Odd Gospel Greek: Jesus as a Jew – ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων
“Jew, Judeans, and Commas” is a recent blogpost from J. R. Daniel Kirk. The post reconsiders the interpretation and translation of a Greek phrase that is almost always considered anti-Semitic and that “will almost invariably be translated ‘Jew’.” Kirk notes how David Matson suggests a different reading “1 Thessalonians 2:14-15, one of the most challenging texts in the Pauline corpus, especially for Christian/Jewish relations.” In these couple of Greek verses is the phrase ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων. Matson suggests, “those in Judea” as a reasonable and even helpful translation of ὑπὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων. Kirk adds that calling “Ioudaioi” … “‘Judean‘ … might be more like saying, ‘American‘,” that is, “those who share a common geographically determined heritage.” And he gives this map:
I’m still musing over this possibility, and now I’m also interested in the same phrase (ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων) in the gospel of John.
We read this in John chapter 4, where Jesus and the unnamed woman – a Samaritan from Samaria – are talking. To be sure, this gospel and even John 4:22 are as controversial as 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15. Willis Barnstone, who’s translated the New Testament Greek into restored Hebraic English, calls both passages late interpolations by anti-Semitic, Christian editors. Julie Galambush, who’s written The Reluctant Parting: How the New Testament’s Jewish Writers Created a Christian Book, considers the difficulties and asserts: “Consummately sectarian literature, [the gospel of] John was written to be obscure, arcane, even offensive” (page 271). Galambush adds: “While it is true that nearly all of those whom John portrays ‘coming to the light’ are Jewish (John’s is the only gospel that apparently includes no gentile converts), ‘the Jews’ in John’s gospel are firmly on the side of darkness, evil, and the devil” (page 272). In that context, John the gospel writer is also John the translator of the characters in his gospel. The Greek there is fascinating with respect to how it would class people as they talk to and about one another.
Let’s look and listen. Here’s John 4:9 for a bit of context and then John 4:22, where the Samaritan woman is talking and thereafter comes the reply of this man, Jesus. I’m giving the King James [with the odd gospel Greek inserted]:
Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew [Ἰουδαῖος], askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews [Ἰουδαῖοι] have no dealings with the Samaritans.
Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews [ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων].
What is a bit odd about the plural Ἰουδαῖοι in verse 9 is that there is no article as there is in verse 22. The King James translators might have left the article “the” out just fine in that first verse, but I’m not sure the meaning really changes so very much one way or the other.
What is notable is how Barnstone, like Galambush, sees the convert, the woman from Samaria, as Jewish too (and not a gentile). Barnstone asserts in a footnote that “the Samaritans, from Samaria, were Jews among the main sects of Jews, which included Hasid, Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees, among whom, as suggested here with regard to Jerusalem Jews and Samaritan Jews, there was much instense rivalry” (page 462). Thus, Barnstone keys in on the sectarianism but not the geographical identities of the sects. He translates as follows:
The Shomron woman said to him, “How can you a Jew [Ἰουδαῖος] ask to be given a drink by me, a Shomroni? Jews [Ἰουδαῖοι] have no dealings with Shomronim.
You worship what you do not know.
We worship what we do know.
Since salvation is from the Jews [ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων].
But what if the odd gospel Greek is putting it this way?
That woman, the Samaritan [ἡ Σαμαρ.ε.ῖτις], said to him:
How do you, a Judean [Ἰουδαῖος], from me, ask for a drink? From a woman, a Samaritan [Σαμαρ.ε.ίτιδος]?
None of them, in fact, do business with any of those others, no Judeans [Ἰουδαῖοι] with any Samaritans [Σαμαρ.ε.ίταις].
You all worship one not known. We all worship the One known because salvation is there, birthed from the Judeans, yes it is [ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων ἐστίν].
Any way it’s read, this is odd gospel Greek because it is one of the very few instances in which Jesus is identified, regionally, racially, and/or religiously as Ἰουδαῖος, of Ἰουδαῖοι, of τῶν Ἰουδαίων.