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Ioudaios (wikt:Ιουδαίος)[a] is the Greek ethnonym in classical and biblical literature commonly translated in English as "Jew" or "Judean".[1] In its various contexts, the word has also been translated as "Judahites", "people of the region of Judah/Judea" and "leaders of Judea".[2]

The choice of translation is the subject of frequent scholarly debate, given its central importance to passages in the Bible (both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament) as well as other writers such as Josephus and Philo. Translation as "Jews" is seen to infer connotations as to the religious beliefs of the people, whereas translation as "Judeans" infers an identity primarily defined by the territory of Judea.[3]

A related translation debate refers to the terms ἰουδαίζω (verb), literally translated as Judaizing,[4] and Ἰουδαισμός (noun), commonly translated as Judaism.

Etymology and usage[edit]

Main article: Jew (word)

The Hebrew term Yehudi (יְהוּדִי) occurs 74 times in the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible. It occurs first in the history books of the Hebrew Bible in 2 Kings 16:6 where Rezin king of Syria drove the "Jews" out of Elath, and earliest among the prophets in Jeremiah 32:12 of "Jews that sat in the court of the prison." In the Septuagint the term is translated Ioudaios.

Translation implications[edit]

As mentioned above, translating as "Jews" has implications about the beliefs of the people whereas translation as "Judeans" emphasizes their geographical origin.

The word Ioudaioi is used primarily in three areas of literature in antiquity: the later books of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. the Books of the Maccabees), the New Testament (particularly the Gospel of John and Acts of the Apostles) and classical writers from the region such as Josephus and Philo.

There is a wide range of scholarly views as to the correct translations with respect to each of these areas, with some scholars suggesting that either the words Jews or Judeans should be used in all cases, and other scholars suggesting that the correct translation needs to be interpreted on a case by case basis.

One complication in the translation question is that the meaning of the word evolved over the centuries. For example, Morton Smith, writing in the 1999 Cambridge History of Judaism,[5] states that from c.100 BCE under the Hasmoneans the meaning of the word Ioudaioi expanded further:

For clarity, we may recall that the three main earlier meanings were:
(1) one of the descendants of the patriarch Judah, i.e. (if in the male line) a member of the tribe of Judah;
(2) a native of Judaea, a "Judaean";
(3) a "Jew", i.e. a member of Yahweh's chosen people, entitled to participate in those religious ceremonies to which only such members were admitted.
Now appears the new, fourth meaning:
(4) a member of the Judaeo-Samaritan-Idumaean-Ituraean-Galilean alliance

Academic publications in the last ten to fifteen years increasingly use the term Judeans rather than Jews. Most of these writers cite Steve Mason’s 2007 article, “Jews, Judaeans, Judaizing, Judaism: Problems of Categorization in Ancient History.” Mason and others argue that “Judean” is a more precise and a more ethical translation of ioudaios than is “Jew ”.[6]

Language Comparison[edit]

The English word Jew derives from the Old French forms "Giu" and "Juieu", which had elided (dropped) the letter "d" from the Medieval Latin form "Iudaeus", which, like the Greek Ioudaioi, meant both Jews and Judeans / "of Judea".

However, most other European languages retained the letter "d" in the word for Jew.

The distinction of translation of Yehudim in biblical Hebrew between "Judahites," "Judeans" and "Jews" is relevant in English translations of the Bible.

English Modern Hebrew Modern Standard Arabic Latin Ancient Greek
Jew יהודי Yehudi يهودي Yahudi Iudaeus Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios
"of Judea" or "Judean" יהודי Yehudi يهودي Yahudi Iudaeus Ἰουδαῖος Ioudaios
Judea יהודה Yehudah يهودية Yahudiyya Iudaea Ἰουδαία or Ioudaiā

Judaism (Greek Ioudaismos)[edit]

The Ancient Greek term Ioudaismos, usually translated as "Judaism" or "Judeanism", first appears in 2 Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE. In the context of the age and period it held the meaning of seeking or forming part of a cultural entity and can be compared with hellenismos, meaning acceptance of Hellenic cultural norms (the conflict between iudaismos and hellenismos lay behind the Maccabean revolt and hence the invention of the term iudaismos).[7] Shaye J. D. Cohen wrote: this first ocurence of the term, Ioudaismos has not yet be reduced to designation of a religion. It means rather "the aggregate of all those characteristics that makes Judaeans Judaean (or Jews Jewish)." Among these characteristics, to be sure, are practices and beliefs that we would today call "religious" but these practices and beliefs are not the sole content of the term.[8]

External References[edit]

General References

Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John

  • Meeks, Wayne (1975). ""Am I A Jew"? Johannine Christianity and Judaism". Christianity, Judaism and other Greco-Roman Cults. 
  • Bratcher, Robert (1975). "The Jews in the Gospel of John". BT 26: 401–409. 
  • Schram, Terry Leonard (1974). "The use of Ioudaios in the Fourth Gospel". 
  • Uses of Ioudaios in the New Testament

See also[edit]


a Also Ioudaioi (Ἰουδαῖοι) as per the Ancient Greek nominative plural case; also Ἰουδαῖῶν (Ioudaiōn, genitive), Ἰουδαῖοῖς (Ioudaiois, dative) and Ἰουδαῖούς (Ioudaious, accusative) in other forms.


  1. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia
  2. ^ Christopher D. Stanley, The Colonized Apostle: Paul Through Postcolonial Eyes, pages 117-122 (Fortress Press, 2011). ISBN 978-0-8006-6458-9
  3. ^ James D. G. Dunn Jesus, Paul, and the Gospels 2011 Page 124 "6.6 and 9.17, where for the first time Ioudaios can properly be translated 'Jew' ; and in Greco-Roman writers, the first use of Ioudaios as a religious term appears at the end of the first century ce (90- 96, 127, 133-36). 12."
  4. ^ Young's Literal Translation of Gal 2:14
  5. ^ Cambridge History of Judaism volume 3 page 210
  6. ^
  7. ^ Oskar Skarsaune (2002). In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity. InterVarsity Press. pp. 39FF. ISBN 978-0-8308-2670-4. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  8. ^ Shaye J.D. Cohen 1999 The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties University of California Press. 105-106