4 minutes

A Learning Journey – Defining the Term “Jew” – Part 2

Monday, I wrote to share an interesting tidbit which gave me an opportunity to do some research and begin a new learning journey. I came across a definition of “Jew” that was different from anything I had ever seen before. I have been able to look a little deeper into this and today I would like to share my findings.

Oops…May Have Stumbled Upon a Hornets’ Nest

As I continued to research this, I began to “hear” an uncomfortable voice. It began softly but grew louder each article or discussion group I came upon. This voice was one of prejudice and, if I might be so bold, anti-Semitism.

I started to wish I hadn’t come across this topic and, especially, that I hadn’t written about it publicly. Had I unwittingly added to the problem? Should I stop and just pull the post?

That would solve the problem. But it also felt awfully dishonest. I needed to finish this: figure out what was true and make sure I explained it properly so that I did not add to the problem but helped become part of the solution.

What I found

It appears that there might be some validity to the point. A “Jew” might not be a Jew as we have used the term normally.

Just to be clear, when I used the term “Jew,” I typically meant someone who is a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their ancestor comes from one of the Tribes of Israel. Their scripture is what I call the Old Testament and what they call the Tanakh.[1] Today, they also depend upon The Talmud.[2]

The valid part of this argument is that a “Jew” in the New Testament might not be the same as this person I’ve just described.

A Very Short History of Israel and Judah

Abraham was the father of Isaac, who was the father of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, and then became the father of 12 sons: the 12 tribes of Israel. Jacob and his sons went into Egypt and 400 years later, their descendants came out of Egypt. They took over the land of Canaan which had been promised to them by God.

They lived in that land as a theocracy during the time of the Judges for about 350 years. Then, they became a monarchy under King Saul. Saul was followed by David and Solomon. The united kingdom lasted about 120 years. The nation then split into two: a northern kingdom called Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah (which was comprised of the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin).

Israel continued for a little more than 200 years before it was captured by the Assyrians in 722 BC. Judah continued for nearly another 150 years before begin taken over by the Babylonians in 586 BC.

After the nations were captured, other peoples could now be found in the land. Even when the Judahites were allowed to return to rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple, other people lived together with them in the land.

By the time of Jesus, the people of the Judea had taken over the people of Edom, at that time called Idumeans. These people now lived in the land. Herod was an Idumean.

The Valid Point of this Study

In Greek, the Bible uses the word “Ioudaios”. Remember, there is no letter “J” in Greek. Hence, “INRI” becomes to us “JNRJ” which stands for “Jesus of Nazareth, Rey (king) of the Jews.” So Ioudaios would look to us English speakers to be Joudaios – Judean. The term “Jew” is an English abbreviation for the Greek word for Judean.

So here is the summary of the valid aspect of this: When we get to the New Testament, we now see that at least Idumeans live in Judea. Hence, most Judeans would have been descendants of Israel but some might be descendants of Esau (Edom). The term Jew in the New Testament is actually an abbreviation for Judean. Therefore, a “Jew” might not be from the Tribe of Israel.

My Main Concern

My concern is that some have apparently tried to use this to belittle Jewish people and Israel today. They use this argument to try to denounce Israel’s right as a nation today and to try to remove the identity of many who call themselves Jewish.

Being this is the first time I am running across this, I am very green to it all but I hesitate to jump to any of these conclusions.

My Own Conclusions

What I do see is, this needs much more research and reflection.

What did the Gospel writers mean when they used the term “Ioudaios?” For example, Jesus was prophetically called INRI – King of the Jews. Does this mean Judeans?   Is Jesus king of the Judeans? Does this include Idumeans? What would that mean?

What did Paul mean? Is there a difference between “there is neither Jew nor Greek” and “there is neither Judean nor Greek?”

I’m not sure at this time. I tend to think the New Testament writers used the term “Ioudaios” the same way I have always used the term “Jew”. I do know that I will keep my mind open to this as I read about “Jews” in the New Testament. I will try to determine whether a switch from my own idea of “Jew” and this new understanding of “Ioudaios” would cause any difference in view.

I’ll let you know if I experience anything of value. Until then, I think this might have been one of those times that new information has not brought about any useful change in my understanding of the Christian faith. So far, it feels like a red herring.

I will leave you with this link to a discussion group of Greek Orthodox elders. Read it with open minds but with care. http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php?topic=28125.0

Your Turn

This is pretty wide open to lots of different opinions. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. God bless…

[1] The word Tanakh comes from the abbreviations of the Hebrew words “Torah” (law), “Nevi’im” (prophets) and “Kethuvim” (History).

[2] The Talmud is a combination of the MIshnah (the oral traditions) and the Gemara (rabbinical commentaries on the Scripture). Additionally, there are two Talmuds: the Jerusalem (or Palestinian) Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud.