IOUDAIOS (word study) by Robert Garroway

IOUDAIOS (word study) by Robert Garroway

The Following is excerpted from The Jewish Annotated New Testament  (copyright info lollows article)

Ioudaios (feminine Ioudaia, pl. Ioudaioi) is the Greek word for “Jew” or “Judean.” English translators usually prefer to render Ioudaios as “Jew” when it designates anyone adhering to Judaism, that is, the laws, customs, rituals, or beliefs associated with the God and the Scriptures of Israel, while they use “Judean” when the term refers in a strictly political or geographical sense to one living in or originating from the region of Judea. As the following discussion indicates, however, the translation of Ioudaios is contentious.

When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in the late fourth century BCE, one of the many lands he obtained was a small province, centered upon Jerusalem, called Yehud in Aramaic (Ezra 5.1,8; 7.14). This name stemmed from “Judah” (Heb Yehudah), the “southern” kingdom ruled, according to tradition, by the descendants of King David after its separation from the “northern” kingdom of Israel in the late tenth century BCE. This area was later ruled by the Babylonians, who deposed the last Judean king and destroyed the Jerusalem Temple in 586; the Persians displaced the Babylonians in 539, and ruled Yehud until Alexander’s conquest in 333. Greek-speakers such as Clearchus of Soli (ca. 300 BCE) soon thereafter began referring to this region as Ioudaia, “Judea,” and its inhabitants as Ioudaioi, “Judeans.” This correspondence between the name of a city or a region and its resident “people” (Gk ethnos) was common in the Greek language: Athenians lived in Athens, Egyptians in Egypt, and so, Judeans in Judea.

Such ethno-geographic labels were maintained even when one resided abroad. People who were descended from Ioudaioi and lived according to their laws and customs would be known as Ioudaioi even if their families had lived in Alexandria or Antioch for generations. Ioudaios was rarely, if ever, a preferred self-designation, [p. 597] however. Among themselves, Ioudaioi favored the terms Israel, Israelites (huioi Israel, “children of Israel” in LXX), or Hebrews (Hebraioi).

As with any term of identity, dispute and/or confusion emerged over who properly should be called an Ioudaios. The problems concerning who was a Ioudaios were accentuated in the second century BCE, when the Hasmonean kings expanded Judean hegemony by conquering regions to the north and south of Judea—Samaria, Galilee, and Idumea—and they imposed their laws upon the native populations. As a result, many who previously had no ethnic or geographic connection to Judea became Ioudaioi, inasmuch as they resided on lands controlled by Judea and obeyed its laws. Yet, opinions varied regarding the extent to which one actually became an Ioudaios through such incorporation.

The Idumeans to the south provide a good example. In 125 BCE, the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus conquered Idumea and allowed the population to stay on their land provided they adopt the laws of the Ioudaioi. According to first-century CE historian Josephus (Ant. 13.257–258), those who did so became Ioudaioi. In contrast, the contemporary historian Ptolemy (Ammonius, De Adfinium Vocabulorum Differentia, no. 243) stated that even though the Idumeans came to be called Ioudaioi once they submitted to the new way of life, they were nevertheless different from Ioudaioi because they constituted a separate ethnic group. This explains, in part, why Herod the Great, a descendant of Idumeans, faced objections to the legitimacy of his kingship over the Ioudaioi. Josephus (Ant. 14.403) reports that one of Herod’s early rivals disputed his right to rule because, being an Idumean, he was only a hemiioudaios, a half- or partial-Ioudaios. Political incorporation of outsiders under the Hasmoneans thus broadened and complicated the parameters of the term Ioudaios. Individuals might consider themselves Ioudaioi, but others might disagree.

A second problem was created by the emergence of conversion, a practice that came about possibly as early as the second century BCE (Jdt 14.12; 2 Macc 9.17), but certainly by the first century CE (Josephus, Ant 20.17–48; Philo, Virtues 102–103). The beliefs and way of life of the Ioudaios appeared attractive to many Gentiles, who affiliated with the Ioudaioi to one degree or another. Some expressed their affection through benefactions to communities of Ioudaioi; others adopted certain of their rituals or beliefs; still others became proselytes, which meant confessing allegiance to the God of Israel, supporting God’s Temple in Jerusalem, participating in a local synagogue, and living in accordance with the ancestral laws and customs of the Ioudaioi. It remains unclear, however, to what extent proselytes became full-fledged Ioudaioi as a result of their conversion. Rabbinic literature suggests that they did not. Even the most generous estimation of converts declares them to be “like an Israelite in all respects” (b. Yebam. 47b)—like an Israelite, but not a native Israelite, a distinction with ramifications in certain legal and liturgical contexts. For example, the Mishnah instructs proselytes not to say “our forefathers” when offering first fruits at the Temple or when praying in a synagogue (m. Bik. 1.4).

Evidence from non-rabbinic environments is more difficult to construe. Outsiders such as Dio Cassius (Roman History 37.17.1) believed that proselytes became Ioudaioi. Certain Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., 4Q174 1–3.i.4; 11Q19 xl.6), conversely, distinguish proselytes from Israelites and state that proselytes were either forbidden from entering the Temple or allowed to pass only as far as the outer court. This evidence from Qumran, alongside an inscription from the Temple mount barring entrance to the “foreign born,” and a dispute, reported by Josephus (Ant. 19.332–4), between King Herod Agrippa (r. 41–44 CE) and a certain Simon, has led some to suppose that certain priestly circles believed native Ioudaioi should be distinguished from proselytes when it came to participation in sacrificial worship. Philo calls for legal equality for proselytes and praises their resolve, but he never says they become Ioudaioi (e.g., Life of Moses 1.147; Virtues 102–3). Josephus, on the other hand, does use the term Ioudaios when reporting the conversion of Queen Helena of Adiabene (Ant. 20.2–4), and the book of Judith says that Achior the Ammonite “joined the house of Israel” (Jdt 14.10). Thus, whether a proselyte was considered a Ioudaios seems to have depended on the proselyte in question and the perspective of the observer.

The rise in the importance of conversion might point to a transformation in the meaning of the term Ioudaios, and that transformation in turn explains its traditional translation into English. If conversion is understood to be a religious act in which a change in belief prompts changes in lifestyle, there must have arisen by the first century BCE a distinct cultural and religious aspect to the word Ioudaios. This development may be correlated with a parallel shift in the Greek term Hellēn, “Hellene,” which in the centuries after Alexander came to signify not only a resident of or descendant from Greece, but also anyone committed to Greek culture, Hellenismos or “Hellenism.” Ioudaios likewise came to describe anyone devoted to the beliefs and practices of the Ioudaioi, Ioudaismos or “Judaism.” Assuming that the word “Jew” captures this religious aspect better than does “Judean,” most translators since the sixteenth century have preferred it as a rendering of Ioudaios whenever the religious connotation appears primary; they reserve “Judean” only for cases [p. 598] in which context demands emphasis on the ethno-geographic sense. When an author refers only to the Ioudaioi inhabiting Judea, for example, a translator would choose “Judean” instead of “Jew” (e.g., Ant. 11.173).

In recent years, some scholars have argued that translating Ioudaios with two terms—“Jew” for the religious connotation and “Judean” for the ethno-geographic one —is anachronistic. Only in the third or fourth century CE, these scholars maintain, did it become viable to speak of religion or religious identity as a discrete realm of human experience, separable from ethnicity or place of origin. What we understand to be “religion”—belief in God(s), customs associated with the worship of that God, and so on—were thought by the ancients to be integral to one’s ethno-geographic affiliation. By and large, people worshipped the god or gods associated with their place of origin. The term Ioudaios thus designated a person who was from or whose ancestors were from Judea, and for that reason worshipped the God of Judea. It was thoroughly an ethno-geographic term and thus, according to this scholarly view, should always be translated “Judean.” Likewise, Ioudaismos should not be rendered as “Judaism,” which conveys anachronistically the notion of a discrete religion, but rather as “Judeanism,” “Judeanness,” “Judean ways,” or some other expression that captures the basic connection of the term to the land of Judea and its people. Conversion, on this view, was not a change in religion as we might understand it, but the adoption of beliefs, laws, and customs of a different people or ethnos. Proselytes did not accept “Judaism,” a religion, but rather the conventions of the people inhabiting Judea. These scholars posit that speaking of Ioudaioi with the religious terms “Jew” and “Judaism” becomes appropriate only with the demise of Judean nationhood in the wake of the Roman wars, and with the flourishing of Christianity, which described itself and others in terms of beliefs and practices irrespective of ethnic or national affiliation (i.e., as a religion).

Other scholars insist that Ioudaios indeed possesses a uniquely religious connotation in antiquity, which at times prevails over its ethno-geographic counterpart. They point to Acts 2, for example, where Luke says the Ioudaioi gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost derive from “every nations (Gk ethnos) under heaven” (v 5) and subsequently identifies them with explicit ethno-geographic labels: Parthian, Elamite, Cretan, Arab, and so on. Ioudaios there looks like a religious label, “Jew” rather than “Judean,” in the modern sense. So too when Josephus refers to a certain Atomos as “a Ioudaios, but a Cyprian by birth” (Ant. 20.142), the former sounds like the designation of a religious identity, the latter his ethnicity or place of origin.

The issue of how to translate Ioudaios is not entirely academic. It holds ramifications for contemporary Jewish identity and Jewish-Christian relations as well. Translators of the term, particularly in New Testament texts, often justify their choice with moral, as well as intellectual, arguments. Some advocates for “Judean” claim that applying the term “Jew” to the Ioudaioi of antiquity might lead to anti-Jewish prejudice, since readers may associate today’s Jews with the Ioudaioi described as being of “the devil” (Jn 8.44) or of having “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets” (1 Thess 2.15). The word “Judean” disassociates contemporary Jews from such harsh New Testament passages and makes it more difficult for anti-Judaism to find a scriptural foothold.

Those who prefer “Jew” are concerned that replacing “Jews” with “Judeans” in passages like Jn 8.44 erases the role interpretations of these texts has played in promoting Christian degradation of Jews over the centuries. Moreover, the purging of “Jews” from the New Testament, even if well-intentioned, too eerily resembles the efforts of antisemites, both past and present, who have tried to erase the Jewish origins of Jesus and Christianity. Much European scholarship in the nineteenth and early twentieth century held that since Jesus was from Galilee, rather than Judea, he was not a “Jew” but a “Galilean.” This trend climaxed in Nazi propaganda that depicted Jesus as an Aryan who opposed Judaism. In this view, Jesus and Christianity were thus entirely free of Jewish taint.

The removal of “Jews” from ancient texts also undermines the Jews’ own sense of continuity. Some historians think that disrupting that sense of continuity is important, since only by distinguishing antiquity from modern perspectives is it possible to understand properly how the ancients understood their own world. But most Jews do not consider themselves so estranged from the past. Jews traditionally do not trace their roots only as far as the rabbinic period, as if this were the time when they ceased being ethno-geographic “Judeans” and became religious “Jews.” Rather, they understand themselves to be the latest link in an unbroken chain of tradition originating in the age of the Tanakh and, with several obvious exceptions (e.g., Temple sacrifice and pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, Shavuot [Weeks/Pentecost], and Sukkot [Booths]), the characteristic practices of ancient Ioudaioi are still those kept by observant Jews today: Sabbath, circumcision, festivals, dietary laws, synagogue affiliation, and so on. To suggest by way of terminology that contemporary “Jews” differ essentially from ancient “Judeans” disregards these crucial similarities. Moreover, even today the term “Jew” is not bereft of ethno-geographic content. Many Jews pray regularly for a return to the land of Israel and/or the rebuilding of the Temple, pray facing Jerusalem, send their children to the land of Israel on “birthright” trips, and conclude the Passover Seder [p. 599] with the proclamation, “next year in Jerusalem.” They also reckon their identity according to birth and routinely speak of “peoplehood.” In this respect, “Jew” might capture the connection between the ancient Ioudaios and his or her ancestral homeland just as well as “Judean.”

In the end, it is prudent to be circumspect when reading in translation any ancient Greek text that mentions “Jews” or “Judeans.” Underlying both terms is the Greek Ioudaios, and the translator’s preference invariably reflects certain aims and assumptions.



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