Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ioudaios Project Update

Long time followers of this blog may remember that almost five (!) years ago I published a series of posts on the meaning and translation of the Greek word Ioudaios. The series began as my attempt to sort through the competing arguments of Shaye Cohen, Philip Esler, John H. Elliott, and Steve Mason about the label we should adopt for the Second Temple people normally called "Jews." In a nutshell, Cohen argues that the Greek word Ioudaios acquired a religious meaning during the Second Temple period, and should be translated as ‘Jew’ instead of ‘Judaean’ when the religious meaning is in view. Esler and Mason insist that Ioudaios was an ethnic—not a religious—label, and should always be translated ‘Judaean’. Elliott agrees with Esler and Mason, but argues further that Jesus was an Israelite not a Judaean. After completing the blog series, I naively thought that it would be relatively easy to turn it into an article evaluating recent scholarship on the meaning and translation of Ioudaios. The article became a trilogy, parts 1 and 2 of which have now appeared in the journal Currents in Biblical Research:

Part 1--"The Meaning of Ioudaios and its Relationship to Other Group Labels in Ancient 'Judaism'"CBR 9.1 October 2010): 98-126--responds to Elliott and others who argue that the Ioudaioi were distinguished from Galileans, and that, with the exception of residents of Judaea in the narrow sense, Ioudaios was an outsider label and 'Israelite' an insider label. You can read more about it here. It is also available as a free download on the CBR website if you care to read the whole thing.

Part 2, which appeared earlier this year, began as a sub-section on the use of modern terminology for Ioudaios, and took on a life of its own. I ended up framing the article as a gentle push back against Denise Kimber Buell's choice of terminology in her excellent book, Why this New Race?: "My concern is that—whatever its other merits—using ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ interchangeably may obscure our understanding of the very conceptual history that Buell insists is necessary to ‘get beyond race.’" I also tried to score a few methodological points about "the dangers of confusing modern and ancient terminology of confusing modern and ancient perspectives on group identity, and of failing to distinguish between different modern meanings of the same technical term." Both quotations are from page 295 of "Ethnicity Comes of Age: An Overview of Twentieth-Century Terms for Ioudaios" CBR 10.2 (February 2012): 293-311. Here is the relevant section of the abstract:
This article, part two in a three-part series on the meaning of Ioudaios (‘Jew’ or ‘Judaean’), examines the use of ethnic terminology in scholarship on Ioudaios over the last seventy-five years, with a focus on representative studies from the 1930s–1950s as a point of comparison with more recent developments. The article traces shifts in the meaning of ethnic terminology after World War II and explores why ‘ethnicity’ eventually came to more-or-less supplant other terms such as ‘race’ and ‘nation’.
Sage will let you purchase a copy here for an exorbitant price. I recommend checking out a library copy or waiting until it appears in ATLA if you care to peruse the whole thing.

I presented a condensed draft of part of part 3 last month at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies annual meeting. Rarely has the pressure of preparing a conference paper been so helpful to my writing. (Or maybe I have just forgotten what it is like.) In any case, it involved completing an ungainly 13,000 word draft, boiling it down to a still-too-long 4,300 word oral presentation that needed to be cohesive enough to keep people's attention--and finding my thesis in the process. Now my task is to blow it up again, put the pieces that still belong back together and write a new sub-section on religion, a final section on translation, and a conclusion before my window of research time closes for the summer. (When I mentioned to a professor at a Canadian research university that my standard teaching load is 7 courses a year, he nearly fell off his chair.)

Someone at CSBS commented that the topic is something of a research black hole. After spending the majority of my research time over the last 5 years on the project, I am inclined to agree. It doesn't help that new material--such as this issue of the Journal of Ancient Judaism--keeps getting published.

My working thesis for the final article is as follows:
The first section of this article begins by mapping the scholarly terrain, noting when scholars have isolated a religious meaning of Ioudaios and why they have done so. I then set Shaye Cohen’s defense of a religious meaning of Ioudaios in conversation with the competing models of Philip Esler and Steve Mason, as well as the rather different approach of Denise Kimber Buell. The comparison exposes the complexity of the debate, and prepares for an analysis of the central issues in section two: I will argue that if Cohen errs in suggesting that a transition to a religious meaning had already occurred, Esler and Mason err in suggesting that it had not begun. The result in both cases is a confusion of categories that distorts our understanding of what it would have meant to be a Ioudaios. Our challenge is to learn how to hit a moving target—how to describe identity as a process of change, not simply as a static thing. The evidence indicates that ‘What is a Ioudaios?’ was a live question in the Second Temple Period, and that ethnicity was not the only ancient answer: something like what we call ‘religion’ was emerging as an ancient category, before there was language to describe it. A final section will present and evaluate arguments for the translation of Ioudaios. Although conclusions about the meaning of Ioudaios in the Greco-Roman world necessarily play an important role in the term’s translation, I will argue that they do not settle the issue, for modern translations must also consider the reception history of the term and the contemporary political and ethical implications of its use. In the end, there are compelling contemporary reasons for translating Ioudaios by ‘Jew’ instead of ‘Judaean’.
On a more positive note, I am grateful for the chance to study and write on this stuff, and I am still intrigued by the issue, much as I wish part 3 was done.


Jason A. Staples said...

David, your first two articles have been very helpful for the first chapter of my dissertation, which addresses this question from a slightly different angle. Would you like me to send you what I've got so far or would you prefer to finish yours before seeing my results?

d. miller said...

Hi Jason, I'm glad you found the first two articles helpful. Why don't you give me until the end of July before sending your chapter? I'm very interested, but need to concentrate on writing up a relatively coherent draft at this stage. I will then be ready--and hopefully have time--to read a little bit more broadly before revising the thing.

Jason A. Staples said...

Sounds good. That should give me time to polish the chapter a bit more as it is. I should have a draft done shortly.