Jews or Judeans?

For some time there has been a discussion in scholarly circles and journals about how to translate the Greek term ioudaios/ioudaioi. Tradionally it has been translated Jew/Jews, but in some recent studies the translation Judean/-s have been suggested as more appropriate.

Now Adele Reinhartz has published a strong support for the traditional rendering. I think this should be read by many; she may very well have delivered some very strong arguments for keeping the traditional rendering, at least in most cases.

Her conclusion runs thus:

“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.”

Author: TorreyS


2 thoughts on “Jews or Judeans?”

  1. The NT records Jesus and his disciples using the term about others, despite the fact that Jesus and his disciples were all Jews themselves. Why would a bunch of Jews go around talking about “the Jews” as someone different from themselves? Galilean Jews talking about Judeans makes more contextual sense.

  2. Thank you for posting this, Torrey. I heartily agree with Reinhartz. If interested, one might also look at the Daniel Schwartz article to which Reinhartz refers as “more nuanced”: ‘”Judean” or “Jew”? How Should We Translate Ioudaios in Josephus,’ in Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman World, eds. J. Frey, D. Schwartz, and S. Gripentrog (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 3-27.

    Even if scholarship winds up keeping to the standard use of “Jew, Jewish,” we all will have to see for years the “Judean” usage since it is in enshrined long-term in BDAG.

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