Tuesday, 17 November 2015
In a chapter entitled, "Those who say the are Jews and are not", taken originaly from the letter to the church at Smyrna in the book of Revelation, Shaye Cohen points out that:
The striking phrase 'those who say they are Jews and are not' may well have been a current expression in the first century.
Why? Why on earth should that have been an expression on anyone's lips in the first century, let alone one in common parlance? Cohen explains:
It will have applied originally to gentiles who 'act the part of Jews' but are no in fact Jews, and was deliberately and cleverly misapplied by Revelation to the Jews themselves. The phrase illustrates the ambiguities inherent in Jewish identity and 'Jewishness,' especially in the diaspora.
In Israel, Jewishness was natural for Jews; in the Diaspora, it was both more work to do and easier to hide depending on how you felt it would be received by your context and society. Cohen is going to look at Jewishness in the Roman diaspora in the first centuries BCE and CE and ask:
How was Jewishness expressed? What did a Jew do - or not do - in order to demonstrate that she/he was not a gentile? If someone claimed to be a Jew, how could you ascertain whether the claim was true? In sum, how did you know a Jew in antiquity when you saw one?