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The Evolving Meanings of “Gentile”

Dec. 11 2015

Although it has become less common, the word “Gentile” was once a standard way to refer to non-Jews. A long time ago, however, it was a Christian term for pagans. Marilyn Cooper explains:

Gentile came into the English language by way of the 4th-century Vulgate, the Roman Catholic Church’s authorized Latin translation of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. In the Vulgate, St. Jerome translated the biblical word goy . . . and the Greek word ethne into the Latin term gentilis, which means “nation” or “people.” . . . [I]n the 17th-century King James Bible, . . . gentilis was anglicized into Gentile, as in I Corinthians 10:32: “Give none offence, neither to the Israelites, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the Church of God.”

For the next two centuries, gentile mainly referred to those who were not of an Abrahamic monotheistic religion—that is, someone who was not a Jew, a Muslim, or a Christian. . . . This began to change after the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent century of religious wars in Europe caused the Christian Church in the West to splinter into innumerable denominations. With widespread disagreement about who should be called a Christian, a neutral umbrella term was needed. Gentile filled the void.

From this period until the early 20th century, Gentile was most often used by Christians, usually in the context of missionizing activities or when writing about Old Testament texts.

Read more at Moment

More about: Bible, Jewish-Christian relations, Language, Translation

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen