And many among the peoples of the land became Jews. (NAS, Esther 8:17)
In our Shofar 21 study, "Who Is Israel? Who Are the Jews?" I made the statement, "A Jew is a member of the nation of Israel, and 'the Jews,' used in its broadest biblical sense, is identical to
the nation of Israel." In other places in this series I made similar statements. Yet, there is one instance where proselytes (Gentile converts to Judaism) are called Jews in most translations,
including many very good translations, such as the New American Standard: And many among the peoples of
the land became Jews. . . (Esther 8:17). The same is also true of commentators of the caliber of Keil and Delitzsch: "to confess
oneself a Jew, to become a Jew." Some translations, though, do use such expressions as: accepted the Jewish religion (Contemporary
English Version), and declared themselves Jews (English Standard Version). The same is true of commentators such as Dr. Charles Ryrie:
"embraced the religion of Judaism as proselytes" (Ryrie Study Bible), and Keil and Delitzsch, as above: "to confess oneself a Jew." It is also noteworthy that even in the days of the authorship
of Esther (shortly after 465 B.C.E., when the events take place), "Jew" was used in reference to a descendant of the man Israel: Now there was at the citadel in Susa a Jew whose name was Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a
Benjamite (Esther 2:5).
So, which is the best translation?
There are two classes of considerations that pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, the root of the Hebrew word mityahadim,
translated became Jews in the New American Standard, is
yhd, the same root in yehudi or yehudim, which are translated "Jew" and "Jews" respectively. This, of course, pulls in the direction of translating mityahadim as "became Jews." On the other hand, several considerations pull in the direction of translating mityahadim as "became proselytes to
1. The plain meaning of the passage is that Gentiles converted to Judaism.
2. Philological considerations, as explained by Dr. Fruchtenbaum:
|The verb lehityaheid [the infinitive form of mityahadim, which is a participle] has the same connotation as lehitnatzer. Neither word focuses on a change of ethnic identity, but of religious identity. Lehitnatzer means to convert to Christianity, and lehityaheid means to convert to Judaism. Thus a more correct translation is to convert to Judaism to become proselytes, but it does not mean to become Jews in the sense of an ethnic identity change.1|
3. Among the two hundred and fifty-six times in which "Jew" or "Jews" appear in the New American Standard, Esther 8:17 is the only instance in which proselytes are called Jews. (In our Replacement Theology study, which begins in Shofar 23, we examined those New Testament passages that appear to say otherwise at first glance, and have found that they actually do not.)
4. All of the considerations in the section, "Who Are the Jews?" in Who Is Israel? Who Are the Jews?, including the exclusive use of "Jews" by Yeshua, His disciples and their contemporaries in the sense of bloodline Jews.
5. Yeshua Himself used "Jews" in the context of the very covenants by which God set Israel apart from the nations. He said to the Samaritan woman, Salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22), meaning, not of the Samaritan nation, which had an unauthorized temple on Mt. Gerizim, but of the Jewish nation.
Above all other considerations, the identical construction of lehityaheid and lehitnatzer carries the day. In consideration of that and of all the rest of the above, the only reasonable translation is one that focuses on the religious conversion: "converted to Judaism," "became proselytes to Judaism," or a similar rendering. Consistent with that, "Jew" and "Jews" will be used in this series solely in reference to the bloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - the way Yeshua used it and the way it is used in every other instant in Scripture. In the broader perspective, to be consistent with Scripture, "Jew" ought not to be used in reference to a Gentile convert to Judaism, a Gentile believer who identifies with the messianic community, or a Gentile believer in general,2 but solely in reference to a bloodline descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Materials by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum:
1. Messianic Bible Study 007: Jews, Gentiles, Christians
2. The Footsteps of the Messiah (Tustin: Ariel Ministries Press, 2001), 691-696.
* Dr. Fruchtenbaum's materials are available for purchase at Ariel Ministries in various formats. Some of
his Messianic Bible Studies (mbs) are also available for free online reading at Ariel's Come and See.
Other select materials and resources are available at Ariel, as well.
© Norman Manzon, 2011