Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
Take our poll

Bible Dictionaries
Jew, Jewess

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Search for…
Prev Entry
Jesus Christ
Next Entry
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

The term ‘Jew’ (Heb. יְהוּדִי, Gr. Ἰουδαῖος) originally signified an inhabitant of the province of Judaea , or, more strictly, a member of the tribe of Judah in contrast with the people of the Northern Kingdom of the ten tribes. After the Babylonian captivity, however, the term was applied to any member of the ancient race of Israel, wherever settled and to whatever tribe he may have belonged. Josephus, referring to Nehemiah, use of the term in addressing the returned exiles, says: ‘That is the name they are called by from the day that they came up from Babylon, which [name] is taken from the tribe of Judah, which came first to these places; and thence both they and the country gained that appellation’ (Ant. xi. v. 7).

The name is almost always regarded as a purely racial designation, marking off all who belonged to the ancient nation; but as the nation was distinguished from the heathen world by its religious views, the term came to signify one who was separated not only by race but by religion from the rest of mankind. The Jew himself preferred to be called an ‘Israelite,’ as the latter was the name of national honour and privilege (cf. article Israel), and we find ‘Jew’ to be the designation usually applied by foreigners to members of the Chosen People.

In the NT the term is found applied to those who belonged to the ancient race in contrast with various other groups or classes of men. The Jews themselves divided the whole world into Jews and Gentiles; and we find the Apostle Paul using this contrast in speaking of God’s judgment on sin: ‘tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile’ (Romans 2:9). Again the term is used in contrasting Jews and Samaritans (John 4:9), the latter being descended from the mixed race of ancient Israelites and the settlers introduced by the Assyrian conquerors (cf. 2 Kings 17:24-41).

The Jew is also contrasted with the proselyte who was a Jew by his adopted religious beliefs, but not by birth (Acts 2:10). In the Fourth Gospel we find the term ‘Jews’ applied to those who opposed the teaching of Jesus, as contrasted with believers in Christ, whatever their nationality might be; but generally the Jewish rulers seem to be indicated by the name in this Gospel. Thus ‘the Jews’ censure the man for carrying his bed on the Sabbath (Acts 5:10), and contend with the man born blind (Acts 9:22). Perhaps this usage of the Fourth Gospel arose from the influence of later times, when the Jews, and especially the Jewish authorities, were bitterly opposed to the teaching of Jesus. In the other parts of the NT the term is never used in contrast with believers in Christ. Thus in Galatians 2:13 ‘the Jews’ are the Christians of Jewish race. In the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 2:28-29) we find a distinction made between a Jew who is such outwardly and a Jew who is such inwardly. Here, as also in Romans 3:1, the Apostle uses the term ‘Jew,’ where we should naturally expect to find ‘Israelite,’ to designate a member of the Chosen People as a recipient of special Divine favour. Some who belong to the Jewish race are not spiritually partakers of the blessings which attach to it. In the passage where the writer of the Apocalypse (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9) speaks of those ‘who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan,’ he may be referring to men who made a false claim to belong to the Jewish nation, or to Jews by race who were far from belonging to the true Israel of God.

One of the most remarkable features in connexion with the Jews in the apostolic times was their world-wide dispersion. From Spain in the West to the Persian Gulf in the East Jews had settled in every large city. Their exclusive religion and their contempt of the heathen kept them together as a community within the larger population where they found a home, and their capacity for commerce often enabled them to become extremely wealthy. Their exclusiveness and the commercial dishonesty of many of them led to their being hated by the common people, while their wealth made them exceedingly useful to rulers and princes, who thus were induced to protect them. The Dispersion was one of the most important factors in the spread of the Christian faith in apostolic and sub-apostolic times. Wherever the apostolic missionaries went, they found a Jewish synagogue, where they had access not merely to the Jewish population, but to the more earnest among the heathen who had been attracted by the monotheism and the moral characteristics of Judaism, and who often formed the nucleus of a Christian Church. The Jewish religion was tolerated in the Roman Empire, being regarded as a religio licita; and, so long as Christianity grew up and flourished in the shelter of the synagogue, it too might be regarded as enjoying the same toleration. This fact no doubt enabled the new faith to secure a footing in these early days. In the Acts of the Apostles we see how the Roman proconsul Gallio (Acts 18:12-17) simply regards Christianity as an insignificant variation of Judaism, and the same view is taken by King Agrippa (Acts 26:32), as well as by the town-clerk of Ephesus (Acts 19:37). The author of the Acts is careful to state these favourable opinions of officials. Probably, however, the popular hatred of the Jews, which was always smouldering and ready to burst forth at any moment among the excitable populace, was one of the first causes of Christian persecution, as it took some considerable time before Christianity was fully recognized as an independent religion. The Jews themselves became the most persistent and implacable persecutors of the Christians. They were ever ready to stir of the disaffected people and divert attention from themselves by turning it on the adherents of the new faith. Probably the expulsion of the Jews from Rome by Claudius (Acts 18:2) was the result of dissensions regarding the new religion, which had sprung from Judaism and threatened to overwhelm it. The reference of Suetonius (Claudius, 25) to Chrestus, which is probably a mistake for Christus, seems to favour this idea, although various views have been taken of the passage (cf. R. J. Knowling, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Acts,’ p. 384f.).

In Rome, as well as in many other cities of the Empire, Jews obtained considerable influence, in spite of the popular aversion to them. Their wealth opened many doors which otherwise would have remained shut against them. Jews, and especially Jewesses, were to be found in many prominent Roman families, and intermarriage between Jewish women and Gentiles was by no means uncommon. Thus Eunice, the mother of Timothy (Acts 16:1), was a Jewess who had married a Greek, while Drusilla, the wife of Felix the governor of Syria (Acts 24:24), is also described as a Jewess. In both references the word simply implies that the women belonged to the ancient race of Israel, without any thought of the particular tribe from which they may have claimed descent.

Literature.-H. H. Milman, History of the Jews3, 1863; J. J. I. Döllinger, Heidenthum und Judenthum, 1857; O. Holtzmann, Neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte (Holtzmann and others)., 1895; E. Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4, 1901-11; A. Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung2, 1906; A. Berliner, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, 1893; W. M. Ramsey, The Church in the Roman Empire, 1893, St. Paul the Traveller, 1895; R. J. Knowling, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Acts,’ 1900, M. Dods, Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘The Gospel of St. John,’ 1897; Sanday-Headlam, Romans 5 (International Critical Commentary , 1902); articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) and Encyclopaedia Biblica .

W. F. Boyd.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jew, Jewess'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​j/jew-jewess.html. 1906-1918.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile