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Odd Gospel Greek: Jesus as a Jew – ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων

March 30, 2012

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.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2012 5:35 pm

    Barnstone’s rendering here is interesting. Of course Jesus was a Judean by birth, at least according to Matthew and Luke – does John know this? But, if Barnstone is right, why did the Samaritan woman think Jesus was Judean? Surely his accent would have been more northern, like Peter’s Galilean accent which was recognised during Jesus’ trial. Could Jesus have somehow presented himself as Judean, rather than Galilean, perhaps in his clothing? Or is Barnstone simply wrong here?

  2. March 30, 2012 6:05 pm

    I think Barnstone believes the Greek here is not the original. And so he’s either letting the text let the “Shomron woman” of the “Shomronim” get it wrong (in terms of theology, race, and/ or location). Or, more likely, he’s viewing the problem mainly and entirely with the late interpolater(s). Elsewhere in the footnote, he writes:

    The notable identification of Yeshua as a Jew by an “outsider” Samaritan contradicts the prevalent dejudaizing of Yeshua and his circle and the normal use of Jew as Yeshua ‘s deadly opponent. Revealed once again is the disturbed and confused nature of the scriptures, as we have it from multiple hands, which in contingent passages esteems and scourges the Jew…. As to differences between Samaritans and other Jews, the sacred Samaritan capital was at Shechem, not Jerusalem, and its Temple, then in ruin, on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans had their own version of the Torah (only the first five books were accepted by them), which was slightly different, and they claimed to be the true Israel, following Mosaic law, and opposing Jews from Jerusalem and its Temple. Here the Samaritan woman speaks of their common ancestor Jacob and common father, meaning “God.”

  3. March 30, 2012 8:42 pm

    Kurk – thanks for this post. It is the first time I have understood the distinction between Jew and Judean. I just received my copy of The Poems of Jesus Christ – and I just gave it to my pastor who was over for a singing lesson. It is beautifully produced and laid out – and I like the feel of all that I read. I was expecting more of his analysis though – maybe I should have ordered the restored NT.

    One day I will apply my techniques to 1 John and see what is in that to me very difficult letter. I am left wondering what Barnstone does with that text?

  4. March 30, 2012 8:44 pm

    Oh – I meant to note – one of the doubles in the Psalms is the geographic one 57+60 = 108. (A puzzle). Perhaps the geographic aspect is an important physical grounding – instead of the internal abstractions we attach to names.

  5. March 31, 2012 4:49 am

    Kurk, I am surprised at Barnstone alleging major textual issues with John, which has all the marks of a unitary composition, apart from the first part of John 8 of course, and perhaps the last chapter. Of course the Samaritan woman might have been confused. But more likely to a Samaritan Ioudaios or its Aramaic equivalent meant “Jew”, whereas to Galileans like Jesus and John the Apostle the meaning was more like “Judean”. The author seems to have picked up this distinction, perhaps because he was used to Samaritans calling him a Judean. So no need to postulate a textual error.

    On that basis there may be a deliberate double meaning in “the Jews [Ἰουδαῖοι] have no dealings with the Samaritans”. This may in fact have been generally true of Galileans and diaspora Jews as well as Judeans. But the author may also have been reflecting the contrast which runs through the work between Jesus and his disciples and the Judeans who opposed them. In other words, he is also saying that Jesus, although a true Israelite (compare 1:47 where Jesus uses this word), is not behaving like a Judean Jew.

  6. Eric permalink
    March 31, 2012 12:13 pm

    John 11 also seems to be a place where Judeans makes more sense than Jews. If you read this section as denoting religious or ethnic origin some of Jesus’ responses don’t make much sense. On the other hand, if you read the text as denoting people from Judea the concerns about Jesus approaching Jerusalem makes sense and so does the authorial note that he no longer moved about amongst the Judeans but went elsewhere.

    I rather suspect that something similar is going on with the famous anti-Semitic passages as well. In Matthew, which is generally considered to be a lot more friendly to Jews, Jesus blasts the scribes and Pharisees and ends by claiming that they are guilty of all the innocent blood from Abel to Zechariah and then rapidly transitions from doom on these specific people to doom on the entire city. The next section goes on about this doom at some length and references passages from the prophets where the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians was seen as God’s judgment on His unfaithful people. So it seems that Matthew might be explaining the destruction of Jerusalem as divine judgment on the Pharisees.

    Transfer this concept to John, switch in “Judeans” where it says “Jews”, and you’ve got basically the same thing. It also explains why in Chapter 19 Pilate is first talking to the leaders in Jerusalem and then, suddenly, “the Jews”. In fact, he’s probably still talking to the same people, the Judean leaders instead of the pilgrims in the city for Passover (who are elsewhere “the crowd’).

  7. April 1, 2012 8:13 am

    there may be a deliberate double meaning in “the Jews [Ἰουδαῖοι] have no dealings with the Samaritans”. This may in fact have been generally true of Galileans and diaspora Jews as well as Judeans. But the author may also have been reflecting the contrast which runs through the work between Jesus and his disciples and the Judeans who opposed them. In other words, he is also saying that Jesus, although a true Israelite (compare 1:47 where Jesus uses this word), is not behaving like a Judean Jew.

    brilliant observation!!

    Do you sense that the gospel writer knew the Psalms and gathered from them geographical senses? On Barnstone, yes his New Testament is the more substantial work with respect even to just the “voice” of Jesus.

    Thanks for being so astute and for getting us looking at other John passages. It seems intentionally vague as to where Jesus was when he got the news of Lazarus’s sickness and death, but 11:7 makes clear he was not in Judea. And Jesus might die if he goes to Judea: 11:8. There’s that interesting sidenote on how close Jerusalem (in Judea) is to Bethany (in Judea), 11:18. And then that important point about many of them being there, that is, πολλοὶ ἐκ τῶν Ἰουδαίων 11:19. Very interesting!

    And is some of the gospel narrator’s ire in chapter 19, as you suggest, also leveled against his Judean fellows when he has Pilate saying (to Judeans), καὶ λέγει τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις, Ἴδε, ὁ βασιλεὺς ὑμῶν (behold your king) and writing on the placard in HebrewAramaic, in official Latin, and in imperial Greek:

    Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων (Y’shua, the Nazarean, the King of the Judeans)?

  8. April 1, 2012 11:56 am

    Kurk asks, what do I sense re the Gospel writers and the geography of the psalms?

    It’s more what I fail to sense when reading about geographical markers. It is all too easy to think ‘stereotype’, and fail to sense ‘regional difference’, a difference that might well have been taken for granted by the writers whatever century they were writing in.

    Re the psalms, I am curious about all the doubles (40:15-17=70, 14=53, and 57-60=108) and I am almost tempted to include psalms 135 and 136 which share 30 roots, 20 in the same sequence, for a total of 167 words, as if one was modeled on the other, or two poets were competing for the right to stand at the threshold of the Holy Place.

    I wonder if these are like great tent-poles in the poetry book. Is it significant that they include (see also Psalm 87 and the coasts of Psalms 72 and 97) a chunk of geography? In my earlier comment I was thinking of our quickness to reduce the particularities of birthplace to an abstraction.

  9. April 1, 2012 1:24 pm

    I guess Pilate would have got in trouble with Herod Antipas if he had suggested anyone else was king of the Galilean Hebrews. But he ruled the Judeans so could say what he wanted about who was their king.

    This also puts a different spin on John 18:33,36,37: “Are you the king of the Judeans?” “My kingdom is not of this world … from another place.” “So you are a king, but not of these Judeans who I rule?” No wonder Pilate was confused!

  10. April 2, 2012 4:47 pm

    Bob, well put: “It is all too easy to think ‘stereotype’, and fail to sense ‘regional difference’, a difference that might well have been taken for granted by the writers whatever century they were writing in.”

    Peter, What language do you think Pilate was speaking to Jesus? John’s Pilate, of course, “speaks” Greek (and writes Greek, “Hebrew,” and Latin). And this “ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων” is odd gospel Greek, isn’t it?

  11. April 2, 2012 6:16 pm

    Well, yes, Kurk, I suppose I am talking about John’s Pilate, and John is probably not recording a real conversation verbatim. But in the same language, I would think. The real Pilate would have spoken Greek as well as Latin, and Jesus probably spoke some Greek, enough to have a conversation with Pilate. So Greek is the most likely language of the original words.

  12. April 3, 2012 6:57 am

    I agree: in history, even when Roman officials were to use Latin officially for public functions, it seems they slipped back into Greek. One who’s studied this is Jorma Kaimio; in The Romans and the Greek Language, Kaimio gives many details on the Roman elite as “bilaterally unilingual,” of their armies speaking Greek, of Latin literature being sort of irrelevant, and of their being functionally diglotic, with Greek as ubiquitous in the empire.

    And you’re probably right: the Greek of the gospel of “John is probably not recording a real conversation verbatim.” The author is constructing a Greek conversation that puts Pilate in the middle of a Roman-Greek-Jewish milieu. Jewish Greek readers would, or at the very least could, make connections with the Hebrew scriptures as translated in Egypt under a kingdom within another empire. I’m sure the audience of the gospel of John extends into the diaspora, beyond Jerusalem, into Alexandria, where the first sentence of the prophet Isaiah (a work that John the Baptist at the beginning of the gospel quotes) in Greek reads something like this:

    ὅρασις ἣν εἶδεν Ησαιας υἱὸς Αμως ἣν εἶδεν κατὰ τῆς Ιουδαίας καὶ κατὰ Ιερουσαλημ ἐν βασιλείᾳ Οζιου καὶ Ιωαθαμ καὶ Αχαζ καὶ Εζεκιου οἳ ἐβασίλευσαν τῆς Ιουδαίας


  1. Jesus was not a Jew - according to the Gospels (1) - Gentle Wisdom
  2. Jesus was not a Jew – according to the Gospels (2) - Gentle Wisdom
  3. Hal Taussig’s “A New New Testament” (and the Open English Bible) | BLT
  4. On misunderstanding the kiss, the handshake, the warm greeting between a man and a woman | BLT
  5. WWJD on Hanukkah? – Odd Gospel Greek | BLT

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