Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"What's In a Name?" David Miller on Jews and Judeans

Here's a good blog series to kick off the new year: David Miller's "What's In a Name?" covering the Jew-Judean debate. His conclusion:
"We do not have an English word that does justice to the meaning of Ioudaios. 'Jew' captures the religious, cultural and sometimes the narrow ethnic aspects of the word, but misses the strong geographical element. Translating Ioudaios by 'Jew' also distinguishes the word unjustifiably from other ethnic nouns. 'Judaean' by contrast, captures the tight connection between the people and their homeland, but to a modern ear misses the religious and cultural aspects of the ancient term. 'Judaean' might help avoid anachronism, although the danger of anachronism will always linger. 'Judaean' also lacks continuity with the ongoing tradition of contemporary Judaism...Unfortunately, I do not have a handy catch-all alternative to 'Judaism.'

"I do not think either translation is wrong. I lean towards Judaean in academic settings because its very unfamiliarity encourages more careful reflection on what would have been meant by the term in antiquity. On the other hand, I have no desire to be innovative or to follow the latest fad in my use of terminology. The important thing is to explain the semantic range underlying the word behind our English translation."
Frankly I don't understand the first paragraph. The term "Judean" captures both the geographical and ethnic dimensions we need, and that's why it's the preferrable translation. And no one is denying a continuity between Judeans and later Jews (any more than a continuity between Israelites and later Judeans). "Judeanism" is perfectly suitable.

But I like the second paragraph. David is right about fads; nothing is more treacherous to the intellect. We shouldn't be retranslating words for political reasons, and as I've pointed out already, that is unfortunately what some of our best scholars -- on both sides of the debate -- have been doing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had an interesting experience with politically-based rewordings this Christmas. The original words to the end of the second verse of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" are "...pleased as man with men to dwell...". These are the words that one still finds,except in the newest edition of the United Methodist Hymnal, where it reads "...pleased with us in flesh to dwell...". The irony was that I had prepared a sermon based on the original wording, and placed the hymn to be sung right before the sermon in the service. I noticed the difference the night before, and I felt like a real schmuck explaining to a congregation of rural Methodists pretty far removed from the academic discourses of the day how and why such a thing happens. The change was made without any indication or footnote about the original wording. I understand the need for inclusive language, but retro-acting the politics of today on something 250 years old seems disingenuous to me. Just sing the damn song like it was written. Enough already.

Brian Krumnow

Blogger d. miller said...

Hi Loren,

Thanks for your post. In the first paragraph I was trying to imagine how Judean sounds to an average English-speaker. My sense is that it would be understood primarily as a geographical designator rather than a religious one. It may also be understood as an ethnic designator, but the average English speaker is likely to conclude that Judean would contrast with instead of incorporating other geographical and/or ethnic designators such as Galilean and Idumean. Even with Judean, we need to explain what is meant by the term. I hope this helps.


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