Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What's in a name? Part 5a: Ioudaios according to Steve Mason

Steve Mason's tour de force, "Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History," Journal for the Study of Judaism 38 (2007): 457-512, "argues that there was no category of 'Judaism' in the Graeco-Roman world, no 'religion' too, and that the Ioudaioi were understood until late antiquity as an ethnic group comparable to other ethnic groups, with their distinctive laws, traditions, customs, and God. They were indeed Judaeans" (the full abstract is here).

I did not intend to present a detailed summary of the article, as this has already been done well by Phil Harland, but I have ended up summarizing more than I expected as I interact with and evaluate Mason's argument. If my few reservations are presented tentatively it is because I hold Mason's scholarship on Josephus and all things Greco-Roman in such high regard.

1. Mason surveys the use of the Greek terms Ἰουδαΐζω (Ioudaizo; normally translated 'to live like a Jew') and Ἰουδαïσμός (Ioudaismos; normally translated 'Judaism'), and concludes that until its use in third century Christian writings Ἰουδαïσμός never actually meant "Judaism." Like other -ίζω verbs, Ἰουδαΐζω indicated "the going over to, adopting of, or aligning with' a people or culture other than one's own" (462). The cognate noun Ἰουδαïσμός, similarly, denotes "a certain kind of activity over against a pull in another, foreign direction" (466). A better translation, then, is "to Judaize" for the verb, and "Judaizing" for the noun. The influence of Tertullian (early 3rd century) in Christian polemical writings eventually led to the use of Ἰουδαïσμός for "a system of thought removed from real life in Judaea, an abstraction to be treated theologically" (475).
  • The argument for the verb is persuasive (cf. Est 8:17 LXX; Jos. War 2.454, 463; Ign. Mag. 10.3). Although it is usually translated "to live like Jews" the only NT occurrence in Gal 2:14 works well with the sense "to adopt the practices of Ioudaioi." (Mason's argument also happens to agree closely with Cohen's chapter on the verb Ἰουδαΐζω in The Beginnings of Jewishness, 175-197.)
  • The meaning of Ἰουδαïσμός is more difficult to nail down (cf. 2 Macc 2:21; 8:1; 14:38; 4 Macc 4:26; Gal 1:13-14; Ign. Mag. 8:1; 10:3; Phil. 6:1). Mason is correct that the word denotes an activity rather than an essence (contrast Cohen's gloss "Jewishness"). The word also consistently appears in contexts that contrast the activity of Ἰουδαïσμός with an alternative way of life. But I think Mason strains too hard to show that the noun always denotes a movement away from one tradition toward another--either in oneself or by causing a movement in someone else. In some instances, simply practicing a Ioudaios lifestyle suits the context better. For example, does 2 Macc 2:21 refer to those "who fought bravely for 'the programme of Judaizing'" (468) or to those "who fought bravely for the practice of a Ioudaios lifestyle"? The latter makes more sense to me, and fits better with 2 Macc 8:1. 2 Macc 14:38 could go either way.
  • I have cited every occurrence of each word in the tagged databases in Bibleworks 7. Neither term occurs in Philo of Alexandria. The fact that neither term is common supports Mason's argument: If there was a word for "Judaism" we would expect it to appear frequently in contexts where modern scholars find discussions of Judaism (471).
  • Still, while it may well be true that the term never means "'Judaism' as a comprehensive system and way of life" before the third century CE (471), one could argue that the practice of a Ioudaios way of life is close, even if the term is only used in contexts where this way of life is set over against alternatives.
Alas, this is taking much longer than I expected. I will have to leave the rest of Mason's article and any concluding reflections that materialize until after Christmas when I should be doing more important things.

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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