In Jew or Judean? I explained why I think “Jew” is a mistranslation in the New Testament. Now, coming from the current issue of The Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Jack Elliott confirms my convictions even more. Everyone should read his well-argued essay — even if debates about nomenclature tend to wreck your digestion.
It’s called “Jesus the Israelite was Neither a ‘Jew’ nor a ‘Christian’: On Correcting Misleading Nomenclature”, JSHJ Vol 5.2, pp 119-154. Elliott discusses identification, insider and outsider language, the fact that Jesus is never called Ioudaios in the NT (save on three occasions, and by outsiders), that Ioudaios was understood in either a narrow regional sense or broader ethnic sense (depending on context) — but in any case correctly translated as “Judean” and not “Jew”, and the usage of Ioudaios in the Gospels, Acts, and letters of Paul. In the end, he outlines his “Resulting Picture” (pp 146-147):
(1) Jesus identified himself and his associates as Israelites, and his mission was directed to the House of Israel. He was identified by other Israelite insiders according to his Israelite family and lineage and by his place of birth and upbringing, Nazareth and Galilee. He was Yeshua bar Yoseph, an ‘Israelite’, a ‘Galilean’, a ‘Nazarene from Nazareth of Galilee, but not a ‘Judean’ resident in Judea.
(2) Jesus never called himself a Ioudaios and was never designated as such by fellow Israelites. He was called, or thought of as, a Ioudaios only by non-Israelite outsiders whose terminology was consistent with Hellenistic and Roman practice, designating as ‘Judean’ all residents of Judea, together with all those connected to Judea by blood relations, Torah allegiance, patriotism, and loyalty to Judea, the holy city of Jerusalem and the Temple.
(3) His first followers were identified by fellow Israelites also as ‘Galileans’, ‘Nazarenes’, or members of ‘the Way’, but never as ‘Judeans’.
(4) They too, like Jesus, viewed themselves as Israelites. They preferred ‘Israel’ and ‘Israelite’ as self-identifiers when speaking to the ingroup Israel and when addressing fellow disciples.
(5) Paul’s usage is consistent with this pattern. He too prefers ‘Israel’ and ‘Israelite’ as self-identifiers in settings where Israelite Christ followers or Israelites outside the Christ movement are present. With an eye to the Israelite fellow believers who are in the audiences of his letters to the Philippians, the Corinthians, and the Romans, he identifies himself as an ‘Israelite’. With an eye to his Gentile readers, on the other hand, he can also identify himself, as a concession to their nomenclature, as a Ioudaios.
So Jesus was no more Jewish than Christian. He was a Judean in the broad ethnic sense often used by Greco-Roman outsiders, but even better a Galilean Israelite from the insider perspective. With Elliott I’m concerned that we “agree to employ terms of identification and self-identification today that reflect, and are consistent with, the historical, social, and cultural situation and practice of Jesus and his early followers” (p 154). Sometimes we don’t do this well: the tendency of some scholars to pluralize “Judaism” (and “Christianity”) for the sake of emphasizing ancient diversity is unnecessary and patronizing. But erasing “Judaism” from the discussion, as revisionist as it sounds, is completely warranted.
UPDATE: April DeConick reacts strongly to Elliott’s proposal, and there are some nice replies in comments (:)).