The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity – By Adele Reinhartz

Adele Reinhartz June 24, 2014 29

How should one translate the Greek term ioudaios?

As a young girl in 1950s and 60s Toronto, I attended the Workmen’s Circle Peretz School (Arbeter Ring Peretz Shul) each day after public school. Most of my classmates were like me: children of Holocaust survivors from Poland affiliated with the secular socialist movement called the Jewish Labor Bund. The Bund valued Yiddish over Hebrew, the Diaspora over Israel, and culture over religion. At the Peretz Shul, we did not study Mishnah or Talmud, or the prayerbook. Instead, we learned Yiddish, read the works of the great Yiddish authors, and sang songs from the Yiddish theater. We also studied Jewish history, from the Babylonian exile in 586 BCE through the Maccabean revolt; the revolts against Rome; the Golden Age in Spain; the Inquisition and expulsion; the pogroms, blood libels, and ghettoes of Europe and Russia; the creation of the State of Israel, and Jewish life in North America.

In our corner of the Jewish community, Jews did not attend synagogue, even on the High Holidays, nor did we fast on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) or refrain from bread on Passover. We had our own rituals and traditions, our secular seders commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, our Sunday evening gatherings to eat, sing, and argue about politics. We had a strong Jewish identity rooted not only — and not primarily — in the Holocaust but in the rich secular Yiddish culture in which our parents had been raised. Only at the age of 11, when we moved “up north,” did I meet Jewish children with Canadian-born parents. Only then did I learn that synagogue life had not died with the East European shtetl but was alive and well in suburban Toronto. And only then did I understand that there were different ways of being Jewish, and that some of these even included religion.

The complexity and diversity of Jewish identity was a major feature of the Pew Research Center report on American Judaism released in October 2013. The report revealed that 22% of the participants in the Pew Survey of Jewish Americans claim to have “no religion” and that the majority of respondents do not see religion as the primary constituent of Jewish identity. Fully 62% ground Jewish identity primarily in ancestry and culture, only 15% in religion. Among Jews who gave Judaism as their religion, 55% based Jewish identity on ancestry and culture, while 66% did not view belief in God as an essential component.

The Pew survey sparked heated debate throughout the Jewish world, about intermarriage, assimilation, Jewish education, Israel, synagogue attendance, and numerous other aspects of Jewish identity. Jewish navel-gazing is hardly a new or novel activity. But it may be surprising to learn that the question of Jewish identity also generates considerable heat in the Ivory Tower, especially, in recent years, among scholars of early Judaism and Christianity.

At stake for these scholars is not so much the question of “who is a Jew” — a preoccupation of many Jewish communal organizations — but whether there were any Jews at all, anywhere, prior to the third or fourth centuries CE. This issue may puzzle those who view the Essenes, Sadducees, Judah the Maccabee, Judith of Bethulia, and Jesus of Nazareth as Jews. Nevertheless, at this very moment, at computers across the English-speaking world, there are professors and graduate students tapping out books, articles, and blog posts in which the word “Jew” never appears as a designation for Josephus, Philo, Paul, the Pharisees, or other formerly Jewish denizens of antiquity.

I am alarmed by the growing invisibility of Jews and Judaism in English translations of ancient texts and scholarship about them.

From a scholarly perspective, the underlying question is specific and technical: how should one translate the Greek term ioudaios? Until recently, the answer, for most, was straightforward: ioudaios/ioudaioi should be translated into English as “Jew/Jews.” Increasingly, however, these ancient Jews are being replaced by “Judeans.” We can trace this trend back to a small number of widely-read publications that have appeared in the last ten to fifteen years, the most cited of which is Steve Mason’s 2007 article, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History.” Mason and others argue that “Judean” is both a more precise and a more ethical translation of ioudaios than is “Jew ”: more precise because it corresponds more closely to the complex meaning of ioudaios in ancient Greek sources, and more ethical because it counteracts the anti-Semitism that historically has been associated with some of these Greek texts, most notably the New Testament.

I am all for historical precision and sharply attuned to potential anti-Semitism. Yet as a scholar and a Jew, I am alarmed by the growing invisibility of Jews and Judaism in English translations of ancient texts and scholarship about them. The use of “Judeans” to translate all occurrences of ioudaioi achieves neither the scholarly precision nor the ethical high ground that scholars claim. On the contrary, the proliferation of Judeans inadvertently creates confusion and misunderstanding and merely sidesteps the issue without addressing the anti-Jewish or even anti-Semitic potential of texts such as the Gospel of John.

Ecce Homo – Image via Wikimedia Commons

Ecce Homo – Image via Wikimedia Commons

Steve Mason, the general editor of Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, makes the argument for precision most forcefully. Ioudaios/ioudaioi, he argues, was initially a geographical term, referring to people of the region of Judea. But by the first century the ioudaioi are no longer merely the residents of a certain geographic area: they are members of an ethnic-political entity. Although they share a set of ancestral traditions and customs involving priests, temple, and sacrifices, as well as a number of foundational narratives (included in the Bible), the ioudaioi did not constitute a religious community because religion did not yet exist as a concept and as a type of institution. For this reason, Mason urges us to overcome our tendency to view Judean as a primarily geographical designation and use it consistently as the translation for ioudaios in Josephus, in the Gospel of John, and, indeed, in all ancient sources: “Just as ‘Roman,’ ‘Egyptian,’ and ‘Greek’ (etc.) had a wide range of associations beyond the geographical … so too ‘Judaean’ should be allowed to shoulder its burden as an ethnic term full of complex possibilities.”

Mason clearly feels strongly that Judean is the best translation of ioudaios, and he has followed through consistently in his translations of Josephus and in his other scholarly work. Nowhere, however, does he explain directly why Jew is incorrect. He does comment that the English word Jew, although etymologically derived from ioudaios, does not sound like ioudaios (presumably because of the absence of “d”) and therefore disrupts the relationship with the land that is inherent in the term Judean. It seems Mason is trying to have it both ways: discounting Jew because it does not evoke the geographical meaning of Judean, while urging that Judean takes on a meaning that goes far beyond geography.

One suspects, however, that the real problem with the descriptor Jew is its supposed religious meaning. If religion did not exist prior to the third or fourth centuries CE, then Judaism did not exist, and neither did adherents to the religion of Judaism, that is, Jews.

Mason is surely correct that ioudaios was a complex term that carried ethnic, political, cultic, and many other dimensions, even if the jury is still out on the existence or non-existence of religion in antiquity (see Shaye Cohen, Cynthia Baker, Seth Schwartz, and Daniel R. Schwartz, who have more nuanced positions on the matter). But why broaden the referent of Judean from its primary geographical meaning when there is a perfectly good English word — Jew — ready to hand? As the Pew Report and many previous surveys and sociological studies have shown, Jewish identity includes the same elements — including ethnic, political, cultural, genealogical, and, yes, geographical — that, in Mason’s view, are conveyed by the Greek terminology. To define Jew solely or even primarily in religious terms is simply wrong. Further, erasing Jews from Jewish antiquity, while presumably solving one historical problem, creates another historical dilemma: how to account for the sudden appearance of Jews in late antiquity as a fully-formed ethnic and religious group that saw itself — and was seen by others — as continuous with the ioudaioi of the Greco-Roman era? Scholars of the Greco-Roman period may not feel called upon to answer such questions, but the dilemma cannot be ignored.

And yet, the trend to adopt Judean as the default translation of ioudaios is increasing. Many now use the term without any comment, or with merely a footnote citing Mason’s 2007 article. Ironically, the widespread usage, intended to be more precise, often introduces vagueness, ambiguity, and even confusion. To describe Josephus as a Judean historian, or the revolt of 66-74 as the Judean war, strikes me as excessively narrow given their broad importance for Jewish history. We could perhaps excuse this usage, given that Josephus lived for the most part in Judea and the first Jewish revolt against Rome was centered in Judea. But on what grounds is Philo of Alexandria a Judean philosopher? How did the Hebrew Bible become the Judean Scriptures and Judaism the Judean religion? And why, pace Mason, refer to Josephus’s grand history of the Jews as “The Judean Antiquities” when the narrative covers far more geographical and chronological ground?

Frederick Danker’s brief lexical note on the term ioudaios in the third edition of the classic reference work, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, articulates the most succinct ethical argument in favor of using the term Judean. Danker commented:

Incalculable harm has been caused by simply glossing Ioudaios with ‘Jew,’ for many readers or auditors of Bible translations do not practice the historical judgment necessary to distinguish between circumstances and events of an ancient time and contemporary ethnic-religious-social realities, with the result that anti-Judaism in the modern sense of the term is needlessly fostered through biblical texts.

The ethical consideration is most directly relevant to the Gospel of John. The term ioudaios/ioudaioi appears approximately seventy times in the Gospel of John, far more than in the other three Gospels combined. Despite some neutral or even positive occurrences, the ioudaioi figure most prominently as the opponents of Jesus, whose lying and murderous conspiracy to have him crucified demonstrates that they are children of the devil (John 8:44). The seventy-fold repetition of the term does not allow readers to ignore or make light of this hostile portrayal; the potent association between the ioudaioi and the devil remains deeply embedded in anti-Semitic discourse to this day.

In theory, of course, one could cut the problem out at its root by revising the original Greek. Such revision — though for the purposes of supporting rather than eliminating anti-Semitism — was undertaken by pro-Nazi German theologians in 1936. This revision omitted references to Moses and the prophets, as well as to all Hebrew place names and Jewish inhabitants of the Galilee, but retained references to the Jews’ culpability for Jesus’ death. Revision is hardly a viable option, however, for those who respect the integrity of the text and its canonical status. While some translate ioudaioi according to its context within the Gospel of John (see, for example, the New Living Translation), others replace some or most instances of Jews with Judeans.

Already in 1976 in an article in Novum Testamentum, Malcolm Lowe argued that rendering ioudaios/ioudaioi as “Jew/Jews” is not only wrong but pernicious: “As long as the mistranslation continues, generations will continue to read that ‘the Jews’ had Jesus killed and (by combining this with Mt xxvii 25) to infer that they declared themselves and their descendants responsible. Thus this philological error … has provided, in practically all modern translations of the gospels, a constant excuse for anti-Semitism whose further existence cannot be permitted.” In 2007, Philip F. Esler went further — in “From IOUDAIOI to Children of God” — to argue that the Gospel of John’s supposed role in Christian anti-Semitism is due to the mistaken assumption that “there is a persistence of identity between the ioudaioi of John’s time and the Jews of ours.”

Why not embrace a translation that has the Judeans, rather than the Jews, as the architects of the plot to kill Jesus and his followers (cf. John 16:1-4)? For one thing, there is no evidence that using Judeans instead of Jews deflects attention from Jews as guilty of Jesus’s death. Jews do not have to be present, physically or linguistically, in order for anti-Judaism to exist.

More important, however, eliminating the Jews lets the Gospel of John off the hook for its role in the history of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Whether or not centuries of readers and hearers were mistaken to associate John’s ioudaioi with the Jews of their time, as Esler asserts, the fact remains that John’s hostile portrayal of the ioudaioi did contribute to anti-Semitism, most obviously through the image of Jews as the devil.

Anti-Semitism cannot be eradicated simply by replacing Jew with some other term.

To be sure, translating ioudaioi as Jews risks perpetuating the rhetorical hostility of the Gospel itself. But to use Judean instead of Jew whitewashes the Gospel of John and relieves us of the difficult but necessary task of grappling with this gospel in a meaningful way. As Amy-Jill Levine notes: “The Jew is replaced with the Judean, and thus we have a Judenrein (‘Jew free’) text, a text purified of Jews … So much for the elimination of anti-Semitism by means of changing vocabulary.” Continuing to use Jews as a translation of ioudaioi allows readers to see the link between the Jews that are vilified in the Fourth Gospel, and those who fell victim to anti-Semitism that arose out of long habits of vilification.

Mine is no lone voice crying in the wilderness. Others (like Ruth Sheridan in JBL last year) too have called for the restoration of the Jews to the Gospel of John, and to the study of antiquity more generally. Choosing Jew over Judean does not posit a complete overlap between ancient and contemporary Jewish identities, only that both are complex and may or may not include religious beliefs and practices. Nor does this choice ignore the possibility that reading or hearing that Jews killed Christ in the first century risks reinforcing anti-Semitic attitudes and behaviors in the twenty-first century. But just as anti-Semitism is not created by the mere usage of Jew in a particular text, so can it not be eradicated simply by replacing Jew with some other term.

Those who propose to turn all ioudaioi into Judeans claim that Judeans is both a more precise and a more ethical translation. I argue the opposite. The term Jew is more precise because it signals the complex type of identity that the ancient sources associate with the Greek term ioudaios and also because it allows Judean to retain its primary meaning as a geographical designation, so useful when discussing, say, the inhabitants or topography of Judea. The term is more ethical because it acknowledges the Jewish connection to this period of history and these ancient texts, and also because it opens up the possibility, indeed the necessity, of confronting the role of the New Testament in the history of anti-Semitism.

Let us restore Judean to its primary geographical meaning, as pertaining to the region of Judea and its residents. Political designations such as the Judean People’s Front, the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean Popular People’s Front, or the Popular Front of Judea would also be appropriate, as per one authoritative source (see Monty Python’s Life of Brian). Let us not make the mistake of defining Jews only in religious terms. Let us rather understand the term Jew as a complex identity marker that encompasses ethnic, political, cultural, genealogical, religious and other elements in proportions that vary among eras, regions of the world, and individuals. Let us not rupture the vital connection — the persistence of identity — between ancient and modern Jews. And let those who nevertheless elect to (mis)use Judean to translate all occurrences of ioudaios justify their usage beyond merely footnoting others who have done so.

See the home page of the Forum this essay prompted and download the e-book in epub format (most readers) or in mobi format (Amazon Kindle).

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  • Anthony Le Donne

    Prof. Reinhartz, this is fascinating and compelling. Thank you.

    -anthony le donne

  • Elli Fischer

    Of course, the Hebrew “Yehudi” retains the sense of both “Jew” and “Judean”

    • Jacob L. Wright

      Precisely Elli. This is a problem that exists only in translations.

      • Sadly, it’s the translation which ends up becoming a political tool. Language creates–and destroys–worlds.

  • Hello Adele. Thanks for this. I tend to think that modern ethical or moral issues of any kind should not get in the way of precision in doing history and in developing useful scholarly categories for previous historical periods. I hadn’t realized that Steve Mason had an “ethical” argument for using “Judean” to translate Ioudaios, which in antiquity did precisely have to do with the region of Judea (I see that you mention that Danker does put forward ethical reasons, though). The point is that the use of “Jew” in studying, say, the first two centuries, would, to most modern ears, miss much of what an ancient author was getting at when using the term Ioudaios (IMHO): namely, the customs, beliefs and practices of a particular ethnic group originating in a particular geographical region of Judea or in regions often enveloped within what people called “Judea”. Instead, to many modern ears (though not yours and mine, I would guess), the term “Jew” used of ancient persons would bring to mind a _religious_ category. In other words a contrast between “Jews” and “Christians” for example would make a modern person think of “religion”. It is true that worship of the Judean God would be part of what the ancient hearer would think of, but not the principle thing, I would suggest. The geographical sense would be important too. That seems to be the reason that many historians adopt “Judean”: namely, to insist to the modern ear (and especially undergraduate students who tend to not think critically about what they would call ancient “religion”) that there is something much more than “religion” in mind and that one needs to pay special attention to the geographic, ethnic and cultural context. In fact, the category of “religion” doesn’t really work for antiquity. I’m not trying to undermine at all any modern concerns, but rather insisting that historians should not let modern value judgements guide the decision on what categories are most helpful for _furthering understanding of an historical phenomenon._ Otherwise we might end up doing theology, which may be a fine thing, but not under the guise of history-writing. This attempt at historically accurate terminology would apply to any ethnic group in antiquity, not just Judeans. As a historian, I wouldn’t want to privilege any particular ethnic group in antiquity and so I attempt to be consistent in speaking of “Syrians” (from Syria) who would have there own particular ethnic identity and practices, Phrygians (from Phrygia), etc. etc. Judeans were another ethnic group among many, and geography was the principle category to express identity across the board. I should mention that I don’t have the Gospel of John or any early Christian writing in mind here. Rather, I have history writing in general and the study of ancient peoples in mind.
    Just my quick two cents, and I know you’ll disagree with a chunk of it or the spin;) Thanks for this post..
    Phil H.

    • MRB Editors

      On behalf of Adele Reinhartz:

      Phil, thanks for your comments. You and I may have to agree to disagree on this one. Just a couple of quick responses. 1. The fact that many people (mis)understood “Jews” as a religious term is not a argument for using Judeans instead. The misunderstanding itself is due to the adoption of Christisn categories of religion. I agree completely with Steve Mason, Danny Boyarin and others who try to move away from the use of anachronisticargue against. 2. I am not arguing against Steve’s analysis of ioudaios. Others such as Shaye Cohen and Seth Schwartz have written thoughtfully about the question of whether we can talk about religion in the ancient period, and while I am. It persuaded by every single point in Steve’s detailed analysis I agree completely that ioudaios was a complex ethnic identifier. My main point is that it is Jew not Judeans that is the best translation. 3. The argument from analogy (Syrians, Egyptians) is important for understanding the term ioudaios but is not relevant to translation. The translation question arises from the peculiarities of the English language in which Judean has had a more specific meaning than Jew. As pointed out by others, Hebrew does not pose the problem, and that is true of some other languages as well. I don’t see how the question of privileging one group over another is at all relevant to the discussion. Finally, we may have different texts at the top of our minds when confronting the translation question but our choices will have implications for other texts whether we intend them or not. It would be possible, I think to argue for or against the use of Judeans in some contexts and Jews in others, but in reality it is hard to cordon off the discussion in that way. Thanks for engaging with this, Phil. I have really appreciated and learned from your own work in our field.

  • Yair

    Elli and Jacob are exactly right. All these words “Judea”, “iouda”, “Jew” are translations. In Hebrew there is “Yehuda” – the kingdom and then the Roman province, and there is “Yehudim” – the people of the kingdom who by the times of the province were already scattered all over the world, because of the exile of the kingdom. But they were always “Yehudim”, with a relationship and a clear awarness of belonging to “Yehuda”. Just like Greeks all over the ancient world knew they belong to Greece.

    The “Jew” today, is simply the final form “Yehudi” took after passing Greek, Latin and Old French. In the process it lost the “d” and became shorter:
    Whats to be confused about? Why do we need this long article for such a simple situation? Maybe it’s because the writer’s Yiddish upbringing made her ignore the Hebrew roots of Judaism and Jewish history?
    The fact that some scholars replace “Jew” with “Judean” in English means nothing to a Jew who is aware of his culture and heritage. It is nothing but another attempt to detach Jews from their history. It could only work with Jews who are not aware that they are Yehudim.

    • Yair

      one more thing:
      The writer’s opening remark about Bundist ideology: “Yiddish over Hebrew, Diaspora over Israel, Culture over Religion” falsely suggests that the reverse would mean, alongsine valuing Hebrew over Yiddish and Israel over Diaspora, also valuing religion over culture. That is wrong. Zionism was as much of a choice of culture over religion as Bundism was. It is only the type of culture that was chosen which separates the two ideologes.

  • Ellen_L

    A few common sense ideas on your very technical and interesting article.
    Jews are hard to describe because we tend to categorize people by religion and Jews are primarily a tribe or family with both genetic roots and inclusion by adoption . Yes, we share many customs and ideas, but not all and not everyone – thus it is hard to define what is essential. So, perhaps it is best to simply identify us by the members rather than by some rule of thumb. In this we differ from both Christians and Muslims who are more faith or ideologically based.
    The Jews of the past were the members at that time. Since the family has existed continually over time, we are all Jews. If the term changes name over time from Hebrews to Jews and other terms, that is the way languages evolve. We no longer converse in ancient Greek or Arabic, we use English which did not exist at that time.
    It appears that Jews have never totally agreed. Judging from the designations mentioned in the late Temple times and the fact that a Rabbinic tradition had already begun, we loved disagreeing and arguing even then. I could say metaphorically that at Sinai we each heard the word differently and have been arguing about it ever since 😉 . The children of Israel have always struggled with God and one another. It is a very human characteristic and has made us oddly tolerant of differences despite some Biblical language and violent times.
    Why should anyone be so concerned about what were obviously books written in part to eliminate the ties between the early Christians and Jews based on mostly politically generated arguments? Some of those in the crowd were to become Jewish Christians, some did not care, many were not even there, many of those who became Christian came into the Church later, and the few Jews who may have wanted to kill Jesus spoke for themselves not some homogeneous group extending over time. They had no authority to crucify anyone – that was a Roman thing. Hatred based on such arguments is illogical and far out of today’s context.
    All the traditions existing at that time have changed over time (even the Samarians). The language has changed. Although there has existed a core continuity, the members of all ethnic groups have changed.
    Those who still hold hatred based on the Gospels or who want to use ambiguous terms for the Jews of the time appear to want to deny that Jews have roots and a continuous presence in what is now Israel and Jerusalem which is a way to deny us the right to a homeland that almost every other people claim. To deny a people a tiny sliver of land and more importantly a voice to protect us around the world is a kind of ignorance or hatred that is hard to understand or tolerate. As an American, I would want the issue to be unnecessary since I believe that we each as individuals have rights that must be respected, however, such rights must be defended and the authority of a nation helps.

    • Marcion

      Finally somebody brings up what is surely the reason for the eager replacement of “Jew” in ancient texts by our modern academics: to deny Jewish claims to the land between the Jordan and the sea. What a conveniently deceptive rationale (“We’re blunting Christian anti-Semitism”) to use to slip by the Jews the true implication of this change (“You have no longstanding connection to Palestine, so get out!”).

      • Mal

        (From Malcolm Lowe) That this alleged “reason” is false is shown by the fact that the Christian Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is replete with the name “Israel” and “Palestine” occurs nowhere. None of us is proposing to substitute “Palestine” for “Israel”; in the contrary, we would vigorously reject it for the very same reason as that it is a mistake to replace “Judeans” with “Jews” in ancient authors like Josephus: both usages are anachronistic. (Incidentally, in 1948 there was an argument in the Jewish Agency over whether the new state should be called “Judea” or “Israel.”)

        • Marcion

          I used “Palestine” merely in an illustration of what might be said; I could have just as well have used “Israel” or “the Ho;y Land”; it has no bearing on the argument. The article and the discussion are about the designation of the people, not the land.

          From your comment below I gather that your problem is that “Jew”, commonly understood as a nation defined (at least by descent) by a religion, is used in contexts in which the term “Judaean”, “inhabitant of Judaea, narrowly defined” would be more accurate. Perhaps that is true in the bulk of Josephus’ book. But then what should we call those who rose in Alexandria in support of Bar Kochba? What term do we use to indicate the affinity they felt with the rebelling Judaeans? And in the New Testament context, did Caiaphas and the council speak, or believe they were speaking, only on behalf of the inhabitants of Judaea? I think you are taking a trivial point – not all the people of Israel were Judaeans, geographically defined – and using it to leverage a belief you would dearly love to be true, that there is no connection whatsoever between the mob that cried for Barabbas and the Jews of today.

          And of course my original comment spoke to a serious implication of that idea. For if there is no such connection, then the claim of the modern people who call themselves “Jews” to Galilee, Samaria, and even Judaea is fraudulent, and the present Jewish inhabitants of those territories are just another group of European colonizers like those who flooded Australia and the Americas.

          • IAintNoPushOver


            What a load of shit. The Khazar idea was refuted. And most Israeli Jews are actually not European but from Arabic and Muslim nations and some have been in the land for millennia.

  • John Daniels

    I’m glad to see such a thoughtful and adroit response to a trend I have participated in myself. While precision of translation is important and helpful, “Judean(s)” can confuse and thus, close doors to interesting conversation in a classroom. Nicely done, Dr. Reinhartz!

  • Stephen Victor

    Mordecai, of the tribe of Benjamin, who lived in Persia before the Romans and before Alexander the Great is referred to in the Book of Esther as Ish Yehudi. So was he a Jew or a Judean?

    • Mal

      (From Malcolm Lowe) This case was also discussed in my article of 1976 (p. 106 and note 19 there: the Gemara at Megillah 12b-13a expresses puzzlement, maybe feigned, that Mordecai is described as both isch yemini and ish yehudi in Esther 2:5, asking how he could have belonged to both tribes.). The explanation can be found in modern parallels. Dutch people, talking among themselves, do not call their country Holland but Nederland (the Netherlands). But when they talk to foreigners they often speak of Holland because it is too wearisome to have to keep correcting that mistake. (Holland is the dominant part of the Netherlands, just as Judea was the dominant part of Second Temple Israel. Likewise, people used to call the USSR “Russia,” etc., etc.: I listed such examples in my 1981 paper.) So also Israelites in the diaspora acquiesced in the usage of foreigners and might call themselves “Judeans” instead of “Israel.” The Book of Esther explicitly says that it was written in the diaspora.

      • Stephen Victor

        Thank you for your fascinating response. I have not seen your 1976 article, but would very much like to. The point that I was trying to convey is that shortly after the destruction of the First Holy Temple, the term “Jewish” already referred to a people, and was not dependent on tribe (Mordecai the “Jew” was Benjamin), geographical area (Mordecai lived in Persia, not Judea), or whatever the Greeks or Romans wanted to call them (Greeks and Romans were not yet in power in the region of the Persian Empire). The common English translation of “Yehudi” is “Jewish”.

  • IAintNoPushOver

    I disagree entirely with the author. The authors of the text were well aware that there was already a Jewish people, but the term ‘ioudiaos’ is a regional distinction. At that time, ‘Judean’ referred to Jews from Judea, but there were also Jews who were from outside Judea, such as in the Galilee, where most of the people identified as Jews but were not Judeans–they were descendants of northern tribes like Asher and Naftali, with some Judahite settlers thrown in (including Jesus’s family.) and while Jews, they weren’t Judeans. Similarly, Jews living on the coastal plain, descended from Dan and Zebulon were not Judeans. Don’t forget also, the Samaritans, descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh, who are really Jews if you think about it.

    You may argue that these tribes were not in existence anymore because of the Assyrian conquest and exile of the Ten northern tribes, but the Assyrians exiled only the nobility, aristocracy, burgeosie, and scribal class–the peasant masses stayed behind. Therefore, the designation of Judean in those texts is probably accurate, and a more proper designation at that time for the religion and all the people, was Israelite. But after the destruction of the Second Temple, Jewish Judaism of Judean origin became dominant in all Israelite communities except the Samaritans, who really weren’t interested in outsiders be they Jew or Gentile. That’s when all non-Samaritan Israelites came to see themselves as Jews.

  • Bruno

    Perhaps the problem is with English? The Portuguese word for Jew has always been “Judeu”, which literally means “Judean”.

  • Jerry Blaz

    I’m reminded of a joke where a peasant on Russian side of the Russian-Polish border finds that a border change puts him in Poland. He gleefully claps his hands, throwing his cap into the air, and his neighbors see him so full of joy, and they ask him why. He replies, “No more of those terrible Russian winters.”

    If someone is so ignorant to not identify the lack of difference between Jew and Judean, it seems to me to be a waste of academic effort to try to educate such individuals. They just go in ignorant and come out dumbfounded.

  • Mal

    (From Malcolm Lowe) Prof. Reinhartz refers to my article of 1976, which formed the starting point from which the contemporary discussion developed. There I surveyed the usage of terms of nationality in both classical sources and the Mishnah, before turning to the Gospel of John. In fact, various main points in the later pages of Mason’s article of 2007 were already made in my articles of 1976 and 1981 (also in Novum Testamentum); to him goes the credit of broadening both the discussion and the range of ancient passages examined, though he could have been more generous in citing where I had anticipated him. To put it simply, in the Second Temple period there was a people that called itself Israel and its land Israel (thus in the Mishnah). For this people, Judea was a southern province of that land and its inhabitants were Judeans. Greeks and Romans, however, called the whole land “Judea” and all its inhabitants, even the Samaritans, “Judeans.” Similarly, today foreigners call the Netherlands “Holland,” Britain “England,” and all Americans “Yankees,” contrary to the usage of inhabitants of those countries. So to know who an author means by Ioudaioi one has to see what the same author means by Judea. The canonical gospels, including the Gospel of John, systematically speak of Judea in the narrow sense. Also the interactions of Jesus with Ioudaioi in John occur almost exclusively in Jerusalem and its surroundings. Consequently, when John speaks of Ioudaioi, he is not speaking of all adherents of the faith of Israel, but of the inhabitants of a certain area. (So to translate the term as “Jews” in John is completely misleading.) As to the broader issue, Philo was a Judean in the same sort of sense as the Boston Irish are Irish, Italian Americans are Italians or someone in Germany today is still call a Turk although (s)he has inherited German citizenship from parents and grandparents. Now, as long as Ioudaoi is translated as “Judeans,” all this can be explained to a modern reader easily in a commentary. But if one uses the word “Jews,” the modern reader is confused, because for centuries Jews have been regarded as people defined exclusively by religion, whereas in ancient authors (at least until the third century CE) the primary connotation of the term Ioudaoi was geographic. (Yes, this people had its unique cult, but so did Egyptians and Persians, etc.) This is why, starting from my analysis of 1976, the use of the term “Judeans” in translations of ancient authors (such as Josephus) is becoming standard. Regarding another misunderstanding: Prof. Reinhartz gives the impression that the Gospel of John is the source of Christian anti-Judaism. This is historically false. Until the late second Christian century, Christian scripture did not include anything of what is now called the New Testament, but Christian authors had already developed the basic conceptions of Christian anti-Judaism (e,g, Justin Martyr). Christians simply took over the scripture of Israel and they found everything that they needed for an anti-Judaic polemic in the denunciations of Israel in the Torah and the Prophets. For sure, they misused and misinterpreted those books, but those were the books that they started from.

    • Daniel Boyarin

      I would like to assent to Prof. Loewe’s analysis in his article and here, and add one more point. If we translate, in John, “Jews” the implication is that Jesus and his followers were not “Jews.” In our modern sense, however, they certainly were and again in our modern sense, this is an intra-Jewish conflict and, hence, not anti-Jewish. I am not sure that Judeans is always best for Ioudaioi, even though I tend toward that solution, but I am sure that in the fourth Gospel, the translation “Jews” is historically wrong.

      • And in many cases, would it not be clearer to also specify, “Judean elites,” or “Judean authorities,” because many Judeans are also sympathetic to or followers of Jesus. The conflict is not simply between the Galilean Jesus and all Judeans. It is between the peasant class and the collaborating elite. (I realize the conflict may be more nuanced than “class” and “collaboration.” But ignoring these aspects makes the execution of Jesus unintelligible IMHO.)

  • Richard S

    I am somehow reminded of Vico’s comment that the Jews are outside of history. We see here, for example, an attempt to foist a Christian definition of “religion” on Judaism. The result is that, as what we now regard as the Jewish “religion” was created in the Talmudic era, we cannot find Jews before the Talmud was created. Oy!
    The problem here is the effort to universalize and simplify the language of antiquity. From the perspective of Jewish history, it makes perfect sense to translate the term as Jew. From the perspective of Christian and post-Christian history in the West, perhaps not–unless in the Gospel, the folks here discussed were not part of the Hebrew (to use another term) “cult.”

  • Liz Fried

    Dear Adele, I very much appreciate your article. I am one of those who have consistently replaced “Jew” by “Judean” in all my articles. I have done this because I was incensed by the fact that Yehudim is consistently translated as “Judean” when it appears in Kings, but as “Jew” when it appears in Ezra. It seems to me that if they were Judeans when they left, then they were Judeans when they returned.
    Liz Fried

  • haithabu

    I would favour the use of Judean rather than Jew in most texts of the period because the word “Jew” has connotations today which did not exist when the texts were written, and therefore leads to anachronistic readings. Specifically, the word is a label used by persecutors, and still has a perjorative echo even in today’s Western society. (Ever wonder why so many people describe themselves as “Jewish”, but seldom as “Jews”?) Using “Jew” in rendering John’s gospel fosters the reading of 2,000 years of antisemitism back into the text – a concept which would have been incomprehensible to both its writer and his original readers.

  • MRB Editors

    On behalf of Philip Esler:

    We should all be grateful to Professor Adele Reinhartz for her timely
    reminder of the continuing presence of the vicious evil of anti-semitism in our
    world and of our need to be alert to ways in which the interpretation of New
    Testament texts can form part of its aetiology. In Europe anti-Jewish incidents
    are all too common, such as the appalling attack on the Jewish Museum in
    Brussels on 24th May 2014 that left four people dead. So I stand
    shoulder to shoulder with Professor Reinhartz in the aim of opposing
    anti-semitism and of stopping the New Testament being used by anti-semites.
    Where I differ from Professor Reinhartz is on the best means to achieve that

    The issue here is about how best to designate a group, the Ioudaioi of the first century CE, in their particular historical context. My understanding of the issue has been fundamentally influenced by the approach taken to the nature of ethnic groups by the Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth. In short, Barth argued both that a group could continue with a sense of its being a group for a very long period but that the cultural indicators that it used to define itself as a group changed over time. This view sees one ethnic group in dynamic interaction with
    other groups in its environment being continually sensitive to the sort of
    boundaries needed to maintain its identity vis-à-vis them. Those boundaries are
    permeable, permitting some forms of interaction while proscribing others. This
    approach treats a group as one that regards itself as such even though its
    members express their groupness in different ways over time.

    Inspired by this approach, I regard today’s Jews as most certainly
    belonging to the same group that has been around for a very long time indeed –
    back to the first century CE and beyond into the times of ancient Israel. I
    have no doubt that DNA analysis would reveal that many Jewish people alive
    today are genetic descendants of Ioudaioi from the first century CE, while others descend from converts to Judaism over the centuries. I also consider that for many of them today the word ‘Jew’ denotes a religious identity, for others a cultural one and for others something more akin to an ethnic identity. Yet probably the vast majority of Jews regard themselves as belonging to the same group as ancient Israelites and Ioudaioi. This typifies the self-ascriptive approach to group identity taken by Barth and we must respect that understanding they have.

    The big issue remains, however, of giving due prominence to the specific
    and distinctive ways in which a particular group defines itself as such in a
    given historical context. To my mind this is both an historical issue—a group should be portrayed in a manner appropriate to its context and not in terms anachronistically dragged into the discussion from later centuries—and an ethical one—when we study them in this way we are honouring their memory as people full of infinite human dignity and entitled to be understood as closely as we can get to how they understood themselves, then and there.

    This brings us back to the Ioudaioi of the first century CE. As I have been suggesting since 2003 (in Conflict and Identity in Romans), a good place to go for evidence on this matter is the Contra Apionem of Josephus. Josephus mentions some fifty of what we are fully justified in calling ethnic groups in the Mediterranean region. They are all designated by names that refer to the homeland that they came from: Egyptians, Parthians, Romans etc; there are only a couple of exceptions, the Hycsos, for example (and no one knew their origin). It is in this context that Josephus talks about the Ioudaioi from Ioudaia, the Judeans from Judea. For Josephus they are Ioudaioi/Judeans whether they live in Judea or in diaspora communities around the Mediterranean. As he sets out the cultural indicators that characterise the Ioudaioi/Judeans (such as a common name and history, common customs, such as the law of Moses and a shared homeland), he repeatedly makes clear how in this matter they were similar to other ethnic groups in their world. Thus, for law-givers the Spartans had Lycurgus, the Athenians Solon and the Ioudaioi/Judeans Moses. Josephus’ argument is built on the view that the Ioudaioi/Judeans are not a different type of group from the others, but rather that they are a particularly admirable and excellent example of that type. It seems to me that wherever one looks in the first century CE one finds other Ioudaioi and non-Ioudaioi who understood the identity of his people in much same manner as Josephus, which closely corresponds to our notion of an ethnic identity. It was, however, an ethnic identity where cultic and domestic religious observances were very prominent, not least in the magnificently empty inmost chamber of the temple of its monotheistic God.

    Professor Reinhartz agrees that Ioudaios had an ethnic dimension. She considers, however, that the word ‘Jew’ can include that dimension and asks what is wrong with using the word to translate Ioudaios. The answer is that by using ‘Jew’ we apply to the Ioudaioi a designation that is unlike that of the other ethnic groups who were active in the first century, all of whom we refer to by a name that derives from the homeland from which they sprang. In other words, we are adopting an exceptionalist position with respect to the Ioudaioi. As soon as we do that, we have left history behind, however admirable our intention of combating contemporary anti-semitism may be. For we have moved away from a first century CE understanding of the situation to one that inevitably includes aspects of the identity of this people forged in its terrible experiences in subsequent centuries.

    In assessing the treatment of Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John all of the above becomes relevant. In the setting of an historical interpretation aimed at its original meaning, the text and those who produced it and read it should be understood on their own terms. To label it as anti-semitic (as some have done in the past) in the context of historical criticism is inapt, since this concept was only invented in the nineteenth century (and tied to pseudo-scientific nonsense about ‘race’ and ‘blood’). This is not to say that in subsequent centuries the Fourth Gospel was not used to legitimate anti-semitism. But that is a matter of its reception history not the original meaning of the Gospel at the time it appeared, when the notion of anti-semitism had not yet been articulated. I fully agree with Professor Reinhartz that the hostile portrayal of Ioudaioi in the Fourth Gospel did contribute to anti-semitism. My point is that this fact is not a reason for failing to undertake historical interpretation of the Fourth Gospel in a manner that does it full justice in its first century CE context. And that means wherever possible avoiding language loaded with later associations, such as by translating Ioudaios as ‘Jew.’

    None of this is to deny that there are troubling dimensions to how the
    Fourth Gospel responds to Judeans contemporary to it. Here is one example (from an essay of mine soon to be published in an edited volume entitled Soziologie und Theologie des Neuen Testaments). At John 9.27, when the Judeans are interrogating the man whom Jesus had cured of blindness for a second time, he asks them, ‘Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?’ They criticize him for this, saying, ‘You are his disciples, but we are the disciples of Moses.’ It was, in fact, extremely rare for Judeans of this period to say they were ‘disciples’ of Moses. What has happened here is that the Fourth Evangelist is looking at ethnic Judeans through the lens of a completely different, early Christ-movement identity and distorting what he sees (reasoning, in effect, ‘If we are the disciples of Jesus, they must be the disciples of Moses’). In the
    process, he completely misunderstands the nature of the Judean people.

    In seeking to combat anti-semitism I have particularly in my sights The Eternal Jew, a Nazi propaganda film of 1940. Its central proposition is that the ‘Jew’ never changes; he killed Jesus and deserves to be exterminated now. I have sought to counter this travesty by using the Barthian approach to bring out the way in which a group continuing through time can be culturally very different at various points along that progression. That is why I have argued, in relation to the Johannine Gospel, against the notion of the same identity having persisted from the Ioudaioi of the first century to the Jews of our time. But I fully agree with Professor Reinhartz that it was, in any event, the Romans and not the Judeans who crucified Jesus.

    At one point Professor Reinhartz refers to an essay by Professor
    Amy-Jill Levine in which the expression Judenrein is employed in relation to recent biblical scholarship that argues for translating Ioudaios as ‘Judean’. Judenrein (‘Jew-free’) was a Nazi expression encapsulating the aim of removing Jewish populations from European cities (and then murdering them). It is difficult to avoid the impression that historical scholarship advocating a particular translation for Ioudaios is being likened to the Gestapo at work in the ghettoes. Such rhetorical flourishes are unhelpful. Those of us who are both biblical critics and oppose anti-semitism wherever we find it should be able to pursue historical truth with a sense of solidarity and joint commitment without such distortions of the task. My commitment to the pursuit of historical truth means that I will continue to translate Ioudaios in first century CE texts as ‘Judean.’

  • Here’s my reply, published in TikkunDaily.

  • Many modern Jews are descendants of converts over the centuries. They don’t necessarily have ancestry that goes back to Judea. Some scholars have argued that what came to be considered Judaism was as much a creation in the Roman Empire as was early Christianity, both having been offshoots of something entirely else that came before. Besides, Palestinians were once Jews and they share genetics with many Jews. Scholarship shouldn’t be used to defend Zionism.