Related to Mark Goodacre’s concern about pluralizing the word “Judaism” is the proper translation for Ioudaios itself. While I agree with Mark that taking pains to pluralize (so as to underscore diversity) is a bit silly and over-cautious, the question of whether we should speak of Jews or Judeans remains an important one.
There are good and bad reasons for preferring the latter, but I think good wins out. Properly speaking, Jews refer to the adherents of beliefs and practices associated with the Mishnah rather than the temple cult of Judea. Only by the third century had a Jewish religion really emerged, or a common pattern of religion irrespective of locale. The predecessors of the Jews, the Judeans, were localized and provincial, with a very different pattern of religion based on the temple cult. Given that the temple’s destruction in 70 AD was the ancient world’s equivalent of a nuclear explosion, forever changing the religion of the chosen people, we should take seriously distinguishing between Judeans and later Jews.
“Judean” (Ioudaios) is a slippery term to start with; K.C. Hanson and Douglas Oakman list five possible meanings depending on context: (1) the inhabitants of Judah, distinct from Galilee, Samaria, Perea, Idumea, etc; (2) all the inhabitants of Palestine, including Galilee, Samaria, Perea, Idumea, etc; (3) all those in the Mediterranean and Middle-East with ethnic connections to Judah; (4) all those professing allegiance to the state religion of Judah (even if converts); (5) the elites of Judah (as opposed to peasants). (See Palestine in the Time of Jesus, p 176)
It’s the relationship between (1) and (2) which mostly concerns us here. I think scholars will continue to resist using “Judean” for Ioudaios simply because it’s convenient in English to have two words — “Judean” for those only who lived in Judea (1), “Jews” for everyone (2, 3, and/or 4). But as Philip Esler says, our convenience is besides the point, when we have a first-century historian himself who resists such convenience. Citing Josephus’ War 2:43, Esler says:
“In a context where it is necessary to refer to both groups, Jospehus does not designate the diaspora representatives by some other name [Galileans, Idumeans, Pereans, etc.] but invents a periphrasis to describe those who do live in Judea. Accordingly there is no justification for refusing to translate all representatives of this people as ‘Judeans’ just because some live in Judea. Rather, when referring to the latter group we should follow the example of Josephus and employ a periphrasis.” (Conflict and Identity in Romans, pp 67-68)
Esler, however, offers another reason for preferring “Judeans” over “Jews”, and one that leaves me cold:
“It is arguable that translating Ioudaioui as ‘Jews’ is not only intellectually indefensible…but also morally questionable. To honor the memory of these first-century people it is necessary to call them by a name that accords with their own sense of identity. ‘Jews’ does not suit this purpose, both because it fails to communicate the territorial relationship they had with the land of Judea and its temple and because it inevitably imposes on them associations derived from the troubled, indeed, often terrible history of the Jews. As long as the temple — the sacred heart of the land and its chief attraction — stood, and even between 70 CE and 135 CE when there was a hope that it might be rebuilt, ‘Judeans’ is the only apt rendering in English of Ioudaioui.” (Ibid, p 68)
Well…yes and no. The territorial relationship the chosen people had with the temple is important for historical reasons, and with historical precedents (as the Josephus passage indicates), but not because inaccurate terminology becomes somehow immoral or disrespectful. This idea smacks of political correctness, and has little place in academic inquiry.
In sum, I do believe that “Judean” is the preferred term for Ioudaios as long as we’re speaking of a time when the temple, or a realistic hope for its rebuilding, remained alive and well. Having just said that, I should say it’s not an issue I feel compelled to crusade over — and indeed I use “Jew”, “Jewish”, and “Judaism” all the time, not only as a lazy convenience, but especially when talking to laypeople. Until more scholars and bible translators follow suit, using the proper term will come across as confusing to some, and anal to many.
Tying this back to Mark Goodacre’s initial concern, I agree that whatever term we use — whether Jew/Judaism or Judean/Judeanism — we should avoid pluralizing the religion, since it gives the misleading impression that there were no common denominators holding the diverse Judean groups together.
UPDATE: Carl Conrad comments on the B-Greek mailing list.
UPDATE (II): Jack Elliott strengthens my convictions in his essay “Jesus was neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian'”.