Are “the Jews” Really “judeans”? (john 2:1-10)

1On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days.[1]

This story, two days after the meeting with Nathaniel, takes us to a village named Cana of Galilee. Jesus and his family were there (1:1, 12). He also invited his disciples. (1:2). The famous story of turning water into wine followed. This text is important since it begins a series of seven miracles that Jesus performed (2:1-11; 4:43-54; 5:1-9; 6:1-5; 6:16-25; 9:1-41; 11:1-44). Every one of the miracles shows how the created order submitted itself to Jesus’ authority. As part of the whole Gospel narrative, these seven miracles testify to Jesus’ authority to do what he does and to say what he says. As we are considering the way in which the author uses hoi Ioudaioi (the Jews) there is something else of importance for us as we move through the gospel.

We read in 2:6: “Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the purification of hoi Ioudaioi, containing two or three measures each”.  It is often argued that the best way to translate hoi Ioudaioi is simply – Judeans. It is also often argued, that hoi Ioudaioi were Jerusalemite authorities. Both of the theories fall short in explaining references like these when hoi Ioudaioi were permanently present outside of Judea. Jn.2:6 is not the only example that shows a geographical Judean location was not a necessary condition for people to be classified as hoi Ioudaioi. Cana was in Galilee.

In another instance, opposition from hoi Ioudaioi was seen in “Jewish” Galilee in Kfar Nahum (Capernaum). In that passage from Jn.6:24-59, we read that the crowd, together with the assembled leadership of Kfar Nahum’s synagogue, asked Jesus to perform miracles as verification of his authority. Jesus characteristically challenged the Judean authority structure, saying that Judean authority ought not to reside with the current Jerusalem leadership but with His Father (Jn.6:24-59). In this case also, hoi Ioudaioi in Kfar Nahum should be viewed as the adherents or religious affiliates of Hoi Ioudaioi proper” – Jerusalem’s ruling elite.  

One example that would illustrate this dynamic comes from Eastern European history. Ukrainians often called Russians and those Ukrainians who acknowledged the legitimacy of their Soviet rule over Ukraine –  “Maskali”. The Ukrainian word “Maskal” comes from the name of the Russian Imperial Capital – Moscow. Those who either were of Russian ethnic descent or who even as much as acknowledged Moscow’s authority could be referred to as “Maskal.” In fact the Maskal did not have to be from Moscow, that person simply needed to be a supporter of Moscow-controlled political agenda. Other peoples outside of the Russian-Ukrainian political polemic, who were familiar with the issues themselves, never used the designation “Maskali” for those who served Moscow or were ethnic Russians.

Therefore, using similar analogy, those who acknowledged the Jerusalem-approved authorities in Kfar Nahum (Capernaum) and Cana, which were far from Jerusalem, were also referred to by the principal name for the Jerusalemite formal rulers – hoi Ioudaioi. All members of the Jerusalem-led system have become hoi Ioudaioi in the Gospel of John. This is very similar to the way “Russians” became “Moskali” to Ukrainians and others who witnessed their polemic.

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© By Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg, Ph.D.

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[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Jn 2:1–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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  1. Ruth Harvey

    Just got to John 2! I have a difference of opinion with my previous pastor about at which point the water turned to wine. He says when the pots were filled. To me it says when they obeyed Jesus and did what He said. An important message for us – when we step out and obey we see the fruit. So maybe it was when they handed over the taster to the host? Obviously no definitive answers but I am curious to see what others think.

  2. […] phrase “my time has not yet come” was first mentioned in John 2 (at the wedding in Cana) and will be repeated as the story continues to unfold. We will remark on this important phrase […]

  3. Miguel Calderón

    Shalom in Yeshua The Messiah of Israel, I will like to share that this explanation was very good , the thing is that it’s a little difficult to get plain and simple.. the idea of this is as follows , if someone is born in Israel it is considered to be an Israeli which means that its only attached to the land where he was born but if this same person is also born in the faith of Israel then is considered to be and Israelite, this means that he also belives in the only and true God of Israel, so the problem is only present in the land of Israel,not in the abroad where if its a son of the faith it is considered an Israelite son of the covenant and commandments of God, and in this case to solve the confussion we only have the text and context to look, because if hoi ioudaioi where juudeans (only people that was born in Israel but non beleivers) then it will be contradictory of the commandments resticting the service to the sons of Aharon and levy that where authorized to do this task, if we understant this .. then its only natural that the Messiah started to clean his own house (1P 4:17) so they can do his work according to God’s will.
    now to explain hoi ioudaioi as a geographical procedence we have to keep in mind that the 12 tribes where divided in 2 kingdoms, north and south, and the kingdom of the south had included Judah and Benjamin, afther the diaspora (the 10 tribes where dispersed in the world) Judah kingdom or Kingdom of the south was the only remaining Israel to be seen from the world, so Judean = Israeli and Jew = Israelite. for example John 4:54- John 5:1 “…from Judeah to galilee” geographical places, and then its saying about a feast of the Jeudeans meaning that in Judah the geographical place took place a feast which maybe was one of the 3 pilgrim celebrations, another example is in John 11:7-8 “lets go back to Judeah ..” (disciples and Master where Jews and they where concerned about Judeans) because they wanted to stone him.
    there is more but less time.
    I hope this will be of a little help and blessing in Jesus The Messiah of the world.

    1. Eric Rodríguez

      BS”D

      Great! Indeed, if we read the English version of John 11:7-8, we can notice clearly the mistake or mis-sense given to the phrase Hï Iûdêi as “The Jews” instead the correct sense that is “The Judean” because they all (Master and disciples) were Jews… or Jewish people but from Galilee region…

    2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Miguel, I am thinking that you are indeed on to something, but I was not able to follow your post perfectly (English needs editing). Can you get one of your friends to edit it and repost it for our benefit? Thanks in advance. Eli

      1. Miguel Calderón

        Shalom in Yeshua The Messiah of Israel,

        I will say that this explanation was very good (the idea of this post its to support or add so it will be easier to understand, like giving more examples of how 1 word hoi ioudaioi could have different meanings ), the thing is that it’s a little difficult to understand without the proper background.. The idea of this is as follows;
        If someone is born in Israel it is considered to be an Israeli which means that it’s only attached to the land where he was born(this is the only link not by religion or any other),
        but if this same person or another one is also born in the faith of Israel then is considered to be an Israelite (even if born outside, like Jews that are born in Colombia.. far away from Israel but linked to Israel by Faith and believes ), this means that he also believes in the only and true God of Israel, so the problem is only present in the land of Israel(were its confusing depending of the context), not in the abroad where if it’s a son of the faith it is considered an Israelite son of the covenant and commandments of God, and in this case to solve the confusion we only have the text and context to look, because if hoi ioudaioi where Judeans (only people that was born in Israel but non-believers) then it will be contradictory of the commandments restricting the service to the sons of Aaron and levy that where authorized to do this task, if we understand this .. then it’s only natural that the Messiah started to clean his own house (1Peter 4:17) so they can do his work according to God’s will (this part of my post supposed to show a difficulty if we used hoi ioudaioi only as Judeans in the parts where temple service and other doings where restricted only to Jews).
        Now to explain hoi ioudaioi as a geographical precedence we have to keep in mind that the 12 tribes where divided in 2 kingdoms, north and south, and the kingdom of the south had included Judah and Benjamin, after the diaspora (the 10 tribes where dispersed in the world) Judah kingdom or Kingdom of the south was the only remaining Israel to be seen from the world, so Judean = Israeli and Jew = Israelite. for example John 4:54- John 5:1 “…from Judea to galilee” geographical places, and then its saying about a feast of the Judeans meaning that in Judah the geographical place took place a feast which maybe was one of the 3 pilgrim celebrations, another example is in John 11:7-8 “let’s go back to Judea ..” (Disciples and Master were Jews and they were concerned about Judeans “Jews as well from Judea”) because they wanted to stone him.
        There is more but less time.
        I hope this will be of a little help and blessing in Jesus The Messiah of the world.

  4. Jeff Martin

    Professor,

    Sorry reading the post again did not help, infact it made it more confusing. You said two things that seem to contradict. In your reply you said Jesus was supportive of the concept of Judean leadership, yet in your original post you said – ” Jesus characteristically challenged the Judean authority structure, saying that Judean authority ought not to reside with the current Jerusalem leadership but with His Father (Jn.6:24-59).”

    So it seems he is not supportive of the Judean authority. Help I am confused!

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Dear Jeff, actually I think you picked up on something very very important. The Gospel is a Jewish/Judean Gospel, Jesus is a Jewish/Judean man (though obviously not only). Yet he challanges the current administration/structure and judges it unfit for the service. He is rejected by that very structure. He belongs to it. Even though it rejects it and he is critisizes it. Confusing? Yes, that why this question is so difficult. This Gospel is both Jewish and anti-jewish. This commentary seeks to answer the question why and in which way. Let’s keep thinking together. Blessings and peace, Eli

      1. Jeff Martin

        Dr. L.E.,

        I guess that is why Jesus was so focused on that region because he deemed it important. When you say “He belongs to it”, can you expnad upon that a bit more?

        It is one thing for him to deem Jerusalem important, and another to belong to it. Originally the Samaritans wanted to help build the temple (Ezra 4:1,2) though no one would have said they were Judean.

        I could see how hewuold belong to it in the sense that he was a descendant of David.

        1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

          Jeff, thank you. What I mean is that Jesus belonged to the Jerusalem-centered faith of Ancient Israel that was part of intra-Israelite palitra of faith movements of Ancient Roman Palestine. Actually the Gospel of John highlightes that also that in his death Jesus was burried according to the costumes of hoi Iudaioi. This actually means a lot (Jn.19).

          While alive a person can confess anything he or she wants, but when he or she is buried (this is true also today) the belonging to a particular faith tradition is declared at the burial ceremony. Jesus was buried according ot the costumes of hoi Ioudaioi, because cause he was one of them. Remember… his own received him not. This explains why so many “Jewish” people in Jesus times received him, but the Gospel say that they did not. The short answer is that they meant by the “Jews” different people that we do today.

          1. Jeff Martin

            Thank you Dr. E.L. very much! It is kinda like our dog tags that we wear in the US Army (I am a Chaplain). We have our denomination listed on there to make it easier for those who might find our dead body in battle.

            I am warming to your logic here. I have studied this topic before, and never heard this angle before. I do think though that the descendancy from David is also significant. When oi Judaioi is used in the other Gospels it is almost exclusively used in this expression, “King of the Jews”

            I just hesitate to fully get on board with your exact definition. It would make nonsense of John 3:1 – Nicodemus was a ruler of the Judean ruling elite, unless you are defining it that way more for the benefit of 21st century hearers, whereas those back then would have taken it more subtley.

          2. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

            Jeff, hi. OK… so we are moving forward 🙂 Ruller of the hoi Iudaioi simply means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin. Sandedrin being the main party organ of the hoi Iudaioi. There is no contradiction. He was part of the system and was afraid of the system.

    2. Eric Rodríguez

      BS”D

      This matter is not confusing but simple: Yehoshúa’ (Jesus) was reforming and correcting the current System of believes into some or many Judean Leadership indeed for renewing the knowledge of the Torah and its most important targets and goals. Remember the case of Nikodemus… ¿Are you a Sage of Israel and don’t know these things? Is something alike…

  5. Jeff Martin

    Professor you said,

    “We read in 2:6: “Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the purification of hoi Ioudaioi, containing two or three measures each”

    Wouldn’t this verse counteract your argument? The NRSV translates it as “Jewish purification rites”. Of course the “kata” is usually translated “in accordance with” so are you saying these are water jars for purification in accordance with the Judean ruling elite’s guidance?

    1. Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

      Shalom, Jeff. Hoi Ioudaioi are essentially in my mind Jerusalem’s rulling elite (made up of viriety of parties of saducees were probably more importnant) PLUS all those who submitted to their control outside of Judea itself. Read this post carefully again. In this sense Jesus was also a Iudaioi, he was Jerusalime-centered, supportive of the concept of Judean leadership, Galilean. He was their own and their own did not accept him. (Jn.1.11) while he is widelly accpted by virity of other Israelite peoples of the land.

  6. Eric Rodríguez

    BS”D

    That’s so correct! I’m agree and get comfort with this, cause both Johna and Paul used the word “Iûdêi” in another sense beyond the geographic or ethnic way. In Talmud by example, and because of this, was used ישראל Yisra’el instead יהודי Yehudi for create some mind separation between regional and spiritual senses.

  7. Ramón Sánchez

    Excelent discusión. i already referred this blog to a respected Catholic bibliologíst in Spain and he liked it and Will follow up.
    The theme On jewishness is central to the Gospel. Please continúe this disertation.
    Kudos!