Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The translation of Ioudaios and the Parting of the Ways

The "parting of the ways" discussion is normally framed in terms of the eventual separation from Judaism on the part of early Christ-followers. But what if what we think of as "Judaism" was actually considered part of the Ioudaios (Jewish/Judaean) ethnicity, as Steve Mason argues?

Paul can claim to be a Ioudaios (Gal 2:15), but he states repeatedly that though there is value in being a Ioudaios (Rom 3:1), there is no longer any difference between the Ioudaioi and other nations or ethnicities (Rom 10:12); "Jewish" ethnic distinctives have been obliterated in Christ (Gal 3:28). How can there be a parting of the ways if Paul denies the continuing validity of any "Judaean" ethnic differences? Or rather, hasn't the parting of the ways already occurred for Paul?

On the other hand, Paul continues to use the language of covenant and of Israel. He is committed to the Judaean Scriptures and he worships Israel's God. If, for Paul, there is no longer any validity in the Judaean ethnos with its ancestral laws, its temple, its lineage, how does he understand his own sense of continuity with the Scriptures and the promises to Abraham? And how would his movement fit into the spectrum of Graeco-Roman categories?


Bob MacDonald said...

Thanks for this series. I have not read your blog before but you are now on my aggregator. Your (almost) suggestion of Yehudim as a translation for Ioudaois seems promising. Here are some exercises:

What adjective would describe the [Jewish] temple in Leontopolis?

"How is it that you, [a Jew], ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?"

Did the Samaritan woman mistake a Galilean for a Judean?

Plurals are still an interpretive problem - suppose sometimes they mean Judeans and sometimes are inclusive of Galileans and of all from the Diaspora. E.g. "Are you the King of [the Jews]?" or "After this there was a feast of [the Jews], and Jesus went up to Jerusalem" - so many places in John where the translation would be seriously at odds with itself if two different words were used, one for geography, the other for a more general ethnic meaning. E.g. Salvation is of [the Jews].

Or of the healing of the centurion's servant - When he heard of Jesus, he sent to him elders of [the Jews], asking him to come and heal his slave.

Would there be Judeans in Galilee?

In Acts - [a Jew] of Tarsus? I see Paul seldom uses Jew for himself - but twice Hebrew.

Judean in many of these contexts in English is not going to work. And choosing one over the other will produce an undesirable need in the translator for an additional interpretive step.

d. miller said...


Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I agree with you that Judean does not capture the full range of meaning that the Greek term Ioudaios had. The most important thing, in my view, is to identify the full range of meaning the word would have had. Translation issues are secondary to semantic issues. That said, I also agree that choosing two different English terms is problematic--not least because it attempts to distinguish what would have been ambiguous in the ancient Greco-Roman context.

I would take all the examples you list as ethnic as opposed to geographic designators. Depending on the English language audience I had in mind I would be happy translating them either Jewish/Jew or Judean. Given the use of Ioudaios throughout John, I believe it is illegitimate to take the John 4 example in a geographical sense. The Samaritan woman was not mistaken in identifying Jesus as a Judean/Jew.

I know of two passages where a narrow geographic meaning of Ioudaios is used for a subset of a larger group of ethnic Jews/Judeans. One is in Josephus and is discussed by Esler and Cohen (I don't have the reference handy); the other is in Acts 2. These two examples show that the ethnic meaning of Ioudaios is the normal unmarked meaning. The narrow geographical designation for a resident of Judea requires additional contextual support.



J. Matthew Barnes said...

David, have your read Neusner's article,"Was Rabbinic Judaism Really 'Ethnic?'" and how do you think that it plays into this discussion?

d. miller said...


No, I haven't read Neusner's article. Thanks for the reference. I will add it to my growing bibliography on the subject.

J. K. Gayle said...

Stumbling onto Nick Meyer's blog, I was redirected by him to yours. And now I'm a reader of both.

Have you seen Willis Barnstone's The Poetics of Translation: History, Theory, Practice, or even better his new testament translation The New Covenant. He's an incredible scholar/translator, Jew/not Christian, who sees the NT (especially Ioudaios in John) as antiSemitic, and he goes about imagining the whole thing differently. I'd be very interested in your take on Barnstone's clever moves. (I've done a little blogging on Barnstone and translation, including here.)

d. miller said...

j. k.: Thanks for the Barnstone tip. I'll keep my eyes out for his translation of the NT.