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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Nation (2)

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NATION.—This word has two meanings, according as it distinguishes Israel from other peoples, or as it concerns Israel within itself. In the former sense it signifies a State more or less organized, and its keynote is independence; in the latter, a race of common speech and religion, and its keynote is unity. There are two pairs of Greek words corresponding to this distinction. Ἰουδαῖοι is used under the former category, and most frequently by John, who wrote when the Jewish and Christian communities were decisively separated from one another;* [Note: Paul, too, puts Ἰουδαῖοι on the same secular footing as Ἕλληνες; cf. the phrase καὶ Ἰουδαίοις καὶ Ἓλλησιν καὶ τῇ ἰκκλησίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ (1 Corinthians 10:32).] whereas Ἰσραήλ is used always with a note of affection and pride by those who count themselves as its members, sharers in the Divine choice and covenant. There is a similar contrast between the words ἕθνος and λαός, the former and ἕθνη (in the phrase ‘all nations’) being used generally of political States. τὰ ἕθνη has the special meaning of ‘the Gentiles,’ the non-Jewish peoples (Heb. נּו̇יִם), and gradually became ethically blackened, so that Authorized Version instinctively translates ‘heathen’ (Galatians 1:16; Galatians 2:9, cf. Matthew 6:7 ἐθνικοί). But the common noun which corresponds with Ἰσραήλ is λαός. It conveys the sense of God’s possession and purpose, which are creative of the national unity maintained by the sacrifices and observances of the Law. Its analogue in Heb. is צם. As ἕθνη sank down into the meaning of heathen, so λαός is at length appropriated by the Christian consciousness. The few exceptions to the above rules should be noted. In Luke 7:5; Luke 23:2, and throughout the Fourth Gospel, ἔθνος is used in the place of λαός; for, as was just stated, in the later Apostolic circles the old prerogatives of Israel were claimed for the ‘Israel of God,’ i.e. the Christians. In Luke 2:10 λαός is translated in Authorized Version as if it were ἕθνη; but Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 corrects it from ‘all people’ to ‘all the people.’

1. Ἰουδαῖοι, ἔθνος, ἔθνη.—In so far as the Jews constituted a body politic, they had lost their independence since Pompey’s occupation of Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] in b.c. 63, and the Roman hold was tightened by the rule of the Imperial protégé Herod the Great, b.c. 37–4. He obtained from Augustus the title of ‘king’ in b.c. 30, and large slices of territory, first Samaria, Jericho, and towns in the west, and afterwards the regions between the Lebanons and the Lake of Gennesaret, and eastwards. He greatly enhanced the material glories of the Holy Land, especially by wealth expended on the Temple (Matthew 23:16; Matthew 24:1, John 2:20), by which he hoped to secure the loyalty of the nationalists. But, though he gave lavishly with one hand, he took away cynically with the other. He filled the high priest’s office with his own creatures; and by building theatres and pagan temples showed scant respect for the national ideal. ‘He founded Καισάρεια (i.e. temples of Caesar) in many towns’ outside Judaea (Josephus Ant. xv. ix. 5). His strength lay in his bodyguard of 3000, who were drawn from the Samaritan population, and in the fortified palaces which he built at Jerusalem and Caesarea. By intrigue and assassination he exterminated the rival Hasmonaean house, including his favourite wife and her popular sons. The frenzied act of massacre of the babes of Bethlehem, for which Matthew 2:16 is the only authority, is quite in accord with his temper in the later years of his life.

On the death of this Idumaean tyrant an even sadder chapter from the standpoint of national independence began. For Herod’s kingdom was divided among three sons: Philip having the newly added territories of Trachonitis, Ituraea (Luke 3:1), etc.; Antipas succeeding to Galilee and Peraea; and Archelaus, after a long suit at Rome, obtaining the most important part with an allotted income of 600 talents. In a.d. 6, the last-named was finally summoned for his evil courses to Rome, and the unhappy people sank one stage lower in the scale of national independence, being placed under a procurator. This was an exchange for the worse, even from the tyranny of Herod the Great and the iniquities of his son. For although these were only half Judaeans, and in subtle and sometimes pronounced antagonism to the nationalist party, they did not fail to give it some regard; whereas Pontius Pilate and his four predecessors mostly gave up even the attempt to understand so impracticable a people. No wonder ‘the revolutionary current was continually increasing among the Jewish people in the time of Christ’ (Schürer).

These procurators (ἡγεμών in NT, ἐπίτροπος more often in Josephus) were not of senatorial or praetorian, but only of equestrian rank, and not absolutely independent of the Syrian governor, though their dealings were mostly direct with Rome. Their power included (a) military and police control. The Jews were themselves free from conscription for military service. But there were plenty of Gentiles in the land to supply the small garrisons required. The centurion (Luke 7:2; Luke 23:47) and his cohort would be required only in a few of the larger towns. The Temple was dominated by the tower of Antonia. The procurator had also (b) judicial authority. His confirmation was required for capital sentences (John 18:31), and his executive force carried them into effect (Matthew 27:27). Ordinary civil and criminal cases, however, affecting Jews were dealt with at the sessions of the Sanhedrin, and when they appeared to have the people behind their verdict, Pilate was loth to deny them (Matthew 27:18; Matthew 27:24). He also used his powers of release with a view to propitiating the populace (Matthew 27:15). But the name of procurator conveys a special reference to the duties respecting (c) the Roman treasury. Being an Imperial province, the taxes of Judaea were paid to the account not of the Senate, but of Caesar (Mark 12:14). The country was divided into some ten toparchies for fiscal purposes. Tacitus (Annals, ii. 42) speaks of Judaea in a.d. 17 as fessa oneribus. The taxes (land and poll) were collected by State officers; but the customs were farmed to publicani such as Zacchaeus (ἀρχιτελώνης, Luke 19:2) of Jericho.

The rights of the procurator were also enjoyed by the tetrarchs, as well as the right to issue copper coinage. Herod Antipas built Tiberias, S.W. of the Lake, for his capital. Like his father, he tried to propitiate or rather seduce national sentiment by his outlay on public works; and he was at any time ready to use it for his own ends (Mark 3:6; Mark 12:13). Jesus warned His fellow-countrymen against the leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15); and, in response to a crafty attempt to get rid of Him, described the tetrarch as a fox (Luke 13:32). John the Baptist, whose preaching was in his territory, was his victim (Mark 6:17 ff.). But though his partisans were hand and glove with the Pharisees in their hostility to Jesus (Mark 3:6; Mark 12:13), and though we learn from Luke that he associated himself with the condemnation of Jesus, he was not ready to take that awful responsibility upon himself (Luke 23:7-12). The advent of Jesus apparently raised no political excitement in the regions under Philip, because the bulk of the population was non-Jewish. But there was often danger in Galilee (Luke 4:29); and infinitely more in the furnace of fanaticism at Jerusalem (Mark 10:32 f., John 11:8).

When Herod the Great died, his policy of getting material benefit for the nation at the cost of its religious ideals was continued by the priests, who exercised the highest civil as well as religious functions. They constituted the majority of the Sanhedrin, which, as the supreme court of appeal, professedly represented the remnant of Jewish independence. But it represented no cause so truly as the vested interests of an order dependent first on the favour of Herod, and then on the pleasure of Rome. Thus in the name of a bastard independence, which meant that they had leave to grow rich and their country leisure to grow outwardly splendid, they opposed any national movement which might provoke the Romans to take away not only the nation, but also ‘our place’ (John 11:48). It was, e.g., the high priest Joazar who checked the threatened revolt in a.d. 7 on the taking of the census by Quirinius. There were even some of the Pharisees who, whether because they were satisfied with the measure of religious liberty accorded under the Imperial administration, or because they shut their eyes to the facts (John 8:33), or because they saw in the foreign yoke the discipline of God, resented any movement towards national independence; and perhaps it was some of these who associated themselves with the Herodians in Matthew 22:16.

2. Ἰσραήλ, λαός.—But while the independence of the Jewish people was irretrievably mutilated, and the State as a geographical or governmental entity about to perish, the other note of national existence, viz. unity as focussed in the word λαός, was very completely realized. Indeed, as the outer husk decayed, the inner shell grew the harder and tougher. The succession of Pharisees and scribes proved a far surer defence than the dynasty of David. The soul of Judaism was not devoured even by the omnivorous influences of Greek culture. The first steps in this movement were taken by Ezra and Nehemiah, who put an end to mixed marriages among those who had returned from the Exile. The race was adulterated, however, even so late as b.c. 125, when the Idumaeans, being defeated by Hyrcanus, submitted to circumcision. And in respect to language, the Jews of the Dispersion spoke Greek, and read the Scriptures therein; while ‘the people of the land’ understood Aramaic only (Acts 21:40). Religiously, however, the nation was undivided after the Exile, feeling itself to be the special property and instrument of God (Matthew 2:6; Matthew 3:9, Luke 1:68, John 8:41). This unity was expressed not only by the rite of circumcision (John 7:22), but also by the keeping of the Sabbath (Mark 3:4), the abstinence from unclean foods, and the worship, without images, of one only God. And these distinctions were guarded by a multitude of observances, which called into requisition the school of scribes trained in the principles of the Pharisees.

But although the scribes claimed to sit in the seat of Moses (Matthew 23:2), their authority was not recognized in what may be called the outer circles of Judaism. The Samaritans declined to follow the national Church in its later developments. Hence they were referred to with contempt (John 8:48) as outsiders (Luke 17:18), because of their particular objection to the religious monopoly of Jerusalem (Luke 9:53, cf. John 4:30). But for all that, they were counted Jews, though grudgingly, as heretics—‘the foolish people who dwell in Sichem’ (Sirach 50:25 f.), and were proud of the Israelite strain in their blood (John 4:12). More than that, their doctrinal shortcomings received some countenance in high places; for the Sadducees say only what is written is to be esteemed as legal … the tradition of the fathers needs not to be observed’ (Josephus Ant. xiii. x. 6).

Taken as a whole, however, in despite of the home-land being penetrated under Herodian and priestly influence with Hellenistic speech and culture, and although, what with Essenes on the one hand, and Samaritans on the other, they did not all keep step, the people preserved such unity that they became, if not politically independent, socially isolated. On the one hand, their exemption from military service, from Sabbath employment, and their refusal of market food, drew out the dislike of the populace and the contempt of the cultured classes, so that they were regarded as ‘haters of mankind.’ On the other hand, the word ἔθνη, meaning the nations outside the Law of the chosen λαός, gathered more and more of moral connotation, as it passed through the meanings of ‘Gentile,’ ‘heathen,’ and finally ‘sinners’ (Matthew 26:45; cf. Galatians 2:15). The symbol of this rejuvenated Judaism was still the Temple, whither the tribes went up at the national festivals; but its rallying-point was the synagogue, where men were instructed in the Law and Hope of Israel, and where the Pharisees ruled supreme. Their rivals, the Sadducees, had no influence beyond the aristocratic circles at Jerusalem, in the Hellenized cities, and perhaps in Samaritan villages; and though they had a large place in the Sanhedrin, they had to comply with Pharisaic watchwords.

Thus the national life was knit from within, and ruling functions were exercised through officers of the synagogue, such as πρεσβύτεροι (Matthew 21:23; Matthew 26:47), πρῶτοι (Luke 19:47), γραμματεῖς (Mark 9:11), or νομικοί (Luke 10:25). Although Palestine was not politically the mistress of her own territories, she was religionsly the mother of a people throughout the Empire. The Jews of the Dispersion could but rarely visit the Temple, and they read the Scriptures in the Greek tongue; but in their separate communities they maintained the precepts as to Sabbath rest and clean food under the protection of Roman governors and the Emperor (cf. Acts 18:12-15). The Jews could say with Josephus, ‘Even if we were deprived of wealth, of towns and of other possessions, the Law remains to us for ever. And no Jew will be so far from his native land, or so much fear a hostile ruler, as not to fear the Law more than him’ (c. [Note: circa, about.] Apion. ii. 38).

If it was by the hands of the priests, in the name of national independence, that the Lord was betrayed to the ‘nations,’ so the chief antagonism which He met in His ministry, and which His spirit encountered afterwards in the Apostolic mission, came from this close-knit theory and practice of national unity. The Pharisees pursued Him from the first because they instinctively saw that the tendency of His teaching (see Nationality) was to break the bonds their traditions had woven, and to act as a solvent on the rigidity of national isolation, which was the only thing left to their pride.

Literature.—Cremer, Bib.-Theol. Lex. s.vv. ἔθνος, λαός; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] [indicates all possible sources of information, the fullest of these being the Antiquities and Wars of Josephus]; Ewald, Hist. of Israel, vol. vi.; Hausrath, Hist. of N.T. Times; Milman, Hist. of the Jews, vol. ii; Keim, Hist. of Jesus of Nazara, vols. i. and ii.; Stanley, Lectures on Jewish Church artt. ‘Gentiles’ and ‘People’ ‘in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible .

A. Norman Rowland.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Nation (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/n/nation-2.html. 1906-1918.

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