Outsider and Insider Language Both Appropriate

Phil Harland, who had months ago called attention to Steve Mason’s article about Judeans, has finally gotten around to reading Jack Elliott’s article about Jesus the Israelite. I’ve blogged this subject to death, so will simply reaffirm a point I already made against Elliott: that from an historical point of view, outsider language can be just as appropriate as insider language — all the more so since we’re outsiders. As Phil says,

“We scholars are outsiders too. We need not always (and sometimes shouldn’t) adopt specific insider (emic) language to designate the groups we are studying, even though we always need to be attentive to, and descriptive of, what that insider language is. ‘Holy ones’, ‘brothers’, ‘the righteous’ and such are examples of value-loaded insider language that we wouldn’t want to adopt as scholars as general designations of the early followers of Jesus (or Paul). We want to avoid value-loaded language whether it is the stereotyping labels of outsiders or the praising self-designations of insiders. Thankfully neither ‘Israelite’ nor ‘Judean’ fall into the value-loaded category. This may be where I differ from Elliott’s more specific point about the need for scholars to use the categories of insiders, but this does not detract from Elliott’s overall contribution here.”

Even if Jesus would have never referred to himself as a Ioudaios, that doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate for us to do so. Context is king.

4 thoughts on “Outsider and Insider Language Both Appropriate

  1. Scholars are skilled at changing terminology and vocabulary while still making the same points. “Judeans” is just becoming the new way to say the Jews killed Jesus without having to say Jews. In other words, most scholars have indicated their unwillingness to blame Jewish leaders alone. Some wider circle of Jews (er, Judeans) must be to blame. So many scholars claim that Jesus was offensive to more that just Jewish leaders and identify this as the principle cause of this death (E.P. Sanders included). In a way, the Catholic Church’s 1965 Nostra Aetate set the tone for this by blaming Jesus’ death on Jewish authorities “and others who followed their lead”. Who are these vague “others”? The Church was saying we will decide how wide the circle of blame should be.Now “Judeans” is a new way to play the same old game. A people should get to say something about their own culture — how they want to define themselves and name themselves and see themselves. It is arrogance and imperialism for outsiders to say we will decide who you are and what you are called (but sympathetic outsiders are always welcome). Not that an outside point of view may not be helpful from time to time, but a people’s own view of themselves must first be given a full and fair hearing. This is still not done for ancient Judaism. How would Hillel, and Shemaiah and Avatalyon, and Simeon ben Shetach, and so many others have said about how they saw their own culture? Good historical study requires that this be answered first, and you will find some very interesting answers. Anthroplogists today would agree because they have struggled mightily to rid their discipline of racism and prejudice. But for the forseeable future, historical Jesus scholars will decide to make up their own ideas (and their own names) for ancient Jewish culture so that they can advance their own pet worldviews or theologies of Jesus. I think just about every rational scholar in any other field of study would agree with me.Leon Zitzer

  2. Ultimately, there isn’t a problem with adopting endic terminology (as opposed to emic terminology). However, we must *never* lose the distinction. Calling Jesus a Judean may obscure what he thought of himself, especially if scholars conflate the terms.Labels are merely abstract constructs for human organization of much more complex objects. For example, re Matthew, calling that Gospel “Jewish” or “Judean” can obscure certain facts about the author and his community, including whether they’re supersessionist, anti-Judean, or whether they think themselves to be Christian, Gentile, Judean, God-fearers, etc.Chris Weimer

  3. Chris wrote:<>Ultimately, there isn’t a problem with adopting endic terminology (as opposed to emic terminology). However, we must *never* lose the distinction.<>Yes Chris, I agree. We obviously want to know why Jesus never referred to himself as an <>Ioudaois<> and insisted on something else. Endic and emic are important in their own ways. As historians we need to understand both.

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