Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Phil Harland Puts Things to Rest: The "Judean" is Here to Stay

Phil Harland deserves a gold star, calling attention to an article by Steve Mason, "Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History," The Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007) 457-512. In Phil's view, it puts to rest debate over the correct translation of Ioudaios -- meaning people had best start getting comfortable using "Judean" in place of "Jew" for the 2nd-Temple period.
"Mason builds his argument in three stages. First (pp. 457-480), he deals with the relatively rare ancient terms ἰουδαίζω (verb) / Ἰουδαισμός (noun), which have often been erroneously translated as referring to "Judaism" as a system of belief and practice, rather than to the practice of adopting the ways of a particular ethnic group...

"Second (pp. 480-488), Mason goes on to show how some scholars continue to uncritically employ the concept of 'religion' in studies of ancient Judean culture. In particular, theories by Shaye Cohen and others that propose a shift in the meaning of Ioudaioi from an originally ethnic-geographic category (i.e. 'Judean') to a religious category ('Jew') are built on problematic notions regarding the category of 'religion'. Mason emphasizes that what we as moderns think of as 'religion' was, in fact, not known in antiquity and also intersects or envelopes at least six different categories that were familiar to the ancients (ethnos, cult, philosophy, familial rites of passage, associations, and astrology / magic)...

"Third (pp. 489-512), Mason argues that the Ioudaioi / Iudaei 'of Graeco-Roman antiquity understood themselves, and were understood by outsiders, as an ἔθνος, a people comparable to and contrastable with other ἔθνη'. Ancient authors including Strabo, Posidonius, Tacitus, Philo, and Josephus consistently speak of Ioudaioi in terms of them being an ethnos, a people or ethnic group. Here Mason also deals with common objections to the use of 'Judeans' to translate Ioudaioi, (p. 489)...

"This article, in my mind, has put this question to rest. It is time to speak of 'Judeans', 'Judean practices', and 'Judean culture' in the same way that we would speak of the identity and practices of the many other ethnic groups or peoples that existed in antiquity. The Judeans of antiquity are not a special case."
Bravo, Phil. You're certainly preaching to the choir on this end. I only wish the matter was so easily put to rest!


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I don't think the matter can ever be put to rest. What I think Steve Mason has done (and what Phil Harland as argued as well) is that, on an emic basis, it is correct and appropriate to employ the term "Judean" for Ioudaios. However, there is remains nothing inherently inappropriate with using "Jew" either, as an etic category. As Elliott and others have argued, so long as our terminology and our methodology (ies) are clearly stated at the start, confusion can be avoided. The Judeans of the NT and Josephus are the direct ancestors of those we call "Jews" today, and, as such, I cannot see there being anything wrong with such an appellation. I will admit, that for the lay person, using the term "Jew" might influence the way in which he or she might think the ancients categorized themselves (and thus Mason and Elliott's recent arguments). But once again, a clear and concise explanation terminology and methodology should alleviate confusion, at least for the most part.

Michael Helfield (York University)


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