Monday, December 24, 2007

What's in a name? Part 4: Judean vs. Israelite according to John H. Elliott

One of the issues I planned to address early on in my Jewish Backgrounds to Early Christianity course next semester is the difference between the "Israelite" inhabitants of pre-exilic Israel and Judah, and post-exilic "Jews." The difference in terminology was, I thought, a helpful way of drawing attention to the radical changes that occurred during and after the exile. It is also a distinction made already during the Second Temple period. Josephus explains:
"This name [Ioudaioi], by which they have been called from the time when they went up from Babylon, is derived from the tribe of Judah; as this tribe was the first to come to those parts, both the people themselves and the country have taken their name from it" (Ant. 11.173 LCL).
Josephus's own usage is telling. The term Ἰσραηλίτης (Israelite) occurs 197 times in the first 11 books of the Antiquities, but never anywhere else in Josephus. The term Ἰουδαῖος (Ioudaios), by contrast, occurs 1241 times in Josephus, the vast majority of which occur after Ant. 11.173. (I counted only 73 occurrences in Ant. 1.1-11.172.)

If Elliott is right, I can let this difference in terminology fall by the wayside, despite the danger that one might anachronistically overlook the differences between pre- and post-exilic Israel. The burden of Elliott's article, "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, is to demonstrate "the fact that Jesus was not a Ἰουδαῖος [Ioudaios]" (125).

According to Elliott, Ioudaios was an outsider term that was eventually adopted by diaspora "Jews" and even by (some?) "Judaean natives" (132; contrast 149). However, "Incontrovertible evidence shows that 'Israel' and 'Israelite' were the self-designations preferred by compatriots of Jesus in the first century when addressing other ingroup members. Jesus and his followers shared this preference" (148). Based on the written NT evidence, Elliott concludes that "Jesus never called himself a Ἰουδαῖος [Ioudaios] and was never designated as such by fellow Israelites" (146). Since Jesus preferred the term Israelite, we should adopt a rigorously emic approach and do likewise:
"Following the lead of ancient Israelite insiders using with fellow insiders their preferred nomenclature of self-identification, let us refer to the ethnic entity as 'Israel'...and to its members as 'Israelites'....This would emulate the insider usage of the Bible, much para-biblical iterature, and the Mishnah....Let us refer to Jesus and his earliest followers as 'Israelites'....Let us avoid altogether the names 'Jew' and 'Judaean' for identifying Jesus and his earliest followers since they are terms never used as self-identifiers and have either anachronistic ('Jew') or geographically erroneous ('Judaean') implications" (153).
Elliott's distinction between insider and outsider terminology is a helpful one, and I am happy to grant that "Israelite" remained in use as an insider term, while Ioudaios was the accepted outsider designator for the same ethnic group. "Israelite" was, after all, associated with the covenant, while Ioudaios was not.

However, Elliott's larger argument is seriously flawed:

1. Like Esler, Elliott thinks Ioudaios should always be translated by Judean, but while he acknowledges the term could be used to include "all of Palestine" (131), Elliott consistently sets references to Galilee over against Judea. If Jesus is a Galilean, that means he must not be a Judean (e.g., 127, 146, 150-1). This ignores the evidence for dual or nested ethnicity presented persuasively by Esler and Cohen.

2. "Israelites" could and did use the term Ioudaios when addressing outsiders (at least). If Josephus is to be followed--and he should be--Ioudaios became the normal ethnic self-designation for Greek-speaking "worshipers of the God whose temple was in Jerusalem," whether they lived in Galilee or Rome. There is no need to choose between "Israelite" or Ioudaios as Elliott implies on page 148. Both were acceptable alternatives. Calling Jesus a Ioudaios is an accurate emic description.

3. As Mark Goodacre pointed out in the crosstalk2 discussion of Elliott's essay, one can hardly claim Jesus never used the term Ioudaios or its Semitic equivalent since all we have to go on in this regard is the written Gospels.

4. If one argues, as Elliott does, that the term "Jew" is anachronistic when applied to first-century "worshipers of the God whose temple was in Jerusalem," it is inconsistent to overlook the dangers of anachronism involved in calling first-century "worshipers of the God whose temple was in Jerusalem" Israelites given the radical changes that took place after the exile.

Let's give this proposal a swift burial and move back to the question whether or not Ioudaios should be translated "Judean" or "Jew." In regard to this question, Elliott has nothing new to contribute.

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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