Tuesday, June 24, 2014

On translating IOUDAIOS

Adele Reinhartz writes a piece on "The Vanishing Jews of Antiquity" in Marginalia for the LA Times Book Review (6/24).


She raises questions about the way in which many scholars now render IOUDAIOI as "Judeans." Where formerly scholars including those who translated the Bible once rendered ioudaios/ioudaioi as “Jew/Jews,” since 2007, now these terms are rendered “Judaean/Judaeans.” The argument of scholars like Steve Mason is that the category “Judaean” is a more precise and ethical because in the first place it corresponds to the complex meaning of ioudaios in ancient sources and second, that is counteracts the anti-Semitism historically associated with some of these Greek texts, particularly the New Testament.  

The latter is forcefully argued by Danker in the entry for Ioudaios in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) third edition (478a-b):

“Incalculable harm has been caused by simply glossing ioudaios with “Jew,”  for many readers or auditors of Bible translations do not practice the historical judgement necessary to distinguish between circumstances and events of 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.”

Prof Reinhardt’s then focuses on the rendering of the term in the gospel of John.  She says, “despite some neutral or even positive occurrences, the Ioudaioi figure most prominently as the opponents of Jesus, who’s lying and murderous conspiracy to have crucified demonstrates that they are children of the devil (John 8:44).”  And she notes that “the potent association between these figures and the devil remains deeply embedded in anti-Semitic discourse to this day.”

Rendering Ioudaioi by “Judeans” is a way of making adherents to the laws of Moses in the Hellenistic world e.g. Jews in the gospel of John invisible. And it exonerates the author of the gospel of John from any role in the history of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

She argues that “the term Jew is more precise because it signals the complex type of identity that the ancient sources associate with the Greek term and also because it allows Judaean to retain its primary meaning as a geographical designation useful when discussing the inhabitants or topography of Judaea.”   That term is more ethical “because it acknowledges the Jewish connection to this period of history and these ancient texts and because it opens up the necessity of confronting the role of the New Testament in the history of anti-Semiticism.” 

Let the debate continue!

No comments: