PROSELYTE (προσήλυτος, G4670, visitor, newcomer). The Gr. noun comes from a verb meaning “to approach.” It is the usual LXX rendering of the Heb. גֵּר, H1731, one who lives in a foreign community. A general meaning is a convert from one religion to another; the specific meaning is a convert to Judaism, so used in the NT. The earliest OT usage distinguishes between נָכְרִי, H5799, (foreigner) and גֵּר, H1731, (resident alien or sojourner, Deut 14:21; 2 Sam 1:13; 15:19). The term came to be applied to those who wholly or partially joined themselves to the religious life of Israel (1 Chron 13:2; 2 Chron 30:25). The OT gēr lived outside his home because of war (2 Sam 4:3; Isa 16:4), famine (Ruth 1:1), plague, or manslaughter. The customary rendering is “stranger,” or “alien” and “sojourner.” In the Mishnah gēr refers to a convert to Judaism. The NT prosēlutos has the same connotation. The meaning of the term in the OT is different from that in both the NT and rabbinical use. How the change in meaning occurred from “stranger” to “convert” is related to the history of Judaism, particularly just before the advent of Christianity.
1. The original meaning of OT גֵּר, H1731. The term was undoubtedly used at first for a resident alien, not necessarily committed to the faith of Israel, but it was also employed for Israelites living outside the land (Gen 15:13; Exod 23:9). The גֵּר, H1731, was obligated to observe the fast of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29). He was prohibited from blasphemy on penalty of death (24:16) and forbidden to offer children to Molech (20:2). In OT times, the Jews did not actively propagate their faith (Jonah is an exception). Actually, the OT word indicated an immigrant in the process of assimilation. In Sem. communities, rights were related to blood kinship; however, it was possible to arrange an artificial (legal) relationship. One without a relative to protect him could become a follower of a chief or tribe to insure himself of this advantage. The customs of hospitality also have application here. A guest, once inside the tent of his host, was protected. The honor of the leader of a tribe or group made it a matter of personal obligation to see that no harm came to the guest, for violation of hospitality was never condoned. Although this tie between guest and host was short, it could be made more permanent by agreement. In such cases, it obligated the whole group to observe the arrangement.
Sometimes an agreement could be made by covenant oath; e.g., Abraham and Isaac as sojourners in Gerar by covenant with Abimelech at Beer-sheba (Gen 21:32; 26:28). Foreigners in Israel needed to learn “the law of the god of the land” to obey him for their own protection (2 Kings 17:26-28). Hagar (Gen 16:7-13); the servant from Damascus (24:2); Rahab (Josh 2:1, 11); the Gibeonites (Josh 9); Obed-edom and Ittai (6:10, 11; 15:19-22); Uriah the Hittite (2 Sam 11:11); the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:12) are all indicated as worshiping the Lord.
Since political and religious life were so interrelated, the immigrant had to participate in religious rites to have full standing in the tribe. If he were a refugee, removed from the worship of his own country, he would be expected to serve the gods of the land of his present settlement (1 Sam 26:19). The Gibeonites under subjection became permanent personnel at the worship center of Israel (Josh 9:27). Ezekiel 44:7-9 depicts a situation in which uncircumcised and evidently unconverted foreigners are not to be allowed entrance to sacred service.
From early days, different elements had attached themselves to the people of Israel (Exod 12:38). In the periods before the Exile, numbers of foreigners settled among Israel. When Solomon took a census of all aliens in his realm (a census distinct from that which his father had ordered and that may not have distinguished between native and foreign populations) their number was 153,600 (2 Chron 2:17). He assigned more than half of them to labor on royal public projects. They may well have been descendants of the Canaanites, and thus were not first-class citizens.
OT references often link the gēr with the poor, the widow, and the orphan; with them he was included in the third year tithe (Lev 19:10; 22:13; Deut 14:29; 24:17). As laborer for wages (Lev 19:13), he was sometimes wealthy (Deut 28:43, 44). The Mosaic law forbad the Israelite either to oppress him or withhold his livelihood (24:14; 27:19; Ezek 22:29). At times, Israel was called upon to remember their former alien status in Egypt (Exod 22:21; 23:9), which was sufficient motivation for them to treat the stranger kindly and with love (Lev 19:34; Deut 10:18, 19). In essence, the foreigner was looked upon as a temporary resident, whereas the gēr was more or less permanent, in some measure accepted with the Israelite society.
2. The LXX usage. Prosēlutos occurs some seventy-eight times in the LXX for גֵּר, H1731, and trs. no other Heb. word. The Gr. word is not found in classical sources, so it must have been brought into use from colloquial areas. The LXX term πάροικος, G4230, is found in texts where the word prosēlutos practically means “religious convert,” and thus would not be at all appropriate, for example, when the people of Israel are said to be גֵרִ֧ים in a foreign land (Gen 15:13; 23:4; Exod 2:22; 18:3), or a godly man as a gēr on earth (1 Chron 29:15; Ps 39:12), or the Lord Himself (Jer 14:8). No difference is seen in the meaning of prosēlutos in the earlier or later parts of the LXX.
The predominant use of proselyte in the LXX is for a convert from another faith (Num 35:15; Ps 94:6, Gr. 93:6). This is the exclusive meaning found in the Mishnah, Philo, and the NT. The references make it clear that the LXX proselyte, even if he is often a circumcised convert, remains still a foreign resident in Pal. In the LXX, the word never refers to a convert of Judaism if he still lives in a foreign country (F. C. Porter, HDB, IV, 133). Here there is a distinction from the NT usage.
3. The change in meaning. There were several contributing factors in the shift in meaning of proselyte:
a. Dispersion, a contributing cause. With the Exile came a radical change in Israel’s attitude and outlook. During the postexilic period, Judaism came to be characterized by a definite missionary spirit, which increased in intensity during the Gr. and Rom. periods but faded with the rise of Christianity. With the deportation of the northern kingdom to Assyria in the latter part of the 8th cent. b.c., numbers of Israelites lived outside Pal. (2 Kings 17:6). This condition was accelerated with the three Babylonian deportations of the southern kingdom by Nebuchadnezzar. Already in Solomon’s day, trade and commerce had stimulated the process of travel outside the land of promise (1 Kings 9:26; 10:28). From archeological sources, it is known there was a colony of Jewish mercenaries at Elephantine in Egypt in the 5th cent. They enjoyed religious freedom and had a temple to the Lord. The Book of Esther reveals that Jews were settled throughout the provinces of the Pers. empire (3:8). Both exilic and postexilic writers speak repeatedly of gathering the dispersed of Israel and Judah from all quarters of the earth (1 Chron 16:35; Ps 106:47; Isa 11:12; 56:8; Jer 23:3; Ezek 34:13; Zeph 3:10; Zech 10:10).
After the 6th cent. b.c., most of the Jewish nation did not live in Pal. In addition to Assyria and Babylonia, Egypt became a place of their sojourn. This speeded up the process of Israel’s acculturation, whereby many Jews adopted Hel. patterns of thought and attitude while adhering to the old faith in dietary matters and chaste manner of life. The prolonged struggle between the Ptolemies and Seleucids activated some movement of population again from Pal., the center of the conflict. Josephus cites a number of instances where Jews accepted the paganism of Greece and forsook the religion of their people (Jos. Wars II. xviii. 7-8; V. i. 6; VII. ii. 3).
Alexander the Great settled 8,000 Jews in Thebais, Egypt. One third of the population of Alexandria was Jewish. There was hardly a commercial center in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, or the Aegean area without a Jewish community. Josephus (Jos. Antiq. XIV. vii. 2) quoted Strabo as stating: “It is hard to find a place in the habitable earth that hath not admitted this tribe of men, and is not possessed by them.” Numerous books on Judaism were written anonymously (like the Sibylline Oracles) to impress pagan readers. Many Gentiles, as a result, visited synagogues and even kept some of the Jewish customs.
b. Inherent mandate in Judaism. This was every bit as significant for proselytizing as the factor just discussed. The accepted ideal in Judaism has always been that there should be no uncircumcised aliens in the Holy Land. Wherever the Jews went in foreign countries, they took with them their monotheistic faith. Furthermore, the prophets had emphasized again and again that Israel’s mission in the world is to bring the nations to the knowledge of the true God. There was an inherent motivation in the messages of the prophets who proclaimed a timeless and universal truth (Isa 2:2-4; 49:5, 6; Jer 3:17; 4:2; 12:16; Zeph 3:9; Zech 8:20-23; 14:16-19 among many others). These expectations are at times mingled with both eschatological and apocalyptic events. The case of Naaman the Syrian is one of conversion of a foreigner living outside Pal. to the worship of Israel’s God (2 Kings 5:15-19). Malachi 1:11 gives the broad view of monotheism becoming the universal faith. Actually, then, in the matter of proselytizing, the Jewish synagogue manifested it was not altogether as narrow as some have claimed.
c. Attractions in Judaism. Evidence is at hand that in postexilic times many foreigners were drawn to the Jewish religion and were assimilated to it. Intermarriage also aided the process. At one time the practice had so flourished that drastic steps had to be taken to oppose it as contrary to the will of God (Ezra 9; 10; Neh 13). Nothing in the canon of Scripture indicates any disfavor attaching to Ruth’s marriage with an Israelite and her position as the ancestress of David and Messiah (cf. Deut 23:3; Neh 13:1). In her case, the first use of the expression “to take refuge under the wings of the Lord” (Ruth 2:12) is found. This later became practically a technical term for conversion to Judaism. Isaiah 56:1-8 is important for its clear acceptance of the foreigner as a convert. Whether this passage warrants the belief that such aliens were subjected to discrimination is open to question. It is also a moot subject as to whether these individuals were required to undergo the rite of circumcision.
4. The Persian period. In the Book of Esther is the first occurrence of a term for conversion, genuine or pretended, to Judaism (Esth 8:17). It is stated that many “became Jews” (KJV) or “declared themselves Jews” (RSV). The verb form is said to point more to a pretended than genuine experience, esp. when fear of the Jews was so general in the realm at that time. The rabbis spoke of the “Esther proselyte” and the “lion proselyte” (2 Kings 17:25) as false experiences. The word מִֽתְיַהֲדִ֔ים (as tr. above) occurs only once in the OT and rarely in later Heb. The LXX adds the thought that they underwent circumcision (Esth 9:27) to make a decisive conclusion in the case of these converts.
5. The Maccabean era. In the wake of the successful Maccabean campaigns, compulsory conversion of subjugated peoples—largely motivated by political considerations—was adopted as a policy by the rulers of the Hasmonean dynasty (Jos. Antiq. XIII. xi. 3; xv. 4). Knowingly or unknowingly, they were following the practice of Antiochus Epiphanes. Actually, the rabbis never approved (true today also), of compulsory conversions; in rabbinical law (Yebamoth 48b) not even a slave is to be converted by force. Because the Maccabean victories and Hasmonean rule were not supported completely by the religious Jews, the truth of universalism inherent in Jewish ethical monotheism was not hindered in its development. The family of Herod, a convert from Edom, always insisted on conversion (with circumcision included) for those they married. This tradition, it can be seen, was politically motivated. Thus to foster nationalism, the Maccabean leaders actively propagated their faith with the exercise of force. As far as the record goes, the Maccabean princes were the first to use the method of proselytizing by compulsion and duress.
6. The Greek world. Jewish proselytism went on apace in the Gr. period (Tobit 1:8; Judg 14:10). As a minority in the Mediterranean world, the Jews became intensely self-conscious. The Greeks and others were quite curious of Jewish customs and rites and were fascinated by them. The great attraction was the Jewish morality founded on ethical monotheism. Seeking minds among the Greeks, who had cast off pagan ways, were drawn to the Jewish doctrine of God with all its exalted implications for thought and life. Both the theology and ethics of the Jewish faith appealed to the Gr. interest in ideas. The tolerance of the Greeks toward them led the Jews to emphasize the universal elements in their religion and soften those that might trouble the Gr. mind. In this atmosphere, the Jew felt himself superior religiously to other nations (Rom 2:19, 20). The result was a vigorous propagation of Judaism in cities where Jews resided in large numbers, as in Alexandria. The tr. of the OT into Gr. not only benefited the Jews, but made it much easier to spread Judaism among Gentiles. The Jews prepared an extensive lit. in Gr. For example, a great portion of the literary activity of Philo of Alexandria was intended to make Judaism respectable and acceptable to the Greeks. Even Josephus in exile was an apologist for Judaism in the latter part of his life. Converts needed instruction before and after admission to Judaism. Manuals for instruction were prob. composed, and passages such as Psalms 15; 24:3ff.; 34:13-15; Isaiah 33:14-16 may have been employed for catechumens.
7. The Roman period. Jews had settled in Rome in the 2nd cent. b.c. The first immigrants to Rome were so intense in their zeal to proselytize that they incurred the fear and displeasure of the Rom. authorities, who expelled the chief participants in 139 b.c. By the early part of the 1st cent. b.c., numerous Jews were in Rome and throughout Italy. Especially had they populated Egypt and Cyrene where many non-Jews followed their mode of living. Jewish quarters sprang up in different cities where in some cases they were permitted self-rule and their own courts. When Pompey gained his victory in 63 b.c., he took many Jews captive to Rome where they were sold into slavery, later gaining their freedom and becoming Rom. citizens.
a. Reaction against the Jews. Writers like Tacitus, Juvenal, and Horace, and statesmen like Cicero spoke derogatorily of the Jews and their customs and defamed their religion. They were accused of being opposed to strangers, an argument they refuted by reference to the humane legislation of the Mosaic law with regard to foreigners and aliens. Anti-Jewish feelings broke into violence at times, notably in Alexandria and Damascus.
b. Philo and proselytes. Philo Judaeus mingled both Jewish and Gr. cultures. In many ways he approximated Hel. thinking, but he was tireless in behalf of Judaism, always seeking to influence non-Jews to follow his faith. Since Israel had lost all political existence, he stressed the religious factors in Jewish life rather than the national. He labored to demonstrate the ethical superiority of Judaism over pagan immorality. He often praised the converts in Alexandria. It was difficult in the extreme for the proselytes to turn from their ingrained paganism to the new way of life. He asked for special treatment for them from the Jews (Lev 19:34). The proselyte, to his thinking, was as good or better than the native Jew, because he had come to the truth not by birth but by a deliberate choice.
Philo had an intermediate category between those born Jews and full converts. He employed the term μέτοικος for these half heathen, who were permitted to settle with limited privileges among Palestinian Jews (Lev 22:10; 25:47). In rabbinic law, the LXX πάροικος, G4230, is גֵּ֤ר תּﯴשָׁב׃֙, who, though uncircumcised, does obey the ethical requirements of the laws of Moses (’Abodah Zarah. 64b): (1) to set up courts of justice; (2) avoid idolatry; (3) abstain from blasphemy; (4) refrain from adultery; (5) not murder; (6) not steal; (7) avoid eating flesh from a living animal. For Philo, prosēlutos meant convert, though he did not arrive at this sense from the LXX. In his own usage he employed epēlutēs to designate a convert.
The rabbinic distinction was between the full convert, גֵּ֤ר צֶדֶק (“convert of righteousness”) and the intermediate follower, גֵּ֤ר תּﯴשָׁב׃֙ (“resident alien”). The latter accepted monotheism and the Jewish practices, but not the ritual of Judaism. He was uncircumcised and had no formal link to the Jewish community. The former entered into all the duties and rites of the congregation. His descendants of the third generation attained full status as Jews. Philo seems to have made no hard and fast distinctions between the two classes of proselytes, but the case is not clear.
c. Josephus and proselytes. He does not use prosēlutos, but he speaks of converts as those who renounce their former way of life, follow the Jewish customs, and worship God according to the Jewish faith, whom the Jews have accepted among themselves (Jos. Antiq. XX, ii. 1, 3; Jos. Wars VII. iii. 3). For Josephus, they were Jews who kept the Mosaic laws and lived as Jews.
8. The spread of Judaism. The success of Jewish missionary activity is abundantly attested. Roman writers referred repeatedly to the presence of Jews and their followers everywhere. Before the Christian era, Judaism had sympathizers and converts throughout the Rom. empire. In writing against Apion (II. xl) Josephus boasted that there was no city where Jewish customs and virtues were not observed and imitated. In Pal., as well as in Rome, proselytes were important in numbers and position. The Tannaitic rabbis would not have discussed their reception so thoroughly otherwise.
a. Women converts. Women outnumbered by far the male converts. This is explained in large part by the fact that circumcision, which was always a formidable hindrance to a potential male convert, was not applicable to women. The famous conversion of the house of Adiabene (E of the Euphrates) through Helena, the queen mother, was one of the most significant successes of Jewish missionary effort. Loyal to Judaism, this dynasty fought with the Jews against the Romans in a.d. 67-70. Josephus speaks of the women of Damascus, who all but a few had come to the Jewish religion (Jos. Wars, II. xx. 2).
b. Types of converts: God-fearers and worshipers of God. There are those who hold to only one type of convert, the one who is a circumcised foreigner but obligated himself to keep the whole law (Gal 5:3). Porter holds that “proselytes of the gate” have nothing to do with the “worshipers of God.” Emil G. Hirsch (Jew Enc., X, 220-224) claims that, whatever may have been the connotations of gēr, Biblical writers refer to proselytes by paraphrases and circumlocutions (Exod 12:48, the alien who is circumcised; Isa 14:1, strangers who “cleave to the house of Jacob”; Deut 23:8, “may enter the assembly of the Lord”; Isa 61:3-6, those who join themselves to the Lord are cases in point). W. Robertson Smith and W. H. Bennett (EB, III, 3901-3905) maintain that synonymous with proselyte are the God-fearers and worshipers of God (Acts 10; 13:16, 26, 50; 16:14; 17:4, 17; 18:7). Kirsopp Lake (The Beginnings of Christianity, V , 80-84) held that “fractional proselytes are impossible,” but this does not deal adequately with the facts of the case. There is ample evidence of those who did not submit to all the procedures of full conversion to Judaism.
It is undoubtedly true that for every full convert to Judaism there were many partial converts who accepted almost all of Judaism in the realm of belief and practice with the exception of circumcision. They were referred to in the 1st cent. as “those who fear (worship) God,” an expression from the Heb. phrase יִרְאֵ֣י יְהוָ֣ה, which appears often in the OT. It was the usual terminology for godly Israelites (Ps 15:4; Mal 3:16; cf. also Ecclus 34:13-15). On the ground of Acts 13:16, 26, 43 some have equated “God-fearer” with “proselyte.” This cannot hold, because, when Paul (Acts 18:7) left the Corinthian Jews to go to the Gentiles, he proceeded to the home of Titus Justus, who was called a “worshiper of God,” though evidently an uncircumcised Gentile. According to the strict Jewish view, no one was considered a proselyte if he did not keep all the law, and this was impossible without circumcision. A similar case is the godly Gentile Cornelius (Acts 10:28; 11:3 with 10:2, 22). Acts 2:10 cannot be used to mean proselytes were not also Jews. The intent is apparently to state that there were born Jews and converts to Judaism, yes, even godly individuals who were not full converts.
Discussing the categories of proselyte of righteousness and proselyte of the gate, W. Robertson Smith denies any such group as the second. He cites Schürer as authority that proselytes and fearers (worshipers) of God are all synonymous. His reasoning is that in his polemic against the Judaizers, Paul always assumed that circumcision was indispensable to converts to Judaism.
9. Proselytes in the NT. The term prosēlutos occurs in the NT only four times (Matt 23:15; Acts 2:10; 6:5; 13:43). The first text speaks of the zeal of the Pharisees in proselytizing. Proselytes were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:10). Nicolaus was a proselyte of Antioch (6:5) and was appointed one of the seven deacons in the Early Church. The Ethiopian eunuch under Queen Candace was doubtless a proselyte (8:27). There were many in Pisidian Antioch who followed Paul and Barnabas (13:43).
The words of Christ (Matt 23:15) have puzzled many because of the well-known indifference of Jews to proselytizing. It has been referred to as an unusual incident, but there is other corroboration that Christ’s statement was not overdrawn. Others understand Matthew 23:15 in the light of Paul’s Jewish-Christian opponents and their proselytizing activity (Gal 1:6-10; 3:1; 5:2-12).
The strong Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, committed to the strict view of circumcision, continued the customary treatment of partial converts. Their deliberations resulted finally in the formula sent to Antioch (Acts 15:20-29; 21:25). Practices esp. repulsive to Jews were prohibited to promote harmony. It is interesting to notice that these regulations were parallel with those applicable to the resident alien in the Talmud. Complete satisfaction was not brought about for either party, and circumcision continued as an issue for some time. The events at Cornelius’ home convinced Peter and the Jews accompanying him that the Holy Spirit recognized no value of circumcision in salvation (10:44-48). Paul refused to circumcise Titus in spite of the legalizers (Gal 2:3-5). The case of Timothy, whose mother was Jewish, was different, so he was circumcised to give him greater acceptance among the Jews of Asia Minor (Acts 16:1-4). The problem of circumcision troubled Paul throughout his ministry, but his stand is clearly stated (Gal 5:6).
10. Admission and standing of proselytes. Among the rabbis there was divergence of views here as on practically all other questions. Some viewed it of merit and in God’s will to recruit proselytes. “Every one who brings a proselyte near, it is as though he had created him” (Midrash Genesis Rabbah 84:4). Hillel with his liberal attitudes favored easing requirements for proselytes (Shabbath 31a), whereas Shammai, a strict constructionist, counseled vigorous testing. The process carried out for prospective proselytes was: (1) instruction by a scribe, (2) circumcision, (3) immersion (Lev 11-15; Num 19, which was ordered in cases of impurity). When the Temple stood, a sacrifice was added.
There has been some opinion that proselytes were not required to be baptized after the destruction of the Temple. It is generally held that baptism was part of the procedure from the beginning. The baptismal ceremony indicated a new status, the beginning of a new life. In keeping with this concept, the convert took a new name. Many proselytes outstripped their teachers in zeal (Matt 23:15). Some of Israel’s greatest scholars were said to be proselytes or the children of such (cf. Rabbi Akiba).
The rabbis were not agreed on the matter of circumcision. Some considered circumcision the main rite in conversion; others, baptism. In the 2nd-3rd centuries, when the polemic with the church was strong, the attitude stiffened toward the partial convert, although evidence points in the direction of acceptance in the period before Christianity.
When the prospective convert first approached a rabbi to express his desire to embrace Judaism, he was asked his reason for desiring to do so. He was informed of Israel’s abject position in the world. If he indicated he knew this fact but was unworthy to bear these burdens, he was accepted. Then followed a period of instruction, which moved from easy to difficult commandments of the law. If willing to comply with the Mosaic law, he underwent circumcision. After recovery, he was immediately immersed. Coming forth from immersion, he was addressed by the congregation in this manner: “Unto whom hast thou given thyself? Blessed art thou, thou hast given thyself to God; the world was created for the sake of Israel, and only Israelites are called the children of God. The afflictions of which we spoke, we mentioned only to make thy reward the greater.” After baptism, as a new man he was given a new name. From that time on his past was forgotten, even ties of marriage and kinship (Sanh. 58b).
Some became proselytes from less than worthy motives: fear (2 Kings 17:25; Esth 8:17); profit (in Alexandria the Jews enjoyed a privileged status); propaganda and force (under the Maccabean rulers). Others were motivated by the prevailing dissatisfaction with and skepticism of the national religions, which left a void. Some came because of superstition through an interpreter of dreams. Still others were moved by family ties and pressures.
What was the standing of the convert in Judaism? It was an awkward position, and attitudes toward him varied from time to time. Theory and practice did not tally. Many accorded equal privileges to converts in theory only. The convert could not speak of God as the “God of our fathers,” only as “God of the fathers of Israel” (Bikkurim I. 4). This prohibition was later rescinded. Children of proselytes were considered full Jews when married to a Jew. Some rabbis were quite lenient and disposed toward them; others spoke most disparagingly of them (Yebamoth 109b). Many doubt that the proselyte ever attained to actual, rather than theoretical, equality with Jewish-born adherents to Judaism. Some rabbis considered them actually inferior to a native Jew. Rabbi Chelbo said: “Proselytes are as injurious to Israel as a scab” (Yebamoth 47b; Qiddushin 70b). It must be pointed out, however, that antipathy to proselytes, due in part to aversion for Herod who was a proselyte, was not shared by everyone in Judaism.
11. Decline in proselytizing. The decline came with the increase in feeling against foreigners, resulting from the Jewish rebellions against Rome, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the advent of Christianity. These attitudes were present in the 1st century but became pronounced in the 2nd to the 4th centuries. It appears there was a fairly high proportion of converts, full and partial, who reverted to their old way of life (’Abodah Zarah 41a). Some even blamed the delay of Messiah’s advent on proselytes who were not careful in their practices. After the revolt of a.d. 135 under Hadrian, when many proselytes forsook the ranks, missionary zeal in Israel cooled considerably. Because of the bitterness rife at the time, the rabbis decided to make conversion as difficult as possible. Roman emperors issued unfavorable laws against Gentiles who underwent circumcision, and conversions to Judaism were forbidden. On occasion, even the rabbis reported possible converts to the government. Jewish proselytizing did not stop entirely at any time. Outside the Rom. empire the process went on, and notable successes were reported. It has even been suggested that the proselyte to Judaism never formed a mediating link between Jews and Gentiles; rather, he widened the difference.
12. Influence on Christianity. Judaism’s attacks on idolatry paved the way for the message of Christianity. Many credit the greater successes of Christianity to the fact that Paul announced freedom from the ritual laws including circumcision. Christianity’s proclamation of a universal Gospel not limited to any people or set of rules was the fulfillment of the message of the OT and the realization of the objective of God for which Israel was scattered among the nations. In conclusion, the proselytes surely paved the way for Christian witness to the Gentiles (as at Corinth, Acts 18:7).
Bibliography IDB, III, 921-931; EB, III, 3901-3905; HDB, IV, 132-137; Jew Enc. X, 220-224; E. Schürer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 3 vols. (1885-1890); G. F. Moore, Judaism, 3 vols. (1927-1930); F. M. Derwachter, Preparing the Way for Paul: The Proselyte...Judaism (1930); T. J. Meek, “The Translation of GER in the Hexateuch and Its Bearing on the Documentary Hypothesis,” JBL, XLIX (1930), 172-180; L. Finkelstein, “The Institution of Baptism for Proselytes,” JBL, LII (1933), 203-221; S. H. Hook, “The Way of the Initiate,” in W. O. E. Oesterly, ed. Judaism and Christianity I (1937), 213-233; B. J. Bamberger, Proselytism in the Talmudic Period (1939); Samuel Belkin, Philo and the Oral Law (1940), 44-48; J. Klausner, From Jesus to Paul (1944); T. F. Torrance, “Proselyte Baptism,” NTS, I (Nov., 1954), 150-154; Reply by T. M. Taylor, II (Feb., 1956), 193-198; N. Levison, “Proselyte in Biblical and Early Post-Biblical Times,” Scottish Journal of Theology, X (Mar., 1957) 45-56; H. A. E. Sawyerr, “Was St. Paul a Jewish Missionary?” Church Quarterly Review, CLX (Oct.-Dec., 1959), 457-463; S. Zeitlin, “Who Is a Jew? A Halachic Historic Study,” JQR, XLIX (Apr., 1959), 241-270; J. Neusner, “Conversion of Adiabene to Judaism; a New Perspective,” JBL, LXXXIII (Mar., 1964), 60-66; Gerhard Friedrich, ed., TDNT, VI (1968), 727-744.
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