God-fearers (Greek : φοβούμενοι τὸν Θεόν, phoboumenoi ton Theon) or God-worshippers (Greek : θεοσεβεῖς, Theosebeis) were a numerous class of Gentile sympathizers to Hellenistic Judaism that existed in the Greco-Roman world, which observed certain Jewish religious rites and traditions without becoming full converts to Judaism. The concept has precedents in the proselytes of the Hebrew Bible.
Over the last 50 years a growing number of scholars of Judaic studies and history of Judaism became interested in the subject of God-fearers and their relationship with Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity.[ citation needed ] According to the most common assumption, Jews that lived in the Greco-Roman world during the Hellenistic and Roman period were not involved in active missionary efforts of mass conversion among Pagans, although many historians disagree.
As Jews emigrated and settled in the Roman provinces of the Empire, Judaism became an appealing religion to a large number of Pagans, for many reasons;God-fearers and proselytes that underwent full conversion were Greeks or Romans, and came from all social classes: they were mostly women and freedmen (liberti), but there were also artisans, soldiers and few people of high status, like patricians and senators. Despite their allegiance to Judaism, the God-fearers were exempted from paying the "Jewish tax" (fiscus Judaicus).
The class of God-fearers existed between the 1stand the 3rd century CE. They are mentioned in Latin and Greek literature, Flavius Josephus' and Philo's historical works, rabbinic literature, early Christian writings, and other contemporary sources such as synagogue inscriptions from Diaspora communities (Palestine, Rome and Asia Minor).
In the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), there is some recognition of Gentile monotheistic worship as being directed toward the God of the Jews. This forms the category of yir’ei HaShem/yir’ei Shamayim (Hebrew : יראי השם, meaning "Fearers of the Name"/"Fearers of Heaven", "the Name" being a Jewish euphemism for Yahweh, cf. Psalm 115:11). This was developed by later rabbinic literature into the concept of Noahides, i. e. Gentiles that follow the Seven Laws of Noah, which rabbinic writings assigned to the Noahic Covenant.
The Greek and Latin terms that refer to God-fearers (theosebeis, sebomenoi, phoboumenoi, metuentes)are found in ancient literature (Greek, Roman, and Jewish) and synagogue inscriptions discovered in Aphrodisias, Panticapaeum, Tralles, Sardis, Venosa, Lorium (in Rome), Rhodes, Deliler (Philadelphia) and Miletus.
Judging from the distinctions in the Acts of the Apostles , it is thought that they did not become gerim tzedekim ,which required circumcision, although the evidence across the centuries varies widely and the meaning of the term may have included all kinds of sympathetic Gentiles, proselytes or not. There are also around 300 text references (4th century BCE to 3rd century CE) to a sect of Hypsistarians, some of whom practiced Sabbath and which many scholars see as sympathizers with Judaism related to God-fearers.
God-fearers is used of those Pagans who attached themselves in varying degrees to Judaism without becoming total converts, and are referred to in the Christian New Testament's Acts of the Apostles,which describes the Apostolic Age of the 1st century.
So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: "Men of Israel, and you that fear God (οἱ φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν), listen".— Acts 13:16
Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you that fear God (ἐν ὑμῖν φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν), to us has been sent the message of this salvation.— Acts 13:26 (RSV)
Judaising Gentiles and God-fearers are considered by modern scholars to be of significant importance to the growth of early Christianity;they represented a group of Gentiles who shared religious ideas and practices with Jews, to one degree or another. However, the God-fearers were only "partial" converts, engaged in certain Jewish rites and traditions without taking a step further to actual conversion to Judaism, which would have required full adherence to the 613 Mitzvot (including various prohibitions such as kashrut, circumcision, Shabbat observance etc.) that were generally unattractive to would-be Gentile (largely Greek) converts. The rite of circumcision was especially unappealing and execrable in Classical civilization because it was the custom to spend an hour a day or so exercising nude in the gymnasium and in Roman baths, therefore Jewish men did not want to be seen in public deprived of their foreskins. Hellenistic and Roman culture both found circumcision to be cruel and repulsive.
The Apostle Paul in his letters fiercely criticized the Judaizers that demanded circumcision for Gentile converts,and opposed them; he stressed instead that faith in Christ constituted a New Covenant with God, a covenant which essentially provides the justification and salvation for Gentiles from the harsh edicts of the Mosaic Law, a New Covenant that didn't require circumcision (see also Justification by faith, Pauline passages supporting antinomianism, Abrogation of Old Covenant laws). Lydia of Thyatira, who became Paul's first convert in Europe, is described as "a worshipper of God" (Acts 16:14); the Roman soldier Cornelius and the Ethiopian eunuch are also considered by modern scholars as God-fearers.
In Paul's message of salvation through faith in Christ as opposed to submission under the Mosaic Law, [ citation needed ] found an essentially Jewish group to which they could belong without the necessity of their accepting Jewish Law.[ citation needed ] Aside from earning Paul's group a wide following, this view was generalized in the eventual conclusion that converts to Christianity need not first accept all Jewish Law (see Apostolic Decree), a fact indispensable to the spread of the early Christians which would eventually lead to the distinction between Judaism and Christianity as two separate religions.many God-fearers
We know from Pagan, Christian and Jewish sources that during the Hellenistic and early Roman periods some Gentiles were so strongly attracted to Judaism that they became converts and undertook to observe Jewish laws and customs in the same manner as did the Jews themselves. [...] It is also commonly assumed that there were some Gentiles who did not go so far as to become converts but indicated their belief in monotheism and gave up the worship of Pagan gods. How far they went in openly dissociating themselves from Paganism and in associating themselves with Judaism we do not know. These Gentile sympathizers are commonly thought to be referred by the terms sebomenoi or phoboumenoi ton theon and metuentes in Greek and Latin sources, and yir᾿ê shamayim "fearers of Heaven" (i.e. God-fearers) in some early Rabbinic passages.
Many scholars see a parallel between the "God-fearers" in rabbinic literature and the "God-fearers" in the NT. In rabbinic literature the ger toshab was a Gentile who observed the Noachian commandments but was not considered a convert to Judaism because he did not agree to circumcision. [...] some scholars have made the mistake of calling the ger toshab a "proselyte" or "semiproselyte." But the ger toshab was really a resident alien in Israel. Some scholars have claimed that the term "those who fear God" (yir᾿ei Elohim/Shamayim) was used in rabbinic literature to denote Gentiles who were on the fringe of the synagogue. They were not converts to Judaism, although they were attracted to the Jewish religion and observed part of the law.
The people did not spread, but the Jewish religion spread. Judaism was a converting religion. Contrary to popular opinion, in early Judaism there was a great thirst to convert others. The Hasmoneans were the first to begin to produce large numbers of Jews through mass conversion, under the influence of Hellenism. The conversions between the Hasmonean Revolt and Bar Kochba's rebellion are what prepared the ground for the subsequent, wide-spread dissemination of Christianity. After the victory of Christianity in the fourth century, the momentum of conversion was stopped in the Christian world, and there was a steep drop in the number of Jews. Presumably many of the Jews who appeared around the Mediterranean became Christians. But then Judaism started to permeate other regions – pagan regions, for example, such as Yemen and North Africa. Had Judaism not continued to advance at that stage and had it not continued to convert people in the pagan world, we would have remained a completely marginal religion, if we survived at all.
"To judaize" was a quite familiar expression, in the sense "to live like a Jew", "to adopt a distinctively Jewish way of life"-with reference to Gentiles taking up Jewish customs like observance of the sabbath. [...] Judaism at that time was notably uninterested in evangelism, though open and accepting of Gentile God-fearers and proselytes.
In contradistinction to the ger toshab, the full proselyte was designated as "ger ha-ẓedeḳ," "ger ha-berit" (a sincere and righteous proselyte, one who has submitted to circumcision; see Mek., Mishpaṭim, 18; Gerim iii.). The common, technical term for "making a convert" in rabbinical literature is "ḳabbel" (to accept), or "ḳareb taḥat kanfe ha-Shekinah" (to bring one near, or under the wings of, the Shekinah). This phrase plainly presupposes an active propaganda for winning converts (comp. Cant. R. v. 16, where God is referred to as making propagandic efforts). In fact, that proselytes are welcome in Israel and are beloved of God is the theme of many a rabbinical homily (Ruth R. iii.; Tan., Wayiḳra [ed. Buber, 3]; see also Mek., Mishpaṭim, 18; Tosef., Demai, ii. 10; Bek. 32a).
Christianity is rooted in Second Temple Judaism, but the two religions diverged in the first centuries of the Christian Era. Christianity emphasizes correct belief, focusing on the New Covenant as mediated through Jesus Christ, as recorded in the New Testament. Judaism places emphasis on correct conduct, focusing on the Mosaic covenant, as recorded in the Torah and Talmud.
Messianic Judaism is a modern syncretic religious movement that combines Christianity—most importantly, the belief that Jesus is the Jewish messiah—with elements of Judaism and Jewish tradition. It emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.
Religious pluralism is a set of religious world views that hold that one's religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth, and thus recognizes that some level of truth and value exists in other religions. As such, religious pluralism goes beyond religious tolerance, which is the condition of peaceful existence between adherents of different religions or religious denominations.
Religious male circumcision, regarded by some as a form of male genital mutilation, generally occurs shortly after birth, during childhood or around puberty as part of a rite of passage. Circumcision is most prevalent in the religions of Judaism, Islam, the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Eritrean Orthodox Church.
Pauline Christianity or Pauline theology, c.q. Gentile Christianity, is the theology and Christianity which developed from the beliefs and doctrines espoused by the hellenistic-jewish Apostle Paul through his writings and those New Testament writings traditionally attributed to him. Paul's beliefs were rooted in the earliest Jewish Christianity, but deviated from this Jewish Christianity in their emphasis on inclusion of the gentiles into God's New Covenant, and his rejection of circumcision as an unnecessary token of upholding the Law.
Conversion to Judaism is the process by which non-Jews adopt the Jewish religion and become members of the Jewish ethnoreligious community. It thus resembles both conversion to other religions and naturalization. The procedure and requirements for conversion depend on the sponsoring denomination. A conversion in accordance with the process of a denomination is not a guarantee of recognition by another denomination. A formal conversion is also sometimes undertaken by individuals whose Jewish ancestry is questioned, even if they were raised Jewish, but may not actually be considered Jews according to traditional Jewish law.
The Council of Jerusalem or Apostolic Council was held in Jerusalem around AD 50. It is unique among the ancient pre-ecumenical councils in that it is considered by Catholics and Orthodox to be a prototype and forerunner of the later ecumenical councils and a key part of Christian ethics. The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the Law of Moses, including the rules concerning circumcision of males. The Council did, however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals that were strangled, and on fornication and idolatry, sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Decree or Jerusalem Quadrilateral.
Ger toshav is a term in Judaism for a Gentile (non-Jew) living in the Land of Israel who agrees to be bound by the Seven Laws of Noah, a set of imperatives which, according to the Talmud, were given by God as a binding set of laws for the "children of Noah" – that is, all of humanity. A ger toshav is therefore commonly deemed a "Righteous Gentile".
Jewish Christians were the followers of a Jewish religious sect that emerged in Judea during the late Second Temple period (first-century). Modern scholarship is engaged in an ongoing debate as to the proper designation for Jesus' first followers. Many see the term Jewish Christians as anachronistic given that there is no consensus on the date of the birth of Christianity. Some modern scholars have suggested the designations "Jewish believers in Jesus" or "Jewish followers of Jesus" as better reflecting the original context. The sect integrated the belief of Jesus as the prophesied Messiah and his teachings into the Jewish faith, including the observance of the Jewish law. Jewish Christianity is the foundation of Early Christianity, which later developed into Christianity. Christianity started with Jewish eschatological expectations, and it developed into the veneration of a deified Jesus after his earthly ministry, his crucifixion, and the post-crucifixion experiences of his followers.
Judaizers are Christians who teach it is necessary to adopt Jewish customs and practices, especially those found in the Law of Moses, to be saved. The term is derived from the Koine Greek word Ἰουδαΐζειν (Ioudaizein), used once in the Greek New Testament, when Paul publicly challenges Peter for compelling Gentile converts to Early Christianity to "judaize". This episode is known as the incident at Antioch.
The biblical term "proselyte" is an anglicization of the Koine Greek term προσήλυτος (proselytos), as used in the Septuagint for "stranger", i.e. a "newcomer to Israel"; a "sojourner in the land", and in the Greek New Testament for a first-century convert to Judaism, generally from Ancient Greek religion. It is a translation of the Biblical Hebrew phrase גר תושב.
Dual-covenant or two-covenant theology is a school of thought in Christianity regarding the relevance of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament.
Criticism of Judaism refers to criticism of Jewish religious doctrines, texts, laws, and practices. Early criticism originated in inter-faith polemics between Christianity and Judaism. Important disputations in the Middle Ages gave rise to widely publicized criticisms. Modern criticisms also reflect the inter-branch Jewish schisms between Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reform Judaism.
Hellenistic Judaism was a form of Judaism in classical antiquity that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture. Until the fall of the Western Roman Empire and the early Muslim conquests of the eastern Mediterranean, the main centers of Hellenistic Judaism were Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Syria, the two main Greek urban settlements of the Middle East and North Africa region, both founded at the end of the fourth century BCE in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Hellenistic Judaism also existed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, where there was conflict between Hellenizers and traditionalists.
Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity is a description of anti-Judaic sentiment in the first three centuries of Christianity; the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd centuries. Early Christianity is sometimes considered as Christianity before 325 when the First Council of Nicaea was convoked by Constantine the Great, although it is not unusual to consider 4th and 5th century Christianity as members of this category as well.
The Mosaic covenant or Law of Moses – which Christians generally call the "Old Covenant" – has played an important role in the origins of Christianity and has occasioned serious dispute and controversy since the beginnings of Christianity: note for example Jesus' teaching of the Law during his Sermon on the Mount and the circumcision controversy in early Christianity.
The Council of Jerusalem during the Apostolic Age of the history of Christianity did not include religious male circumcision as a requirement for new gentile converts. This became known as the "Apostolic Decree" and may be one of the first acts differentiating early Christianity from Judaism. Circumcision was enjoined upon the biblical patriarch Abraham, his descendants and their slaves as "a token of the covenant" concluded with him by God for all generations, as an "everlasting covenant".
The incident at Antioch was an Apostolic Age dispute between the apostles Paul and Peter which occurred in the city of Antioch around the middle of the first century. The primary source for the incident is Paul's Epistle to the Galatians 2:11–14. Since Ferdinand Christian Baur, biblical scholars have found evidence of conflict among the leaders of early Christianity; for example James D. G. Dunn proposes that Peter was a "bridge-man" between the opposing views of Paul and James the brother of Jesus. The final outcome of the incident remains uncertain, resulting in several Christian views on the Old Covenant.
Paul the Apostle has been placed within Second Temple Judaism by recent scholarship since the 1970s. A main point of departure with older scholarship is the understanding of Second Temple Judaism, the covenant with God and the role of works, as a means to either gain, or to keep the covenant.
Christianity in the 1st century covers the formative history of Christianity, from the start of the ministry of Jesus to the death of the last of the Twelve Apostles.