“Israel” and “Jew” as Markers of Jewish Identity in Antiquity: The Problems of Insider/Outsider Classification

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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Building on K. G. Kuhn’s TWNT entry on the names “Israel” and “Jew” in post-Hebrew Bible Jewish literature, many scholars have claimed that the two ethnonyms can be classified as insider and outsider designations respectively. This essay nuances that categorization. While Kuhn and subsequent scholars have rightly noted the uneven distribution of the names, the exceptions to an insider/outsider model are too numerous to maintain it without modification. Both “Israel” and “Jew” were insider names whose usage in Jewish literature was influenced by the speech situation of the author as well as by consciousness of the biblical narrative.

“Israel” and “Jew” as Markers of Jewish Identity in Antiquity: The Problems of Insider/Outsider Classification

in Journal for the Study of Judaism




See among recent studies Sacha SternJewish Identity in Early Rabbinic Writings (AGJU 23; Leiden: Brill1994); Thomas Willi Juda-Jehud-Israel: Studien zum Selbstverständnis des Judentums in persischer Zeit (FAT 12; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 1995); John M. G. Barclay Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE-117 CE) (Edinburgh: T&T Clark 1996); Shaye J. D. Cohen The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries Varieties Uncertainties (Berkeley: University of California Press 1999); Jörg Frey et al. eds. Jewish Identity in the Greco-Roman World (AGJU 71; Leiden: Brill 2007); Lee I. Levine and Daniel R. Schwartz eds. Jewish Identities in Antiquity: Studies in Memory of Menahem Stern (TSAJ 130; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2009); Benedikt Eckhardt ed. Jewish Identity and Politics between the Maccabees and Bar Kokhba: Groups Normativity and Rituals (JSJSup 155; Leiden: Brill 2012).


See Solomon Zeitlin“The Names Hebrew, Jew, and Israel: A Historical Study,” JQR 43 (1953): 365-79; Peter Tomson “The Names Israel and Jew in Ancient Judaism and in the New Testament” Bijdr 47 (1986): 120-40 266-89; idem “ ‘Jews’ in the Gospel of John as Compared with the Palestinian Talmud the Synoptics and Some New Testament Apocrypha” in Anti-Judaism and the Fourth Gospel (ed. Reimund Bieringer et al.; Louisville Ky.: Westminster John Knox 2001) 176-212; Graham Harvey The True Israel: Uses of the Names Jew Hebrew and Israel in Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Literature (AGJU 35; Leiden: Brill 1996); David Goodblatt “From Judeans to Israel: Names of Jewish States in Antiquity” JSJ 29 (1998): 1-36.


Kuhn“Ἰσραήλ, Ἰουδαῖος, Ἑβραῖος in der nach-at.lichen jüdischen Literatur,” TWNT 3:360-70.


Ibid.361. According to Kuhn Diaspora Jews did begin to adopt Gentile terminology for themselves but this was a secondary development.


DunnThe Partings of the Ways: Between Christianity and Judaism and their Significance for the Character of Christianity (2d ed.; London: SCM2006) 192. Similar statements are repeated in several of his works.


Casey“Some Anti-Semitic Assumptions in the ‘Theological Dictionary of the New Testament,’ ” NovT 41 (1999): 280-91. Tomson (“Names” 121 n. 4) alludes to Kuhn’s Nazi sympathies but denies any influence of that allegiance on the entry.


Casey“Anti-Semitic Assumptions” 282-83.


As observed by Tomson“ ‘Jews’ in John” 181-82.


Mason“Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History,” JSJ 38 (2007): 457-512 at 480. The “Jew/Judean” translation debate which is in the background of Mason’s article is not of importance to the present task.


Ibid.483-88. These categories of course overlap and multiple schemes of categorization are possible as Mason himself recognizes.


Ibid.481-82. Tomson (“Names” 125-26) also notes that a separation between religion and nation was “non-existent and unthinkable in the ancient period.” In a similar vein Dunn (“Who Did Paul Think He Was? A Study of Jewish-Christian Identity” NTS 45 [1999]: 174-93 esp. 180-81) recognizes that Jewish markers of identity that we typically associate with religion would have been understood as pertaining to ancestral laws and customs; see also Cohen From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (2d ed.; Louisville Ky.: Westminster John Knox 2006) 51-53.


BickermanDer Gott der Makkabäer: Untersuchungen über Sinn und Ursprung der makkabäischen Erhebung (Berlin: Schocken1937) 28.


See Casey“Anti-Semitic Assumptions” 282.


Tomson“Names” 120.


See Walter Gutbrod“Ἰσραήλ, Ἰουδαῖος, Ἑβραῖος in der griechisch-hellenistischen Literatur,” TWNT 3.370-76; Stern (Jewish Identity 10) also observes that “Israel” appears to be unknown to non-Jews. On the Roman inscription see Ross S. Kraemer “On the Meaning of the Term ‘Jew’ in Greco-Roman Inscriptions” HTR 82 (1989): 35-53 esp. 38-41. The community at Delos also referred to themselves as Israelites but the connection with Gerizim likely indicates Samaritan origins; see A. T. Kraabel “New Evidence of the Samaritan Diaspora Has Been Found on Delos” BA 47 (1984): 44-46. The closest we get to non-Jewish identification of the Jewish people as “Israel” is the allusion in Alexander Polyhistor and Pompeius Trogus to the patriarch Israel. It is not however used as an eponym. On this see Goodblatt “Varieties of Identity in Late Second Temple Judah” in Jewish Identity and Politics 11-28 esp. 17-18.


Cowey and MareschUrkunden des Politeuma95-96.






See also Casey“Anti-Semitic Assumptions” 282.


Goodblatt“Judeans to Israel” 7-8; idem Elements of Ancient Jewish Nationalism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2006) 149.


See Goodblatt“Judeans to Israel” 9; idem Elements 150.


Tomson“Names” 130 n. 36a; “ ‘Jews’ in John” 182.


Goodblatt“Judeans to Israel” 13-18. He has since revised his position: “Although I doubt that this was a calque of common Greek usage it remains a possibility” (Elements 159).


So Goodblatt“Judeans to Israel” 18.


Goodblatt“Varieties of Identity” 22-26.




Tomson“Names” 133. Yet immediately after this he remarks that the story “glorifies the redemption of the Jews by a Jewish heroine.”


See for examplem. Ketub. 7:6; m. Ned. 11:12 paralleled in t. Ned. 7:8; t. ʿAbod. Zar. 4:6; y. Moʿed Qaṭ. 83b; y. Sanh. 25d; y. Taʿan. 66c.


So also Goodblatt“Varieties of Identity” 18.


See H.-J. Zobel“לארשי,” ThWAT 3:986-1012 for a detailed list of the occurrences of “Israel” in the Hebrew Bible and its referents.


Miller and HayesA History of Ancient Israel and Judah (2d ed.; Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox2006) 114; so also Goodblatt (“Varieties of Identity” 15) who says that “ ‘Israel’ is the more inclusive of the two ethnonyms.”


See also HarveyTrue Israel164-66. A modern parallel would be the interrelated yet distinct semantic ranges of England and the United Kingdom or Holland and the Netherlands.


So also Jason Staples“What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with ‘All Israel’? A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27,” JBL 130 (2011): 371-90esp. 374-75.


See for exampleAnt. 9.280 in which Josephus states that the Assyrians carried the northern tribes out of Judea (ἐκ τῆς Ἰουδαίας) though he is surely aware that the territory of Judah in that period only extended to the border with Ephraim.


See Michael E. FullerThe Restoration of Israel: Israel’s Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts (Berlin: de Gruyter2006) 255-57 for a brief but helpful discussion of the twelve-tribe motif in the Dead Sea Scrolls.


See E. P. Sanders Jesus and Judaism (Minneapolis: Fortress1985); Fuller Restoration of Israel ; James M. Scott ed. Restoration: Old Testament Jewish and Christian Perspectives (JSJSup 72; Leiden: Brill 2001).


See SternJewish Identity11-13.


So Dunn The Theology of Paul the Apostle (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans1998) 505-6.




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