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When Paul Says “Israel” Does He Mean “The Jews”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

Last week I posted the first of three interesting discussions by my erstwhile student Jason Staples, PhD in New Testament, currently teaching at North Carolina State University.  Here is the second post, with an even more challenging thesis that runs counter to what scholars have long said, but for which he makes a compelling case.  His fuller discussion will be found in the book he has coming out from Cambridge Press at the end of the year.

 

Jason will be happy to address your comments and questions.

 

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Post 2: Why Does Paul Switch from Talking about ‘Jews’ to ‘Israel’?

My last post looked at how Paul’s statements about Israel’s ultimate salvation in Romans 11 seem to contradict what he says elsewhere about the equality between Jews and gentiles (non-Jews) and surveyed several ways scholars have tried to reconcile that tension. But that post concluded by calling attention to a significant but often unnoticed problem: most modern scholars have simply assumed that “Israel” means “Jews.” But if Paul meant “Jews,” why didn’t he just use that term like he does in the rest of Romans and his other letters? Why does he switch terms for three chapters in Romans 9–11? The very fact that he changes terminology suggests something subtle is afoot, so if we’re going to understand what Paul’s doing here, we have to be able to explain why he shifts to talking about “Israel” in the first place.

To answer this question, we need to step back a bit to look at how the term “Israel” was understood and used by Paul’s contemporaries. Surprisingly, it turns out that other first-century Jews also distinguish between “Israelites” and “Jews.” One good example is Josephus, a first-century Jewish priest who wrote a history of the Jewish people (Jewish Antiquities). Josephus stops using the term “Israel” around the midpoint of his history, at which point he begins using the term “Jew,” which is much rarer in the first half where Israel appears.

Interestingly, unlike Paul, Josephus actually explains why he switches terms, saying that although many Jews returned from the Babylonian Exile, “the whole of Israel remained in that land [of exile], so it came about that only two tribes returned to Asia and Europe and are subject to the Romans. But the ten tribes are still beyond the Euphrates River and are a boundless multitude too great to number” (Antiquities 11.132). He then explains that “after they [the two tribes] returned from Babylon, they were called Jews after the tribe of Judah, since that was the prominent tribe” (Jewish Antiquities, 11.173).

To understand what Josephus is talking about here, we have to take another step back to the story of Israel in the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament), where Israel is the name of the twelve-tribe people of God led out of Egypt in the exodus that eventually becomes a unified kingdom under David, who was from the tribe of Judah. But the unity among these twelve tribes is fleeting, as the ten northern tribes broke off to form their own kingdom after the death of David’s son, Solomon. The result was two kingdoms: the northern kingdom, which retained the name “Israel,” and the southern kingdom of Judah, which was ruled by David’s descendants. The odd result of this is that “Israel” could refer either to the whole twelve-tribe people of God (that is, “all Israel”) or the ten-tribe kingdom to the north of Judah.

The northern kingdom was actually the stronger and more prosperous of the two, but it also drew the attention of the Neo-Assyrian Empire because of its strategic importance along an important trade route connecting Mesopotamia and Egypt. After a few ill-advised attempts to shake off Assyrian control in the mid-eighth century BCE, the northern kingdom finally came to an end when the Assyrians sacked the capital city of Samaria in around 722 BCE and converted the territory into an Assyrian province.

The Assyrians were experts at breaking up rebellious people groups; their primary strategy was to deport much of the population, dispersing them among different regions of the Assyrian empire, ensuring that they were spread too thin to unify and rebel again. And within a few generations, these dispersed groups would typically intermarry among the other people groups in those areas, effectively losing their distinct ethnic identity and becoming melting-pot Assyrians. (Such practices are considered genocide by today’s standards.) This is ultimately what happened to the northern kingdom of Israel, as Assyria deported large portions of the population, scattering them into separate areas. (For a theologically-charged and hyperbolic account of these deportations, see 2 Kings 17.)

Many from the north fled south during these events, but only twenty years later, King Hezekiah of Judah foolishly repeated the mistakes of the northern kings and rebelled against Assyria. According to the records of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, this resulted in the deportations of over 200,000 people from Hezekiah’s kingdom—including many refugees who had fled from the north. Interestingly, Sennacherib did not depose Hezekiah himself (there’s some evidence that suggests Sennacherib’s mother was closely related to Hezekiah), and Judah remained a distinct kingdom, though effectively reduced to the territory immediately around Jerusalem, for a few more generations. A little over a century later (587/6 BCE), the Babylonians finally brought the kingdom of Judah to an end, famously destroying Jerusalem, burning the Temple of YHWH (the God of Israel), and deporting those of consequence to Babylon.

While all this was happening, a series of prophets engaged in withering critiques of Israelite and Judahite society, proclaiming that YHWH would destroy both kingdoms and scatter his people because of persistent injustice and idolatry, each of which represented a breach of contract with YHWH. But that’s not all these prophets proclaimed; the final versions of these prophetic books also promise that YHWH would ultimately restore his people from their scattered state after they learned their lesson. Remarkably, these prophecies often emphasized that this return would include a reunification of Israel and Judah (for examples, see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36–37). This expectation of the reconstitution and restoration of all twelve tribes of Israel became an important part of Jewish theology thereafter.

This brings us back to the events Josephus is talking about in the passages cited above. Babylon was soon conquered by the Persians, who presented themselves as liberators to those who had been oppressed by the Assyrians and Babylonians. As part of this policy of liberation, many from Judah who had been exiled to Babylon (or their descendants) were allowed to return to their homeland once again. Prophecy fulfilled, right! Well, not quite. Don’t forget that many of the prophecies about Israel’s restoration go out of their way to include not only those from Judah but also from the northern tribes of Israel.

That’s ultimately what Josephus is referring to—he explicitly says that only those from Judah returned while the rest of Israel remained on the other side of the Euphrates, still awaiting the promised return and reunification of all Israel. Josephus explains that this is why he stops saying “Israel” and starts talking about “Jews”: after the return from Babylon, the lens has narrowed from Israel as a whole to those from the southern kingdom of Judah. For Josephus, at least, “Israel” is not synonymous with the Jews. Instead, Israel is a larger group that includes but is not limited to Jews, much like “American” includes but is not limited to New Yorkers.

I won’t belabor the point here—I did plenty of that in my book The Idea of Israel in Second Temple Judaism, which comes out later this year—but a closer look at other sources from the period shows that Josephus’ distinction between these terms was pretty typical in this time period. There’s also a lot of concern about exactly where the other ten tribes are (our best evidence is that most of the tribes like Reuben and Naphtali simply intermarried and disappeared), and the Samaritans claim to be descendants of some of the northern tribes. Most Jews seem to have rejected that claim to Israelite status as illegitimate, viewing Samaritans as the result of intermarriage between the people Assyria resettled within the land and the Israelites left behind. (Note, however, that neither Jews nor Samaritans view the Samaritans as Jews—the debate is over Israelite status, not Jewish status.)

Once we recognize this distinction, a few other things get clearer, starting with the historical Jesus himself. Take note that Jesus proclaimed the coming of the “kingdom of God” and chose twelve apostles, who he promised would “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28 // Luke 22:30). But there were no twelve tribes in Jesus’ day! The point of this promise was that Jesus himself was initiating the long-awaited restoration of all twelve tribes—they may not be here yet, but they will be! The “kingdom of God” would be the restored Israel of the prophets, through which God himself would bring justice to all the nations. This was the radical apocalyptic message Jesus went to the cross proclaiming and attempting to initiate.

Of course, that raises an obvious question for those around after Jesus’ crucifixion: did Jesus fail? Where is Israel’s restoration? Why haven’t the twelve tribes returned? And if you’re Paul, you’re also left trying to explain why all these gentiles are responding to the gospel message—which, remember, is about Israel’s messiah-king and the restoration of Israel! Has God simply abandoned Israel and elected a new people from the nations? This is precisely the question Paul is trying to answer in Romans 9–11, and in answering it, he returns to the question of exactly who constitutes Israel in the first place. And as it turns out, he argues that because “Israel” is something bigger than the Jews alone, the salvation of “all Israel” will require something bigger, something miraculous. Paul’s solution will be the subject of my next post.

 


Will “All Israel” Be Saved? Really? Guest Post by Jason Staples
Did Paul Really Think “All Israel Will Be Saved”? Guest Post by Jason Staples

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Comments

  1. epicurus
    epicurus  July 28, 2020

    Great stuff, very interesting!

  2. Avatar
    doug  July 28, 2020

    You answered something I’ve always wondered about – what might have happened to the other 10 tribes: “There’s also a lot of concern about exactly where the other ten tribes are (our best evidence is that most of the tribes like Reuben and Naphtali simply intermarried and disappeared)”.

    Thank you.

  3. Avatar
    SNelson  July 28, 2020

    If Josephus claims there were numerous descendants of the northern tribes beyond the Euphrates, and that only the southern tribes returned, why do you suggest that the Assyrians effectively ‘ethnically cleansed’ them out of existence and that “there were no twelve tribes in Jesus’ day!”?

    Do you mean that there were simply ‘no twelve tribes’ in that particular region in Jesus’ day? Or do you outright discredit Josephus’ account?

    2 Kings 17:6 says that the king of Assyria settled Israel in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.

    2 Esdras 13:39-49 claims that 9 tribes were (miraculously) lead across the Euphrates and wandered, for 1 ½ years, to a distant region called Arzareth [Another Land], where allegedly ‘no human beings had ever lived’. It goes on to prophesy their return in the end times, when the Most High will (miraculously) lead them home.

    If it was common knowledge that the ‘lost tribes’ were in that particular location, why don’t we see a concerted effort on the part of early Christians (in the New Testament) to spread the Gospel to those “lost” Israelites, in particular?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 28, 2020

      Good question. The best explanation is that the perspective of Josephus and 2 Esdras was not “common knowledge” in that period; they present only one of quite a few options for the fate of the northern tribes in operation in that period. There’s a debate in the Mishnah, for example, in which one of the rabbis (R. Joshua) argues that the nations scattered by the Assyrians no longer exist as ethnically distinct entities (m. Yad. 4:4). Other sources, such as Tobit, have other perspectives on the issue.

      There’s also no evidence for Josephus’ claim that there were ten distinct Israelite tribes across the Euphrates somewhere—it seems to have been a matter of faith for him, not an empirical claim.

      • Avatar
        SNelson  July 29, 2020

        Thank you for the response.

        In terms of the other options available to 1st century Jews/Christians, are there any empirical claims that the 10 lost tribes (dispersed among ‘the nations’) WERE still ethnically distinct entities (contra Rabbi Joshua) that had since moved West into the dispersion in the Roman Empire – separate from the Jewish diaspora (Southern tribes)?

        Adam Clarke’s commentary on John attests to this interpretation of John 7:35 (“the dispersion among the Greeks”) going back to the early 1800s. And many modern exegetes interpret this meaning in James 1:1 (12 tribes in the diaspora) and 1 Peter 1:1 (diaspora) – as specifically inclusive of the literal ‘lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (per Mt 15:24 and Mt 10:6).

        Many such exegetes posit that the ‘Gentile’ converts, referred to as such in Acts and the Epistles, actually conceived of themselves as literal, biological descendants of Jacob (Ephraim), as opposed to their being a symbolic, spiritual replacement of the ‘LOST tribes’, grafted-into the olive tree through faith in Christ.

        I’d love to know your thoughts on this, if it’s not already addressed in your upcoming post.

        • Avatar
          JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

          I’ve seen some suggestions about this idea, particularly with respect to John 7:35, but I haven’t found any early Jewish evidence for such a view. Those who thought there were still ethnically distinct entities typically imagine them as across the Euphrates somewhere in the east. Note that Josephus draws the distinction between those who are under the Roman empire—those from the southern tribes—and the remanant of the other ten tribes, which he envisions as an innumerable multitude somewhere in the east. The one potential point of contact for the idea of Israelite remnants in the west is Hos 11:10, “His children will come trembling from the [Mediterranean] sea,” but that’s tenuous at best.

          I think it’s probably more accurate to say that the earliest Christians who left records thought Israel had been scattered “to the four corners of the earth” or “the ends of the earth” and therefore had been scattered and intermingled everywhere.

          I do think James 1:1 and 1 Peter understand the tribes of Israel as having been scattered and mixed everywhere and have adopted the same view that the next post argues is reflected in Paul, understanding those gentiles who have been incorporated in the Jesus movement as members of a renewed twelve-tribe Israel and effectively “resurrected” Israelites.

          I don’t think there’s strong evidence that the gentile converts imagined themselves as biological descendants of Jacob; Paul refers to them as descendants of the patriarchs, but he emphasizes that they’ve become such by receiving the spirit and participation in Christ.

          • Avatar
            SNelson  July 29, 2020

            Thanks. I agree that Hos 11:10 is tenuous. Consider the LXX:

            “even children *of waters* (ὑδάτων) shall be amazed. And they shall be amazed, like a bird from Egypt, and like a dove from the land of the Assyrians (ἐκ γῆς Ἀσσυρίων), and I will restore them to their homes, says the Lord.”

            It looks like the Hebrew ‘yam’ – sea, west(ward) – may be squishy.

            What do you mean by this? – “(1) Paul refers to them as descendants of the patriarchs…”

            Paul’s use of the 1st person plural – i.e. “our (fore)father(s)” (1 Cor 10:1; Rom 4:1; Rom 9:10); along with suggestions that his audience ‘knows the law’ (Rom 4:1) and was ‘captive of / released from’ the law (Gal 3:23-24; Rom 7:6).

            Did Paul consider his ENTIRE audience as being descendants of the Patriarchs, in some sense? Might these 1st person plural statements be addressed to the Jewish members of a mixed audience? Or might it simply be an epistolary formula (imparting the air of a jointly written letter)?

            The same may apply to the references to ‘our fathers’ in Acts 13:17, though the precise ethnicity of the ‘devout god-fearering proselytes’ is disputed. Thanks again.

          • Avatar
            JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

            The first person plurals (esp. 1 Cor 10:1) and his insistence that Abraham is the father of all the faithful (Rom 4:12–16) work pretty powerfully together on that front. Galatians also argues strongly that the uncircumcised faithful are already reckoned as Abraham’s seed, which would make them descendants of the patriarchs by the work of the spirit.

  4. Avatar
    brenmcg  July 28, 2020

    I think for Matthew the kingdom of heaven is initiated when Jesus symbolically crosses the Jordan. The heavenly numbers of 12 and 7 are brought to earth in the unification of the twelve tribes with the seven displaced nations of canaan.

  5. Avatar
    veritas  July 28, 2020

    Hello Jason, you mention Hezekiah making a foolish mistake, but considering he was one of the most faithful Kings and trusted on his Lord,unlike his predecessor, Ahaz(his father), the move was well warranted. True, Sennacherib invaded the fortified cities of Judah(first time) with success and Hezekiah yielded to his demands. But then the second invasion for Sennacherib(within two years) prove costly and ultimately lost his life from his own sons. Hezekiah was lead by his God of Israel and the prophet Isaiah and 185,000 Assyrian men lost their lives. Hezekiah for his faithfulness and obedience was given 15 yrs of extended life during his sickness, 2 Kings 19,20. There were none like him before or after among all the Kings of Judah, 2 Kings 18; 5. I also don’t think Sennacherib did not depose of Hezekiah, as you mention, because he was related to his mother. 2 Kings 19;32-34 clearly says, ” he will not enter this city or shoot an arrow here….I will defend this city and save it for my sake and my servant David”. The Lord intervened. Although I disagree with some of your details, and respect your view, it is an interesting post. Thanks.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      It doesn’t seem as though the prophet Isaiah would have agreed with you, as he was quite displeased with Hezekiah’s decision to ally with Merodach-Baladan and rebel against the Assyrians. (Note: Kings and Isaiah tell that story out of historical sequence to emphasize the Babylon part, but Merodach-Baladan was king in Babylon around 703/702 but was deposed shortly thereafter. The 703/702 timeframe coincides with Hezekiah’s revolt and explains why Merodach-Baladin was sending envoys to Judah—he was attempting to coordinate a simultaneous and allied rebellion against Assyria in both the Levant and Southern Mesopotamia.)

      In any case, the decision to join the rebellion and side with the Babylonians was a big mistake, as Sennacherib’s campaign devastated the entirety of Judah surrounding Jerusalem, reducing Hezekiah’s kingdom to a tiny city-state.

      Also, Sennacherib did not wage two campaigns in Judah but only one, and he lived another 20 years after ending the seige of Jerusalem, including major campaigns against Babylon (he completely destroyed the city, including the central ziggurat and the temple of Marduk) and Elam. He also oversaw the building up of Nineveh in the 680s and moved the capital of Assyria there. He wasn’t murdered by his sons until 681, a full two decades after his campaign against Judah.

      If you read Kings and Isaiah more carefully, Hezekiah gets a much more mixed review than you’re suggesting. He gets high marks for piety, but his political decisions were disastrous.

      • Avatar
        veritas  July 29, 2020

        Again these are left to interpretation.My understanding, is that Hezekiah did not like what his father,Ahaz, had done with Judah and wanted to return it to a worshiping kingdom. It may have been one invasion, but it took some two years to complete and the final besiege took place in Jerusalem,where Sennacherib did not capture or is there mention of a capture. Herodotus,the Greek historian, wrote that there was a mice or rat borne infestation that may have plagued the Assyrians(Wikipedia). Whatever the case, some kind of pandemic took place that saved Jerusalem. I agree with your conclusions, but the details on how you arrive there is arguable. Hezekiah, because of his trust in the Lord, did not make him a disastrous political leader. He relied solely on his God and prayed for advise which he received from Isaiah. He was a King who used righteousness,not might (military power), to bring peace throughout Judah and other parts. He begged Sennacherib not to invade and offered all his gold and silver to him. However small, Jerusalem was not destroyed in Hezekiah’s reign. That is a strong message,”there was no one like him among all the Kings of Judah,before/after .” He may have been the greatest King.

        • Avatar
          Eric  July 30, 2020

          And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
          And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
          And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
          Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!

          -Byron

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    chrispope  July 29, 2020

    Very interesting post which stimulated my brain cells. Thank you.
    Q: If the Samaritans (northeners?) were regarded as not Jews and maybe not even Israelites, could that explain why Jesus (or whoever wrote the story) chose a Samaritan as ‘The One Who Did The Right Thing even though he wasn’t one of us’ in his story? I suppose he could have made it stronger by having a Roman as the hero but that might have been going a bit too far.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      That’s exactly why the Samaritan was the subject of that parable—Jesus is choosing not only a hated outsider but someone who claims to follow YHWH and be an Israelite but is regarded (by Jesus’ implied audience) as inferior and illegitimate.

      • Robert
        Robert  July 29, 2020

        Jason: “That’s exactly why the Samaritan was the subject of that parable—Jesus is choosing not only a hated outsider but someone who claims to follow YHWH and be an Israelite but is regarded (by Jesus’ implied audience) as inferior and illegitimate.”

        Do you think it’s possible that an original core of Paul’s view that all Israel will be saved in part through the gospel being preached to the nations, thus reaching the dispersed tribes of Israel, might have gone back to Jesus himself?

        • Avatar
          JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

          That’s a difficult question to assess based on the (lack of) evidence we have. I think it’s clear that Jesus preached the restoration of the dispersed tribes of Israel and even seems to have aimed for the incorporation of Samaritans among the reconstituted Israel. But the controversies over this issue suggest that Jesus’ disciples didn’t regard preaching to and incorporating people from the nations as part of Jesus’ teaching.

          The move to incorporate gentiles as equal members of restored Israel seems to have been a post-hoc explanation of what was happening in mixed communities like Antioch, where those proclaiming Jesus had to explain why some uncircumcised people were responding the way they did and seemed to be receiving the holy spirit. I don’t think Paul was the innovator on this issue (who was the first to make the move is lost to history), but he soon became the most important proponent and defender of the idea.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 29, 2020

            Do you think Paul was being truthful about Cephas initially being OK with living and eating as a gentile in Antioch prior to the coming of the men from James?

          • Avatar
            JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

            I don’t see much reason to suspect otherwise, though I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Cephas was “living and eating as a gentile,” only that he was “eating with the gentiles.” That doesn’t mean, for example, that he was breaking Jewish food laws or living like a gentile. It only means that he was willing to share a meal (presumably not bacon cheeseburgers) with uncircumcised men. I don’t see any reason to suspect that wasn’t the case, especially since there was a range of views among Jews in the period about whether it was okay to do that. Odds are that Peter was more relaxed on that point, while others in the Christian movement were stricter about maintaining such boundaries.

          • Avatar
            Tempo1936  July 29, 2020

            It seems that Jesus promising the disciples 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes is wildly different from Paul’s teaching that believers are now Israel who all will be saved thru Jesus death/resurrection. Can you reconcile these teachings. Does Paul claim he received this specific teaching from Jesus? How do others reconcile such major differences?

          • Avatar
            JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

            That’s the subject of the next post.

          • Robert
            Robert  July 30, 2020

            Jason: “I don’t think it’s accurate to say that Cephas was “living and eating as a gentile,” only that he was “eating with the gentiles.” That doesn’t mean, for example, that he was breaking Jewish food laws or living like a gentile. It only means that he was willing to share a meal (presumably not bacon cheeseburgers) with uncircumcised men.”

            Paul says a little more than that Cephas merely ate with gentiles. He goes on to say that he ‘lived as a gentile and not as a Jew/Judean’ (ὑπάρχων ἐθνικῶς καὶ οὐχὶ Ἰουδαϊκῶς ζῇς).

            I know there are a variety of speculative scenarios that have been reconstructed (eg, by Paula Fredriksen*) to suggest that Cephas might still have been keeping kosher when eating with gentiles, but those hypotheses border on special pleading in my very humble opinion. Even if we cannot say exactly how Cephas was being lax (relative to James) with respect to the law when previously living with and like the gentiles, it certainly seems to have been a serious issue for Paul and James.

            *I agree with her on almost everything else she says about Paul, by the way.

  7. Avatar
    Hngerhman  July 29, 2020

    Dr Staples, This is excellent! Thanks so much. If you were to speculate, what would the inclusion criteria be in determining on which side of the Israel/nations divide someone falls? Ie, let’s say it was X generations hence, is any (diluted over the generations) paternal/maternal lineage that traces back to a Yahwehist who lived within the historical borders of the unified/Northern/Southern kingdoms sufficient for inclusion in “all Israel” category, or is there a minimum lineage or other type of threshold criterion? Thanks in advance.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      We’ll get a little further into this with Paul’s solution in the next post, but I think the point is not to figure out how diluted someone’s ancestry is but rather that those tribes of Israel that intermarried no longer exist in an ethnically distinct sense at all. According to that view, trying to figure out who is sufficiently “Israelite” in that fashion is impossible.

      There are a range of other theories put forward by other Jews, including the idea that the people from those tribes did not all intermarry and that they withdrew to some inaccessible place, where God has preserved them to be revealed when Israel is restored. That’s the view of Tobit and 4 Ezra, for example, and Josephus’ comments on this suggest something close to that idea. In that theory, the progeny of those who intermarried are no longer Israelites (regardless of the level of dilution), but “pure” Israelites are preserved somewhere.

  8. Avatar
    RICHWEN90  July 29, 2020

    In the simplest literal sense, Jesus failed. So it seems that Paul must become inventive to salvage something. But whatever Paul comes up with, it’s going to be an after the fact ad hoc invention and not likely to resemble the mission Jesus had in mind. And then you have to reinvent Jesus in order to make it all cohere. Or so it appears to me.

  9. sschullery
    sschullery  July 29, 2020

    I know I can google it, but I’d rather ask: So, how does “Judea” fit into this history?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      “Judea” is simply the Latinized way of saying “Judah.” It specifically refers to the region of Judah.

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    dankoh  July 29, 2020

    Side point: Assyrian imperial policy wasn’t consistently to disperse their conquered populations, but at the time they destroyed the northern kingdom, that was the way they did things. Bad timing for Israel.

    And a question: Is Paul’s self-identification as a Benjaminite relevant to your thesis?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      Yes, Paul’s self-identification as a Benjaminite is indeed relevant, as it emphasizes the larger, tribal sense of Israel beyond Judah.

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    MythVision  July 29, 2020

    My questions deal with who the gentiles are throughout Pauline literature. If one takes the position that Romans 9-11 fullness of the Gentiles equals the lost 10 tribes, could one argue that the gentiles throughout Paul’s writings are seen as these lost sheep/ lost Israelites? How do the other books/letters of the NT shine light on this subject? It has been suggested to me that the Gentiles/nations are actually elect Israelites being drawn in during the NT Latter days events. Do you think soteriology was only for the seed of Abraham only?

    Excellent! You have me on my toes anticipating the next blog.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      It’ll be easier to address this line of questions after the next post, but in brief, I think those questions are a bit backwards from Paul’s perspective. I don’t think it’s so much that the gentiles being incorporated “are actually elect Israelites being drawn in” as though they’re just people who have forgotten their heritage but are otherwise Israelites. I think it’s more that they *become* Israelites when they receive the spirit, and since Israel was intermingled among the nations, this amounts to a restoration/resurrection of Israel. Put differently, it’s not that they’re simply being *revealed* as secret Israelites but rather that the incorporation of people from the nations is a way of *regenerating* or *recreating* Israel.

      Paul seems to suggest that salvation was only for the seed of Abraham, but he then explains that one becomes part of that seed by participation in Christ (who he says is the true seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made) through fidelity.

  12. Avatar
    veritas  July 29, 2020

    Jason, I/we went off topic and really wanted to ask you. In Revelation 7, the author speaks of 144,000 being sealed from the 12 tribes of Israel (12,000 each).These are the firstfruits of the redeemed Israel. Is this a sign that all Israel will be the witness nation meant to be in the O.T and be restored, inconjunction with Rom. 11; 25-32? And secondly, I am wondering, how did Paul know it was Jesus on the road to Damascus he saw if he had never seen or met him? thanks.

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      I think Revelation’s 144,000 is referring to the fullness of restored Israel, yes.

      As for Paul on the road to Damascus, that account never appears in Paul’s letters; we only get it in Acts, where Paul asks the person appearing to him to identify himself and is told “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting.” So in Acts, that’s how Paul knows.

  13. Avatar
    Eskil  July 29, 2020

    Don’t we have the same dilemma in the four gospels? Does it mean the same to say that Jesus is “the King of Israel” and “the King of the Jews”? If Samaritans identified themselves as Israelis but not as Jews, wouldn’t the same apply to Galileans that live norther in the territory of Nepthali?

    • Avatar
      JasonStaples  July 29, 2020

      It’s not the same thing to say “king of Israel” and “king of the Jews,” but take note that only foreigners call Jesus the “king of the Jews” in the Gospels (the magi, Pilate, the Roman crucifiers). This makes sense in context, as they’re not “in the know” when it comes to Israel’s restoration and thus identify him as the king of the group they’re familiar with.

      It definitely does *not* apply to the Galileans that live in the northern territory of Naphtali, as those Galileans were Jews (descended from the southern tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Levi). They identified themselves as Jews and were identified as such by other Jews. This is very different from the Samaritans, who neither identified themselves as Jews nor were identified by others as such—they’re a different ethnic group altogether, though they claim Israelite status just like Jews do.

  14. Avatar
    AstaKask  July 29, 2020

    My favorite theory is still that there was this really large guy named Israel and – with the gate being so narrow – they were worried if all of him would make it through.

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    Eskil  July 30, 2020

    As the bible stories were originally read, written, told and understood as parables, I find the contemporary theories based on their ancient literal understanding suspicious. Isn’t it likely that the stories about Jacob, Moses and Joshua and the twelve tribes were originally created for supporting wars against the neighbouring territories and for conquering and joining them into Judea and under its rule? For the same function that they are used today in that part of the world. Would it be unreasonable to assume that Paul understood the original scheme behind these OT stories?

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      JasonStaples  July 30, 2020

      I don’t think there’s any indication that Paul or his contemporaries read the Torah that way. They didn’t read like modern critical scholars.

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        Eskil  August 3, 2020

        The idea of Noble Lies was introduced already in Plato’s Republic. Regardless, scholars’ research hypothesis seems to always be that no one has connected the dots until the modern critical scholars. That is really puzzling me.

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          JasonStaples  August 3, 2020

          The idea of the Noble Lie is indeed a very old one. But there’s no indication that Paul or his Jewish contemporaries took such a view of the Torah or their sacred texts. Even the heavy allegorists in the tradition like Philo of Alexandria (a first-century Jew) and Origen (a third-century Christian continue to emphasize that although the stories can have allegorical value, they aren’t *just* allegories or parables.

  16. sschullery
    sschullery  July 30, 2020

    Do you really mean that these early Israelis weren’t Jews in the religous sense or were they just not referred to as Jews? Did the term “Jew” basically not exist until after the tribe of Judah returned? If they weren’t Jews, what were they, proto-Mormons?

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      JasonStaples  July 30, 2020

      “Jew” refers to those derived from the southern kingdom of Judah, which is only one part of Israel. So Israelites from the northern kingdom are Israelites but not Jews. Think of it this way: there are multiple states in the USA, and New Yorkers are Americans, but not all Americans are New Yorkers. Or a Catholic is a Christian, but not all Christians are Catholics. In the same way, Jews are Israelites, but there are Israelites who are not Jews because they’re not from Judah (which confusingly includes the tribes of Judah, Levi, Benjamin, and according to some reckonings, Simeon as well).

      • sschullery
        sschullery  July 31, 2020

        Wow, I wonder if the Jews know this?

        I wonder why they didn’t opt to call modern Israel, Judah?

        Do we know if the northern Israelites were nonetheless Jewish, in the religious sense? Were they considered gentiles, or sort of gray-area Jews, like the Mormons and Christians?

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    tcasto  July 30, 2020

    the debate is over Israelite status, not Jewish status.)“. I’m trying to understand this – were the Samaritans not Jewish because they weren’t from the tribe of Judah? But still Israelites because they were from one of the ten northern tribes? Thanks in advance.

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      JasonStaples  July 30, 2020

      That’s basically right, yes, though the Samaritans’ claim to Israelite status was not unchallenged, as many (most?) Jews regarded their claim to Israelite heritage as illegitimate based on intermarriage with the people resettled into the region by the Assyrians. Josephus, for example, insists on calling them “Cutheans,” after one of the alleged places of origin for those brought by Assyria, and the Dead Sea Scroll fragment 4Q372 1 refers to them as “fools” who are living on Joseph’s land and will be swept away when the *real* Joseph returns.

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    chrispope  July 30, 2020

    Memory triggered! In ‘The Life of Brian’ there’s a scene where a Jewish couple object to being crucified next to a Samaritan. The Samaritan says ‘I’m not a Jew, I’m a Samaritan’ (referenced in Bart’s ‘Jesus and The Life of Brian 2 post, includes video clip).
    Suggests that the ‘Brian’ writers really knew their stuff and is much more pithy when you know the context.

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    clerrance2005  July 31, 2020

    Great post Jason,

    You shared enough light on my earlier question on the difference between Jews, Israelite and Samaritan. Thank you.

    Would it be a fair statement to make that what the Jewish Messiah was supposed to achieve at his coming is what the Christian has deferred to the ‘Second Coming’? I say this because it looks like the reconstitution of 12 tribes of Israel (which is clearly one of the Jewish Messianic prophecies/ expectations) is what takes place in the book of Revelation upon the second coming.

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      JasonStaples  July 31, 2020

      Some of what the Christians came to associate with the second coming does line up with what some Jews expected, yes. But there were a lot of different expectations of what the messiah would do; there wasn’t one vision of that.

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    clerrance2005  July 31, 2020

    Hi Jason,

    Please, if the term ‘Jew’ emanates after the split of the Kingdom (a period after Abraham lived) and is particularly associated with the Southern kingdom, why then is Abraham usually ascribed as the first Jew and for that matter the founder of Judaism?

    Thank you

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      JasonStaples  July 31, 2020

      Depends on who is referring to Abraham as such. In some cases, it’s ignorance of the difference. In others, it’s a theological statement connecting the modern people with the ancestor who received the covenant.

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