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Gentile Proselytes in the Second Temple Period

From Michael F. Bird:  “Gentiles for Moses”: The Debate about the Nature and Intensity of Jewish Proselytizing Efforts in Ancient Judaism:

Conversion to Judaism, in its various denominational expressions, are not unheard of these days, though they do seem somewhat rare as far I can tell. I haven’t done a sociological inventory of shifts in religious affiliations in any demographic, but I’ll wager you a piece of brisket that you won’t find many Jewish equivalents to the travelling Mormon missionaries or even a Jewish version of Billy Graham. Amidst the modern market place of religions that one can encounter with banners, pamphlets, DVDs, and speakers ready to entice inquiring minds, Judaism does not come across as an aggressive proselytizing religion these days. In an address at the Lambeth Conference in England in July, 2008, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks answered some questions and made reference to the spread of Christianity in contrast to Judaism. Sacks said: “We did not take it to the world [i.e., a message of God’s forgiveness]. We are few. You are many. You took it to the world. In fact, we are so few I have the numbers of Jews from all of the countries in the world. That is part of my job now and I travel to see them. We have 5 Jews in China. You can bet that they have 6 synagogues and someone is saying that the Jews are running the country.”

I wouldn’t bother Googling “Gentiles for Moses” or “Gentiles for YHWH” (actually I tried it and found nothing) because modern Judaism is for the most part not as missionary oriented as other contemporary religious movements. But was there ever a time when Judaism was a missionary religion? That leads to the topic of my discussion here.

It’s an interesting, brief essay that makes me want to think more deeply about the earliest Christian missionary movement(s), and especially the debate surrounding Gentile inclusion in the Jesus movement.



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