What if We Got Rid of the Goy? Rereading Ancient Jewish Distinctions

In: Journal for the Study of Judaism

The goy has been present in Jewish discourses since antiquity. Despite this, its birth and history have received almost no scholarly attention. In this paper we shift the focus from the various historical attitudes towards the goy, to the very constitution of the concept and the dichotomy it constructs. We claim that scholars have been anachronistically reading Jewish (or Judaean) texts from the centuries before the common era as if they contained the Jew/goy distinction. Through a series of readings in texts like Jubilees, Pseudo-Aristeas, Joseph and Aseneth, 1-4 Maccabees, the Damascus Document, we seek to demonstrate the plurality of options for separation that existed before the Jew/goy discourse took over.

  • 2

    Ishay Rosen-Zvi and Adi Ophir, “Goy: Toward a Genealogy,” Diné Israel 28 (2011): 69-122; Rosen-Zvi and Ophir, “Paul and the Invention of the Gentiles,” jqr 105 (2015): 1-41. See also Rosen-Zvi, “Huledet ha-goy be-siferut hazal,” Teʿuda 26 (2014): 361-438 [Hebrew]. There one can also find a detailed review of scholarship on ethnic distinctions in Paul’s letters and rabbinic literature. The current paper is a part of this larger, shared project, but at the same time stands independently as a textual historical analysis of pre-rabbinic discourses on other nations.

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  • 8

    Christian Frevel, “Separate Yourself From the Gentiles,” in Mixed Marriages: Intermarriage and Group Identity in the Second Temple Period, ed. Frevel (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), 220-50 at 220, for example, writes: “There is hardly any Jewish writing from the second century bce that is as radical and plain in the call for separation from the nations as the book of Jubilees.” Cf. Jacques T. A. G. M. van Ruiten, “Abraham and the Nations in the Book of Jubilees,” in Abraham, the Nations, and the Hagarites, ed. M. Goodman, G. H. van Kooten, and van Ruiten, tbn 13 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 105-16. Some examples include the extensive rewriting of: (1) the treaty between Isaac and Abimelech (i.e., the Philistines; Gen 26:26-33) in Jub 24:26-33; (2) Isaac’s blessings to Esau (Gen 27:40) in Jub 26:34; and (3) Jacob’s reaction to the massacre of Shechem (Gen 34:30) in Jub 30:25. Citations from James C. VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees: A Translation, csco 511 (Leuven: Peeters, 1989). I also consulted the new Hebrew translation of Cana Werman, Sefer ha-yovelim: Mavo, targum u-feirush (Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi, 2015).

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  • 12

    See Christine Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 73-81.

  • 21

    See VanderKam, Jubilees: A Translation, 55.

  • 27

    Cf. Acts 11:18, and see D. Flusser, “Yosef ve-asenat: roman Yehudi hellenisti,” Dapim Le-Mehkar Be-Sifrut 2 (1985): 73-81, esp. 74.

  • 28

    See Randall D. Chesnutt, From Death to Life: Conversion in Joseph and Aseneth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995). On Aseneth’s “conversion” and the initiation rituals into the Hellenistic mysteria see Michael Schneider, Ha-masorot ha-genuzot shel ha-mistikah ha-yehudit: mehkere ha-mistikah ha-yehudit ha-kedumah al pi eduyot shel sefarim hitsonim, sifrut helenistit, mekorot notsriyim u-muslemiyim (Los Angeles: Cherub, 2012), 28-33.

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  • 29

    See Ross S. Kraemer, When Aseneth Met Joseph: A Late Antique Tale of the Biblical Patriarch and his Egyptian Wife, Reconsidered (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 51.

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  • 30

    Cf. Erich Gruen, Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 93: “The attitudes reflected therein with regard to relations between Jews and Gentiles, tense but resolvable, may tip the balance slightly toward a Ptolemaic rather than Roman setting. Comparable attitudes are discernible in works like the Letter of Aristeas, 3 Maccabees, and the writing of Artapanus.” While we fully agree with the cultural observation, we would claim that it is exactly the lack of “Jews and Gentiles” discourse which characterizes all these compositions.

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  • 31

    Citation according to Patrick A. Tiller, A Commentary on the Animal Apocalypse of I Enoch (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1993), 269.

  • 32

    Devorah Dimant, “Ha-historiya al pi hazon ha-hayot (hanokh ha-habashi 85-90),” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 1 (1982): 24-25. Cf. Ida Fröhlich, “The Symbolical Language of the Animal Apocalypse of Enoch (1 Enoch 85-90),” RevQ 14/56 (1990): 629-36, esp. 632 (“dichotomic system”).

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  • 33

    Menahem Kister, “Le-toledot kat ha-isiyim: iyunim be-hazon ha-hayot, sefer ha-yovelim u-verit damesek,” Tarbiz 56 (1986-1987): 1-18.

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  • 35

    Mark A. Elliot, The Survivors of Israel: A Reconsideration of the Theology of Pre-Christian Judaism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 80. Cf. Laurence H. Schiffman, Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 384; Florentino García Martínez, “Invented Memory: The ‘Other’ in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Qumranica Minora II, ed. Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, stdj 64 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 187-218, esp. 214. For fuller bibliography see Holtz, “Inclusivism in Qumran,” nn. 3-5.

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  • 37

    See Terrence L. Donaldson, Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE) (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007); B. van der Lans, “Belonging to Abraham’s Kin: Genealogical Appeals to Abraham as a Possible Background for Paul’s Abrahamic Argument,” in Goodman et al., Abraham, the Nations, and the Hagarites, 307-18; and Sherwood, Paul and the Restoration.

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  • 38

    Richard Bauckham, “Apocalypses,” in Justification and Variageted Nomism, vol. 1: the Complexities of Second Temple Judaism, ed. D. A. Carson, P. T. O’Brien, and M. A. Seifrid (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 135-88. See especially the analysis of the “righteous” and “elect” in 142-44, and Carson’s summary: “the righteous are the true Israel; sinners are either Jewish apostates or Gentile oppressors” (515). Cf. Elliot, Survivors of Israel.

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  • 45

    See John M. G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora from Alexander to Trajan (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996), 184-86; and the comments by Goering, “Election and Knowledge,” 170: “Barclay reads the Book of Eschatology as ‘a reflection of conflict between Jews and non-Jews’. Yet even he acknowledges that the specific language of attack on the ungodly suggests that the opponents themselves may be Jews.” Cf. Collins, Jewish Wisdom, 194 n. 62.

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  • 47

    See Winston, Wisdom of Solomon, 26-32, 38-40; Alexander A. Di Lella, “Conservative and Progressive Theology: Sirach and Wisdom,” cbq 26 (1966): 139-54, esp. 148.

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  • 55

    Collins, Jewish Wisdom, 230. He goes on to say: “Wisdom of Solomon does not name names, and so leaves open the possibility that there may be other holy peoples and nations of oppressors.” Cf. Goering, “Election,” 170-71.

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  • 56

    Joseph Reider, The Book of Wisdom (New York: Harper, 1957), 41.

  • 57

    See Reider, Wisdom, 19-21; Winston, Wisdom of Solomon, 13-14. For the history of the scholarly debate over the book’s unity see John H. Hayes, New Testament: History of Interpretation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), 243.

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  • 68

    Cf. J. J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 55; Atkinson, I Cried to the Lord, 140-41.

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  • 72

    William M. Soll, “The Family as Scriptural and Social Construct in Tobit,” in The Function of Scripture in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition, ed. C. A. Evans and J. A. Sanders (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998), 166-75; Thomas Hieke, “Endogamy in the Book of Tobit, Genesis, and Ezra-Nehemia,” in Xeravits and Zsengellér, Book of Tobit, 103-20. Cf. Devorah Dimant, “The Family of Tobit,” in With Wisdom as a Robe: Qumran and Other Jewish Studies in Honour of Ida Fröhlich, ed. K. D. Dobos and M. Koszeghy, Hebrew Bible Monographs 21 (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2009), 157-62. Dimant demonstrates that the narrative establishes the continuity of family, tribe, and nation through emphasizing familial relations between all the Israelite figures, and the repeated invocation of “brotherhood.” This nation-as-extended-family model is mirrored also in William Soll’s thesis that Tobit expands the scriptural decree to bury relatives to the nation as a whole; see Soll, “The Book of Tobit as a Window on the Hellenistic Jewish Family,” in Passion, Vitality and Foment: the Dynamic of Second Temple Judaism, ed. Lamontte M. Luker (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2001), 242-74, esp. 273-74. See also E. Arazi, “The Interrelations between Honor and Shame and Purity and Pollution in the Jewish Conception of Death in the Hellenistic and Early Roman Periods” (ma Thesis, Tel-Aviv University, 2014), 71-89 [Hebrew]. Cf. Gruen, Diaspora, 157, who comments: “The narrator is surely having a bit of fun here. Maintenance of kinship ties might bring some stability to an otherwise fragmented diaspora existence. But clannishness, when carried to excess, prompts ridicule.” Similarly David McCracken, “Narration and Comedy in the Book of Tobit,” jbl 114 (1995): 401-18, at 414: “tribal and familial qualifications are excessive.” Note that already Martin Luther saw Tobit as “a pious comedy”; see Hayes, New Testament: History of Interpretation, 221.

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  • 73

    William Loader, The Pseudepigrapha on Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 152. Cf. Fitzmyer, Tobit, 172-73; Hieke, “Endogamy,” 108; Littman, Tobit, xxxvii, 91-92; McCracken, “Narration,” 414 (“a non-Naftali is foreign”). On endogamy in Jubilees see James C. VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2001), 33.

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  • 80

    See Stanley K. Stowers, A Rereading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 58-65.

  • 81

    Translation according to Moses Hadas, Aristeas to Philocrates (Letter of Aristeas) (New York: Harper, 1951), 160-61. These verses are part of the apology for the law by Elazar, the high priest (Let. Aris. 130-171).

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  • 92

    Hadas, Aristeas, 62.

  • 94

    Honigman, Septuagint, 23. Commenting on Aristeas 152 she adds: “it would not be impossible to imagine condemnations of pederasty in the Alexandrian Hellenistic literature” (p. 22), but admits that no traces for this have survived.

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  • 95

    See, e.g., 4 Macc 5:22-27; Philo, Spec. 4.100-118.

  • 98

    A similar critic was made by Gruen, Diaspora, 214-15; Gruen, “The Letter of Aristeas,” in Outside the Bible: Ancient Jewish Writings Related to Scripture, ed. L. H. Feldman, J. L. Kugel and L. H. Schiffman, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 2013), 3:2711-68, at 2739 n. 139. See also next note.

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  • 99

    Hadas, Aristeas, 61; Honigman, Septuagint and Homeric Scholarship, 19; Noah Hacham, “The Letter of Aristeas: A New Exodus Story?” jsj 36 (2005): 1-20, esp. 4; Moshe Simon-Shoshan, “The Task of the Translators: The Rabbis, the Septuagint, and the Cultural Politics of Translation,” Proof 27 (2007): 1-39, esp. 6-7. Cf. Gruen, Diaspora, 221: “Jews have not only digested Hellenic culture, they have also surmounted it.”

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  • 101

    Daniel Barbu, “Aristeas the Tourist,” Bulletin der Schweizerischen Gesellschaft für Judaistische Forschung 23 (2014): 5-12, at 8, writes: “The notion that alien wisdom is a source of corruption . . . is in fact a recurrent motif in ancient historiography . . . less an expression of Jewish separatism or ‘misanthropy,’ than an essential element of Aristeas’ description of the Jews as an alien wisdom able to serve as example of an ideal society.”

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  • 103

    Cf. Philo, Legat., 362.

  • 104

    Origen, Cels. 5:25. Translation according to John G. Cook, The Interpretation of the Old Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism, stac 23 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 125. Cf. Henry Chadwick, Contra Celsum (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965), 283. For the theological basis of Celsus’s assertion—“different parts of the earth were from the beginning distributed to different tutelary divinities”—see Bar-On and Paz, “Helek adonai amo: al mitos behirat Israel ba-goral veha-vikuah ha-gnosti—ha-notsri—ha-pagani—ha-yehudi,” Tarbiz 76 (2010): 23-61, esp. 52-53. This idea goes back to Herodotus’s “custom is king” (Hist. 3.38). See Wilfried Nippel, “The Construction of the Other,” in Greeks and Barbarians, ed. Thomas Harrison (Routledge: New York, 2002), 278-310, esp. 284.

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  • 105

    Erich S. Gruen, Rethinking the Other in Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 279.

  • 110

    See Elias J. Bickerman, “The Date of Fourth Maccabees,” in Studies in Jewish and Christian History, 3 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1976), 1:275-81.

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  • 118

    Barclay, Mediterranean Diaspora, 197.

  • 124

    E.g.: Bickermann, “Colophon,” 237; Bickerman, “Notes on the Greek Book of Esther,” 259; Tcherikover, “The Third Book of the Maccabees,” 20-24; Barclay, Mediterranean Diaspora, 192-203; and Parente, “The Third Book of Maccabees,” 169-70, 180.

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  • 125

    E.g.: Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism, 231; Collins, Athens and Jerusalem, 127-28; and Sara R. Johnson, Historical Fictions and Hellenistic Jewish Identity: Third Maccabees in its Cultural Context (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 179.

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  • 128

    Bickerman, “The Colophon,” 236; cf. Bickerman, “Notes,” 259: “The Story of Purim is now another tale of the eternal conflict between ‘the people of God’ and ‘all the nations.’ ” Bickerman is undecided about the context of this “uncompromising nationalism:” is it “the violent and implacable war between the Hasmonean and the Greek cities in Palestine,” (cit. “The Colophon,” 237; cf. Collins, Athens and Jerusalem, 111-12) or the active intervening in the dynastic wars in the Alexandrian diaspora (cit. “Notes,” 262-65).

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