Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (2)

This is follow-up to part 1 of this series. Please read there how I dissociate myself from anti-Semitic writers who deny that Jesus was an Israelite. I will repeat that this series is not really about Jesus, but about the New Testament use of the word Ioudaios, usually translated “Jew”.

CrossIn the first post I looked at the Old Testament background and at the use of Ioudaios in the first three Gospels. I now want to move on to the much more extensive use of the word in the Gospel of John, where it is in fact used about 70 times.

In this discussion I gloss over difficult issues of whether the author is recording actual words spoken, originally in Greek or translated, or putting his own words into his characters’ mouths. I will simply surmise that he might have used Greek Ioudaios to translate Hebrew Yehudi or Aramaic Yehuday.

In the largest group of these uses (1:19, 2:18,20, 3:25, 5:10,15,16,18, 7:1,11,13,15,35, 8:22,31,48,52,57, 9:18,22, 10:19,24,31,33, 11:8,19,31,33,36,45,54, 12:9,11, 13:33, 18:12,14,20,31,35,36,38, 19:7,12,14,21,31,38, 20:19; probably also 3:1) the reference appears to be to Israelites in Judea, who are interacting in some way with people such as Jesus and Pilate who are not from Judea. It seems clear that at least the majority of these people would have lived in Judea. Indeed in 7:25 “people of Jerusalem” is used of apparently the same group. This suggests that in these cases “Judean” might be a more accurate translation than “Jew”. It is impossible to be sure that there were no Galilean or diaspora Israelites among these groups; nevertheless they were in general groups of Judeans.

In quite a number of these cases NIV 2011 renders Ioudaioi as “Jewish leaders”. Indeed this seems justified as many of the references seem to be to people with some kind of religious or political authority. But they were also Judeans.

In 6:41,52 the situation is a little more nuanced, as the action takes place in Galilee, in the synagogue at Capernaum, and most of the congregation would have been local Israelites. However, in Mark 7:1 (cf Matthew 15:1), from the same period in Jesus’ ministry after the feeding of the five thousand, we read of “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem” (NIV) and challenged Jesus in or near Capernaum. So it is at least possible that the Ioudaioi referred to in John 6:41,52 are not the local Israelites but these visitors from Judea.

By contrast, Jesus, according to John, calls the presumed Galilean Nathanael not a Ioudaios but an Israelite (1:47), a point which he then elaborates by comparing him with Jacob = Israel seeing a ladder into heaven (1:51).

In 3:22 Ioudaios is used as an adjective “Judean”.

Most of the other references (2:6,13, 5:1, 6:4, 7:2, 11:55, 19:40,42) are to Jewish religious customs and festivals, described as of the Ioudaioi. From the author’s probably Galilean perspective, even these may have been considered “of the Judeans”, in that at the time Judeans seem to have been active in imposing their standardised religious practices in Galilee. But these mentions of Jewish practices can also be understood as explanations for Gentile readers, which would imply that here Ioudaios is used of Israelites in general to distinguish them from Gentiles.

Then we have the title “King of the Ioudaioi” (18:33,39, 19:3,19,21,21, cf. 19:14; also Matthew 2:2, 27:11,29,37, Mark 15:2,9,12,18,26, Luke 23:3,37,38). The interesting thing about this title is that it was used, whether seriously or in mockery, only by Gentiles – the Magi, Pilate, Roman soldiers – and by Israelites quoting them. It seems to have been Pilate’s error to refer to “the one you call the king of the Jews” (Mark 15:12). When Israelites wanted to express the same sentiment, seriously or in mockery, they called Jesus “King of Israel” (Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:32, John 1:49, 12:13).

So, to summarise, in John’s Gospel Ioudaios most often means “Judean”, but is used by and to Gentiles in the sense “Israelite”.

The final three occurrences of Ioudaios in John are in chapter 4. And it is J.K. Gayle’s discussion of these at BLT that got me interested in this subject. In verse 9 we have the note that “Ioudaioi do not associate with Samaritans”, which can probably be listed as another explanation for Gentiles of Israelite religious customs. But it is immediately preceded by the Samaritan woman calling Jesus a Ioudaios. What did she mean by that? It is unlikely that she thought Jesus was a Judean, as very likely he spoke with a similar Galilean accent to Peter’s (Matthew 26:73). More likely, as a Samaritan not accepted as truly Jewish, she used Ioudaios in the same way as Gentiles did, to refer to all Israelites.

This leads to perhaps the most interesting of the references, in John 4:22, where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that “salvation is from the Ioudaioi“. What does he mean here? Is he accommodating his language to what the Samaritan woman would understand, and so referring to all Israelites? Maybe. Or is he hinting at something which he would have known, but which is not otherwise mentioned in John’s Gospel, that he is in fact by birth not a Galilean but Judean, from Bethlehem in Judea, and indeed from the tribe of Judah itself?

I would like to discuss this further, but this post is already too long, so I continue in part 3.

5 thoughts on “Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (2)

  1. I see that you intend to “gloss over difficult issues of whether the author is recording actual words spoken, originally in Greek or translated, or putting his own words into his characters’ mouths.” However, Peter, you get at what I’ve never seen anyone else ever notice: how nuanced John’s use of “Ioudaioi” might be. Yours is a brilliant analysis of the term as differently meant by outsider Gentiles and insider Jews. One startling implication is that John’s gospel is a Jewish insider’s Greek text. And his Jesus therein is a Jewish person who distinguishes Jews and Judeans and Samaritans and Gentiles in rather nuanced and sophisticated ways. This reading of the Greek requires that one really pay attention. And yet the pay off is tremendous. I look forward to 3 in your series of posts. (And you are making me want to look at how the Septuagint texts handle the term, how John is different or the same as Paul.)

  2. Thank you, Kurk. I regret having to gloss over the difficulties, but the post was already too long and too technical for much of my intended audience. Anyway you covered these issues in your BLT post.

    I don’t intend to look at LXX, although I have assumed that it uses Ioudaios primarily to render Yehudi, in the books translated from Hebrew. I do plan to have a quick look at the rest of the New Testament, before coming to my conclusions about whether Jesus really was a Ioudaios.

  3. This is good stuff!

    Kurk is correct, I think. The word “Ioudiaios” does help one see the cultural inside/outside perspective and perhaps audience sensitivity of the author of the gospel.

    The latter is certainly something we all take into account. I am, of course, “from the U.S.” if I am talking to a Figi Islander, unless he or she is quite aware of “the states.” Then, I am “from Minnesota” or perhaps “from Minneapolis.” However, if I am talking to a resident of the Twin Cities of Minnesota, all that is useless to them when they inquire as to my place of residence. Then and only then am I from Eden Prairie, a fact which means little or nothing to the resident of the South Pacific.

    Kurk is also correct, I think on the contribution to the general authorship question. If you have the nuances right, the author of John’s gospel — some would say the author of those bits of John’ gospel — must have had an outsider’s view of the Judaeans, no-matter how long he may have lived among them. Yet, he need not be a Gentile or Samaritan, etc., because he might still make the distinction between a person from Yehud and an Israelite from the Galilee.

    Tom Wright makes this distinction in some of his materials and lectures.

    I too, Peter, wonder, as does Kurk, how you see Paul’s 25 uses of the word, “Ioudaios,” as well as its two uses in the Revelation, in chapters 2 and 3.

    And finally, I do wonder what you plan to do with this, as in, “So What?” Is this study important? Perhaps, but how is it so?

  4. Thank you, Trace. I have dealt with some of your issues in part 3, which is almost ready. But I may yet edit it to make more of the “So what?” question.

    I guess a similar example might be that to us British a “Yank” or a “Yankee” is anyone from the USA, whereas for you it is someone from a specific area. But you sometimes use “England” to include Scotland and Wales, which can annoy Scottish and Welsh people. As a Brit familiar with American ways, I have learned to use different terms talking to Americans from those I use with my compatriots. In fact I would never use the term “Brit” when talking to one!

  5. Yes, exactly. Much better analogies.

    No one from Georgia would want to be called a “Yank.” And yet I know a man who has lived for decades in a rural area outside of Atlanta who is from Ohio originally and is very much a “Yank.”

    Contrast that further with N.Y. Yankee fans. No one “out here,” another Americanism, would ever want to be called a “Yankee” in that sense.

    “American” has the same issues. When we “Yanks” talk about “…all Americans think this or that…”
    I wonder how people from Guatemala and Brazil feel about that.

    Which reminds me of my first social faux paux while in Europe years ago. I had just met a women from the Netherlands. I said, “So, you are from Holland, then?”
    “Nee,” she retorted, “I am from Friesland!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Anti-spam image