Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What Does the Term “Jew” Mean?

Meaning Number One.
According to Genesis 7:13, Eight souls were saved in the ark; Noah and his wife; Shem and his wife; Ham and his wife; and Japheth and his wife. Shem, the first son of Noah that is mentioned, is the one from whom we derive the word Semite, meaning descendent of Shem. The word Semite leads to the term anti-Semitism, which means to have an anti-Jewish prejudice. Was Shem a Jew? The evidence is that he was almost certainly a sanctified believer, but by definition he was not a Jew, nor was he a gentile because these terms would have had no meaning at that time, they were simply Semites. Supposedly, the Arabs are also Semites.

A great grandson of Shem is named Eber, from whom we get the term H-eber-ew, or Hebrew. The Hebrew language does not have the letter H, but it does have the H sound. So a Hebrew is a descendant of Eber, and Arabs claim to be descendants of Eber through Abraham, although modern usage restricts the word Hebrew to mean those who are Israelites.

Abraham, nine generations from Shem, was a Hebrew, but he was not a Jew nor was he an Israelite because neither Judah nor Israel had yet been born, so those terms had not yet been coined.

God changed Abraham's grandson's name from Jacob to Israel. Israel had twelve sons who became the heads of twelve tribes, which made up the nation of Israel. All Israelites were Semites, and Hebrews, but not all Semites and Hebrews were Israelites.

After the demise of David’s son Solomon, the ten Northern tribes broke away from the two Southern tribes, Judah, and Benjamin. The ten Northern tribes called themselves Israel and had Samaria as their capital city. The two Southern tribes called themselves Judah and had Jerusalem for their capital. Judah had essentially absorbed the much smaller tribe of Benjamin so they were, ipso facto, Judah.

In 722BC, the Assyrians captured Israel and took all but the poorest of them into captivity. The Assyrians then sent their own people into the land of the Northern tribes. The ten Northern tribes never returned to their land but became dispersed throughout the world.

About 134 years later, in 588BC, Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon captured Judah and held them captive in Babylon for 70 years, after which a portion of them were allowed to return to the land of Judah. They are referred to by Daniel as Hebrews.

After the Roman conquest of the land, these Hebrews became known as Jews. The land consisted of Judea and Galilee.

The land of the ten northern tribes that was once known as Israel, became known as Samaria and the people living there were called Samaritans. These people had adopted the Hebrew religion, for the most part, but the Jews regarded them as mongrel dogs because they were a mixture of Assyrian and Israelite.

With the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, the Jews were driven out of the land and dispersed throughout the world. They became stateless vagabonds. Because they were foreigners in a country not their own, they were not allowed to own any land, neither could they be peasants under any king or warlord. They were not allowed to live off the land by hunting, farming or fishing. To kill a rabbit was considered poaching and the punishment was death.

They were tolerated only as long as they were useful to the king or warlord. They were forced to use their minds because they essentially were forbidden to work. So, many of them became traveling entertainers, teachers, or dealers in exotic merchandise. Because of their extended family scattered all over Europe they could acquire many items to sell which were not available locally. Because they were forced to develop business acumen many of them became managers of a prince’s business interests. They became storeowners, jewelers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, college professors, bankers, tax collectors, rent collectors, and bill collectors. Because they dealt in money, they became hated people and the result was persecution against them. They were an easy target for blame. This is generally the true cause of anti-Semitism.

Today, a person may identify himself as a Jew two ways.

1. Genetically, because his mother is Jewish though he himself has never accepted Judaism, or

2. Religiously, because:
a. He was born to a Jewish mother and he also observes the religion, or
b. He may be a Jew because he has converted to that religion.

The importance of the mother today seems strange because it contradicts the practice recorded in the Bible of tracing one’s ancestry through his father.

For further information regarding the above topics check the following website:

Meaning Number Two.
What does the term, Jew, mean? In the gospel of John we find instances where the term “Jew” is used with a totally different meaning. John 5:18 says, “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.” What does this mean, the "Jews" sought to kill Jesus?

Christ Jesus was taken before the Sanhedrin and was given a mock trial. The Sanhedrin consisted of 70 elders of Israel and one High Priest who presided over them. We see the Sanhedrin originated in the book of Numbers 11:16, “And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be the elders of the people, and officers over them; and bring them unto the tabernacle of the congregation, that they may stand there with thee.”

Most Sanhedrin elders in Jesus’ time were either of the Pharisee sect or the Sadducee sect, with the High Priest usually being a Pharisee. The High Priest took the place originally held by Moses and was not numbered with the seventy. These elders generally functioned as judges. They also employed officers who were like religious police. If these officers observed someone violating the Law of Moses, as interpreted by the Sanhedrin, these officers would apprehend that person and take them before the Sanhedrin. These officers were frequently scribes or Pharisees. These were the Jews who sought to kill Jesus. Sometimes in the gospel of John the term “Jews” means the Sanhedrin and their officers.

The Sanhedrin met in a building known as the Hall of Hewn Stones (Lishkat Ha-Gazith), which has been placed by the Bible and many scholars as built into the north wall of the Temple Mount, half inside the sanctuary and half outside, with doors providing access both to the Temple and to the outside. The name presumably comes from the need to distinguish it from the buildings in the Temple complex used for ritual purposes, which had to be constructed of stones not hewn by any iron implements. This is probably the court that is mentioned in Revelation 11:2, which is to be left out.

In addition to this Sanhedrin, known as the Great Sanhedrin, in each city there was a Lesser Sanhedrin, each of which consisted of 23 elders, or judges. Of course each of them employed officers who functioned as religious police. Generally speaking, in the province of Galilee people were farmers or fishermen and not self-righteous religious fanatics, so it was safer for Jesus to talk to them than it was in Jerusalem where the Holy Temple was located.

Besides the Jewish religious police, there were the secular police of the Herodian kings, and then there were the Roman soldiers who enforced the laws of Rome. These latter two forces were not known for being Jewish.

John 7:1 says, “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”

“Jews” and “Jewry” in this verse refers to the Jewish elders of the Sanhedrin and their officers especially the scribes and Pharisees. These were the self-righteous religious people who liked their high and mighty position, which would be demeaned if Jesus were to be the Messiah. John the Baptist said in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” But you see the Sanhedrin elders did not want to decrease. They didn’t want to take a back seat. Because John refers to these self-righteous religious fanatics as “Jews” has resulted in much anti-Semitism by Christendom who refer to all Jews as Christ-killers. Truthfully, Christ could not possibly have been killed by the Sanhedrin or anyone else, since He was sin free. He voluntarily chose to die for the sins of all men, so because we are all sinners, in a sense, we are all Christ-killers.

Nicodemus, in the Gospel of John, was a member of the Sanhedrin and was sympathetic to Jesus. He helped Joseph of Arimathea, who also was probably a member of the Sanhedrin, to bury Jesus. The majority of the residents of Judea and Galilee were Jews, but the majority of them did not seek to kill Jesus, they had nothing to lose if he were the Messiah, indeed they had everything to gain. However, the Sanhedrin and their officers managed to turn the majority of the everyday Jews against Jesus. In that regard, not much unlike the politicians and the media of today.

Was Jesus a Jew? John 4:9 says, “Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

Jesus, talking to the Samaritan woman, said in John 4:22, “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”

Was Jesus a Jew? Yes! Most certainly!

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