparison we hate our relatives, and yet we should still love another jew. Could this possibly make any sense?
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0 # Mike 2006-04-20 10:21
Being a disciple of true teachings means that you are willing to disown oneself, adhere to what you find as truth, even if it means going against the grain of family. Sometimes doing the right thing is just that difficult, but you must make a stand for what you believe. Jesus sayings here, to "Hate your father and mother" and "yourself" means that you put all other ties behind (if necessary) when we decide to do the will of God.
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+1 # Joshua 2006-03-26 21:36
Instead of reading bits and pieces, read the gospels each in one setting to understand what y'shua was all about. As for this quote, this is what it means: v49 y'shua comes to bring a fire to the earth, but he wishes it were already kindled because v50 he will be under stress until it is completed (his death and resurrection, "baptism") v51 however, this won't bring peace, but division, because v52-53 from now on households will be divided (over exactly what we are arguing about now!) So he is not saying he can't wait for division and fire, he is saying he can't wait for his death and resurrection to be completed, although his death and resurrection will cause division (v50 is a critical verse).
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0 # Josh 2006-03-16 22:59
Mordechai, i find it interesting that rich was so quick to dis your post, but offered no answer to your "final 2 1/4 lines" question even months afterwards. has anyone given you an answer to your question?
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-1 # Mordechai 2006-01-29 15:17
I retract my previous post on the grounds that I did not understand the article well enough when I first read it. However, I do not retract the final 2 1/4 lines because this does imply imminent war, as Luke 12:52 quotes Jesus as saying "from now on", and not in the future, and in an earlier verse (49) Jesus expresses his disappointment that the Earth is not kindled already. This does not sound like what a man of G-D should say, so I seek clarification.
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0 # Rich 2006-01-16 09:11
Did you actually read this page before you posted your comment?
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-1 # Mordechai 2006-01-15 12:26
Micah 7:5-6 was misquoted. Micah was not giving a prophecy at all. This statement was actually right between two prophecies. Micah was bemoaning the situation during his lifetime, and telling the Jews that all their noblemen are unjust, so ultimately everyone will trun against even their own family. Micah 7:7 and 7:8 are the beginning of the response to all you misquoters of the Torah. "...not because his goal was dissention"??? Luke 12:51 clearly states his goal to bring division, three-vs.-two and two-vs.-three.
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-1 # Candace 2005-10-02 16:34
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters--yes, even his own life--he cannot be my disciple. Jesus is saying that the love for your family must LOOK LIKE hate compared to the love you have for him. So you have to love him A LOT!
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0 # Susan 2005-07-26 22:23
Interesting parallels are made here between Jesus and the Levi priesthood/Micah. There are many references in the Tanakh (OT) which suggest love of God over love for family (Binding of Isaac etc.). Clearly Jesus being Jewish is showing that he is familar with the religious writings. Next line in Micah 7:7: "But as for me, I will look to the LORD,I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me.".
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