How did the terms Judaism and Jews came into usage, who coined those terms? Also how and when did the term Judaism begin being used for denoting a religion?

closed as off-topic by mplungjan, Barrie England, Brian Hooper, choster, MrHen Oct 15 '13 at 15:27

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    General reference: etymonline.com/index.php?term=Judaism – mplungjan Oct 15 '13 at 7:25
  • @mplungjan thanks, can you point out who coined it first – Ali Oct 15 '13 at 7:39
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    If someone asks the question, "How did the term motherf'er came into usage, who coined it first?" Presuming there is no prior question, such a question would be completely legitimate. However, if someone came out with a plausible answer, indicating the origins having to do with religious schisms between various Taoist sects and their theological differences, which somehow got transported to the US thro the interaction of taoist triads with african american gangs - would such a question be immediately disqualified as off-topic due to new info from the answer? How would the asker have known? – Blessed Geek Oct 16 '13 at 1:19
  • @BlessedGeek Nice question you can raise this on meta giving an example of this question. – Ali Oct 16 '13 at 2:10
  • I'm gonna edit your question so that it becomes acceptable. – Blessed Geek Oct 16 '13 at 8:09

The origin of the term Jew is from the Hebrew Yehudi (יהודי), being the people of Yehudah (יהודה), where Yehudah is translated by the English translators of the Bible as Judah.

In Arabic and Indonesian, the term Jews are pronounced as "Yahudi" or "Yahudiah". In German, it is "Juden".

The issue at hand is the mutation of the people of Israel from being Israelites into Yehudi (Jews). A prolonged civil war erupted in Israel, during the reign of king Rehavam (transliterated as Rehoboam) who was the son of king Solomon, and the grandson of king David. Thus split the kingdom into northern and southern kingdoms. The northern kingdom comprised the so-called Ten Lost Tribes. Whereas, the southern kingdom were of the tribes of Benjamin, Judah and Levi.

Since the majority of Israel rebelled against king Rehavam, they were called the kingdom of Israel. As the tribe of Judah was the predominant population and power in the southern kingdom, they were called the kingdom of Yehudah.

And the story goes to say that the Assyrians conquered northern Israel and scattered the ten tribes. So, in one description of history or any other, they were lost. Therefore, the "unlost" part of Israel, which was Yehudah, continued to call themselves Yehudah. Unlike Israel, Judah and the assimilated Benyaminites and Levites stayed in cohesion, due to patronage of the Babylonian and Iranian empires towards the Jews.

As you might realise, in another totally unrelated case but to illustrate the tragedy of multi-lingual transliteration, the name of Jesus is actually Yehoshua (which is the same as Joshua in the Hebrew Bible). Somehow, that name for Jesus, that is Yehoshua got transliterated from one language into another as Iesu, Jesue and finally to Jesus.

Likewise, somehow the the term Yehudi became Yudi, Judi, Jude, and then finally Jew in English. I'm sure you can read up on the mutation of the names of Judah and Jesus by searching the web.

Today, anyone who identify themselves as an emerging member of a lost tribe of Israel, would be politically assimilated into the Jewish community as a "Jew"/Yehudi. I think this phenomenon is more out of a political unity sentiment, than to be historically accurate.

I realise there are groups calling themselves bani Israel and not Jews, who purport that current Jews are frauds. Where they claim having been snucked deep into Africa and then emerging as the true sons of Israel now. Similarly, neo-Celtic or British-Israel movements. I guess that is a controversy that should not be discussed here. And I hope you are not among such people and that your question is not actually a way to discredit the legitimacy of Jews as compared to claims of these bani Israel.

  • Thanks for the great answer , it was difficult to find this information for me. May I know which groups call themselves Bani Israel? Can such groups be called "Jews" according to current English usage? – Ali Oct 15 '13 at 8:46
  • Whether such people can be called "Jews" is a political question which I am unable to provide an acceptable answer. These people don't want to be called "Jews". They want to be called "Israel". – Blessed Geek Oct 15 '13 at 8:52
  • Nice, thanks for this interesting information. Can I have wiki link for these people? – Ali Oct 15 '13 at 8:55
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    I also failed to mention three historical segments of people who were assimilated with Jews before 2000 years ago - Arabs who voluntarily aligned themselves to observing Jewish customs; Arabs of the Levant who were forced to convert (king Herod being descendant of such stock); small remnant of Israel not scattered by the Assyrians and not exiled by the Babylonians. – Blessed Geek Oct 15 '13 at 9:51
  • Nice please incorporate that into the answer – Ali Oct 15 '13 at 10:06

OED has

Etymology: < Latin jūdaism-us (Tertullian), < Greek ἰουδαϊσμός (2 Macc. ii. 211): see -ism suffix. Compare French Judaïsme (16th cent. in Littré).

Wikipedia says that 2 Maccabees was written in Koine Greek, probably in Egypt c.124 BC. "The author of 2 Maccabees is not identified, but he claims to be abridging a 5-volume work by Jason of Cyrene."

The earliest citation in English that the OED has is

a1513 R. Fabyan New Cronycles Eng. & Fraunce (1516) II. f. xxiiii, He anon renouncyd his Iudaisme or Moysen Lawe, And was cristenyd, and lyued after as a Cristen Man.


1 It's not clear who "those who strove on behalf of Judaism" are, but it's unlikely to refer to the tribe of Judah because the word Judah would be used. As it says Judaism it's more likely to refer to the religious group practising that religion. Judas Maccabeus lived around 170 BC by which time the religion was well-established.

2 Macc. 2: 19The story of Judas Maccabeus and his brothers, and the purification of the great temple, and the dedication of the altar, 20 and further the wars against Antiochus Epiphanes and his son Eupator, 21 and the appearances which came from heaven to those who strove zealously on behalf of Judaism, so that though few in number they seized the whole land and pursued the barbarian hordes, 22 and recovered the temple famous throughout the world and freed the city and restored the laws that were about to be abolished, while the Lord with great kindness became gracious to them...

  • Thanks, The first OED quote mentions Macabees , and the term ἰουδαϊσμός , was it used as a religion term or referring to the tribe of Judah? – Ali Oct 15 '13 at 8:41
  • @Ali Added some context – Andrew Leach Oct 15 '13 at 8:54

I don't know when these words appeared, but am not sure that the question is really pertinent.

Judaism is very clear : you belong to one of the various allegiances believing in the Bible, the Torah, and more or less in the Talmud, interpreting the prescriptions in various manners.

Jew is a relative word : you are a Jew if you think you are, and are recognized as such by other Jews. Even if you belong to another religion than Judaism, or none.

There are genes determining if you are coloured (AmE : colored), have round eyes, blond hair, etc.. None telling if you are a Jew, or not, for two reasons :

  • all the populations from the Middle-East (I mean : between present Turkey and Arabia) have been mixed up as nowhere else, for thousands of years ;

  • some groups, in middle-Europa, were caught in stranglehold between Christians and Muslims and had to convert or be slaughtered ; they chose a third way, tolerated by both : Judaism ; that's why most Polish Jews have not the least resemblance with a Semitic, and if they are not dressed, you can't distinguish a Jew from a Palestinian.

I am amused - to a certain extent, because it has not always been funny at all - by the anti Semitics : it would be extraordinary, in Europe, that they have absolutely no DNA coming from the Middle-East, and be partially Jewish themselves. I would not be surprised if a certain Adolf (tall, blond hair, blue eyes, as you know) was in fact partially Jewish from a genetic point of view.

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    Not that I disagree with anything in this answer, but it just has nothing to do with the question. Don't you agree? – Armen Ծիրունյան Oct 15 '13 at 10:22

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