Proselytes in Second Temple Judaism (Acts 6)

Although Jews were a distinct minority within the Roman Empire, they nonetheless managed to attract a significant number of sympathizers and converts to their community. Gentiles could have varying levels of adherence to Judaism:

  • Benefactors, like the centurion in Luke 7:1-10, supported the Jewish community and presumably were sympathetic to Jewish beliefs.
  • “God-fearers” were affiliated with the synagogue and showed keen interest in Judaism (see e.g. Acts 10:2, 13:16, 17:4; there is also an important mention of God-fearers in an inscription from approximately A.D. 210 in Aphroisias in modern Turkey).
  • Full proselytes converted to Judaism and embraced all of its requirements. Josephus mentioned a certain Izates of the royal family of Adiabene, who embraced  Judaism and arranged to have himself circumcised in order to accept fully the Jewish way of life (Antiquities 20.2.3-4).

The number of Gentile converts to Judaism was not insignificant, but it is doubtful that there was a concentrated Jewish missionary movement among the Gentiles comparable to that in early Christianity. The majority of those who joined the Jewish community likely dis so as an outcome of personal or business relationships with Jews (most notably marriage), or from personal quest for truth.

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