Who Is A Judean?

saint-paul-the-apostle-00I’m about to tackle a series of posts here on Christian anti-Judaism and Jewish anti-Christianity. Neither are pleasant topics! But we are devoted here to interfaith discussion of topics at the Jewish-Christian intersection, including our shared histories. Sadly, much of this history is a history of animosity. We must understand this history in order to understand each other, and hopefully, move past this history into a new and friendlier era.

But before we get started … I want to try something new here. The purpose of this site is to encourage interfaith dialogue – encourage this dialogue generally, but also encourage that it take place right here, in the comments to my posts. We’ve had some good discussion here so far, but I want to see if we can do better. So in this post, and maybe in a few posts upcoming, I’ll suggest a topic for discussion in the comments. You can ignore my suggestion, and discuss anything related to my posts that comes to mind … but as my posts can be a bit esoteric, I’ll try to suggest more concrete discussion topics.

Today’s discussion topic: what do you think makes for a “good Jew”? What personal qualities do you associate with being a good Jew? If a Jew is striving to be a better Jew, what should the Jew get better at doing? Don’t be afraid to suggest qualities that might strike you as less than earth-shaking! In the recent Pew Study of Jewish Americans, 69% of Jews said that leading an ethical and moral life is an essential part of what it means to be Jewish. But 42% said that having a good sense of humor is essentially Jewish, and 14% said it is essentially Jewish to eat Jewish food, so obviously not everything that makes one a “good Jew” has to be deadly serious.

I’m asking here about what it means to be a good Jew, in part because I’m writing a chapter for a book related to this question. But there’s another reason. If we’re going to discuss anti-Judaism, we have to understand what it means to be a “Jew” – and not just what it means today, but also what it meant in the first century, at the earliest moments of the emergence of Christian identity.

To get a sense of what the word “Jew” meant back then, consider how the word is used in what might be the earliest writing in the New Testament, Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians.   You cannot proceed two pages into this earliest of Christian writings without confronting the following:

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of G-d in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease G-d and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but G-d’s wrath has overtaken them at last. [emphasis added]

It is tragic: in the very beginning of Paul’s very first letter, he described the Jews as Christ-killers, and a people rejected by G-d. Or did he?

Paul’s letters, like the rest of the New Testament, were written in Greek. The word Paul uses in 1 Thessalonians to describe the people who killed Jesus is the Greek word Ἰουδαῖος, pronounced Ioudaios, and commonly translated as “Jew.” The word derives from the Hebrew word Yehudi, which is itself derived from the name Judah, who was the fourth son of Jacob and the founder of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. It is likely that Yehudi originally referred to a member of this tribe. But after the return of the Israelites to their homeland following the Babylonian Exile, the term “Yehudi” became an ethnic-geographical identifier for the people resident in Judea. In other words, the original meaning of Yehudi and Ioudaios was not “Jew,” but “Judean.”

Would we render the New Testament less anti-Jewish if we translated Ioudaios as “Judean” instead of “Jew”? Let’s use 1Thessalonians as a test case. With this proposed change in translation, Paul would not be naming the Jews as the Christian enemy. Instead, he’d be saying that the Christians in Judea were encountering opposition from non-Christian Judeans, just as the Christians in Thessalonica were being opposed by non-Christian Thessalonians. While I imagine that Paul might prefer for his churches to face no external opposition, so long as there was going to be opposition, it was going to come from a local source: Thessalonians opposing other Thessalonians, Judeans opposing other Judeans. It could hardly be otherwise! If this change in translation seems right to you, you’re not alone. The New King James Version of the Bible translates 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 to refer to “Judeans” and not “Jews.”

But there are problems with translating Ioudaios as “Judean.” For example, this translation has been seized upon by anti-Semites who would like to argue that Jesus wasn’t Jewish. If in Jesus’ day, “Jewish” meant “Judean,” then it can be argued that Jesus was Galilean, hence not Judean, hence not Jewish. Perhaps a bigger problem is that our present-day reading of “Judean” is likely to be geographic only: a Judean is someone from Judea, regardless of whether the person is Jewish or pagan. This is almost certainly not what Ioudaios meant in Jesus’ day. Instead, people in Jesus’ day would have associated Ioudaios with the set of beliefs, rites, customs and practices of the residents of Judea – a “set” that we’d identify today as Judaism. As Amy-Jill Levine argues in her book The Misunderstood Jew, if we want modern readers to get a sense that Ioudaios conveyed a sense of a people with characteristic beliefs and practices, then the correct modern translation of Ioudaios should be “Jew” and not “Judean.”

The arguments on both sides of this debate are good ones. In truth, the issue is complicated. The identifier of Jewish (or “Judean”) was and remains a complex mix of ethnic, religious, cultural, national, political and geographic factors that practically begs to be misunderstood, particularly when paired against a word like “Christian” that does not carry with it the same sorts of meanings.

Nevertheless … regardless of the difficulty … we’re still left with the problem of understanding what Paul meant in 1 Thessalonians, and with the bigger problem of how to interpret passages in the New Testament that appear today as anti-Jewish. We can, I think, safely assume that Ioudaios does not neatly translate into any word or term in common use today. But is our problem even greater than this? Is it possible for us to identify who it was, exactly, that Paul meant to condemn in 1 Thessalonians?

I’ll address this question in my next post.

  • Anthony Le Donne

    Thank you for this Larry. I think that your nuance of 1 Thess is helpful. But I wonder (as a Xn who is invested in the wellbeing of both Jews and Xns) how helpful it can be, ultimately, to rebrand such slander.

    Let’s grant – for the sake of argument – that all references to “the Jews” should be rendered “the Judeans” in the NT. We might obscure associations with modern Jews, albeit it slightly. But does this help? Example: Most Xns do not associate NT Pharisees with modern Jews. Yet it is still problematic (as I have been reminded by my Jewish friends) for Xns to repeat the NT’s slander of the Pharisees. What is the difference between slandering an ancient Pharisee and an ancient Judean? Both would seem to harm modern Jwsh-Xn relations.

    Wouldn’t we do better to educate Xns about the damage done in the name of such caricatures? Wouldn’t such education be better than masking the association between ancient peoples and modern peoples?

    These are honest questions… not sure that I have an answer. I do think that Leonard Greenspoon has an interesting discussion of “naming” in the NT in this book: http://www.amazon.com/Soundings-Religion-Jesus-Perspectives-Scholarship/dp/0800698010


    • lbehrendt

      Anthony, I think you’re right to point to where I’d like this discussion to end, with Jewish-Christian friendship and an end to all slander. You’re also right to point out that it may not help to swap “Judean” for “Jew” in texts like 1 Thessalonians. As I pointed out, A.-J. Levine argues that this swap makes things worse, and there are others (April DeConick, for example) who agree with Levine. Many disagree, and see such a swap as about the best thing that could happen to Jewish-Christian relations. I wasn’t so much arguing for such a swap (at least, not yet); I was only trying at this point to suggest that the swap might be defensible, and might have consequences worth considering.

      Let’s put any question of “masking” to one side, and consider the question of education. What, exactly, should be the content of this education? For example: you refer to 1 Thessalonians as a “slander,” and my guess is that many Christians would disagree with you, as “slander” is a false statement, and many Christians would argue that the NT does not (indeed, cannot) contain a false statement. You also referred to this particular text as a “caricature,” which would indicate that the text distorts the true character of the Jews it describes. Again, I think that the existence of NT “distortions” is going to be difficult for many Christians to accept.

      How do we provide the kind of education you recommend in a way that can be understood by Christians with a “high” view of scripture? I once had the opportunity to ask A.-J. Levine a similar question, and she responded that we have to do our education FROM scripture — either we must understand difficult scripture better, or we must counter scripture with other scripture. What say you?

      • Anthony Le Donne

        I think AJ might have best way forward here. Well said.


  • John Brantingham

    Hi Larry, I’d like to answer the question above, but it makes me really uncomfortable. I’m not Jewish, and anything I could say would be based on far too little information. I thought about what it means to be a good Christian. I was raised Catholic and am now a Quaker. The term “Christian” has become too broad and I don’t want to answer for other sect of Christianity. So maybe I’m left then with what does it mean to be a good Quaker.

    Being a good Quaker to me is a life of living my political beliefs and social consciousness. It means doing certain things and not doing other things. The greatest expression of prayer is my silence, a meditation in which I wait for the spirit to tell me what is virtuous. It is then my duty to do that thing. I also reject sacred texts as being sacred and the hierarchy of a church.

    What does that mean?

    It means that God is in all people and that which promotes life is good and that which harms life is evil. I will not commit acts of violence, even in self-defense. I will not support those who consciously hurt others. For example, I won’t go to WalMart or buy products from Apple. I will not consume more than I need. I will help others organizationally as much as I can.

    So I think that what makes a good Quaker is activity. There are social components to the Society of Friends as well, but I generally avoid these mostly because I just don’t have time, and I don’t think they make us better people.

    • lbehrendt

      John, for someone who didn’t want to answer my question, you did a pretty damn good job of answering it! The Jewish connection to social justice is a strong one, and important to me. I’d go along with Jesus and say that the essence of Judaism is love of G-d and neighbor, and of those two things, God cares most about love of neighbor.

      I think text can be sacred; I may not agree with my co-religionists about how authority flows from sacred text.

      Your response is very helpful to me. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Barbé Hammer

      Love this description of Quakerism and “activity” — it’s so Jewish! Seriously, Judaism is all about what you do rather than what you believe, and I very much resonated with what you wrote. Thank you.

    • Robert

      Apologies for being so late to this discussion! John, is this ‘low’ view of scripture shared by all Quakers?

      • John Brantingham

        No and there are different types of Quakers. I come from an unprogrammed meeting that shares my views. I don’t know if you know what that means. Basically, we sit in silence meditating without a religious leader until the spirit moves one of us to speak. If no one is moved, no one speaks. It’s different than other groups, and I feel very comfortable there. Rejection of hierarchy is kind of an unspoken principle in the meeting, and I’m guessing that most of my fellow attenders feel the same way I do.

        I don’t know that I have what you called a “low” view of scripture. I just don’t think it’s sacred. I reject the idea that it’s sacred. The only sacred thing is the kindness a person can show another through actions.

        • Robert

          I agree with your view and did not mean ‘low’ in a derogatroy way. I only know a little bit about Quakers but have always liked what I’ve heard.

  • Tim Henderson

    Thanks for this post, Larry. My memory is not clear, but I think Philip Esler has taken a similar approach to the “Jew/Judean” terminology. I recall reading his book, “Conflict and Identity in Romans,” which is his social-scientific approach to that letter. I know that he uses the term “Judean” rather than “Jew,” but I don’t recall his reasons for the choice. It might be worth checking out.

    • lbehrendt

      Yes, Philip Esler is one of the important voices in this debate. I haven’t read his book, but it is mentioned often. A.-J. Levine discusses Esler in her book “The Misunderstood Jew,” and Esler receives a slightly more sympathetic discussion here and here. Esler argues for the translation of Ioudaios as “Judean,” as does (more recently) John H. Elliott and Steve Mason (Mason’s article is available free online here. Esler, Elliott and Mason are all in discussion with Shaye Cohen’s masterwork “The Beginnings of Jewishness,” which I have read. There’s a very good 8-part blog summary of much of this thinking that starts here.

      I am still trying to absorb all of this for the purposes of my upcoming conversation about anti-Judaism and anti-Christianity. I may change my mind about this, but I think the two sides in this debate may be debating different questions. If we look at the question from a purely historical point of view, it does seem that Ioudaios should be translated as “Judean” until at least the second century BCE, and probably for a considerable time after that. What gets tricky is trying to understand the meaning of “Judean” in the context of late antiquity. Clearly, it meant something different than saying today that so-and-so is from Baltimore. I know that this is putting things WAY too simply, but it may be that the best translation of Ioudaios is “Judean”, and that the best translation of “Judean” is “Jew.”

      But I think that the historical question is only part of a bigger question, where we need to consider how to best translate the meaning of the text to a modern reader. While Elser, Mason et. al. are justifiably concerned to avoid anachronism, I don’t think that need be the primary concern in preparing a translation of scripture. We don’t want to adopt a translation that, while technically correct, appears to interrupt a sense of Jewish historical continuity that we feel today, and that Paul most probably felt back then.

      All this is preliminary to my question to you, Tim. You’re a scholar in this general area. What is YOUR take?

      BTW … I am a long-time reader of your blog, and it is a distinct honor to have you comment here.

      • Tim Henderson

        I’m tempted to take the easy way out and say that “Ioudaios” is a multivalent term, both in Paul and in other early “Christian” texts. The passage you cited from 1 Thess 2, if it’s not a later interpolation, might be (emphasis on MIGHT BE) the best example of the word being used in an exclusively “ethnic” or “regional” sense – “the churches…in Judea suffered from the Judeans.” Here Ioudaios could mean “people of Judea,” rather than a term carrying “religious” connotations. But that position gets more difficult to maintain once we get to verses 15 & 16. But then clearly in other places Paul sees two groups of people in the world – Jews and Gentiles – and everyone is either one or the other. And then to complicate matters further, Paul can transform the definition of “Jew” to be something that transcends ethnicity:

        “A person is not a Jew (Ioudaios) who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew (Ioudaios) who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”
        (Rom 2:28-29 NIV)

        It almost sounds like Paul is saying that Gentiles (who believe in Jesus) can become “Jews” in some sense. So the fact that Paul alone can use “Ioudaios” in so many different ways complicates matters for all of us. But as for what to do with our terminology today, I see things similarly to what Anthony Le Donne stated in his comment. I’m not sure it would alleviate much if we were to switch to “Judean” instead of “Jew.”

        P.S. – I definitely remember you from my blog. I hope to be able to post more in the coming months!

        • lbehrendt

          Tim, terrific points. Yes: Thessalonica is to Thessalonian what Judea is to Judean. I think that, at least as far as 1 Thess. 2 is concerned, the correct translation for Ioudaios is “Judean.” But you’re right, this translation doesn’t work as well elsewhere in Paul. All this is to say that “multivalent” may be both the easy way out AND the only way out. Thanks for this.

          I think you might much enjoy the book “Paul’s Gentile-Jews” by my teacher Josh Garroway. You can get a sense of the book by reading my review here. I may try to write a blog post on Josh’s book as a follow-up to this discussion … but in brief, Josh sees the concept of Ioudaios as something of a fuzzy boundary that (at least in its fuzziness) needs to be seen along with the more common Jewish self-identifier of “Israel.” He agrees with you that under Paul’s theology in Romans, Gentiles CAN become Ioudaios in a certain sense. But the fact that Ioudaios seems to fit certain situations better than others is not a problem for Josh; it goes to the heart of his thesis.

          It is interesting how some feel that translating Ioudaios to “Judean” will solve many ills, while others think it would make things worse, and others think it would not make much if any difference … and many here take strong positions, and no one is clearly out to lunch. Where I find intellectual heavyweights like Steve Mason on one side of the argument and A.-J. Levine on the other, I can feel relatively confident that I’m not going to be able to choose sides!

  • Evan Hershman

    On 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, we ought to remember that ancient texts were written without punctuation or even spaces. The impression that Paul may be condemning “Jews” as a group comes primarily from the way our English translations place a comma after “Jews/Judeans.” Take out the single comma, and you get something like

    “…as they did from the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets…”

    which can be understood as meaning something like

    “as they did from the Jews (that is, the ones who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets…”

    So Paul may be condemning specific Jews whom he says were involved in the death of Jesus.

    This interpretation is at least gramatically possible, as far as I can tell.

    On the issue of “Jew” vs. “Judean” as a proper translation, one thing I would say is that “Jew” is misleading in a present-day context because in our present-day usage (at least for non-Jews) it often connotes a “religion,” a concept which did not really exist in the ancient world as something separable from other cultural practices. A “Ioudaios” was simply someone who adhered to the “customs of the Jews”– note the way that “Judaism” is opposed to “Hellenism,” that is, the way of life involving following ‘Greek’ customs, in 1 Maccabees.

    • lbehrendt

      Evan, VERY interesting point about the lack of a comma! So, we might translate 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 as “… as they did from those same Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets …”

      The translation works as you say, so long as we focus only on the part about killing Jesus. Then, the translation focuses on particular Jews, just like you say. But things get more difficult if I ask, who are the Jews who killed the prophets? This is a difficult question, one I looked at for the first time last night. Depending on what list you consult, you can find something like 54-56 major and minor prophets in the Old Testament, and perhaps one of them (Uriah) can be said to have been killed by Jews. But even if we’re willing to expand the list of prophets past these 50+, what specific Jews could Paul have intended to identify as prophet-killers? To confuse matters further, Paul goes on to say that G-d’s wrath has overtaken the (these?) Jews “at last.” If we think that Paul meant to refer to some Jews in 1 Thessalonians and not others, then the particular Jews being referred to by Paul would be a subset of Jews that had recently suffered some calamity.

      We might try to argue something along these lines: Paul was condemning only those Jews involved in the death of Jesus — possibly a very small number, but in any event less than the whole. Paul was then saying that it was these very Jews, or perhaps their ilk, who had also persecuted the prophets. This could work if, say, Paul intended to refer to a handful of powerful Jewish elites, claiming in effect that it was this Jewish “1%” (or if you prefer, the Jews who were “first” but were about to be “last” in an apocalyptic reversal of fortune) who was responsible both for Jesus’ death and the death of prophets. The calamity befalling this 1% might be the imminent coming of the Kingdom of G-d.

      I don’t know. I like what you say about no comma, but it feels like I’m reaching rather far to maintain this interpretation. Do you think this kind of interpretation can stand up to scrutiny, or do you see a better way to deal with the prophet killing and the business about G-d wrath?

      • Evan Hershman

        From what I understand, the accusation of killing prophets, or being like those who did, is a standard motif in the New Testament’s rhetorical usage of Deuteronomistic theology, about which John Kloppenborg, commenting on the usage of said theology in the Q/double tradition material, says:

        “According to this theology, the history of Israel is depicted as a repetitive cycle of sinfulness, prophetic calls to repentance (which are ignored), punishment by God, and renewed calls to repentance with threats of judgment. Common in this schema is the motif of the rejection of the prophets and even of their murder, in spite of the fact that Tanak itself records no instance of the murder of a named prophet… in Deuteronomistic theology the prophets are represented primarily as preachers of repentance and, generally speaking, as rejected preachers.” (Kloppenborg, [i]Excavating Q[/i], p. 121)

        The theme of rejected or killed prophets apparently draws on apocryphal traditions such as Isaiah being killed by being sawed in half, and appears to be a rhetorical device in much early Christian literature (see, i.e., Luke 11:45-51, Acts 7:51-53. It is for the most part a rhetorical exaggeration, given the paucity of accounts of prophets actually being killed (as you point out).

        Given that the rhetorical trope is present in other early Christian writings, it would not be surprising for Paul to draw upon it as well. The important thing to note, though, is that he is not necessarily blaming *all* Ιουδαῖοι for the putative deaths of these prophets, whoever they are, or for the death of Jesus.

        • lbehrendt

          Evan, thanks for that very informative reply. I’ll put aside my personal annoyance with Paul for repeating this particular rhetorical trope. While I don’t know if Paul’s adoption of this accusation is surprising or not, I do think it complicates our effort to understand his use of Ioudaios in 1 Thess. You’ve made an argument that Paul did not intend in 1 Thess to blame all Ioudaioi, but only those Ioudaioi who killed Jesus and the prophets. But while Paul’s audience might have been able to identify in some general sense the particular Jews involved in the killing of Jesus (the elders in Jerusalem, the high priest, etc.), I don’t know in even a general sense how to identify a subset of Ioudaioi that could (or could not) be implicated in the death of the prophets. I think you’ve aptly described the motif: the prophet speaks, the prophet is rejected, G-d vindicates the prophet. But if the Ioudaioi that Paul means to implicate are those Jews that rejected the prophets … isn’t that the entirety of the Ioudaioi? What segment of first century Jewry could hear Paul’s words and say, “He isn’t talking about my corner of the Jewish world, because I’m part of a subset of Jewry that has always heeded the prophets.”

          • Evan Hershman

            And of course, that’s the catch. Even if my interpretation that Paul is blaming some subgroup for the death of Jesus and the prophets is correct, I have no idea who he might be talking about… and as you say, the idea that Israel as a whole had historically been disobedient at certain points is a key theme of Deuteronomy and the prophetic literature, and was still well-known in the Second Temple period. It is difficult to know who Paul might see as being “responsible,” given that he elsewhere attributes Jesus’s crucifixion to “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:6-8), a rather generic term with cosmic implications.

            • lbehrendt

              Well, then I think we see this the same way. Still, it’s possible that Paul’s audience knew who he was talking about: maybe the Jewish elites as I suggested earlier. I think we can still try to argue that Paul did not mean to condemn the entirety of the Ioudaioi, but that the specific meaning of this condemnation is unfortunately lost to us. Thanks for putting this argument forward.

            • Robert

              I think ‘rulers of this age’ in 1 Corinthians can be understood merely as ‘contemporary rulers’ without any exaggerated cosmic or demonic implications that some people over emphasize based on deutero-Pauline or even Johannine texts.

              • Possibly I should have considered 1 Corinthians 2:6 and 2:8 when I wrote this piece. Certainly 1 Cor 2:8 talks about the responsibility for the death of Jesus in terms very different from 1 Thess. 2:14-16. The Jewish culpability seems less in 1 Corinthians (the ἀρχόντων referred to here by Paul are not identified as Jewish leaders, though I think that’s what he meant — compare this text with John 12:42, which reads similarly, and where the ἀρχόντων clearly are Jewish). Perhaps more importantly, Paul in 1 Corinthians blames Jesus’ crucifixion on a failure of understanding, one he seems to think is universal among non-believers in Jesus. Contrast 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, where Jesus’ execution is blamed on the sinful nature of the Jews. Thanks for this comment, it has me considering things I had not considered previously.

    • David

      Great point about the comma. It occurs to me though that one can make the same point without changing any punctuation. Here’s an illustration: Native Americans speaking about their history might use the phrase, “the white man, who…” Yes, the wording could potentially imply that ALL white people are responsible. But any sane person knows that’s patently ridiculous! What the phrase really means is that the people who were to blame were white – not that whites as a group are to blame. Same thing here. The phrase, “the Jews, who…” simply means that the people responsible were Jews (which of course warrants its own discussion, but I don’t want to dilute my point here).

      Now the problem of with this kind of language – “the whites”, “the Jews”, etc. – is that it does tend to breed resentment for ALL members of the group, no matter what you “mean” by it. And harboring contempt for people based on their group (and ignoring who they are as individuals) is history’s most effective recipe for human oppression and bloodshed.

      So if you want to be faithful to the text, including punctuation, it
      seems to me that you need to nip the destructive interpretation in the bud and be *very* explicit about what it means, and what it DOESN’T mean.

      • lbehrendt

        David, great comment. I think you’re pointing to one of the knottiest human moral and intellectual problems, the question of collective responsibility. I cannot imagine a way to read 1 Thessalonians that does not imagine Paul to be talking about some kind of collective responsibility for the death of Jesus. I read and re-read this passage, substituting for Ioudaioi something like “a few Jews,” or “a handful of Jews,” and I can’t make that reading work in context. It might have been only one or two Jews total who participated in some sense in Jesus’ execution (by handing him over to the Romans; I think the best historical interpretation is that the Ioudaioi play no role in the actual crucifixion, notwithstanding any possible interpretation of John’s Gospel to the contrary). Or, as you hint, there might not have been ANY Jewish involvement; the Romans were certainly capable of executing Jews without Jewish help. But Paul seems to be saying that the same Ioudaioi who are responsible for Jesus’ death are also responsible for persecuting his then-contemporary followers, the murder of prophets.and interference with the spread of the Christian message. Clearly, he’s talking about more than one or two Ioudaioi.

        I am experimenting with translating Ioudaioi in 1 Thessalonians as “some of the Jews.” It does beg the question, WHICH Jews? Likely, this possible translation does not satisfy the need you expressed for a very explicit statement of meaning. But even if we can assume that Paul did not mean to condemn every Ioudaios (and I think it’s clear that Paul self-identified as an Ioudaios, and he does not seem to be condemning himself here), I cannot figure out who among the Ioudaioi he meant to condemn. That IS the question, isn’t it, not THAT we’d like to be explicit, but HOW to do it?

        • David

          To use a phrase like “the Jews” not only breeds resentment – it betrays the speaker’s resentment. I think it’s reasonable that Paul would have been angry and resentful at the Jewish rabbinic establishment who actively opposed Jesus, and at other Jews who rejected him as their king/messiah. In other words, it’s more of an “emotional” statement than a precise statement – which of course is further evidenced by his saying that the Jews “killed” him.

  • Mike Holmes

    I would like to second the suggestion of Evan re the comma in 1 Thess 2:14-16. It is purely editorial, and turns a precise statement into a slander–one that, moreover, is inconsistent with Paul’s statements elsewhere.

  • KLundstrom

    This is a very interesting discussion. As a Christian, I have always been uncomfortable with the negative way that both Paul and John seem to be talking about Jews (especially since they were both Jews themselves!). In light of this discussion related to translation, I’m wondering if different Greek words are all being translated into English as “Jew” in the NT. For example, is Ioudaios the word Paul used in Acts 22:3 when he said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God …”? This sounds like Paul means “Jew” as one adhering to the tenets and practices of Judaism. What about in Galatians 2:14, where Paul admonishes Cephas by asking, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Here, it sounds like he’s identifying Cephas as an ethnic Jew, but saying he’s not abiding by Jewish religious practices.

    Then there’s John. In numerous places, he refers to “the Jews” in a way that seems to suggest they are the Other — not like Jesus, not like the disciples (John 2:18, 5:18, for example). But then in John 4 (the interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well), Jesus and the woman both identify Jesus as a Jew. And interestingly, John 7:1 says: “After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, because the Jews were seeking to kill him.” Perhaps this is evidence for the idea that Ioudaios refers specifically to Judeans (as opposed to Galileans)?
    Any case, I’m curious whether “Jew” in English is always translated from the same word in Greek.

    • lbehrendt

      KL, great comment! Yes, I too am trying to figure out how Jewish Gospel authors could be writing about the Jewish Jesus and his Jewish disciples while at the same time appearing to condemn the entire extant body of Jews.

      Regarding the texts you cite: I work off online interlinear translations like this one. I can’t read Greek. Acts 22:3, Galatians 2:14, John 2:18, John 4:9, John 4:22, John 5:18 and John 7:1 all contain a form of the word Ioudaios (translated to “Jew”; in John 2:18 and 5:18, it is the plural Ioudaioi, translated as “Jews”). I read John 7:1 the way you do — this seems like a good place to translate Ioudaioi as “Judeans.” Interestingly, a number of translations of John 7:1 translate Ioudaioi as “Jewish leaders.”

      Your focus on John’s Gospel is, I think, well placed. According to Adele Reinhartz’s summary in the Jewish Annotated New Testament, the word Ioudaios or some variant thereof appears more than 70 times in John, In contrast, I think the term Ioudaios shows up maybe half a dozen times each in the other Gospels. Reinhartz is a top scholar in this field, and she argues in the Jewish Annotated New Testament for a translation of Ioudaios as “Jew,” not “Judean.” But she also notes that John uses the term “Jews” to identify and condemn those who do not believe in Jesus. As you’ve pointed out, John’s use of Ioudaios is not completely negative — in John 4:22, Jesus indicates that salvation is from the Ioudaioi. But Reinhartz points out that John never uses Ioudaios to identify Jesus (with the exception of John 4:9, where the Samaritan woman at the well uses this designation) or his followers.

      I can’t say for certain that every time you see “Jew” or “Jews” in an English translation of the New Testament, the underlying Greek word is Ioudaios or a form thereof. But I suspect that this is the case.

      So, KL, want to weigh in on the question raised by Anthony and Tim? Would you prefer it if the New Testament translated Ioudaios as “Judean”?

    • Stephanie Barbé Hammer

      Thanks so much for this, KL. I felt this too growing up as a Presbyterian and then as an Episcopalian.

  • KLundstrom

    From a personal perspective, yes, I think I’d feel more comfortable if the word designated people from a specific locale (or specific individuals, like “Jewish leaders”). That would spare me the discomfort, and there does seem to be at least one instance where that’s the case. I’d like to believe that the shameful use of the New Testament as an excuse for persecution is based on mistranslation, rather than wholesale slander against their own people by the fathers of the church. However, I think it’s more complicated than that. Ioudaios does seem to be used in the different passages to mean variously “ethnic Jews,” “people practicing Judaism,” “Judeans,” and perhaps “Jewish leaders.” When you brought up the latter, I was reminded that I’ve heard that before – the idea that John was not referring to the Jewish people, but to their leaders, who felt threatened by the things Jesus said and did (perhaps understandably so, as people trying to maintain their culture and practice their religion in a country occupied by the greatest military power of the time). I’m rambling a bit here, but I guess what I’m saying is that I’m still a bit uncomfortable. But maybe the definition of what it is to be a Jew has always been complicated (an ethnicity and a religion and a nationality and a culture), so it’s not surprising that it’s just as confusing in the NT.

    • lbehrendt

      KL, great comment. At the end of the day, the best we may be able to do is to problematize the meaning of Ioudaios a bit, so we can say that perhaps Paul’s meaning was different than it might appear to us 2,000 years later, even if we don’t know exactly what that meaning might have been. I’m with you: I can’t see how Paul, or John, or Matthew could use terms of condemnation so sweeping that they potentially condemn not just Jesus’ opponents, but also his allies and even Jesus himself.

      I plan to do a bit more problematizing in my next post. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

      • KLundstrom

        Thanks for starting the conversation, Larry!

  • KLundstrom

    Yes, Stephanie, I thought we might have had some similar experiences/concerns in this. 🙂

  • Robert

    Does the word derive from ‘Yehudi’ or ‘Yehudim’, the people of Yehud, the Persian name for a province centred on Jerusalem? Jesus and his family had Jewish names rather than Greek or Samaritan, and claimed descent from David. That suggests they may have been descended from people resettled in Galilee during Hyrcanus I’s attempt to Judaise the area, and would explain the Judean identification!

    • lbehrendt

      Robert, I’m deriving what I know about the derivation of “Ioudaios” from some relatively basic sources, including Josh Garroway’s article in the Jewish Annotated New Testament. Garroway states that the word derives from the Aramaic name “Yehud”, a small province centered around Jerusalem conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BCE. This name itself derived from the Kingdom of Judah, the Southern Kingdom ruled by descendants of King David before the Babylonian exile. It was common for the Greeks to use the same or a similar name to identify a people and the region where they lived. I don’t personally know how the Persians identified this region, but if they used the name “Yehud,” my guess is that it also derived from “Judah.” I admit that this is not exactly an area where I am expert! I’d much appreciate it if you can add to what I know or think I know.

      Another area where I’m not expert is the history and ethnic identity of first century residents of Galilee. For this discussion, I’m leaning more heavily than I should on this single article. The best (but not the only) view seems to be that most of the Galileans in the first century CE were Jews who entered the region after its conquest by the Hasmoneans. But among other things, note Josephus 12.332, where Josephus reports that the Hasmonian conquest of the Galilee began with Judas’ decision to send his brother Simon north to “go to the assistance of the Ioudaioi in Galilee.” So, it sounds like there were “Jews” or “Judeans” present in the Galilee before its conquest!, We can also add to this mix that some people identified as Galileans in the first century might have been Itureans. But in any event, the archaeological evidence seems to be that the Galilee was thinly settled before the Hasmonean conquest, that its population expanded after this conquest, that from this point the Galilee was economically and politically oriented towards Judea, that the archaeological artifacts found in the Galilee dating to the first century are very much like those found in Judea, and that by the first century the bulk of Galilee’s population were the successors of Hasmonean settlers.

      The best indicators seem to be that first century Galileans were thoroughly Jewish, that Jews dominated the region, and that there was not much of a Gentile presence in the region. Doubtless there was some regional tension between those residing in Galilee and those in Judea, but it appears that the residents of both regions identified themselves as Ioudaioi. So yes, to the extent that Jesus self-identified ethnically, he probably did so as an ethnic Ioudaios.

      Again, this is a topic I don’t know much about, so I’m hoping that folks reading this will chime in with what they know.

      • Robert

        This is a much debated question. Older scholarship, and some recent scholarship (eg, the Jesus Seminar ilk) relies on a view of ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ as having a (much) less ‘Jewish’ character. On the other hand, some recent scholarship (eg, Mark Chancey’s The Myth of a Gentile Galilee) highlights the ‘Jewish’ character of Galilee. There are good indications in both directions so I think it is a fairly safe assumption that Galilee had a mixed character. There’s later Talmudic evidence for strict halachic rulings in Galilee as well as a passage characterizing Galileans as hating the Torah.

  • David

    Re: what makes a “good Jew”, the answer you get (from a Jew) will likely depend on the religious/political affiliations of the person you ask. For instance, an Orthodox Jew might say that “good” equals attempting to heed the “613”, i.e. the Torah commandments, while a Reform Jew may say it involves “repairing the world” (“tikkun olam”), being involved in social action, etc. Someone who’s particularly Zionistic might wonder how anyone, regardless of religious denomination, could think of themselves as a good Jew while continuing to reside in the diaspora.

    Personally, I don’t relate to the phrase “good Jew” whatsoever. First off, it immediately brings to mind the concept of “bad Jews”. Why do I need to use labels of “good” or “bad” to describe people I don’t even know? Who am I to be the arbiter of what the “right” way is to be Jewish? It feels exceedingly pompous and narrow-minded – and unproductive from the get-go.

    Add to that the idea of *non-Jews* weighing in as to what makes a “good Jew” and we get to a whole other level of presumptuousness. Just like I imagine most Christians may not particularly appreciate my declaring as a Jew what it means to be a “good Christian”, so too the other way around.

    • lbehrendt

      Well, perhaps I should have phrased the question in a more personal way. What does being a “good Jew” mean to you? If you have children … what Jewish values do you emphasize to them?

      But you may be on to something when you say that you don’t relate to the question, that it seems too judgmental to you. In my life, I feel I am continually judged by others on the question of the “goodness” of my Jewishness. Perhaps I’m a bit too sensitive on this topic, or perhaps not sensitive enough.

  • I have enjoyed coming back from a week off in New York City to this difficult discussion. I side with ‘Jews’ as a translation. But I think every use of the word in the NT must be framed carefully.

    While in New York, my wife, daughter and I attended Sabbath service at Temple Emanu-El. The sermon was strong, building on Rashi’s comment on Leviticus 25:1 re ‘Mount Sinai’, that even what Moses learned in the tent of meeting (Leviticus 1:1) was revealed from Sinai. On Sunday, my wife and I attended evensong at St Thomas’s. The sermon was weak. Music at both services, Jewish and Christian, was well performed. (The podcasts are still online. http://emanuelnyc.org/media/audio/audiofile_1216.mp3, and http://www.saintthomaschurch.org/calendar/events/worship-services/8777/festal-evensong)

    These two great and beautiful buildings are both on fifth avenue, along with the large and beautiful Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church between them – each a few blocks from the other. The word Israel was used in both services. In the synagogue, it seemed to mean Israel, the land, but perhaps its geographic intent was more in my ears. And I love that land anyway even with all its problems. In the hymn (Likely verse 4 of this one http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/EH1982/670) sung from St Thomas’s the word might have been used in the poem to draw the church, both Jew and Gentile, into the calling of Israel.

    When you ask, what makes for a good Jew, my first thought went to the etymology of the word – (love those fallacies, eh!) – Judah – praise – I think that is why Paul uses ‘praise’ in Romans 2 (as already cited in Tim Henderson’s comment).

    How do we get such praise from G-d? Where does the ‘well done’ come from? Here are three possibilities: Discipline – as in well performed music, perseverance – lots of troubles to manage, and openness to ‘the other’.

    I think this aspect of the parochial is the most difficult. Stirling, already disgraced by his racist comments last week, dug himself even deeper this week by appealing to what Jews do to help their own people, as opposed to some other group that he mentioned. He has failed to learn the difficult lessons of parochialism. I am sorry for him – if one reads psalms 6 and 38 thoroughly, one can make no excuses.

    So there is ‘an’ answer off the top of my head 1. discipline – do your homework, learn to love practicing; 2. perseverance -the warrior virtue, and 3. openness – love your neighbor as yourself. I have added a fourth – the real ability to say one is sorry. I think these four can lead to justice and judgment with righteousness. I don’t think it is easy.

    • lbehrendt

      Bob, isn’t Temple Emanu-El a trip? I attended a wedding there once — it’s like a cathedral!

      Regarding Donald Sterling … we are looking into excommunication as an option. I am not optimistic … as much as we’d like to give him away, what religion would take him from us? Even the agnostics would say “No thanks!” Fortunately, the NBA commissioner who’s drumming him out of the sport is also Jewish. The only lesson I can learn from Sterling is one of humility. We too can produce a real stinker or two.

      I like your answers to what makes for a good Jew. I had thought about repentance, but oddly hadn’t considered perseverance, arguably our most remarkable characteristic! Thanks for a terrific response.

  • Chris Eyre

    Thanks for this, Larry.

    First, the off-the-wall suggestion – in a number of places in the NT, there are untranslated pieces of Hebrew/Aramaic. Why not refuse to translate “Ioudaios” and leave it as it is? The discussions will then more or less have to take place, and hopefully light rather than heat will be generated.

    Coming as I do from a background of some years moderating on an interfaith religion forum with special responsibility for the Christianity section, I’m inclined to answer that the qualities for being a good *anything* are that you take your religion and spirituality seriously and that you are tolerant of and respectful towards other faiths. “What do you think makes for a good Jew?” would on RF have been an invitation to writing something which would have attracted charges of antisemitism.

    The easy answer would then be “keep the Torah”. However, if there’s one thing about Judaism which I really like it’s that it encourages everyone (not just a priestly class) to grapple with scripture and argue about it, and there aren’t really “right answers” as long as you’re faithful to the text in some manner. So, should I say that a good Jew should be amicably argumentative? Perhaps I don’t need to duck and run from that one.

    • lbehrendt

      Chris, thanks back at you!

      It’s odd. I don’t think I’d have any problem with telling anyone who’d listen what I think makes for a “good Christian.” (But, who’d listen? ;^) ) I think this is yet another example of how Judaism and Christianity exist in an asymmetrical relationship. I can see the risk you describe here, that some Jews might not appreciate a Christian discussion of how we can be better Jews. But I think you’ve provided a good answer to my question. You might find it funny in light of your mention of being “amicably argumentative,” that friend-of-this-blog Anthony Le Donne has publicly described me as a “sweethearted contrarian”, and I’m sure I’ve caused him once or twice to regret the “sweethearted” modifier!

      The idea of not translating Ioudaios is intriguing. You’re right that the NT contains a few words of untranslated Hebrew and Aramaic, but isn’t that because those words also appear untranslated in the Greek original? I don’t know of any Greek words in the NT that the translators have opted not to translate. We should note the approach taken by the Jewish Annotated New Testament, which chose the New Revised Standard Version translation of the New Testament, but supplemented this translation with numerous explanatory inserts and articles, including a terrific article by Josh Garroway on the meaning of Ioudaios. Josh concludes by saying that “it is prudent to be circumspect when reading in translation any ancient Greek text that mentions ‘Jews’ or ‘Judeans’.” It would be good if Josh’s conclusion could be preached from the pulpit and taught in Sunday schools. That may be the best we can hope for.

      • Chris Eyre

        Well, I’d listen… 😉 I had in mind sayings like “two Jews, three opinions”, which I regard as flattering, but mileage may vary.

        I know the trick of keeping the words in the original was only practiced by the NT writers and hasn’t been used by their own translators, but also keep coming across works of theology where German (and sometimes French) terms aren’t translated because there’s felt to be no good clear equivalent (which annoys me where it’s German, which I don’t have many words of), so why not? If (for instance) we’ve needed to adopt “sitz im leben” as it is, why not “ioudaios”?

        I suppose the argument might be that there’s a difference between academic and popular texts. Footnotes are always available, though…

      • Robert

        Translators do sometimes leave ambiguous words untranslated, eg, I think some NT translations leave the word ‘paraclete’ untranslated because it can have a very wide range of meanings. I sometimes just refer to both English words together, ie, “Judean/Jew”

  • William J E Dempsey

    My sense of history here needs some filling out. My understanding is that Israel and the northern (10?) tribes were essentially destroyed by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Leaving only the south, Judah, and one or two tribes? At this point, Jewishness would be in serious decline … except for Judah and its tribe(s?).
    If this is right, then functionally at this point, most remaining Jews would be … from the region and even tribe of Judah? The other tribes having largely disappeared in the Assyrian invasion of 722.
    So to a degree (ignoring the diaspora) there would now be general identification of Jewishness with specifically and almost only … Judah.

    • lbehrendt

      William, I find it’s common for historians to begin their discussion of the history of the Jewish people with the Babylonian Exile (586 BCE), or sometimes with the return of the people from exile (usually dated around 515 BCE, the date commonly given for construction of the Second Temple). I think historians here are looking for a beginning time from which they can confidently DO history, as opposed to simply reporting what the Bible says happened … but in any event, the sixth century BCE is about the earliest time I’ve seen mentioned in the histories of how Jews came to be called “Jews.”

      Pushing back further in time … many historians accept that sometime around the 10th century BCE (Bible-wise, following the death of King Solomon), the nation of Israel split in two along traditional tribal lines. The ten northern tribes (Reuben, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh and probably Simeon) became one kingdom, commonly known as “Israel,” and the southern two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) became the second kingdom, commonly known as “Judah.” To complicate matters, there was a 13th tribe, that of Levi, consisting of the priestly class, that was present mostly in the southern kingdom. According to the Bible, the Levites received no land, which explains why they are not counted among the “12 Tribes.” I mention that Simeon was probably a northern tribe — they ARE counted among the 10 northern tribes, though my understanding is that they may not have had a fixed location.

      All of this assumes the historicity of early Bible accounts. This is not a history I’ve carefully studied, and I admit I’m a bit suspicious, particularly since the two Southern tribes are the ones associated with Rachel’s only two sons, which seems like a remarkable coincidence. There ARE historians who think that the united Kingdom of 12 tribes was a myth, and that the kingdoms of Judah and Israel were always separate.

      In any event … all seem to agree that Judah got its name from the tribe of Judah, but as the tribes of Benjamin and Levi also survived the Assyrian conquest, the name “Judah” perhaps resulted from this tribe being the dominant surviving tribe. I don’t know. It is interesting to note that the name of the northern kingdom is NOT the name of one of the 10 northern tribes, so it wasn’t inevitable that Judea would receive its name from one of the 12 (or 13) tribes. It’s also not clear to me when the Judeans started to refer to themselves as “Judea.” According to this online class, the first reference outside of the Bible to Israel is quite ancient, going back to 1200 BCE. In contrast, there’s no evidence outside of the Bible that a Kingdom of Judea even existed prior to 800 – 900 BCE, and the first reference to Judea outside of the Bible is Assyrian and dates to the 700s BCE. So perhaps it’s conceivable that Judea got its name AND its association with the tribe of Judea at around the time of the Assyrian conquest.

      In any event, this is about as much as I can tell you of the more ancient history and archaeology, and I welcome anyone reading who knows more to chime in!

      • William J E Dempsey

        Thanks! Looks helpful; so far my ad hoc hypothesis seems to hold up, it seems.

        • lbehrendt

          I think that your hypothesis is fine, if properly limited. The idea that Jewishness derives from Judean-ness seems to be widely held. It also seems to be widely understood that “religion” in the ancient world was understood not so much in terms of belief, but instead as something of the “lifestyle” of a particular region. So, Judaism (or if you like, Judeanism) becomes those “religious” practices associated with the people of Judea, even when practiced by groups of Jews who don’t live in Judea.

          If you want to take your hypothesis further than this, then I might disagree with it. For example: the identifier of Ioudaioi appears to be “outsider” language — it’s an identifier used by outsiders to describe Jews, or by Jews as a self-identifier in communication with outsiders. I haven’t carefully studied this, but I think that ancient Jews preferred “Hebrew” and “Israel” as a self-identifier. Also, at some point “Judean-ness” seems to take on a life of its own, so that Judea becomes identified with Judean-ness every bit as much as Judean-ness is characterized by being practiced in Judea. In other words, a person in Rome would be identified as Judean not because of any obvious “foreign” difference in appearance, but because of distinct practices (how he ate, whether he worked on Saturdays) associated in the Roman mind with Judea or Judean-ness. By the first century, these distinct practices may have been more important to the marker of Ioudaioi than association with a particular place in the world … though that geographic association remained important to Jewish identity throughout the long history of the diaspora. It’s complicated.