Biblical Studies Diaspora in the New Testament
Shively Smith, Zoë Towler
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0294


Diaspora in critical studies of the New Testament is evolving as a varied scholarly conversation. Some scholars talk about diaspora in relation to the history of Jewish dispersion from Judea, be it at the time of Babylon or beyond. Others talk about diaspora in the writings of the Christian Testament, exploring the presence and far-reaching significance of Hellenistic Judaism. In this case, to study diaspora is to fundamentally talk about Judaism as the chief symbolic world and foundational identity operative in the writings of the New Testament. Other scholars talk about diaspora at the level of semantics, focusing on the language and symbolic worlds created by deploying Greek terminology such as the noun, diaspora, or the verb, diaspeirō. Still other scholars explore the meaning of diaspora in the Christian Testament from the perspective of the experience of displacement, disenfranchisement, and difference. In these conversations, scholars seek to distill the ways diaspora is storied as a life experience of not just individuals, but kinship groups and peoples with multiple land attachments, including their homeland and host lands. It is a story of dispersed peoples, migrants, strangers, and foreigners who are forced to navigate matters of travel, borders, boundaries, accommodation, resistance, double consciousness, and empire. In its Greek noun form, diaspora means the condition of living as a scattered or dispersed collective group spread widely across a region or regions. Yet diaspora has grown to mean more than simply a state of being spread across a vast territory or having to live “elsewhere” while connected and committed to an original homeland. Diaspora also conveys the experience of managing multiple land and kinship group identities. It is a state or discourse of a people that engages matters related to space, place, time, culture, etiquette, and experiences of being a collective group in lands beyond the lands of their kinspeople or origin.

Diaspora in Israelite History and Greco-Roman History

The Jewish diasporic experience was common in Greco-Roman antiquity. Gruen 1986 and Rajak 2018 explore the Jewish Diasporic experience at length. Gruen 2002 is an entire book dedicated to the experiences of Jewish people within the diaspora during antiquity. The Jewish diaspora during antiquity was not monolithic, and more nuanced exploration of the experiences can be found in a two-part series, Edrei and Mendels 2007 and Edrei and Mendels 2008. Diasporan people are facing a social adjustment to their host land and simultaneously continuing a new relationship and experience of their homeland. Trotter 2018, Trotter 2019, and Mendelson-Maoz 2013 explore the Jewish diasporic experience with homeland.

  • Barclay, John M. G. Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to Trajan (323 BCE–117 CE). Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1996.

    Barclay uses literary evidence to analyze the diaspora experience and the influence of Hellenization. He develops three categories by which he measures the degree the diaspora communities became Hellenized: assimilation, acculturation, and accommodation. For advanced students and scholars.

  • Edrei, Arye, and Doron Mendels. “A Split Jewish Diaspora: Its Dramatic Consequences.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 16.2 (2007): 91–137.

    DOI: 10.1177/0951820706074303

    An exploration of the increasing cultural “gap” between Western and Eastern diaspora Jews dating back to the 1st century. This study explores the gap as a result of language barrier atop a geographical divide, which can be seen in the (lack of) access to halakha. Implications of this divide are explored in the second part of the series, Edrei and Mendels 2008.

  • Edrei, Arye, and Doron Mendels. “A Split Jewish Diaspora: Its Dramatic Consequences Part II.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 17.3 (2008): 163–187.

    DOI: 10.117/0951820708089934

    Continuation of Edrei and Mendels 2007; reader must engage Part I prior. Large biographical resources, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are used to support their thesis. Essential reading for scholars exploring Talmudic and Mishnaic periods.

  • Gruen, Erich S. “Judaism in the Diaspora.” In Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters. Edited by Robert A. Kraft and George W. Nickelsburg, 69–92. Centennial Publications. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986.

    Gruen presents the topic of diaspora within Judaism, arguing the genesis for dispersion was centuries before 70 CE. Gruen frames his argument exploring the dispersion itself, the debate surrounding the genesis event, and Jews’ experience within their host locations. An elementary understanding and familiarity with the discourse is required to engage this chapter.

  • Gruen, Erich S. Diaspora: Jews amidst Greeks and Romans. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.4159/9780674037991

    A two-part study using literary sources and epigraphic data to analyze and explore diasporic living during the reign of Alexander the Great to Nero. Part One is a historical overview. Part Two explores how Diaspora Jews experienced their life away from their homeland.

  • Mendelson-Maoz, Adia. “Diaspora and Homeland-Israel and Africa in Beta Israel’s Hebrew Literature and Culture.” Research in African Literatures 44.4 (2013): 35–50.

    DOI: 10.2979/reseafrilite.44.4.35

    Explores themes of “home,” “diaspora,” and expulsion found in biblical narratives and Hebrew Ethiopian Israeli literature. Main consideration is the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia, who have dreams of returning “home” to Jerusalem. Accessible for undergraduates. Essential for scholars engaging diaspora.

  • Rajak, Tessa. “The Jewish Diaspora in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Interpretation 72.2 (2018): 146–162. .

    DOI: 10.1177/0020964317749542

    This work uses the writings of Josephus and Philo, in conversation with Luke-Acts, exploring a potential model of ethnic identity, self-understanding, and self-consciousness. Specific attention is given to Greek-speaking Judaism and what it meant for people within the diaspora to be Jewish. This work offers definitions of diaspora and a brief history of the use of the term.

  • Trotter, Jonathan R. “The Homeland and the Legitimation of the Diaspora: Egyptian Jewish Origin Stories in the Hellenistic and Roman Periods.” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 28.2 (2018): 91–122. .

    DOI: 10.1177/0951820718823394

    This work examines the importance of storytelling for Diasporans, specifically strategies harnessed by Egyptian Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Analysis of the practices of remembering, rewriting, retelling, and reimagining homeland by the Egyptian Jews.

  • Trotter, Jonathan R. “Going and Coming Home in Diasporan Pilgrimage: The Case of Philo’s ‘Ιεροπομποί and Diaspora-Homeland Relations in Alexandrian Jewish Perspective.” Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 50.1 (2019): 26–51.

    DOI: 10.1163/15700631-12494230

    Using Philo’s portrayal of ‘Ιεροπομποί, this work suggests belonging for Diaspora Jews is in both host and homeland. Explores the role of elected community leaders as bridges for the diaspora community and their homeland.

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