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orion some congeners and analogues of "sect"
Like many words, "sect" can reflect various attitudes toward its referent.
The dictionary I happen to have in front of me (Webster's New Collegiate)
gives a marked, derogatory meaning: "a dissenting or schismatic religious
body, esp. one regarded as extreme or heretical." versus an unmarked
meaning: "a religious denomination." The reader will have noted that the
first, quite acceptable, definition accords with Ian's use, the second
with Yirmiyahu's, also quite acceptable.
The same book derives "sect," with its marked and unmarked meanings, from
the very neutral-sounding Late Latin secta, "organized ecclesiastical
body." Over the course of time, certain neutral words acquire an ominous
cast: compare the modern use of "cult" to mean a marginal religious
group with its Latin ancestor "cultus", meaning "care, adoration."
More precise is a Hebrew translation of the beleaguered "sect;" (if one
does not use the barbarous loanword "sekt") this is kat, which also has
the sense of "party, division." Jastrow tells me that "ilu sheva' kittim
shel tzaddiqim" (Midrash Tillim to Psalms) means "these are the seven
classes of righteous men;" the word had a certain neutrality for the
Rabbis, and a fluent speaker of Modern Hebrew could tell me if this is
still so. For a heretical group I expect the
Rabbis to have used "min." Can we find terminology this precise?
"Sect" seems to me to be historically loaded (which does not mean it is
useless, just a bit volatile); perhaps Talmon's "serekh", as Greg
suggests, is a good term to use when one wants to be careful.
Seth L. Sanders
Dept. of Near Eastern Studies
The Johns Hopkins University