C O U R S E L E C T U R E
Josephus on the Definition of Jew and Christian in the Ancient World
Notes taken on February 17, 2014 by Edward Tanguay
a study of Paul's letters leads us to a better understanding of Judaism in the ancient world
Jews fall into three categories: orthodox, reformed, conservative
but this is true of other religious identities as well, e.g. within Christianity you have Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestants, and within each of these there are many branches
in antiquity it was also hard to say exactly what a Jew was
they erected a boundary between themselves and non-Jews, or Gentiles, but the boundary was always crossable and not always clearly marked
e.g. if a Gentile were to convert to Judaism in 80 CE, it is unclear who would accept this:
local Jewish community?
the city's government, thus granting rights and privileges such as certain tax categories?
the word "Jew" in Greek is "Ioudaios" and means "from Judea"
this is the primary word that Paul uses in his letters, instead of "Hebrew" or "Israelite"
later it came to mean Jews who were outside this area, e.g. from Egypt
so "Ioudaios" is an ethic-geographical definition that came to mean more
learned about the diversity of Judaism
he frames them in terms of philosophies
just as Greeks have many kinds of philosophies, so do Jews
live simply, respect reason, respect the old, believe the soul is immortal and free will reigns
2. Sadducees [sad-JOO-seez]
souls die with their bodies
very few accept their documents
immortality of the soul
do not participate in temple sacrifice
have rights of their own
have no wives, no slaves
Josephus gives them a glowing description
like Greeks: bodies are corruptible but souls are immortal
share all things in common
Josephus doesn't like them
Judas of Galilee was its author
God is the only rule and Lord
Josephus reminds us that, to be accurate, we can't talk about Judaism or Christianity in antiquity as if it were monolithic
there were many groups, interpretations, and conflicting interests among the members of each religion
Christians refused to call any human "Lord"
in Galatians, we see a hint of multiple kinds of "Jews in Christ", Paul insists that Galatians shouldn't be following "another gospel"
Paul was competing with others who were taking the message out and explaining how Gentiles, or non-Jews- may become God's people
Josephus also mentions the "spiral of violence" that was ongoing at the time when Jesus was born and coming of age, at the beginning of the Jesus movement
e.g. Judas of Galilee who said that people were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and submit to mortals as their Lord
many Jews who called themselves prophets and who led Jews into rebellions against the Romans