Ioudaios (Ancient Greek: Ἰουδαῖος; pl. Ἰουδαῖοι Ioudaioi)[n 1][2] is an Ancient Greek ethnonym used in classical and biblical literature which commonly translates to "Jew" or "Judean".[3][4]

The first known occurrence of the singular Ioudaios is in the "Moschus Ioudaios inscription", dated c. 250 BCE, from Oropos in Greece. The inscription describes a Ioudaios of Greek religion; such that in this context Shaye J. D. Cohen states the word must be translated as "Judean".[1]

The choice of translation is the subject of frequent scholarly debate, given its central importance to passages in the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) as well as works of other writers such as Josephus and Philo. Translating it as Jews is seen to imply connotations as to the religious beliefs of the people, whereas translating it as Judeans confines the identity within the geopolitical boundaries of Judea.[5]

A related translation debate refers to the terms ἰουδαΐζειν (verb),[6] literally translated as "Judaizing" (compare Judaizers),[7] and Ἰουδαϊσμός (noun), controversially translated as Judaism or Judeanism.[8]

Etymology and usageEdit

The Hebrew term Yehudi (יְהוּדִי‎) occurs 74 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. It occurs first in the Hebrew Bible in 2 Kings 16:6 where Rezin king of Syria drove the 'Jews' out of Elath, and earliest among the prophets in Jeremiah 32:12 of 'Jews' that sat in the court of the prison." In the Septuagint the term is translated Ioudaios.


The Ancient Greek term Ioudaismos (Ἰουδαϊσμός; from ἰουδαΐζειν, "to side with or imitate the [Judeans]"),[6] often translated as "Judaism" or "Judeanism",[8] first appears in 2 Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE. In the context of the age and period it held the meaning of seeking or forming part of a cultural entity and resembles its antonym Hellenismos, meaning acceptance of Hellenic (Greek) cultural norms (the conflict between Ioudaismos and Hellenismos lay behind the Maccabean revolt and hence the invention of the term Ioudaismos).[9] Shaye J. D. Cohen wrote:

We are tempted, of course, to translate [Ioudaismos] as "Judaism," but this translation is too narrow, because in this first occurrence of the term, Ioudaismos has not yet be reduced to designation of a religion. It means rather "the aggregate of all those characteristics that makes Judaeans Judaean (or Jews Jewish)." Among these characteristics, to be sure, are practices and beliefs that we would today call "religious," but these practices and beliefs are not the sole content of the term. Thus Ioudaïsmos should be translated not as "Judaism" but as Judaeanness.[10]

Translation implicationsEdit

As mentioned above, translating it as "Jews" has implications about the beliefs of the people whereas translation as "Judeans" emphasizes their geographical origin.

The word Ioudaioi is used primarily in three areas of literature in antiquity: the later books of the Hebrew Bible and Second Temple literature (e.g. the Books of the Maccabees), the New Testament (particularly the Gospel of John and Acts of the Apostles), and classical writers from the region such as Josephus and Philo.

There is a wide range of scholarly views as to the correct translations with respect to each of these areas, with some scholars suggesting that either the words Jews or Judeans should be used in all cases, and other scholars suggesting that the correct translation needs to be interpreted on a case by case basis.[weasel words]

One complication in the translation question is that the meaning of the word evolved over the centuries. For example, Morton Smith, writing in the 1999 Cambridge History of Judaism,[11] states that from c.100 BCE under the Hasmoneans the meaning of the word Ioudaioi expanded further:

For clarity, we may recall that the three main earlier meanings were:
(1) one of the descendants of the patriarch Judah, i.e. (if in the male line) a member of the tribe of Judah;
(2) a native of Judaea, a "Judaean";
(3) a "Jew", i.e. a member of Yahweh's chosen people, entitled to participate in those religious ceremonies to which only such members were admitted.
Now appears the new, fourth meaning:
(4) a member of the Judaeo-Samaritan-Idumaean-Ituraean-Galilean alliance

In 2001, the third edition of the Bauer lexicon, one of the most highly respected dictionaries of Biblical Greek,[12] supported translation of the term as "Judean", writing:

Incalculable harm has been caused by simply glossing Ioudaios with ‘Jew,’ for many readers or auditors of Bible translations do not practice the historical judgment necessary to distinguish between circumstances and events of an ancient time and contemporary ethnic-religious-social realities, with the result that anti-Judaism in the modern sense of the term is needlessly fostered through biblical texts.[13]

In 2006, Amy-Jill Levine took the opposite view in her Misunderstood Jew, writing: "The translation 'Jew', however, signals a number of aspects of Jesus' behavior and that of other 'Jews', whether Judean, Galilean, or from the Diaspora: circumcision, wearing tzitzit, keeping kosher, calling God 'father', attending synagogue gatherings, reading Torah and Prophets, knowing that they are neither Gentiles nor Samaritans, honoring the Sabbath, and celebrating the Passover. All these, and much more, are markers also of traditional Jews today. Continuity outweighs the discontinuity."[14]

Academic publications in the last ten to fifteen years increasingly use the term Judeans rather than Jews. Most of these writers cite Steve Mason's 2007 article, "Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History". Mason and others argue that "Judean" is a more precise and a more ethical translation of ioudaios than is "Jew".[15] Much of the debate stems from the use of the term in the New Testament where Ioudaios is often used in a negative context. Translating Ioudaios as "Judeans" implies simply people living in a geographic area, whereas translating the term as "Jews" implies a legalistic religious and ethnic component which in later Christian works was characterized as a religion devoid of "grace", "faith", and "freedom". It is this later understanding which some scholars have argued was not applicable in the ancient world. They argue that the New Testament texts need to be critically examined without the baggage that Christianity has associated with the term "Jew". Others such as Adele Reinhartz argue that New Testament Anti-Judaism cannot be so neatly separated from later forms of Anti-Judaism.[16]

Language comparisonEdit

The English word Jew derives via the Anglo-French "Iuw" from the Old French forms "Giu" and "Juieu", which had elided (dropped) the letter "d" from the Medieval Latin form Iudaeus, which, like the Greek Ioudaioi it derives from, meant both Jews and Judeans / "of Judea".[4]

However, most other European languages retained the letter "d" in the word for Jew; e.g. Danish and Norwegian jøde, Dutch jood, German Jude, Italian giudeo, Spanish judío etc.

The distinction of translation of Yehudim in Biblical Hebrew between "Judeans", and "Jews" is relevant in English translations of the Bible.

English Modern Hebrew Modern Standard Arabic Latin Ancient Greek
Jew יהודי Yehudi يهودي Yahudi Iudaeus Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios
"of Judea" or "Judean" יהודי Yehudi يهودي Yahudi Iudaeus Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios
Judea יהודה Yehudah يهودية Yahudiyya Iudaea Ἰουδαία Ioudaiā

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Ἰουδαῖος is the NOM sg. form, Ἰουδαῖοι the NOM pl.; likewise Ἰουδαίων Ioudaiōn GEN pl., Ἰουδαίοις Ioudaiois DAT pl., Ἰουδαίους Ioudaious ACC pl., etc..
  1. ^ Cohen 1999, p. 96-98.
  2. ^ Ἰουδαῖος. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  3. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
  4. ^ a b Harper, Douglas. "Jew". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  5. ^ James D. G. Dunn Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels 2011 Page 124 "6.6 and 9.17, where for the first time Ioudaios can properly be translated 'Jew' ; and in Greco-Roman writers, the first use of Ioudaios as a religious term appears at the end of the first century ce (90- 96, 127, 133-36). 12."
  6. ^ a b ἰουδαΐζειν. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; An Intermediate Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  7. ^ Young's Literal Translation of Gal 2:14
  8. ^ a b Harper, Douglas. "Judaism". Online Etymology Dictionary.
  9. ^ Oskar Skarsaune (2002). In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. InterVarsity Press. pp. 39FF. ISBN 978-0-8308-2670-4. Retrieved 2010-08-22.
  10. ^ Cohen, Shaye J.D. (1999) The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties University of California Press. 105-106
  11. ^ Cambridge History of Judaism volume 3 page 210
  12. ^ Rykle Borger, "Remarks of an Outsider about Bauer's Wörterbuch, BAGD, BDAG, and Their Textual Basis," Biblical Greek Language and Lexicography: Essays in Honor of Frederick W. Danker, Bernard A. Taylor (et al. eds.) pp. 32–47.
  13. ^ Danker, Frederick W. "Ioudaios", in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. third edition University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226039336
  14. ^ Amy-Jill Levine. The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006, page 162
  15. ^ Adele Reinhartz, "The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity" Archived 2017-08-22 at the Wayback Machine "Marginalia", L.A. Review of Books, June 24, 2014.
  16. ^ Todd Penner, Davina Lopez (2015). De-Introducing the New Testament: Texts, Worlds, Methods, Stories. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 71–74. ISBN 9781118432969.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)

External linksEdit

General references

Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John