Sunday, February 18, 2007

Pauline Myths: Judaisms and Judaizers

In the course of Pauline studies there are two terms that float around with great frequency, and yet they are little more than semantic myths, words with near technical meaning and near universal assent, but they do not match up to the reality which the word puportedly represents. What are these words?

1. Judaisms. It is often touted that second-temple was so diverse that it is more accurate to speak of Judaisms rather than a singular Judaism. What's the problem here? Well, that there was diversity in second-temple Judaism is a no-brainer, one only has to compare Philo and the Dead Sea Scrolls to figure that one out. Nonetheless, despite the penchant for diversity in second-temple Judaism, authors of this period (like Paul) who were fully aware of the diversity of belief and practice among their co-religionionists always refer to Judaism (Ioudaismos) in the singular! See e.g. 2 Macc. 2.21; 8.1; 14.38; 4 Macc. 4.26; Gal. 1.13-14 (and at least one inscripton from CIJ which I cannot track down).

2. Judaizers. It is common to refer to Paul's opponents as Judaizers and where this term designates Paul's Jewish Christians opponents it is a misleading designation. Why? Well, to begin with only Gentiles can Judaize. One who judaizes is a Gentile and it means to take on, in whole or in part, Jewish customs. In Galatians 2, Paul reprimands Peter (not for judaizing himself) but for forcing Gentiles to judaize. Similarly, Josephus (Wars 2.463) points out that the Syrians in Antioch sought to attack the Jewish populace but had to be wary of the judaizers and this clearly refers to Gentile adherents/sympathizers to Judaism. Where this term designates Gentiles who follow or propagate a Jewish lifestyle (and it could arguably be used to describe certain Gentiles in Romans) it is indeed appropriate - but not for Paul's Jewish Christian adversaies in Antioch and arguably Galatia. I got this insight while reading Mark Nanos' The Irony of Galatians and wish I had applied it in my recent Paul book where I did use the term judaizers. Oh well, all the more reason for a second edition one day - Lord and Paternoster willing.


exegetical fallacy said...


Good insights, mate! Do you see the term 'judaizer' fading out of scholarship, though? I tend to see 'agitators, opponents, influencers (Nanos), and Teachers' (Martyn), but I don't seem to come across 'judaizers' in recent scholarship.
Also, which designation do you think is the best, and why?


slaveofone said...

It seems to me that the reason--and a very good one--for the emphasis on JudaismS comes about not because the ancient world had a hard time seeing Judaism as a multiplicity, but because the Modern world does. To adaquately communicate what the word Judaism meant in ancient times means changing the term to make better sense in ours.

Sure, I could use the proper word "Federal" like the fathers of the U.S. knew of and used it--to describe a confederacy of separate and independant states. But nowdays in the U.S., Federal means a consolidated/whole Nation. Therefore I change the word or find a better word that represents the original meaning since it is not common to associate separate and independant states with the word Federal.

Matt said...

"Judaisms" is no more appropriate than "Christianities" in describing the varied expressions of Christianity today. However, we do often hear the word "Christianities" used to describe the situation of the early church (particularly in dealing with heterodoxy). Further, to agree with slaveofone, these words may be anachronistic but they do serve as a corrective to our thinking today. Also, "Judaisms" was made famous (at least to my knowledge) by Jacob Neusner. He likely did not coin the term, but he certainly popularized it. I simply point this out to highlight the fact that "Judaisms" is not intended as an anti-Judaism pseudo-slur; Neusner is a Jew himself, a rabbi no less.

Concerning the use of Judaizers, I don't find its use distracting when it indicates Paul's Jewish-Christian opponents. While I agree that only Gentiles can judaize, were not the Jewish-Christian opponents of Paul seeking to judaize Gentile Christians? Think of the way in which we use the term "proselytize" today. One who seeks to "proselytizee" someone is an "proselytizer." In English, judaize could be used in the same way, thus one who seeks to judaize someone could be called a Judaizer. If one uses "Judaizer" in this way, then I think it can still be valid. (Also, the word is still used by many, if not most, scholars today to reference Paul's Jewish-Christian opponents, the notable exceptions mentioned by ef, and a few others, excluded.)

Anonymous said...


Useful observations, thanks.

slaveofone said...

I just read an excellent article on Judaizers/God-fearers/sympathizers: The God-Fearers: Did They Exist? The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers
By Louis H. Feldman