Friday, December 21, 2007

What's in a name? Part 1: On Jews and Judeans, Israelites and Israelis

As I prepared my Jewish Backgrounds syllabus this summer--yes, Briercrest College requires second semester syllabi to be submitted at the beginning of the fall semester--I made a note to discuss the politics of naming. Should one refer to the object of our study as "Early Judaism", "Middle Judaism", or "Second Temple Judaism"? Why should we avoid the labels "Intertestamental Period" and "Late Judaism"? What is the difference between an Israelite and a Jew or, for that matter, between an Israelite and an Israeli? (Confusion between the latter two terms sets my teeth on edge.) These are--or should be--standard introductory questions in a course with the problematic title, Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity.

What I didn't anticipate was the need to enter the debate about the correct translation of the Greek term, Ioudaios (normally rendered 'Jew' in English), or to defend my use of "Judaism." This all changed with the publication of, and subsequent internet buzz around, two articles by J. H. Elliott and Steve Mason:
  • J. H. Elliott, "Jesus the Israelite Was Neither a 'Jew' Nor a 'Christian': On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature," Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 5.2 (July 2007): 119-154 (abstract here).
  • Steve Mason, "Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History," Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007): 457-512 (abstract here).
Mason interacts directly with Shaye Cohen's, The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties (University of California Press, 1999), which I read earlier in the summer. Elliott directs his readers to Philip Esler's response to Cohen in Conflict and Identity in Romans: The Social Setting of Paul's Letter (Fortress, 2003). Not mentioned in either essay is Amy-Jill Levine's preemptive response to Elliott in The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).

For some of the internet discussion, see this crosstalk2 thread; Loren Rosen's positive busybody post about Elliott's article here, which appears to have got the on-line ball rolling; April DeConick's critical response here; Philip Harland's summary here of Mason's article, which he claims "has put this question to rest."

I acquired and eventually read Elliott and Mason in November; I finished Esler's chapter on ethnicity this morning. In the next two or three seven or eight posts on this topic (better late than never!), I hope to summarize and evaluate both sides of the debate as I think through my own response, and determine which labels to use in class next semester. If all else fails, I can try "Jewdean."

Posts in this series:
Part 1: On Jews and Judeans, Israelites and Israelis
Part 2: Ioudaios according to Shaye Cohen
Part 3a: Ioudaios according to Philip Esler
Part 3b: Philip Esler Responds to Shaye Cohen
Part 4: Judean vs. Israelite according to John H. Elliott
Part 5a: Ioudaios according to Steve Mason
Part 5b: Ioudaios according to Steve Mason
Part 6: Preliminary Conclusions

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