Wednesday, December 26, 2007

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

The first major plank in Steve Mason's argument, summarized in the previous post, is that there was no term that meant "Judaism" in the Graeco-Roman world. This does not yet mean there was no "category of 'Judaism' in the Graeco-Roman world" because there is no one-to-one correspondence between terms and concepts. It would still be possible, in theory, to conceive of "Judaism" without being able to label it precisely. It is therefore necessary for Mason not only to show that there was no term for "Judaism" but that a concept of "Judaism" as a religion would have made no sense in the Graeco-Roman world.

2. In the second section of his essay, Mason argues persuasively--and in more detail than Esler--that "religion" is a modern category that did not exist in antiquity. What we call "religion" cuts across the Graeco-Roman categories of ethnicity (e.g., ancestral laws and customs), national cult (national deities, priests, temples, animal sacrifice), philosophy (e.g., normative texts, ethical requirements), familial traditions, voluntary associations (e.g., the cult of Isis), and astrology and magic. Whereas Cohen classifies worship of "the God whose temple is in Jerusalem" and following the Ioudaios way of life under the category of religion, Mason argues that these fall under the Graeco-Roman category of ethnicity. If the concept of "religion" did not exist, then it follows there could be no category for "Judaism."

3. "In the absence of either 'religion' or 'Judaism,' I have argued, the Ioudaioi / Iudaei of Graeco-Roman antiquity understood themselves, and were understood by outsiders, as an ἔθνος [ethnos], a people comparable to and contrasting with other ἔθνη [ethne]" (489). Here Mason's observations often parallel Esler's:
  • The labels of ancient ethnic groups were connected to the group's place of origin; the Ioudaioi were no exception. The connection with a homeland continued even when groups were under foreign control or when members of the group were living in other lands (cf. 511).
  • Ioudaioi were typically compared with other ethnic groups. They "were not often compared--as the Christians were compared (Celsus in C. Cels. 1.9, 68)--with members of cults (e.g., of Mithras, Cybele, Isis) or voluntary associations" (489).
  • For these reasons, the term Ioudaios should be translated "Judaean" at least in academic studies. "'Judaean' does not have a geographical restriction, any more than other ethnic descriptors do....'Judaean' should be allowed to shoulder its burden as an ethnic term full of complex possibilities....Using two different translations for the same word, in this case uniquely, destroys the unified conception that insiders and outsiders evidently had of the Ioudaioi" (504). However, using "Jew" may be acceptable "for popular studies, which can gently explain the historical situation" (511).
  • The construction of "Judaism" as a system was the result of "anti-Judaean sentiment" on the part of Christian authors in the 3rd and following centuries (504).
  • Finally, conversion was not religious; it involved a change of ethnicity: "[W]hat we call 'conversion' is actually a matter of adopting a new citizenship...[T]he available categories are ethnic and political, with a strong philosophical tinge" (510).
  • I agree with Mason and Esler against Cohen that a specific religious meaning of Ioudaios should not be abstracted from its normal broad ethnic meaning. Antiochus IV's death-bed conversion and the conversion of the royal house of Adiabene should be understood not simply as a religious conversion, but also as a change of ethnicity.
  • As I mentioned earlier, it is worth remembering that many of the ethnic distinctives of the Ioudaioi were decidedly theocentric. In fact, the only thing that is stressed in the 2 Maccabees account of Antiochus IV's decision to become a Ioudaios is his pledge to "to proclaim the power of God" (9:17). I am not suggesting the Ioudaioi were unique in being theocentric. Their adherence to only one God was considered unusual, however, and this eccentric belief was associated with other practices considered strange, such as circumcision, sabbath observance, and food laws.
  • While it is true that the idea of religion as a unified system is a modern construct, modern scholarly discussions of Second Temple "Judaism" actually tend to avoid presenting Judaism as a theological system abstracted from daily life. Jewish "religion," Shaye Cohen reminds us, putting "religion" in scare quotes, "was neither faith nor dogma, but action" (From the Maccabees to the Mishnah; 2d ed; p. 51).
  • I suspect there is more to be said for connections between the Ioudaioi and other non-ethnic groups, such as the cult of Isis, than Mason allows. Notice, for example, how Josephus intentionally juxtaposes a story about the priests of the Isis cult in Rome, which led to the destruction of the temple to Isis, and a story about a "certain Ioudaios" in Rome whose misdemeanor led to the expulsion of the entire Ioudaioi community from Rome (Ant. 18.65-84). Presumably both the mystery religion and the community of Ioudaioi were regarded similarly by the Romans.
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


J. Matthew Barnes said...

How do your first and second observations work together? 1 - Conversion should not be "simply as a religious conversion, but also as a change of ethnicity" and 2 - the ethnic distinctives of Ioudaioi were "theocentric" (you give the example of A.E.IV's death-bed conversion).

My question, then, would be this: in what way did A.E.IV become "ethnically" Ioudaioi if his conversion only relates a pledge to preform a "theocentric" activity?

In other words, should conversion be called "ethnic" if the elicited changes are "theocentric" in nature? Wouldn't that be some sort of a theological/religious conversion instead?

In still other words, is it even necessary to deal with the "ethnic" (much less geographical) associations of Ioudaioi if the Ioudaioi themselves included people of other ethnicities (Idumeans/A.E.IV) and from other geographical loci (Alexandria)? Would it not be wiser to simply recognize that Ioudaioi can sometimes refer not to ethnicity or geography but religion/lifestyle/etc?

Perhaps Ioudaioi should be recognized by the actions they undertook (as the Cohen quote in the third observation indicates) since that seems to be the way that they recognized themselves. At the same time, moreover, this action does include faith (belief in one God) and perhaps even dogma (as at least some groups of Ioudaioi seemed to have viewed the Torah in this way; as an authoritative guide/set of beliefs [e.g., those responsible for the DSS).

Perhaps some of my musings will be answered in part 6 of your series, which I will read very soon.

Thanks for such an interesting series of posts!

d. miller said...

Hi Matthew,

Thanks for your comments. I will attempt to respond to both here: 2 Maccabees highlights A.E.IV's (mythical) pledge to perform a 'theocentric' activity, but I don't think his becoming a Ioudaios would have consisted only in proclaiming the power of God. I am persuaded by Mason's arguments that becoming a Ioudaios--whatever its motivation--would have been understood as a change from one ethnic group to another.

The Idumeans are a good example of nested ethnicity.

To be sure, the term Ioudaios can have a narrow geographical meaning as well as a broader ethnic meaning (which includes a strong geographical component). It is important for us non-Greek speakers to recognize that the term could mean different things in different contexts; if the context is not specific enough, it could be ambiguous. However, the ethnic meaning was the normal unmarked meaning. We would expect contextual indicators to highlight a more narrow geographical sense.

See the following comment for more:

J. Matthew Barnes said...

Thanks for your comment! This question you have been wrestling with is a tough one and a vitally important one as well!

Thanks for your hard work!