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Who are the Jews

Read the following two lists and spot the odd person out in each – stating the reason why.

List Number One:

Abraham

Isaac

Jacob

Moses

Aaron the High Priest of Israel

King Saul of Israel

Actor Paul Newman

List Number Two:

Jesus of Nazareth

King David of Israel

Actor William Shatner (alias, Captain James T. Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise)

Samson, Judge of Israel

The Apostle Peter

The Apostle James

The Apostle John.

A lucky guess doesn’t count. You must not only say why each person you chose is the odd one out, but explain your reasoning. Picking the right person for the wrong reason is mere chance.

Before you do, though, let me give you a clue by recounting what prompted this article.

It was a conversation my wife and I had with a lady at dinner, when I mentioned our recent holiday in Morocco. One of our tour guides there explained that ninety percent of Moroccans are Berbers while only ten percent are Arabs, then surprisingly added that the Berbers were originally ‘Jews’.

In fact, I was already familiar with some of their history and was able to share something he found interesting, which I’ll return to later, but now back to the answers to our little quiz.

The odd one out in the first list is the actor Paul Newman.

The odd one out in the second is Samson.

Paul Newman is the odd one out because he is the only Jew mentioned in List One.

Samson is the odd fellow on his list, being the only one mentioned who is not a Jew.

If you find the answer confusing, don’t worry. You are in good company. Indeed, I suspect that were you to ask most Christians (or even many Jews) whether Abraham, Moses or Aaron were Jews they would answer in the affirmative. However, they would be quite wrong. In my experience most people simply don’t know who the Jews actually are, where the term Jew’ comes from, or how its meaning can vary according to context in the Judaeo-Christian Bible.

For example, although very commonly confused with it, the term ‘Jew’ is not synonymous with ‘Israelite’. To explain why, allow me to offer an analogy.

Born in Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, of Scottish parents, I am also British because Scotland is the northernmost kingdom of the political Union of Great Britain. To our south is the kingdom of England where I was not born, so I’m not English despite being British.

To put it another way: All Scots are British, but not all Britons are Scots. Just as all Texans are Americans, but not all Americans are Texans.

And that’s how it works with the Jews, all of whom are Israelites, while not all Israelites are Jews. Even then, Abraham and Isaac were not even Israelites.

This is because in Genesis 32:28, God changed the name of Abraham’s grandson, from Jacob to Israel, making him the patriarch of all Israelites, which is why the Bible subsequently refers to his descendents as Israelites and not Jacobites.

And clearly, since Israelites are descended from Jacob neither Jacob’s father Isaac, nor his grandfather Abraham, could conceivably qualify.

So what about the Jews?

In Hebrew, Jew is Yehudah or Judah, which literally means ‘Praise’.

Jacob had twelve sons whose descendants are collectively known as the Tribes of Israel, one of whom was Judah. Jacob had two wives, the sisters Rachel and Leah, each of whom received a handmaid from their father, Laban. Leah’s maid was called Zilpah, while Rachel was given Bilhah, both of whom, in the custom of that day, became Jacob’s concubines. Hence, between them, these four women bore Jacob the following sons:

Leah gave birth to: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun; Bilhah was mother to Dan and Naphtali, and Zilpah had Gad and Asher, while Rachel bore Jacob’s youngest sons, Joseph and Benjamin.

So, the first technical definition of a Jew is ‘a descendent of Judah’, which is why Samson was no Jew, but a Danite, descended from Israel through Bilhah.

Similarly, Moses and Aaron were not Jews either, being descended from Judah’s brother Levi.

Indeed, all priests of Israel were Levites, although not all Levites were priests. And it was because of this consecrated office that the children of Levi were not granted any land, but resided throughout the twelve tribes. The reason twelve landed families remained despite Levi’s exclusion from ownership of real estate was Jacob’s adoption of Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

In time of famine, the family of Israel went down to Egypt where they remained for 430 years, latterly as slaves, until Moses led them out on their forty-year journey back to the Promised Land, which they eventually re-occupied, settling in their tribal areas, with Judah and Benjamin to the South.

Although led out of Egypt by the Levite Moses, it was Moses’ successor, Joshua, of the Tribe of Judah, who led the Israelites into Canaan. After Joshua died chaos ensued in Israel, during a dark period known as the Age of Judges. Eventually, Israel petitioned the last of their Judges, a priest and prophet called Samuel, and demanded a king like all the other nations.

God granted Israel’s request, appointing a Benjamite called Saul as the first King of Israel. Saul, however, proved unworthy and was eventually replaced by a man of Judah, King David.

However, David’s succession divided the kingdom for two years; with David’s followers in the southern tribe of Judah recognising him as king, while the remaining northern tribes remained loyal to Saul’s son, Ishbosheth. Because Judah was considered the seceding tribe, David’s southern kingdom became known as Judah, while the northern tribes retained the collective name, Israel.

Eventually, David ruled over both kingdoms but the split had nevertheless rendered Judah and Israel irrevocably distinct, demonstrated in a peculiarity found in our English Bibles, where 2 Samuel Chapter 2, tells of Judah’s war with Israel.

David was succeeded by his son Solomon, and Solomon by Rehoboam, whose political ineptitude in cruelly taxing the people at first caused protest and then fracture, with Israel splitting from Judah a second time, under King Jeroboam: this time forever.

Look carefully from thereon in, and the Bible lists two distinct dynasties: the kings of Judah and Israel; often in disharmony. Even the prophets ministered separately between the two, until, Israel disappeared into Assyrians captivity, in 722 BC.

Judah similarly fell to Babylon, in 586 BC but returned to the land 70 years later under Ezra and Nehemiah. However, Israel never returned, but became known as the Lost Ten Tribes. ‘Ten’, because, on the occasion of the second schism, Benjamin sided with Judah and were subsumed by their much larger neighbour, along with a large portion of Levi. Hence, those we call Jews today are largely descended from Judah, Benjamin and Levi: the second technical use of the name.

As I say, the rest of Israel disappeared into obscurity, although some left a faded footprint in history as the Berbers, the Irish and the Scots; which is what confused our friend who had difficulty differentiating between Israelites and Jews.

By Jesus’ day, Judah had become the Roman Province of Judaea, with the Galilee and Samaria to its north. And, while sharing the same religion as their Galilean neighbours, the inhabitants of Judaea differentiated from their co-religionists, being referred to as Jews in a geographical sense, even though outsiders would regard both Judeans and Galileans alike as ‘Jews’. That is why we sometimes find New Testament references to the Jews murmuring or plotting against Jesus, while Jesus himself was a Jew. The friction between Judaea and the Galilee was analogous to that of the English and the Scots. Although all Britons, we Scots tend to call ourselves Scottish, while English people tend to call Britain, ‘England’.

Also, Scots, and guttural Glaswegians in particular, are often considered uncouth and coarsely spoken guttersnipes by refined Southerners. In a parallel to the attitude of Jerusalem’s elite to Jesus and his disciples, it’s been observed that to the London ear even polite Glaswegians sound like they’re looking for a fight. This is the third technical distinction of the use of the term Jew. Jesus was not a different kind of Jew from the Jerusalem intelligentsia, but a Jew from somewhere they considered provincial and inferior – Nazareth in the Galilee: Although Jesus had actually been born in Bethlehem in Judaea.

The fourth distinction is found in the New Testament, where Christians are described as spiritual Jews, circumcised not in the flesh but the heart.

‘For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.’ (Romans 2:28-29)

Remember, Yehudah (Jew) means ‘Praise’ while its plural Yehudim (Jews) literally means ‘those who Praise [God]’.

Religious tradition has long taught that to become a believer a Jew must convert to Christianity. The Bible says that to become a true Christian is to be grafted into spiritual Israel to become Jew in the eyes of God. Hence, John’s declaration in 1 John 4:17, ‘…as [Jesus] is, so are we in this world.’ And might I remind you that Jesus is a Jew.