Friday, September 07, 2007

Jesus Was Neither Jewish Nor Christian

In Jew or Judean? I explained why I think "Jew" is a mistranslation in the New Testament. Chris Weimer rebutted in Jew or Judean Again, and we had a few rounds in comments. Now, coming from the current issue of The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Jack Elliott confirms my convictions even more. Everyone should read his well-argued essay -- even if debates about nomenclature tend to wreck your digestion.

It's called "Jesus the Israelite was Neither a 'Jew' nor a 'Christian': On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature", JSHJ Vol 5.2, pp 119-154. Elliott discusses identification, insider and outsider language, the fact that Jesus is never called Ioudaios in the NT (save on three occasions, and by outsiders), that Ioudaios was understood in either a narrow regional sense or broader ethnic sense (depending on context) -- but in any case correctly translated as "Judean" and not "Jew", and the usage of Ioudaios in the Gospels, Acts, and letters of Paul. In the end, he outlines his "Resulting Picture" (pp 146-147):
(1) Jesus identified himself and his associates as Israelites, and his mission was directed to the House of Israel. He was identified by other Israelite insiders according to his Israelite family and lineage and by his place of birth and upbringing, Nazareth and Galilee. He was Yeshua bar Yoseph, an 'Israelite', a 'Galilean', a 'Nazarene from Nazareth of Galilee, but not a 'Judean' resident in Judea.

(2) Jesus never called himself a Ioudaios and was never designated as such by fellow Israelites. He was called, or thought of as, a Ioudaios only by non-Israelite outsiders whose terminology was consistent with Hellenistic and Roman practice, designating as 'Judean' all residents of Judea, together with all those connected to Judea by blood relations, Torah allegiance, patriotism, and loyalty to Judea, the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple.

(3) His first followers were identified by fellow Israelites also as 'Galileans', 'Nazarenes', or members of 'the Way', but never as 'Judeans'.

(4) They too, like Jesus, viewed themselves as Israelites. They preferred 'Israel' and 'Israelite' as self-identifiers when speaking to the ingroup Israel and when addressing fellow disciples.

(5) Paul's usage is consistent with this pattern. He too prefers 'Israel' and 'Israelite' as self-identifiers in settings where Israelite Christ followers or Israelites outside the Christ movement are present. With an eye to the Israelite fellow believers who are in the audiences of his letters to the Philippians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, he identifies himself as an 'Israelite'. With an eye to his Gentile readers, on the other hand, he can also identify himself, as a concession to their nomenclature, as a Ioudaios.
So Jesus was no more Jewish than Christian. He was a Judean in the broad ethnic sense often used by Greco-Roman outsiders, but even better a Galilean Israelite from the insider perspective. With Elliott I'm concerned that we "agree to employ terms of identification and self-identification today that reflect, and are consistent with, the historical, social, and cultural situation and practice of Jesus and his early followers" (p 154). Sometimes we don't do this well: the tendency of some scholars to pluralize "Judaism" (and "Christianity") for the sake of emphasizing ancient diversity is unnecessary and patronizing. But erasing "Judaism" from the discussion, as revisionist as it sounds, is completely warranted.

UPDATE: April DeConick reacts strongly to Elliott's proposal, and there are some nice replies in comments (:)).

13 Comments:

Blogger J. B. Hood said...

Loren,

I'm growing in my confidence of this position. (Cf. my post on how France treats this in his 2007 commentary on Matthew, NICNT.)

As you note, the meaing of Iudaios seems to depend on whether a speaker is etic or emic. An interesting parallel is the word, "Yankee" or "Yank." If one is a "foreigner" (Brit, for example) a Yank is any American. If you are in the States, however, a Yank is only someone from New England, the upper Mid-Atlantic, and arguably the Great Lakes states.

Note also the way Americans and many Europeans carelessly throw the word "Arab" around.

9/08/2007  
Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Loren,
Thanks for linking back to my response. Actualy, I don't see my argument exactly as the "case against" - I think mine is a mediating position: that is, I think there is usually an ethnic component to the word, and that sometimes that component is dominant, and sometimes almost submerged. In other word, the ethnic denotation sometimes becomes an ethnic connotation.

9/08/2007  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Loren, I don't understand how you can possibly say that "Judaism" should be erased from the picture of Jesus. He preached in the synagogues (would any Gentile have done that?), he read from the Torah, he was circumcised, he referred to the prophets of Israel, he and his followers went up to the Temple... the list goes on. I think that this distinction you're making between "Jew" and "Israelite" is entirely specious.

You should be aware that at least to me, you're beginning to sound like the bad old days in the study of the New Testament, when scholars did their best to divorce Jesus from Judaism, in order to make him look so much better than the "legalistic, "dessicated" caricature they drew of current-day Judaism.

9/12/2007  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Rebecca wrote:

You should be aware that at least to me, you're beginning to sound like the bad old days in the study of the New Testament, when scholars did their best to divorce Jesus from Judaism, in order to make him look so much better than the "legalistic, "dessicated" caricature they drew of current-day Judaism.

Rebecca, it's hard for me to take this seriously, since I've combatted these caricatures as much as anyone. No one is using Judaism as an implicit foil here. Judaism simply didn't exist in the pre-70 period. Read my posts again, because you've woefully misunderstood me.

You're particular reaction is part of the problem. When people associate the arguments of Elliott, Esler et all with antiquated Lutheran scholarship, it shows how much we've come to lean on the crutch of a supposed "Jewishness" for fear that we're automatically siding with dated paradigms that the "Jewish Jesus" and "Jewish Paul" oppose. But you don't need a non-existent Jewishness to avoid these pitfalls. And to be perfectly clear: I do not assume that Jesus' way of being a Galilean Israelite was inherently better than (say) a Pharisee's way of being a Judean Israelite. Good guy/bad guy contrasts have no more place in an historical discussion than do foils and false starts.

9/12/2007  
Blogger PeaceMonger said...

FYI, I've linked my blog to this and two other of your posts. http://tinyurl.com/32lzch

10/25/2007  
Blogger Rick Sumner said...

I'm a couple months late commenting, but better late than never, as they say. Just had a chance to read this, by virtue of Sage's free month (man has that increased my reading list. . .). Excellent paper. I found pages 128-130 to be particularly compelling--a sizable number of passages presented there seem to read more sensibly as "Judean."

11/05/2007  
Blogger Leon said...

I believe these recent attempts to rename and redefine ancient Jews and their culture are theologically motivated. I'll explain.

Has anyone noticed that the suggestion to use "Judean" instead of "Jew" (made by Steve Mason and others) is undercut by John Elliott's article? Mason for one claims to be interested in understanding the ancients as they understood themselves (his article was in the "Journal for the Study of Judaism" 38 [2007] 457-512). His concerns are broad and not tied to historical Jesus studies or to the question of how the NT's use of Ioudaios should be translated, though he admits that Christian theology has often determined how Jewish history is understood. But as Elliott brilliantly argues, giving many examples, "Judean" was the outsider term for this people. It is not how ancient Jews identified themselves. So the suggestion to use "Judean" completely fails. It represents an outsider or imperialistic approach to Judaism.

What about Elliott's recommendation to use "Israelite"? At least this makes some sense, but I'd have to reject it. "Israelite" means something different today than it meant back then. For most people, it denotes the children of Israel in the written Bible. Calling Jesus an Israelite would tie him too closely to a previous time.

Jesus was part of an ongoing, developing culture, in particular Pharisaic/rabbinic culture, and a rich oral tradition. That is the essential point about Jesus which no one gets. "Jew", "Jewish", and "Judaism" are still the best terms for that culture. The Gospels abundantly illustrate Jesus' participation in the oral tradition. "Israelite" fails to capture that because it has a static meaning today. What "Israelite" meant back in the 1st century is best conveyed by "Jew".

Whether it's Judean, Israelite, or Galilean, Christian scholars are using these terms to drive a wedge between Jesus and Pharisaic/rabbinic culture. This is historically false and should not be allowed to stand. And translating the NT's Ioudaios as Judean would also foster notions of divorcing Judeans from Galileans and Jesus from the former that cannot be justified.

The real harm in historical Jesus studies has come from using theological terms to study history (and not from the use of the word "Jew"), yet hardly anyone complains of their use: the antitheses of Matt 5, the Passion, the Cleansing of the Temple, the symbolic act of destruction of the Temple, the (Jewish) trial of Jesus, the betrayal, and more. All these terms have little or no evidentiary foundation in the Gospel texts. Scholars use them as a substitute for evidence to paint a historically false picture of Jesus in hostile relations with other Jews. It is a shame this continues, while scholars divert attention to the specious problem of finding words to replace "Jew", "Jewish", etc. — specious and potentially harmful because it results in rewriting Jewish history.

Leon Zitzer

4/23/2008  
Blogger Loren Rosson III said...

Leon wrote:

Has anyone noticed that the suggestion to use "Judean" instead of "Jew" (made by Steve Mason and others) is undercut by John Elliott's article? Mason for one claims to be interested in understanding the ancients as they understood themselves...But as Elliott brilliantly argues, giving many examples, "Judean" was the outsider term for this people. It is not how ancient Jews identified themselves. So the suggestion to use "Judean" completely fails. It represents an outsider or imperialistic approach to Judaism.

It's true that "Judean" is an outsider term, but why do you assume outsider language is inappropriate from an historical point of view. If anything, it's more appropriate for a Gentile like me to use then "Israelite", because if I were to go back to Jesus' day as a time-traveling archaeologist, I'd be an outsider. And you clearly favor the outsider term in any case (Ioudaios); you would just rather translate that outsider term as "Jew" instead of "Judean".

What about Elliott's recommendation to use "Israelite"? At least this makes some sense, but I'd have to reject it. "Israelite" means something different today than it meant back then. For most people, it denotes the children of Israel in the written Bible. Calling Jesus an Israelite would tie him too closely to a previous time.

The fact is that "Israelite" was Jesus' preferred mode of self-designation, and thus one of two appropriate historical terms to use (the other being the outsider term, "Judean"). Paul liked it too, though he also referred to himself as an Ioudaios -- he spoke from his own point of view and that of his Gentile followers.

Jesus was part of an ongoing, developing culture, in particular Pharisaic/rabbinic culture, and a rich oral tradition. That is the essential point about Jesus which no one gets. "Jew", "Jewish", and "Judaism" are still the best terms for that culture. The Gospels abundantly illustrate Jesus' participation in the oral tradition. "Israelite" fails to capture that because it has a static meaning today. What "Israelite" meant back in the 1st century is best conveyed by "Jew".

I disagree. "Judaism" connotes a religion having to do with the evolving traditions regarding the Torah (culminating in the Mishnah), while Judean religion was temple-based. It's because the pre-70/-135 folk were so localized and provincial that a different term is warranted.

Whether it's Judean, Israelite, or Galilean, Christian scholars are using these terms to drive a wedge between Jesus and Pharisaic/rabbinic culture.

I agree that this is a misuse of terminology -- and as I said above in response to Rebecca:

To be perfectly clear: I do not assume that Jesus' way of being a Galilean Israelite was inherently better than (say) a Pharisee's way of being a Judean Israelite. Good guy/bad guy contrasts have no more place in an historical discussion than do foils and false starts.

Just because scholars misuse correct terminology doesn't mean we should be clinging to inferior terminology.

scholars divert attention to the specious problem of finding words to replace "Jew", "Jewish", etc. — specious and potentially harmful

Actually either "Jew" or "Judean" can result in harmful applications -- on which see here - but that is 100% irrelevant from an historical point of view.

4/24/2008  
Blogger Leon said...

Loren:

I was pointing out that Mason (and Elliott too) says his goal is to understand a people from an internal point of view, that is, as they understood themselves. I happen to agree. But in any case, based on Mason's own professed goal, "Judean" is wrong. Mason and others also fail in many other ways to understand ancient Jews. This is one of them. It's how the Romans referred to the Jews. And I do not think it is appropriate for outsiders to impose their own ideas and own terminology on another people in the study of history.

"Jew" today is both an insider and an outsider term. It may have started as an outsider expression, but through a long history, it became the Jews' mode of self-designation. It is still the best word to capture the complex history. "Pharisee" may have had a similar history and in fact, may originally have meant something like "outsider" which the Pharisees came to proudly accept as their own. So too with Jews and the use of "Jew".

I am not opposed to occasionally reminding people that ancient Jews, including Jesus and Paul, referred to themselves as Israelites (though to be more accurate, it was probably more like "children of Israel", "sons of Israel", "member of the House of Israel", etc., as Elliott noted). But to use that term exclusively would be very misleading and would make people think of Jesus as a biblical Jew. That is wrong. Scholars still avoid Jesus' connection to Pharisees and rabbis and "Israelite" would only further that.

I also think there is something sickening about so many Christian scholars attempting to rename ancient Jews. Jews should get to decide how to describe their own history. After all, if everyone loves accuracy so much, why not change "Jesus" back to his original name "Joshua"? Jesus did not call himself Jesus but Yeshua or Joshua. "Jesus" carries a lot of theological baggage, an immense amount. It could be argued that this name has rendered objective historical study almost impossible. Yet no one is going to advocate using "Joshua" because it would offend Christian sensibilites. Quite understandable. It's just Jewish sensibilities no one minds offending.

I completely disagree with this creation of a historical figment of the scholarly imagination in the term "the Judean people" that was centered on the Temple cult. I know what scholars are doing. They are obsessed with creating the historical fiction of some group that can be hostile to Jesus, some mythical group that once existed but has now disappeared. And then creating this distinct group of Galilean Israelites. There was an oral culture that all Jews back then participated in. There was a Palestinian and a Babylonian Talmud that have a lot in common. Every single parable and saying of Jesus (or almost every one) is there in these records of oral tradition. The people in Judea and the people in Galilee were familiar with Jesus' stories. Scholars still refuse to investigate this. They suppress Jesus' deep immersion in this oral culture and instead invent something called Galilean Jewishness so they can carry forward the idea of Jesus' (imagined) conflict with Judeans.

Finally, I indicated in my post above the theological terms that have done the most harm in historical studies. Scholars ignore them all. That says something about what scholars are really up to.

Leon Zitzer

4/24/2008  
Blogger Anders said...

Hello! I found your website. My name is Anders Branderud,

I am 23 years and I am from Sweden
So who then was the historical Yeshua?

You write: "His first followers were identified by fellow Israelites also as 'Galileans', 'Nazarenes', or members of 'the Way', but never as 'Judeans'."

The followers of Ribi Yehoshua was called "Netzarim" - hellenized to Nazarenes.

According to world-recognized authorities in this area Ribi Yehoshua was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group - who according to 4Q MMT practised both written and oral Torah). As the earliest church historians, most eminent modern university historians, our web site (www.netzarim.co.il) and our Khavruta (Distance Learning) texts confirm, the original teachings of

Anyone educated in this field knows that the only sect of Judaism that had rabbis was the Pharisee and even the Christian NT described him as a rabbi. Parkes, Bagatti, Wilson, Charlesworth; all world-recognized authorities in this area leave no doubt that Ribi Yehoshua was a Pharisee, of the school of Hileil - who was also Pharisee. There is no serious dispute about that among scholars in the field. Ribi Yehoshua taught in "synagogues"; which were a strictly Pharisee institution.

Ribi Yehoshua were not only accepted by most of the Pharisaic Jewish community, he had hoards of Jewish students.

Finding the historical Jew, who was a Pharisee (today's Orthodox) Ribi (see www.netzarim.co.il), brings, for the first time in your life, his *true* formula for profound meaning, inner happiness and purpose in your life

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim, which is in Ra’anana in Israel (www.netzarim.co.il) who is followers of Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – in Orthodox Judaism

10/17/2008  
Blogger john-michael said...

Dominic Crossan gives the most convincing historical account of Jesus that I have yet to read. Jesus was neither Jew nor Christian. The stories re Jesus doing things that only Jews could do were never objectively and historically confirmed. Further, it would have been odd for a man committed to radical egalitarianism to participate in rituals that were racially restricted.

8/26/2011  
Anonymous Gordon Pratt said...

Jesus repeatedly calls the Pharisees hypocrites. There is no question of Christian scholars trying to drive a wedge between Jesus and Pharisaic/rabbinic culture.

The question is the validity of the easy identification of the children of Israel with today's "Jews," an identification which Mr Zitzer claims when he writes "Jews should get to decide how to describe their own history."

Jesus regarded the Torah as definitive, not the Talmud. Most Jews are descendants of converts to their religion.

11/23/2013  
Anonymous andrew mango said...

Greetings Mr Gordon Pratt,

If you would like to continue this dialog regarding Jesus " The God , The Man, I would be interested.

Many people cite the Torah. Written by Moses. But Jesus undone all of Moses' or Mosaic Law.

For simplicity sake " Jews" wrote the Old Testament.
Christians and Jewish converts wrote the New Testament.

Much is at stake here and truth has to be diligently concluded by conscent!

Warmest Regards,
Andrew

12/11/2013  

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