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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. Meaning of the term.-The word προσήλυτος is not found in classical Greek. It is still an open question whether those who formed the word from προσέρχομαι thought of the verb in its primary sense of ‘advenio,’ or in its religious sense of ‘(deum) adeo’ (cf.  Hebrews 7:25, τοὺς προσερχομένους διʼ αὐτοῦ τῷ Θεῷ). In the former case, προσήλυτος originally meant advena, ‘new-comer’ (for which the classical equivalent is ἔπηλυς); in the latter, it meant ‘proselyte’ in the sense of ‘one who comes or draws near to God.’ In his exhaustive study of προσήλυτος in the LXX_ (Exp_, 4th ser., x. 264 ff.), W. C. Allen argues from the fact that the word is correctly used in a majority of cases for the ðÌÅø to whom certain rights were conceded in Israel (Oxf. Heb. Lex., s.v. ðÌÅø 2 [p. 158a]), that its meaning was from the first that of ‘proselyte’-the meaning of ‘stranger’ being secondary, and arising from the proselyte’s having his home ‘in a strange land’ (like the Israelites themselves in Egypt: hence they are called προσήλυτοι,  Exodus 22:21;  Exodus 23:9,  Leviticus 19:34,  Deuteronomy 10:19): The statement of Philo (de Monarch. 1. 7, τούτους δὲ καλεῖ προσηλύτους ἀπὸ τοῦ προσεληλυθέναι καινῇ καὶ φιλοθέῳ πολιτείᾳ), and also the words of Josephus (Ant. XVIII. iii. 5, νομίμοις προσεληλυθυῖα τοῖς Ἰουδαικοῖς), are in favour of this view. What prevents us, however, from giving it our full adhesion is that the LXX_ does not use προσήλυτος in all the passages where ðÌÅø seems to mean or to approximate in meaning to ‘proselyte,’ but has sometimes πάροικος. This, of course, may be due to different hands having been employed in the work of translation. Valuable for guidance is W. R. Smith’s note (OTJC_2, p. 342): ‘In the Levitical legislation the word Gêr is already on the way to assume the later technical sense of proselyte’ (cf. Driver, ICC_, ‘Deuteronomy,’ p. 165).

The distinction drawn between ‘the proselyte of the gate’ , who accepted the ‘Seven Noachian Laws’ (ERE_ iv. 245a), and ‘the proselyte of righteousness’, who by complete adoption of Israel’s laws became incorporated with the covenant people (HDB_ ii. 157a), belongs to Rabbinical Judaism (ERE_ vii. 592b), and is not found in Scripture. It had its precedents, however, in the differences of religious standing observable among the in Israel; while the σεβόμενοι τὸν θεόν mentioned by Josephus (Ant. XIV. vii. 2), and frequently in Acts, may roughly represent the ‘proselytes of the gate’ of the Gemârâ. It has been suggested that the of  Psalms 22:23;  Psalms 115:11;  Psalms 115:13;  Psalms 118:4;  Psalms 135:20 are identical with the φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν of  Acts 13:16;  Acts 13:26, but A. B. Davidson has shown that the general usage of the OT is against the identification (ExpT_ iii. 491). While Bertholet and others maintain that προσήλυτοι, οἱ φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν and οἱ σεβόμενοι τὸν θεόν are synonymous (EBi_ iii. 3904), the view of Schürer (Hjp_ Ii ii. 314 ff.) that the first term means proselytes in the technical sense, and the other two those who, without having submitted to the rite of circumcision, joined in Jewish worship, has gained a wider acceptance. The adherence of Gentiles to Judaism in the centuries immediately preceding and following the fall of Jerusalem ‘ranged over the entire gamut of possible degrees,’ depending upon ‘the different degrees in which the ceremonial precepts of the Law were observed’ (Harnack, The Mission and Expansion of Christianity2, i. 12, 10). The following passage from Theodore Reinach well illustrates this:

‘Judaism possessed the prudence and tact not to exact from its adepts [converts] at the outset full and complete adoption of the Jewish Law. The neophyte was at first simply a “friend” to the Jewish customs, observing the least enthralling ones-the Sabbath and the lighting of a fire on the previous evening; certain fast-days; abstention from pork. His sons frequented the synagogues and deserted the temples, studied the Law, and contributed their oboli to the treasury of Jerusalem [cf.  Nehemiah 10:32 f., ERE_ vii. 592a]. By degrees habit accomplished the rest. At last the proselyte took the decisive step: he received the rite of circumcision, took the hath of purity …, and offered, doubtless in money, the sacrifice which signalized his definitive entrance into the bosom of Israel. Occasionally, in order to accentuate his conversion, he even adopted a Hebraic name.… In the third generation, according to  Deuteronomy 23:8, there existed no distinction between the Jew by race and the Jew by adoption’ (JE_ iv. 570).

‘The bath of purity’ here spoken of refers to the baptism of proselytes. This is described by W. Brandt (ERE_ ii. 408) as ‘a practice of ceremonial ablution altogether new,’ which ‘we may safely assume … was not of later origin than Christian baptism.’ It is not mentioned in the OT, and the traces of it found by Talmudic scholars in  Genesis 35:2,  Exodus 19:10 are quite imaginary. It is referred to by Epictetus (who taught till a.d. 94) in his conversations as a matter of common knowledge: ‘When a man,’ he says, ‘takes upon himself the arduous life of the baptized and the elect (τοῦ βεβαμμένου καὶ ᾑρημένου), then he is really what he calls himself, a Jew’ (Arrian, Diss. Epicteti, ii. 9). The Babylonian Talmud reports that about the end of the 1st cent. two famous Rabbis disputed with one another as to its necessity, which shows that at that period it was not universally regarded as indispensable. It was designated in later times ‘the immersion of proselytism,’ and the manner of its administration was as follows: ‘The individual who desired to become a Jew was conducted to the bath, and there immersed himself in the presence of the Rabbis, who recited to him portions of the Law’ (cf. Plummer, art._ ‘Baptism,’ HDB_ i. 239 f. for other references).

2. NT passages referring to proselytes.-(1)  Matthew 23:15. Grätz’s conjecture that this verse refers to an actual incident, the voyage of R. Gamaliel, R. Eliezer, R. Joshua, and R. Akiba to Rome, where they converted Flavius Clemens, the cousin of Domitian (cf. ERE_ vii. 592b), would imply that the saying is not justly attributed to our Lord. It is probable, as Adolf Jellinek, the famous Austrian Rabbi and scholar (1821-1893), suggested, that what is here condemned is the Pharisees’ practice of winning over every year at least one proselyte each (E. G. Hirsch, JE_ x. 221). (2) There were proselytes among the multitude who witnessed the miracle of Pentecost ( Acts 2:10), some of whom may have been added to the Church; the selection of ‘Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch’ ( Acts 6:5) as one of the seven deacons indicates that there was a certain proportion of men of his class in the primitive Christian community. (3) In  Acts 13:43 τῶν σεβομένων προσηλύτων is perhaps a conflate reading (EBi_ iii. 3902), but the phrase appears to be a popular designation of ‘God-fearing proselytes’-the same whom St. Paul twice appeals to ( Acts 13:16;  Acts 13:26) as οἱ φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν. (4)  Acts 8:27. The chamberlain of Candace is included by Reinach among the ‘distinguished recruits’ of the Jewish faith (JE_ iv. 570b). (5) Cornelius was one of the φοβούμενοι τὸν θεόν ( Acts 10:2;  Acts 10:22;  Acts 10:35); note that in v. 35 St. Peter’s words have not the breadth often assigned to them-he only goes the length of recognizing the manifest signs of God’s acceptance of a Gentile who ‘feareth him, and worketh righteousness.’ (6) Lydia ( Acts 16:14), Titus Justus ( Acts 18:7), and the σεβόμενοι of Thessalonica and Athens ( Acts 17:4;  Acts 17:17) illustrate the important aid that members of this class gave to St. Paul in his travels. He did not, however, always find the σεβόμεναι γυναῖκες favourable to the gospel ( Acts 13:50). It was partly owing to the fact of the Christian faith having found so many adherents among the σεβόμενοι τὸν θεόν that the class of ‘half-proselytes’ or ‘half-converts’ came to be regarded by Rabbinical teachers with doubtful approval.

3. Outline of the history of proselytism.-Conversions to Judaism went on unimpeded in NT times, both before and after the Jewish war (Parting of the Roads, pp. 285, 305). The chief source of our information on this point is Josephus, whose historical accuracy is now generally admitted (HDB_ v. 466). Some of the proselytes whom he mentions by name were acquisitions of very doubtful value, as the kings Azizus of Emesa and Polemo of Cilicia, who were prompted to embrace Judaism by the desire to contract advantageous marriages with Herodian princesses (Ant. xx. vii. 1, 3), and the Empress Poppaea, whom he calls θεοσεβής (ib. XX. viii. 11). On the other hand, the conversions of Helena, queen of Adiabene, and her son, Izates, seem to have been due to sincere conviction, and the chapters in which the historian records their life and virtuous deeds are some of the most attractive of his great work (ib. XX. ii-iv).

The bitterness engendered by the persecution which followed the failure of the rising against Hadrian (a.d. 132-135), and the growth of the Christian Church, were joint causes which led the Rabbis to make conversion to Judaism more difficult. ‘Qualified conversions to Judaism’ were ‘regarded with increasing disfavor,’ R. Joḥanan declaring ‘that if after a probation of twelve months the ger toshab did not submit to the rite of circumcision, he was to be regarded as a heathen’ (E. G. Hirsch, JE_ x. 222a). But the ðÌÅø öÆåÆ-he who, in St. Paul’s words, ‘by receiving circumcision, became a debtor to do the whole law’ ( Galatians 5:3)-was always admitted with fervour. ‘That proselytes are welcome in Israel and are beloved of God is the theme of many a rabbinical homily’ (Hirsch, loc. cit.).

It should be mentioned that in two passages of the LXX_ where a proselyte proper is meant ( Exodus 12:19,  Isaiah 14:1) ðÌÅø is rendered, not by προσήλυτος but by γειώρας, an Aramaic word derived from ðÌÅø (HDB_ iv. 133a; Exp_, 4th ser., x. 269; cf. HDB_ ii. 157a).

Literature.-W. C. Allen, ‘On the meaning of προσήλυτος in the Septuagint,’ in Exp_, 4th ser., x. [1894] 264 ff.; Arrian, Dissertationes Epicteti, ii. 9; Oxf. Heb. Lex., s.v. ðÌÅø, p. 158; A. B. Davidson, ‘They that fear the Lord,’ in ExpT_ iii. [1891-92] 491; HDB_ v. 466; S. R. Driver, ICC_, ‘Deuteronomy’2, Edinburgh, 1896, p. 165; W. Brandt, art._ ‘Baptism (Jewish),’ in ERE_ ii. 408; H. Hirschfeld, art._ ‘Creeds (Jewish),’ ib. iv. 245; H. Lcewe, art._ ‘Judaism,’ ib. vii. 592; H. Grätz, Die jüdischen Proselyten im Römerreiche, Breslau, 1884, p. 30; A. Harnack, Mission and Expansion of Christianity2, London, 1908, pp. 10, 12; T. Reinach, art._ ‘Diaspora,’ in JE_ iv. 570; E. G. Hirsch, art._ ‘Proselyte,’ ib. x. 221, 222; A. Jellinek, Beth-ha-Midrasch, Vienna, 1853-78, pt. v. p. xlvi; A. Plummer, art._ ‘Baptism,’ in HDB_ i. 239, 240; F. C. Porter, art._ ‘Proselyte,’ ib. iv. 132 f.; W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, London, 1895, p. 43; E. Schürer, Hjp_ Ii ii. [Edinburgh, 1885] 311 f., 315; J. A. Selbie, art._ ‘Ger,’ in HDB_ ii. 157a; W. R. Smith, OTJC_2, London, 1892, p. 342; W. R. Smith and W. H. Bennett, art._ ‘Proselyte,’ in EBi_ iii. 3902, 3904; The Parting of the Roads, ed. F. J. Foakes Jackson, London, 1912, pp. 286, 305.

James Donald.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [2]


1. The character and the history of the proselyte . The character and the history of the proselyte are somewhat obscured by the fact that the name ‘proselyte’ occurs only in the NT, and there in the final meaning of a convert to Judaism, as if he were a product of NT times alone. But the same Greek word that stands for ‘proselyte’ In the NT is very largely used in the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] , where EV [Note: English Version.] has ‘ stranger .’ Even the Hebrews themselves are described by the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] as ‘proselytes’ in Egypt (  Exodus 22:21;   Exodus 23:9 ,   Leviticus 19:34 ,   Deuteronomy 10:19 ). The ‘ stranger ’ of the OT becomes the ‘proselyte’ of the NT. For the history that lies behind the use of the word see art. Stranger. By the 4th cent. b.c. the ‘stranger’ had become a member of the Jewish Church a proselyte in the technical sense (Bertholet, Stellung der Israeliten , p. 178).

Other expressions are used in the NT to indicate a more or less close sympathy with Jewish religious thought and life without implying absolute identity with and inclusion in Judaism. These are ‘fearers of God ’ ( phoboumenoi ton Theon ,   Acts 10:2;   Acts 10:22;   Acts 13:16;   Acts 13:26;   Acts 13:50 etc.), and ‘worshippers of God’ ( sebomenoi ton Theon ,   Acts 16:14;   Acts 17:4;   Acts 17:17 etc.). They were such as were drawn from heathenism by the higher ideals and purer life of Judaism. They were dissatisfied with the religious teaching of their nation, and found in Judaism an Intellectual home and a religious power they sought in vain elsewhere. But a study of   Acts 10:11 , esp.   Acts 11:3 , shows that these were not proselytes; they refused to take the final step that carried them into Judaism viz. circumcision ( EGT [Note: Expositor’s Greek Testament.] vol. ii. p. 250 f.; Ramsay, Expositor , 1896, p. 200; Harnack, Expansion of Christianity , i. p. 11). They lived on the fringe of Judaism, and were, it seems (  Luke 7:5 ,   Acts 10:2 ), often generous henefactors to the cause that had lifted them nearer to God and truth.

2. Proselytizing activity of the Jews . Up to the time of the Exile and for some time after, the attitude of the Hebrews towards ‘strangers’ was passive: they did not invite their presence into their community, and did not encourage them to be sharers of their faith. But before the 3rd cent. b.c. a change of outlook and national purpose had taken place, which had converted them into active propagandists. There appear to have been three reasons for this change. (1) The Hebrews were no longer concentrated in one narrow land where a homogeneous life was followed, but were scattered over all parts of the civilized world, and found themselves in contact with peoples who were religiously far inferior to themselves, however otherwise they might be placed, and who excited, it may be, their disdain, but also their pity. (2) Many of those in the Gentile world who were dissatisfied with the intellectual results and the religious conditions of their time saw in Judaism, as lived and taught before their eyes, something finer and nobler than they had found elsewhere; and were drawn to its practical teaching and life without committing themselves to the ritual that offended their sense of fitness and decency (cf. Harnack, op. cit. i. 10 f.). (3) The Hebrews themselves seem to have responded to their opportunity with a quickened enthusiasm for humanity and a higher ideal of their national existence, in the providence of God, among the nations of the earth. It does not appear that the Hebrews have ever been so powerfully moved towards the peoples lying in darkness as in this time subsequent to the Exile (Harnack, op. cit. i. 11, 12). They were convinced of the claim of God to the homage of men everywhere, the universalism of their revelation of truth and duty, and their own fitness to bring the world to God. The needs of the world moved them powerfully, and the thoughts that found expression in such passages as   Psalms 33:8 (‘Let all the earth fear the Lord, let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him’)   Psalms 36:7-9 ,   Psalms 64:10 ,   Psalms 65:8 etc., filled them with a burning zeal to make the world their offering to God. (Bertholet, op. cit. p. 191 f.). Perhaps we may not be wrong in regarding the Septuagint as a product of, as it certainly was an aid to, this missionary effort.

This spiritual enthusiasm for God’s honour and man’s salvation continued till about the time of the Maccabees, when the tenderer springs of the Jewish spirit were dried up, and the sword became the instrument of national idealism, and whole cities and tribes were given the option of circumcision or exile, if not slaughter ( 1Ma 2:46; 1Ma 13:48; 1Ma 14:14; 1Ma 14:36; Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Ant. XIII. ix. 1, xi. 3, xv. 4). Of course, this was a means that was not available outside their hereditary home. This propaganda went on till the 1st cent. of our era, when the dissatisfaction of the Jews with the Roman supremacy culminated in insurrection. In their conflict with Rome their numbers were greatly reduced by slaughter, and their power of religious expansion was checked by the decree of Hadrian, modified later by Antoninus, in forbidding circumcision. By this time, however, Judaism had won a large following in every town of size and importance (cf.   Acts 2:9-11; Jos. [Note: Josephus.] BJ VII. iii. 3, c. Apion . ii. 11, 40; Seneca, ap . August, de Civitate Dei , vi. 11; cf. ‘victi victorious leges dederunt’; Harnack, op. cit . i. 14; Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] ii. ii. 304 ff.). But now bloodshed and persecution produced the twofold result of closing and steeling the heart of Judaism to the outside world, so that proselytes were no longer sought by the Jews, and the tenets and the practices of Judaism became crystallized and less amenable to Hellenistic influences, and so less fitted to win the Gentile spirit.

3. Admission of the proselyte . The ritual conditions imposed on the proselyte on entering Judaism were three: (1) circumcision, (2) cleansing or baptism, (3) sacrifice. Baptism took place after the healing of the wound caused by circumcision. Some have sought to discover in it an imitation of Christian ritual. But there is no foundation for such a claim. Cleansing or baptism lay in the very nature of Judaism, the heathen was unclean and so had to be cleansed by washing in water before admission into Judaism. Sacrifice was both an expression of thanksgiving and an individual participation in Jewish worship. With the fall of the Temple sacrifice lapsed, though at first it was made a burden on the proselyte to lay aside enough to pay for the sacrifice, should the Temple again be restored; but even this demand was in course of time allowed to lapse, as the prospect of restoration vanished. These three conditions seem of early origin, though we may not have specific reference to them till the 2nd cent. a.d.

Among individual Jewish teachers there was difference of opinion as to the necessity of circumcision and baptism, but all early usage seems to confirm their actual observance. It is true that Izates, king of Adiahene, for a time refrained from circumcision under the guidance of his first Jewish teacher, Ananias, but this counsel was given, not because it was at the time deemed unnecessary for a proselyte to be circumcised, but because circumcision might alienate the sympathies of his people from Izates and endanger his throne. And Ananias wisely laid greater stress upon the moral than upon the ritual side of conversion. All through the Dispersion we find the same disposition to conciliate the Gentiles who were willing to share in the Jewish faith in any measure, by relaxing the ritual demands. And we cannot withhold our appreciation of the action of the Jews, for they wisely discriminated between the real and the formal side of their religion. They never did anything, however, to lower or compromise the moral demands of their faith. They rigorously insisted on the recognition of God from all their proselytes with all His claims upon their service (Harnack, op. cit. i. 72). It does not appear that conversion enhanced the reputation of the proselytes; for although they could not but win the esteem of the finer minds of their nation by their higher moral life, yet they seemed to the people to display a type of daily life lacking in domestic reverence and civic and national patriotism (Tac. Hist . v. 5. 8; Juv. Sat . xiv. 103 4).

4. Place of the proselyte in the growth of the Christian Church . Those proselytes who had embraced Judaism in its entirety seem to have accepted the attitude of the Jews generally towards Christianity. Most of them would oppose it, and those who accepted it would make the Law the necessary avenue to it, and so they acted rather as a hindrance than as a help to the progress of the gospel. If the experience of Justin be any indication of the general attitude of the proselytes to the Church, they must have deemed it a duty to their adopted faith to manifest a violence of speech and an aggressiveness of action unsurpassed by the Jews themselves; for he says, ‘the proselytes not only do not believe, but twofold more than yourselves blaspheme His name, and wish to torture and put to death us who believe in Him’ ( Dial . 122).

But the proselytes must always have formed a very small minority of those amongst the Gentiles who had lent an ear to Jewish teaching. There were many who were attracted to the synagogue by the helpfulness of its worship and the purity of its teaching, who had no sympathy with its ritual. Amongst these the gospel had a different reception; it was readily accepted and eagerly followed. They found in it all that drew them to the synagogue, and a great deal more. With historical Judaism they had nothing to do, and loyalty and nationality did not appeal to them as motives to maintain it against Christianity. Amongst the Jews both the proselyte and the devout worshipper occupied an inferior place, but here was a faith that made no distinction between Jew or Gentile, a faith whose conception of God was tenderer and whose ethical standards were higher, that made love and not law the interpreter of duty and the inspiration of service, that lived not in an evening twilight of anticipation of a glorious Messianic morning, but in warm fellowship with a Personality that was the evidence of its power and truth. It is easy to understand how quickly the gospel would be adopted by these adherents of Judaism. Every synagogue would become the seed-plot of a Christian church. And so it was specially to these that St. Paul addressed himself on his missionary journeys, and from them he formed the beginnings of many of his churches and received so much kindness ( Acts 13:16;   Acts 13:42;   Acts 16:14;   Acts 16:16 etc.). One can easily understand with what feelings of combined jealousy and hate the Jews would see these worshippers detached from the synagogue and formed into a church. But Judaism had nothing to offer the Gentile that was not better provided by the Christian Church, and so it recoiled from the attack on Christianity like the spent waves from the rock-bound coast, angry but baffled. Failure drove the Jews in sullenness upon themselves. They left the field to Christianity, restricted their vision to their own people, and left the outer world alone.

J. Gilroy.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [3]

Προσηλυτος , signifies a stranger, a foreigner; the Hebrew word גר , or גכר , also denotes a stranger, one who comes from abroad, or from another place. In the language of the Jews, those were called by this name who came to dwell in their country, or who embraced their religion, being not Jews by birth. In the New Testament they are called sometimes proselytes, and sometimes Gentiles, fearing God,  Acts 2:5;  Acts 10:2;  Acts 10:22;  Acts 13:16;  Acts 13:50 . The Jews distinguish two kinds of proselytes. The first, proselytes of the gate; the others, proselytes of justice or righteousness. The first dwelt in the land of Israel, or even out of that country, and, without obliging themselves to circumcision, or to any other ceremony of the law, feared and worshipped the true God, observing the rules imposed on Noah. These were, according to the rabbins,

1. To abstain from idolatry;

2. From blasphemy;

3. From murder;

4. From adultery;

5. From theft;

6. To appoint just and upright judges;

7. Not to eat the flesh of any animal cut off while it was alive.

Maimonides says, that the first six of these precepts were given to Adam, and the seventh to Noah. The privileges of proselytes of the gate were, first, that through holiness they might have hope of eternal life. Secondly, they could dwell in the land of Israel, and share in the outward prosperities of it. It is said they did not dwell in the cities, but only in the suburbs and the villages; but it is certain that the Jews often admitted into their cities, not only proselytes of habitation, but also Gentiles and idolaters, as appears by the reproaches on this account, throughout the Scriptures.

Proselytes of justice or of righteousness were those converted to Judaism, who had engaged themselves to receive circumcision, and to observe the whole law of Moses. Thus were they admitted to all the prerogatives of the people of the Lord. The rabbins inform us that, before circumcision was administered to them, and before they were admitted into the religion of the Hebrews, they were examined about the motives of their conversion; whether the change was voluntary, or whether it proceeded from interest, fear, ambition, &c. When the proselyte was well proved and instructed, they gave him circumcision; and when the wound of his circumcision healed, they gave him baptism, by plunging his whole body into a cistern of water, by only one immersion. Boys under twelve years of age, and girls under thirteen, could not become proselytes till they had obtained the consent of their parents, or, in case of refusal, the concurrence of the officers of justice. Baptism in respect of girls had the same effect as circumcision in respect of boys. Each of them, by means of this, received, as it were, a new birth, so that those who were their parents before were no longer regarded as such after this ceremony, and those who before were slaves now became free.

Many, however, are of opinion that there appears to be no ground whatever in Scripture for this distinction of proselytes of the gate, and proselytes of righteousness. "According to my idea," says Dr. Tomline, "proselytes were those, and those only, who took upon themselves the obligation of the whole Mosaic law, but retained that name till they were admitted into the congregation of the Lord as adopted children. Gentiles were allowed to worship and offer sacrifices to the God of Israel in the outer court of the temple; and some of them, persuaded of the sole and universal sovereignty of the Lord Jehovah, might renounce idolatry without embracing the Mosaic law; but such persons appear to me never to be called proselytes in Scripture, or in any ancient Christian writer." He also observes that "the term proselytes of the gate is derived from an expression frequent in the Old Testament; namely, ‘the stranger that is within thy gates;' but I think it evident that the strangers were those Gentiles who were permitted to live among the Jews under certain restrictions, and whom the Jews were forbidden ‘to vex or oppress,' so long as they live in a peaceable manner." Dr. Lardner says, "I do not believe that the notion of two sorts of Jewish proselytes can be found in any Christian writer before the fourteenth century or later." Dr. Jennings also observes that "there does not appear to be sufficient evidence in the Scripture history of the existence of such proselytes of the gate, as the rabbins mention; nor, indeed, of any who with propriety can be styled proselytes, except such as fully embraced the Jewish religion."

Smith's Bible Dictionary [4]

Proselyte. (A Stranger, A New Comer). The name given, by the Jews, to foreigners who adopted the Jewish religion. The dispersion of the Jews in foreign countries, which has been spoken of elsewhere, See Dispersion of The Jews, The , enabled them to make many converts to their faith. The converts who were thus attracted joined, with varying strictness, in the worship of the Jews. In Palestine itself, even Roman centurions learned to love the conquered nation, and built synagogues for them,  Luke 7:5, fasted and prayed, and gave alms after the pattern of the strictest Jews,  Acts 10:2;  Acts 10:30, and became preachers of the new faith to the soldiers under them.  Acts 10:7.

Such men, drawn by what was best in Judaism, were, naturally, among the readiest receivers of the new truth which rose out of it, and became, in many cases, the nucleus of a Gentile Church. Proselytism had, however, its darker side. The Jews of Palestine were eager to spread their faith, by the same weapons as those with which they had defended it.

The Idumaeans had the alternative offered them by John Hyrcanus of death, exile or circumcision. The Idumeans were converted in the same way, by Aristobulus. Where force was not in their power, they obtained their ends, by the most unscrupulous fraud. Those who were most active in proselytizing were precisely those from whose teaching all that was most true and living had departed.

The vices of the Jew were engrafted on the vices of the heathen. A repulsive casuistry released the convert from obligations, which he had before recognized, while, in other things, he was bound hand and foot to an unhealthy superstition. It was no wonder that he became, "twofold more the child of hell,"  Matthew 23:15, than the Pharisees themselves. We find, in the Talmud, a distinction between proselytes of the gate, and proselytes of righteousness.

The term, "proselytes of the gate", was derived from the frequently occurring description in the law of the stranger that is within,  Exodus 20:10; etc. "Converts of thy gates"; this class were not bound by circumcision, and the other special laws of the Mosaic code. It is doubtful, however, whether the distinction made in the Talmud ever really existed.

The "proselytes of righteousness", known also as "proselytes of the covenant", were perfect Israelites. We learn from the Talmud that, in addition to circumcision, baptism was also required to complete their admission to the faith. The proselyte was placed in a tank or pool up to his neck in water. His teachers, who now acted as his sponsors, repeated the great commandments of the law. The baptism was followed as long as the Temple stood, by the offering of corban .

Easton's Bible Dictionary [5]

 1 Chronicles 22:2 Exodus 12:48 20:10 22:21 Isaiah 56:3 Nehemiah 10:28 Esther 8:17 Exodus 20:10 23:12 12:19,48 Deuteronomy 5:14 16:11,14

In the time of Solomon there were one hundred and fifty-three thousand six hundred strangers in the land of Israel ( 1 Chronicles 22:2;  2 Chronicles 2:17,18 ). And the prophets speak of the time as coming when the strangers shall share in all the privileges of Israel ( Ezekiel 47:22;  Isaiah 2:2;  11:10;  56:3-6;  Micah 4:1 ). Accordingly, in New Testament times, we read of proselytes in the synagogues, ( Acts 10:2,7;  13:42,43,50;  17:4;  18:7;  Luke 7:5 ). The "religious proselytes" here spoken of were proselytes of righteousness, as distinguished from proselytes of the gate.

The distinction between "proselytes of the gate" ( Exodus 20:10 ) and "proselytes of righteousness" originated only with the rabbis. According to them, the "proselytes of the gate" (half proselytes) were not required to be circumcised nor to comply with the Mosaic ceremonial law. They were bound only to conform to the so-called seven precepts of Noah, viz., to abstain from idolatry, blasphemy, bloodshed, uncleaness, the eating of blood, theft, and to yield obedience to the authorities. Besides these laws, however, they were required to abstain from work on the Sabbath, and to refrain from the use of leavened bread during the time of the Passover.

The "proselytes of righteousness", religious or devout proselytes ( Acts 13:43 ), were bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Jewish economy, and were members of the synagogue in full communion.

The name "proselyte" occurs in the New Testament only in  Matthew 23:15;  Acts 2:10;  6:5;  13:43 . The name by which they are commonly designated is that of "devout men," or men "fearing God" or "worshipping God."

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [6]

In the Jewish sense, a foreigner who adopted the Jewish religion, a convert from heathenism to Judaism. The laws of the Hebrews make frequent mention of "the stranger that is within thy gates,"  Leviticus 17:8-16   24:16   Numbers 15:14-16 , and welcomed him to all the privileges of the people of God. Our Savior rebukes the blind zeal of the Pharisees to make proselytes to ceremonial Judaism, without caring for the circumcision of the heart,  Matthew 23:15   Romans 2:28,29 .

According to the later rabbins, there were two species of proselytes among the Jews. The first were called "proselytes of the gate," and were foreigners, either bond or free, who lived among the Jews and conformed to their customs in regard to what the rabbins call "the seven precepts of Noah;" that is, they abstained from injurious language in respect to God, from idolatry, homicide, incest, robbery, resistance to magistrates, and from eating blood, or the flesh of animals killed without shedding their blood. The other class were called "proselytes of justice;" that is, complete, perfect proselytes, and were those who had abandoned their former religion, and bound themselves to the observance of the Mosaic Law in its full extent.

These according to the rabbins, by means of circumcision, baptism, and an offering, obtained all the rites of Jewish citizenship,  Exodus 12:48-49 . This distinction, however, is not observable in the Bible. Proselytes were numerous in our Savior's day, and were found in many places remote from Jerusalem,  Acts 2:10   8:27 . Many converts to Christianity were gathered from among them,  John 12:20   Acts 6:5   13:43   17:4 .

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

The name given to any from among the nations who embraced Judaism.  Acts 2:10;  Acts 6:5;  Acts 13:43 . The name may be said to be a Greek word, derived from 'to come to.' It is used by the LXX where the Hebrew has 'the stranger' that sojourneth among you.  Exodus 12:48,49;  Leviticus 17:8,10,12-15;  Numbers 9:14; etc. Such, if all the males in the family were circumcised, might eat the Passover and offer a burnt offering or sacrifice. The Rabbis say that there were two classes of proselytes.

1. 'Proselytes of righteousness,' such as those mentioned above; and

2. 'Proselytes of the Gate,' those spoken of as 'strangers within thy gates.'

The Rabbis also assert that in N.T. times and later the proselytes were received by circumcision and baptism; but it is very much disputed as to when the baptism was added, there being no mention of it in the O.T. Some hold that it was introduced when the emperors forbade their Gentile subjects to be circumcised, but others think it must have been earlier, which seems confirmed by  John 1:25 .

History shows to what an extent proselytising was abused. The Jews held that on a Gentile becoming a proselyte, all his natural relationships were annulled: he was 'a new creature.' Many became proselytes in order to abandon their wives and marry again. This, with other abuses, caused the emperors to interfere; the stricter Jews also were scandalized, and repudiated such proselytes. The Lord describes such a proselyte as the Scribes and Pharisees would make, as "twofold more the child of hell" than themselves.  Matthew 23:15 .

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [8]

1: Προσήλυτος (Strong'S #4339 — Adjective — proselutos — pros-ah'-loo-tos )

akin to proserchomai, "to come to," primarily signifies "one who has arrived, a stranger;" in the NT it is used of converts to Judaism, or foreign converts to the Jewish religion,  Matthew 23:15;  Acts 2:10;  6:5;  13:43 . There seems to be no connection necessarily with Palestine, for in  Acts 2:10;  13:43 it is used of those who lived abroad. Cp. the Sept., e.g., in   Exodus 22:21;  23:9;  Deuteronomy 10:19 , of the "stranger" living among the children of Israel.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [9]

Proselyte, A Stranger, Sojourner. In the later Jewish sense this term designates a convert from Paganism to Judaism.  Matthew 23:15;  Acts 2:11;  Acts 6:5;  Acts 13:43. The Rabbins distinguish two kinds of proselytes. 1. Perfect proselytes, who, submitting to circumcision, embraced the Jewish religion in its full extent, and enjoyed all the rights and privileges of Jewish citizenship.  Exodus 12:48;  Exodus 20:10; Josephus Ant. xx. 2. 4. 2. Proselytes of the gate, I.E., foreigners, dwelling among the Jews, who, without being circumcised, conformed to certain Jewish laws and customs. Proselytes were found in great numbers, not only in Judea, but in all the principal cities of the empire.  Acts 13:43;  Acts 16:14;  Acts 17:4;  Acts 17:17;  Acts 18:7.

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [10]

Throughout the cities of the Roman Empire there were communities of Jews who kept the traditions of their ancestors and attended synagogues regularly. These were known as Jews of the Dispersion, or the scattered Jews (see Dispersion ).

Many Gentiles in these cities, being attracted to the Jewish religion by the morally upright lives of the Jews, attended the synagogue services and kept some of the Jewish sabbath and food laws. These people became known as God-fearers, or worshippers of God ( Acts 10:1-2;  Acts 16:14). Some went even further and were circumcised and baptized as Jews. They were known as proselytes, or converts to Judaism ( Acts 2:10;  Acts 6:5). Many of these Gentile proselytes and God-fearers, having already come to know and worship the God of Israel, readily became Christians when they first heard the gospel of Jesus Christ ( Acts 13:43;  Acts 14:1;  Acts 17:4).

King James Dictionary [11]

PROS'ELYTE, n. Gr. to come. A new convert to some religion or religious sect, or to some particular opinion, system or party. Thus a Gentile converted to Judaism is a proselyte a pagan converted to christianity is a proselyte and we speak familiarly of proselytes to the theories of Brown, of Black, or of Lavoisier. The word primarily refers to converts to some religious creed.

PROS'ELYTE, To make a convert to some religion, or to some opinion or system.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [12]

A new convert to some religion or religious sect. Among the Hebrews, proselytes were distinguished into two sorts: the first called proselytes of the gate, because suffered to live among them, and were those who observed the moral law only, and the rules imposed on the children of Noah; the second were called proselytes of justice, who engaged to receive circumcision, and the whole law of Moses, and enjoyed all the privileges of a native Hebrew.

Webster's Dictionary [13]

(1): ( v. t.) To convert to some religion, opinion, or system; to bring over.

(2): ( n.) A new convert especially a convert to some religion or religious sect, or to some particular opinion, system, or party; thus, a Gentile converted to Judaism, or a pagan converted to Christianity, is a proselyte.

Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary [14]

The Hebrews called a proselyte Ger, or Necher, which signifies a stranger. And as a proselyte, meant a proselyte of the gate, one converted from heathenism to the truth, and admitted into what was called the court of the Gentiles, no doubt the name was very proper. Such was the honest centurion, Cornelius. ( Acts 10:1-48)

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [15]

( Προσήλυτος , one who has Joined a new faith) occurs only in the A.V. of the New Test. ( Matthew 23:15;  Acts 2:10;  Acts 6:5;  Acts 13:43); but, the Greek word is occasionally used in the Sept. (1 Chronicles 22:22, etc.) as a rendering of the Heb. גֵּר , Ger (a Stranger, as usually rendered; sometimes Graecized in the Sept. Γειώρας [ Exodus 2:19] from the Aramaic form גַיּוֹרָא ). (The following article is substantially based upon Levrer's treatment of the subject in Herzog's Real Encyklopadie, with additions from other sources.) (See Alien).

I. Historical Development Of This Class. The existence, through all stages of the history of the Israelites, of a body of men, not of the same race, but holding the same faith and adopting the same ritual, is a fact which, from its very nature, requires to be dealt with historically.

1 . During The Patriarchal Age. The position of the family of Israel as a distinct nation, with a special religious character, appears at a very early period to have exercised a power of attraction over neighboring races. The slaves and soldiers of the tribe of which Abraham was the head ( Genesis 17:27), who were included with him in the covenant of circumcision, can hardly perhaps be classed as proselytes in the later sense. The case of the Shechemites, however (ch. 34), presents a more distinct instance. The converts were swayed partly by passion, partly by interest. The sons of Jacob then, as afterwards, required circumcision as an indispensable condition ( Genesis 34:14). This, and apparently this only, was required of proselytes in the pre-Mosaic period.

2. From The Exodus To The Monarchy. The life of Israel under the law, from the very first, presupposes and provides for the incorporation of men of other races. The "mixed multitude" of  Exodus 12:38 implies the presence of proselytes more or less complete. It is recognised in the earliest rules for the celebration of the Passover ( Exodus 12:19). The "stranger" of this and other laws in the A.V. answers to the word which distinctly means "proselyte," and is so translated in the Sept, and the prominence of the class may be estimated by the frequency with which the word recurs: nine times in Exodus, twenty in Leviticus, eleven in Numbers, nineteen in Deuteronomy. The laws clearly point to the position of a convert. The "stranger" is bound by the law of the Sabbath (20:10; 23:12;  Deuteronomy 5:14). Circumcision is the condition of any fellowship with him ( Exodus 12:48;  Numbers 9:14). He is to be present at the Passover ( Exodus 12:19), the Feast of Weeks ( Deuteronomy 16:11), the Feast of Tabernacles ( Deuteronomy 16:14), the Day of Atonement ( Leviticus 16:29). The laws of prohibited marriages ( Leviticus 18:26) and abstinence from blood ( Leviticus 17:10) are binding upon him. He is liable to the same punishment for Molech-worship ( Leviticus 20:2) and for blasphemy ( Leviticus 24:16); may claim the same right of asylum as the Israelites in the cities of refuge ( Numbers 35:15;  Joshua 20:9). On the other side he is subjected to some drawbacks. He cannot hold land ( Leviticus 19:10). He has no Jus Connubii with the descendants of Aaron ( Leviticus 21:14). His condition is assumed to be, for the most part, one of poverty ( Leviticus 23:22), often of servitude ( Deuteronomy 29:11). For this reason he is placed under the special protection of the law (10:18). He is to share in the right of gleaning ( Leviticus 19:10), is placed in the same category as the fatherless and the widow ( Deuteronomy 24:17;  Deuteronomy 24:19;  Deuteronomy 26:12;  Deuteronomy 27:19), is joined with the Levite as entitled to the tithe of every third year's produce (14:29; 26:12). Among the proselytes of this period the Kenites (q.v.), who under Hobab accompanied the Israelites in their wanderings, and ultimately settled in Canaan, were probably the most conspicuous ( Judges 1:16). The presence of the class was recognised in the solemn declaration of blessings and curses from Ebal and Gerizim ( Joshua 8:33).

The period after the conquest of Canaan was not favorable to the admission of proselytes. The people had no strong faith, no commanding position. The Gibeonites (ch. 9) furnish the only instance of a conversion, and their condition is rather that of slaves compelled to conform than that of free proselytes. (See Nethinim).

3. The Period Of The Monarchy. With the introduction of royalty, and the consequent fame and influence of the people, there was more to attract stragglers from the neighboring nations, and we meet accordingly with many names which suggest the presence of men of another race conforming to the faith of Israel. Doeg the Edomite ( 1 Samuel 21:7), Uriah the Hittite ( 2 Samuel 11:3), Araunah the Jebusite ( 2 Samuel 22:23), Zelek the Ammonite ( 2 Samuel 23:37), Ithmah the Moabite ( 1 Chronicles 11:46) these two in spite of an express law to the contrary ( Deuteronomy 23:3) and at a later period Shebnah the scribe (probably; comp. Alexander on  Isaiah 22:15), and Ebed-Melech the Ethiopian ( Jeremiah 38:7), are examples that such proselytes might rise even to high offices about the person of the king. The Cherethites and Pelethites (q.v.) consisted probably of foreigners who had been attracted to the service of David, and were content for it to adopt the religion of their master (Ewald, Gesch. i, 330; 3, 183). The vision in Psalms 87 of a time in which men of Tyre, Egypt, Ethiopia, Philistia, should all be registered among the citizens of Zion can hardly fail to have had its starting-point in some admission of proselytes within the memory of the writer (Ewald and De Wette, ad loc.). A convert of another kind, the type, as it has been thought, of the later proselytes of the gate (see below), is found in Naaman the Syrian ( 2 Kings 5:15;  2 Kings 5:18) recognising Jehovah as his God, yet not binding himself to any rigorous observance of the law.

The position of the proselytes during this period appears to have undergone considerable changes. On the one hand, men rose, as we have seen, to power and fortune. The case for which the law provided ( Leviticus 25:47) might actually occur, and they might be the creditors of Israelites as debtors, the masters of Israelites as slaves. It might well be a sign of the times in the later days of the monarchy that they became "very high," the "head" and not the "tail" of the people ( Deuteronomy 28:43-44). The picture had, however, another side. They were treated by David and Solomon as a subject class, brought (like Periceci, almost like Helots) under a system of compulsory labor from which others were exempted ( 1 Chronicles 22:2;  2 Chronicles 2:17-18). The statistics of this period, taken probably for that purpose, give their number (i.e. apparently the number of adult working males) at 153,600 (ibid.). They were subject at other times to wanton insolence and outrage ( Psalms 94:6). As some compensation for their sufferings they became the special objects of the care and sympathy of the prophets. One after another of the "goodly fellowship" pleads the cause of the proselytes as warmly as that of the widow and the fatherless ( Jeremiah 7:6;  Jeremiah 22:3 :  Ezekiel 22:7;  Ezekiel 22:29;  Zechariah 7:10;  Malachi 3:5). A large accession of converts enters into all their hopes of the divine kingdom ( Isaiah 2:2;  Isaiah 11:10;  Isaiah 56:3-6;  Micah 4:1). The sympathy of one of them goes still further. He sees, in the far future, the vision of a time when the last remnant of inferiority shall be removed, and the proselytes, completely emancipated, shall be able to hold and inherit land even as the Israelites ( Ezekiel 47:22).

4. From The Babylonian Captivity To The Destruction Of Jerusalem. The proselytism of this period assumed a different character. It was for the most part the conformity, not of a subject race, but of willing adherents. Even as early as the return from Babylon we have traces of those who were drawn to a faith which they recognised as holier than their own, and had "separated themselves" unto the law of Jehovah ( Nehemiah 10:28). The presence of many foreign names among the Nethinim (7:46-59) leads us to believe that many of the new converts dedicated themselves specially to the service of the new Temple. With the conquests of Alexander, the wars between Egypt and Syria, the struggle under the Maccabees, the expansion of the Roman empire, the Jews became more widely known, and their power to proselytize increased. They had suffered for their religion in the persecution of Antiochus, and the spirit of martyrdom was followed naturally by propagandism. Their monotheism was rigid and unbending. Scattered through the East and West, a marvel and a portent, wondered at and scorned, attracting and repelling, they presented. in an age of shattered creeds and corroding doubts, the spectacle of a faith, or at least a dogma, which remained unshaken. The influence was sometimes obtained well, and exercised for good. In most of the great cities of the empire there were men who had been rescued from idolatry and its attendant debasements, and brought under the power of a higher moral law. It is possible that in some cases the purity of Jewish life may have contributed to this result, ant attracted men or women who shrank from the unutterable contamination in the midst of which they lived. The converts who were thus attracted joined, with varying strictness (see below), in the worship of the Jews.

They were present in their synagogues ( Acts 13:42-43;  Acts 13:50;  Acts 17:4;  Acts 18:7). They came up as pilgrims to the great feasts at Jerusalem ( Acts 2:10). In Palestine itself the influence was often stronger and better. Even Roman centurions learned to love the conquered nation, built synagogues for them ( Luke 7:5), tasted and prayed, and gave alms, after the pattern of the strictest Jews ( Acts 10:2;  Acts 10:30), and became preachers of the new faith to the soldiers under them ( Acts 10:7). Such men, drawn by what was best in Judaism, were naturally among the readiest receivers of the new truth which rose out of it, and became in many cases the nucleus of a Gentile church. Proselytism had, however, its darker side. The Jews of Palestine were eager to spread their faith by the same weapons as those with which they had defended it. Had not the power of the empire stood in the way, the religion of Moses, stripped of its higher elements, might have been propagated far and wide by force, as was afterwards the religion of Mohammed. As it was, the Idumeans had the alternative offered them by John Hyrcanus of death, exile, or circumcision (Josephus, Ant. 13:9, 3). The Itureans were converted in the same way by Aristobulus (ibid. 13:11, 3). In the more frenzied fanaticism of a later period, the Jews under Josephus could hardly be restrained from seizing and circumcising two chiefs of Trachonitis who had come as envoys (Josephus, Life, 23). They compelled a Roman centurion, whom they had taken prisoner, to purchase his life by accepting the sign of the covenant (Josephus, War, ii, 11, 10).

Where force was not in their power (the "veluti Judaei, cogemus" of Horace, Sat. i, 4, 142, implies that they sometimes ventured on it even at Rome), they obtained their ends by the most unscrupulous fraud. They appeared as soothsayers, diviners, exorcists, and addressed themselves especially to the fears and superstitions of women. Their influence over these became the subject of indignant satire (Juvenal, Sat. 6:543-547). They persuaded noble matrons to send money and purple to the Temple (Josephus, Ant. 18:3, 5). At Damascus the wives of nearly half the population were supposed to be tainted with Judaism (Josephus, War, ii, 10, 2). At Rome they numbered in their ranks, in the person of Poppaea, even an imperial concubine (Josephus, Ant. 20:7, 11). The converts thus made cast off all ties of kindred and affection (Tacitus, Hist. v, 9). Those who were most active in proselytizing were precisely those from whose teaching all that was most true and living had departed. The vices of the Jew were ingrafted on the vices of the heathen. A repulsive casuistry released the convert from obligations which he had before recognised, while in other things he was bound hand and foot to an unhealthy superstition. The Law of the Corban may serve as one instance ( Matthew 15:4-6). Another is found in the rabbinic teaching as to marriage. Circumcision, like a new birth, cancelled all previous relationships, and unions within the nearest degrees of blood were therefore no longer incestuous (Maimon. Ex Jeban. p. 982; Selden, De Jutre Nat. Et Gent. ii, 4; Uxor Hebr. ii, 18). It was no wonder that the proselyte became "twofold more the child of Gehenna" ( Matthew 23:15) than the Pharisees themselves. The position of such proselytes was indeed every way pitiable. At Rome, and in other large cities, they became the butts of popular scurrility. The words "curtus," "verpes," met them at every corner (Horace, Sat. i, 4, 142; Martial, 7:29, 34, 81; 11:95; 12:37). They had to share the fortunes of the people with whom they had cast, in their lot, might be banished from Italy ( Acts 18:2; Suet. Claud. 25), or sent to die of malaria in the most unhealthy stations of the empire (Tacitus, Ann. ii, 85). At a later time, they were bound to make a public profession of their conversion, and to pay a special tax (Sueton. Domit. xii). If they failed to do this and were suspected, they might be subject to the most degrading examination to ascertain the fact of their being proselytes (ibid.) Among the Jews themselves their case was not much better. For the most part, the convert gained but little honor even from those who gloried in having brought him over to their sect and party. The popular Jewish feeling about them was like the popular Christian feeling about a converted Jew. They were regarded (by a strange rabbinic perversion of  Isaiah 14:1) as the leprosy of Israel, "cleaving" to the house of Jacob ( Jebam. 47:4; Kiddush. 70:6). An opprobrious proverb coupled them with the vilest profligates ("proselyti et poederastae") as hindering the coming of the Messiah (Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. in  Matthew 23:5). It became a recognised maxim that no wise man would trust a proselyte even to the twenty-fourth generation ( Jalkuth Ruth, f. 163 A ) .

The better rabbins did their best to guard against these evils. Anxious to exclude all unworthy converts, they grouped them, according to their motives, with a somewhat quaint classification:

" 1. Love-proselytes, where they were drawn by the hope of gaining the beloved one. (The story of Syllaeus and Salome [Josephus, Ant. 16:7, § 6)] is an example of a half-finished conversion of this kind.)

" 2. Man-for-woman, or Woman-for-man proselytes, where the husband followed the religion of the wife, or conversely.

" 3. Esther-proselytes, where conformity was asnsumed to escape danger, as in the original Purim ( Esther 8:11).

" 4. King's-table proselytes, who were led by the hope of court favor and promotion, like the converts under David and Solomon. "

5. Lion-proselytes, where the conversion originated in a superstitious dread of a divine judgment, as with the Samaritans of  2 Kings 17:26"

(Gemara Hieros. Kiddush. 65:6; Jost, Judenth. i, 448). None of these were regarded as fit for admission within the covenant. When they met with one with whose motives they were satisfied, he was put to a yet further ordeal. He was warned that in becoming a Jew he was attaching himself to a persecuted people, that in this life he was to expect only suffering, and to look for his reward in the next. Sometimes these cautions were in their turn carried to an extreme and amounted to a policy of exclusion. A protest against them on the part of a disciple of the Great Hillel is recorded, which throws across the dreary rubbish of rabbinism the momentary gleam of a noble thought. "Our wise men teach," said Simon ben-Gamaliel, "that when a heathen comes to enter into the covenant, our part is to stretch out our hand to him and to bring him under the wings of God" (Jost, Judenth. i, 447).

Another mode of meeting the difficulties of the case was characteristic of the period. Whether we may transfer to it the full formal distinction between proselytes of the gate and proselytes of righteousness (see below) may be doubtful enough, but we find two distinct modes of thought, two distinct policies in dealing with converts. The history of Helena, queen of Adiabene, and her son Izates, presents the two in collision with each other. They had been converted by a Jewish merchant, Ananias, but the queen feared lest the circumcision of her son should disquiet and alarm her subjects. Ananias assured her that it was not necessary. Her son might worship God, study the law, keep the commandments without it. Soon, however, a stricter teacher came-Eleazar of Galilee. Finding Izates reading the law, he told him sternly that it was of little use to study that which he disobeyed, and so worked upon his fears that the young devotee was eager to secure the safety of which his uncircumcision had deprived him (Josephus, Ant. 20:2, 5; comp. Jost, Judenth. i, 341). On the part of some, therefore, there was a disposition to dispense with what others looked upon as indispensable. The centurions of Luke 7 (probably) and Acts 10 possibly the Hellenes of  John 12:20 and  Acts 13:42 are instances of men admitted on the former footing. The phrases Οἱ Σεβόμενοι Προσήλυτοι ( Acts 13:43), Οἱ Σεβόμενοι ( Acts 17:4;  Acts 17:17; Josephus, Ant. 14:7, 2), Ἄνδρες Εὐλαβεῖς ( Acts 2:5;  Acts 7:2), are often, but inaccurately, supposed to describe the same class the proselytes of the gate (see Cremer, Worterb. der neutest. Gricitat, ii, 476). The probability is either that the terms were used generally of all converts, or, if with a specific meaning, were applied to the full proselytes of righteousness (comp. a full examination of the passages in question by N. Lardner, On the Decree of Acts 15, in Works, 11:305). The two tendencies were, at all events, at work, and the battle between them was renewed afterwards on holier ground and on a wider scale. Ananias and Eleazar were represented in the two parties of the Council of Jerusalem. The germ of truth had been quickened into a new life, and was emancipating itself from the old thraldom. The decrees of the council were the solemn assertion of the principle that believers in Christ were to stand on the footing of proselytes of the gate, not of proselytes of righteousness. The teaching of St. Paul as to righteousness and its conditions, its dependence on faith, its independence of circumcision, stands out in sharp, clear contrast with the teachers who taught that that rite was necessary to salvation, and confined the term "righteousness" to the circumcised convert.

5. From The Destruction Of Jerusalem Downwards. The teachers who carried on the rabbinical succession consoled themselves, as they saw the new order waxing and their own glory waning, by developing the decaying system with an almost microscopic minuteness. They would at least transmit to future generations the full measure of the religion of their fathers. In proportion as they ceased to have any power to proselytize, they dwelt with exhaustive fulness on the question how proselytes were to be made. To this period accordingly belong the rules and decisions which are often carried back to an earlier age, and which may now be conveniently discussed. The precepts of the Talmud may indicate the practices and opinions of the Jews from the second to the fifth century. They are very untrustworthy as to any earlier time.

II. Debatable Questions. The points of interest which present themselves for inquiry are the following:

1. The Classification Of' Proselytes. The whole Jewish state was considered as composed of the two classes Jews, and strangers within their gates, or proselytes. In later years this distinction was observed even to the second generation; a child of pure Jewish descent on both sides being designated ῾Εβραῖος Ἐξ ῾Εβραίων , a "Hebrew of the Hebrews" (Phil. 3, 5), while the son of a proselyte was denominated בֵןאּגֵּי , Ben-Ger, "son of a stranger;" and if both parents were proselytes, he was styled by the rabbins בגבג , a contraction for ובןאּגרה בןאּגר ( Pirke Aboth, c. 5). Subordinate to this, however, was a division which has been in part anticipated, and was recognised by the Talmudic rabbins, but received its full expansion at the hands of Maimonides ( Hilc. Mel. i, 6). They claimed for it a remote antiquity, a divine authority.

(1.) The term Proselytes Of The Gate ( גֵּרֵי הִשִּׁעִר ) was derived from the frequently occurring description in the law, "the stranger ( גֵּר ) that is within thy gates" ( Exodus 20:10, etc.). They were known also as the sojourners ( גֵּרֵי תוֹשָב ), with a reference to  Leviticus 25:47, etc. To, them were referred the greater part of the precepts of the law as to the "stranger." The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan give this as the equivalent in  Deuteronomy 24:21. Converts of this class were not bound by circumcision and the other special laws of the Mosaic code. It was enough for them to observe the seven precepts of Noah (Otho, Lex. Rabb. s.v. Noachida; Selden, De Fur. Nat. Et Gent. i, 10), i.e. the six supposed to have been given to Adam

(1) against idolatry,

(2) against blaspheming,

(3) against bloodshed,

(4) against uncleanness,

(5) against theft,

(6) of obedience, with

(7) the prohibition of "flesh with the blood thereof" given to Noah.

The proselyte was not to claim the privileges of an Israelite, might not redeem his first-born, or pay the half-shekel. He was forbidden to study the law under pain of death (Otho, l.c.) The later rabbins, when Jerusalem had passed into other hands, held that it was unlawful for him to reside within the holy city (Maimon. Beth-haccher. 7:14). In return they allowed him to offer whole burnt-offerings for the priest to sacrifice, and to contribute money to the Corban of the Temple. They held out to him the hope of a place in the paradise of the world to come (Leyrer). They insisted that the profession of his faith should be made solemnly in the presence of three witnesses (Maimon. Hilc. Mel. 8:10). The Jubilee was the proper season for his admission (Muller, De Pros. in Ugolino, 22:841).

All this seems so full and precise that we cannot wonder that it has led many writers to look on it as representing a reality, and most commentators accordingly have seen these proselytes of the gate in the Σεβόμενοι , Εὐλαβεῖς , Φοβούμενοι Τόν Θεόν of the Acts. It remains doubtful, however, whether it was ever more than a paper scheme of what ought to be, disguising itself as having actually been. The writers who are most full, who claim for the distinction the highest antiquity, confess that there had been no proselytes of the gate since the two tribes and a half had been carried away into captivity (Maimonides, Hilc. Mel. i, 6). They could only be admitted at the jubilee, and there had since then been no jubilee celebrated (Muller, L.C. ). All that can be said therefore is, that in the time of the New Test. we have independent evidence ( Ut Supra ) of the existence of converts of two degrees, and that the Talmudic division is the formal systematizing of an earlier fact. The words "proselytes" and Οἱ Σεβόμενοι Τὸν Θεόν were, however, in all probability limited to the circumcised.

(2.) In contrast with these were the Proselytes Of Righteousness ( גֵּרֵי הִצֶּדֶק ), known also as Proselytes of the Covenant, perfect Israelites. By some writers the Talmudic phrase Proselyti Tracti ( גְּרוּרַים ) is applied to them as Drawn to the covenant by spontaneous conviction (Buxtorf, Lex. s.v.), while others (Kimchi) refer it to those who were constrained to conformity, like the Gibeonites. Here also we must receive what we find with the same limitation as before. That there were, in later times especially, many among the Jews who had renounced the grosser parts of heathenism without having come over entirely to Judaism, is beyond all doubt; but that these were ever counted proselytes admits of question. Certain it is that the proselytes mentioned in the New Test. were all persons who had received circumcision, and entered the pale of the Jewish community; they were persons who, according to the phraseology of the Old Test. had become Jews ( מַּתְיִחֲדַים , Joined,  Esther 8:17). It is probable that the distinction above mentioned was introduced by the later rabbins for the sake of including among the conquests of their religion those who, though indebted probably to the Jewish Scriptures for their improved faith, were yet not inclined to submit to the ritual of Judaism, or to become incorporated with the Jewish nation. That this, however, was not the ancient view is clearly apparent from a passage in the Babylonian Gemara, quoted by Lightfoot ( Hor. Heb. Et Talmn. In  Matthew 3:6), where it is said expressly that "no one is a proselyte until such time as he has been circumcised." Furst, himself a Jew, confirms our suggestion; for in a note upon the word גֵּר , in his Concordantioe Libb. V. T., he says: "The Jews, interpreting dogmatically rather than historically, refer the word to him who has abandoned heathen superstitions." Maimonides, indeed, speaks of such a distinction, but the lateness of the period at which he flourished (A.D. 1160), and the absence of any scriptural authority, require us to consider his assertions as referring to a time much later than that of the apostles. "According to my idea," says bishop Tomline, "proselytes were those, and those only, who took upon themselves the obligation of the whole Mosaic law, but retained that name till they were admitted into the congregation of the Lord as adopted children. Gentiles were allowed to worship and offer sacrifices to the God of Israel in the outer court of the Temple; and some of them, persuaded of the sole and universal sovereignty of the Lord Jehovah, might renounce idolatry without embracing the Mosaic law; but such persons appear to me never to be called proselytes in Scripture, or in any ancient Christian writer" (Elements of Christian Theology, 1. 266, 267). Dr. Lardner has remarked that the notion of two sorts of proselytes is not to be found in any Christian writer before the fourteenth century ( Works, 6. 522-533, 8vo. and 11:313-324; see also Jennings, Jewish Antiquities, bk. 1, ch. 3). The arguments on the other side are ably stated in Townsend, Chronological Arrangements of the New Testament, 2, 115, etc., Lond. ed.

2. Ceremonies Of Admission. Here all seems at first clear and definite enough. The proselyte was first catechised as to his motives (Maimonides, Ut Sup. ) . If these were satisfactory, he was first instructed as to the divine protection of the Jewish people, and then circumcised. In the case of a convert already circumcised (a Midianite, e.g., or an Egyptian), it was still necessary to draw a few drops of "the blood of the covenant" (Gem. Bab. Shabb. F. 135 a). A special prayer was appointed to accompany the act of circumcision. Often the proselyte took a new name, opening the Hebrew Bible and accepting the first that came (Leyrer, Ut Sup. ) .

All this, however, was not enough. The convert was still a "stranger." His children would be counted as bastards, i.e. aliens. Baptism was required to complete his admission. When the wound caused by circumcision was healed, he was stripped of all his clothes, in the presence of the three witnesses who had acted as his teachers, and who now acted as his sponsors, the "fathers" of the proselyte (Ketubh. 11; Erubh. 15:1), and led into the tank or pool. As he stood there, up to his neck in water, they repeated the great commandments of the law. These he promised and vowed to keep, and then. with an accompanying benediction, he plunged under the water. To leave one hand-breadth of his body unsubmnerged would have vitiated the whole rite (Otho, Lex. Rabb. s.v. Baptismus; Keisk. De Bapet. Pros. in Ugolino, vol. 22). Strange as it seems. this part of the ceremony occupied, in the eyes of the later rabbins, a co-ordinate place with circumcision. The latter was incomplete without it, for baptism also was of the fathers (Gem. Bab. Jebam. f. 461, 2). One rabbin appears to have been bold enough to declare baptism to have been sufficient by itself (ibid.); but, for the most part, both were reckoned as alike indispensable. They carried back the origin of the baptism to a remote antiquity, finding it in the command of Jacob ( Genesis 35:2) and of Moses ( Exodus 19:10). The Targum of the pseudo-Jonathan inserts the word "Thou shalt circumcise and Baptize" in  Exodus 12:44. Even in the Ethiopic version of  Matthew 23:15 we find "compass sea and land to Baptize one proselyte." Language foreshadowing, or caricaturing, a higher truth was used of this baptism. It was a new birth ( Jebam. f. 62, 1; 92, 1; Maimonides, Issur. Bich. c. 14; Lightfoot, Harm. Of The Gospels, 3:14; Exerc. On John 3 ) . The proselyte became a little child. This thought probably had its starting-point in the language of Psalms 87. There also the proselytes of Babylon and Egypt are registered as "born" in Zioti. (See Regeneration). The new convert received the Holy Spirit ( Jebam. f. 22 A, 48 B ) . All natural relationships, as we have seen, were cancelled.

The baptism was followed, as long as the Temple stood, by the offering or corban. It consisted. like the offerings after a birth (the analogy apparently being carried on), of two turtle-doves or pigeons (Leviticus 12:18). When the destruction of Jerusalem made the sacrifice impossible, a vow to offer it as soon as the Temple should be rebuilt was substituted. For women-proselytes, there were only baptism and the corban, or, in later times, baptism by itself. The Galilaean female proselytes were said to have objected to this, as causing barrenness.

3. Antiquity Of These Practices. Was this ritual observed as early as the commencement of the 1st century? If so, was the baptism of John or that of the Christian Church in any way derived from or connected with the baptism of proselytes? If not, was the latter in any way borrowed from the former? This point has been somewhat discussed above, but it will be enough to sum up the conclusions which seem fairly to be drawn from the extant information on the subject, especially the question of the baptism of proselytes.

(1.) There is no Direct evidence of the practice being in use before the destruction of Jerusalem. The statements of the Talmud as to its having come from the fathers, and their exegesis of the Old Test. in connection with it, are alike destitute of authority.

(2.) The negative argument drawn from the silence of the Old Test., of the Apocrypha, of Philo, and of Josephus, is almost decisive against the belief that there was in their time a baptism of proselytes with As Much importance attached to it as we find in the Talmudists.

(3.) It remains probable, however, that there was A baptism in use at a period considerably earlier than that for which we have direct evidence. The symbol was in itself natural and fit. It fell in with the disposition of the Pharisees and others to multiply and discuss "washings" ( Βαπτισμοί ,  Mark 7:4) of all kinds. The tendency of the later rabbins was rather to heap together the customs and traditions of the past than to invent new ones. If there had not been a baptism, there would have been no initiatory rite at all for female proselytes. The custom of baptizing proselytes thus arose gradually out of the habit which the Jews had of purifying by ablution whatever they deemed unclean, and came to be raised for the first time to the importance of an initiatory ordinance after the destruction of the Temple service, and when, in consequence of imperial edicts, it became difficult to circumcise converts. This latter opinion is that of Schneckenburger (Ueb. das AIter d. jud. Proselyten-Taufe [Berlin, 1828]), and has been espoused by several eminent German scholars.

To us, however, it appears exceedingly unsatisfactory. The single fact adduced in support of it, viz. the difficulty of circumcising converts in consequence of the imperial edicts against proselytism, is a singularly infelicitous piece of evidence; for, as the question to be solved is, How came the later rabbins to prescribe both baptism and circumcision as initiatory rites for proselytes? it is manifestly absurd to reply that it was because they could only baptize and could not circumcise: such an answer is a contradiction, not a solution of the question. Besides, this hypothesis suggests a source of proselyte baptism which is equally available for that which it is designed to supersede; for, if the practice of baptizing proselytes on their introduction into Judaism had its rise in the Jewish habit of ablution, why might not this have operated in the way suggested two hundred years before Christ as well as two hundred years after Christ.? In fine, this hypothesis still leaves unremoved the master difficulty of that side of the question which it is designed to support, viz. the great improbability of the Jews adopting for the first time subsequently to the death of Christ a religious rite which was well known to be the initiatory rite of Christianity. Assuming that they practiced that rite before, we can account for their not giving it up simply because the Christians had adopted it; but, trace it as we please to Jewish customs and rites, it seems utterly incredible that after it had become the symbol and badge of the religious party which of all others, perhaps, the Jews most bitterly hated, any consideration whatever should have induced them to begin to practice it. On the other hand we have, in favor of the hypothesis that proselyte baptism was practiced anterior to the time of our Lord, some strongly corroborative evidence.

1. We have, in the first place, the unanimous tradition of the Jewish rabbins, who impute to the practice au antiquity commensurate almost with that of their nation.

2. We have the fact that the baptism of John the Baptist was not regarded by the people as aught of a novelty, nor was represented by him as resting for its authority upon any special divine revelation.

3. We have the fact that the Pharisees looked upon the baptism both of John and Jesus as a mode of proselytizing men to their religious views ( John 4:1-3). and that the dispute between the Jews and some of John's disciples about purifying was apparently a dispute as to the competing claims of John and Jesus to make proselytes (3, 25 sq.).

4. We have the fact that on the day of Pentecost Peter addressed to a multitude of persons collected from several different and distant countries, Jews and proselytes, an exhortation to "repent and be baptized" ( Acts 2:38), from which it may be fairly inferred that they all knew what baptism meant, and also its connection with repentance or a change of religious views.

5. We have the fact that, according to Josephus, the Essenes were accustomed, before admitting a new convert into their society, solemnly and ritually to purify him with waters of cleansing (War, 2, 8, 7), a statement which cannot be understood of their ordinary ablutions before meals (as Stuart proposes in his Essay On The Mode Of Baptism, p. 67); for Josephus expressly adds that even after this lustration two years had to elapse before the neophyte enjoyed the privilege of living with the proficients. 6. We have the mode in which Josephus speaks of the baptism of John, when, after referring to John's having exhorted the people to virtue, righteousness, and godliness, as preparatory to baptism, he adds, "For it appeared to him that baptism was admissible not when they used it for obtaining forgiveness of some sins, but for the purification of the body when the soul had been already cleansed by righteousness" (Ant. 18:5, 2); which seems to indicate the conviction of the historian that John did not introduce this rite, but only gave to it a peculiar meaning. Yet John's proceeding was not an act of initiation into any new system of faith, much less comparable to a conversion from paganism; for the subjects were Jews already. It was rather a general ablution, in token of wiping off a long- accumulated score of offences. (See John The Baptist)

(4.) The history of the New Test. itself suggests the existence of such a custom. A sign is seldom chosen unless it already has a meaning for those to whom it is addressed. The fitness of the sign in this case would be in proportion to the associations already connected with it. It would bear witness on the assumption of the previous existence of the proselyte- baptism that the change from the then condition of Judaism to the kingdom of God was as great as that from idolatry to Judaism. The question of the priests and Levites, "Why baptizest thou then?" ( John 1:25), implies that they wondered, not at the thing itself, but at its being done for Israelites by one who disclaimed the names which, in their eyes, would have justified the introduction of a new order. In like manner the words of Christ to Nicodemus (3, 10) imply the existence of a teaching as to baptism like that above referred to. He, "the teacher of Israel," had been familiar with "these things" the new birth, the gift of the Spirit as words and phrases applied to heathen proselytes. He failed to grasp the deeper truth which lay beneath them, and to see that they had a wider, a universal application. (See Regeneration By Water).

(5.) That the Jews directly borrowed this custom from the Christians is an opinion which, though supported by De Wette (in his De Morte Christi Expiatoria ) , cannot be for a moment admitted by any who reflect on the implacable hatred with which the Jews for many centuries regarded Christianity, its ordinances, and its professors. It is, however, not improbable that there may have been a reflex action in this matter from the Christian upon the Jewish Church. The rabbins saw the new society, in proportion as the Gentile element in it became predominant, throwing off circumcision, relying on baptism only. They could not ignore the reverence which men had for the outward sign, their belief that it was all but identical with the thing signified. There was everything to lead them to give a fresh prominence to what had been before subordinate. If the Nazarenes attracted men by their baptism, they would show that they had baptism as well as circumcision. The necessary absence of the corban after the destruction of the Temple would also tend to give more importance to the remaining rite. The reader will find the whole subject amply discussed in the following works: Selden, De Jure Natt. et Gent. 2, 2; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 65; Lightfoot, Hor. Heb. et Talm. in  Matthew 3:6; Danz in Meuschenii Nov. Test. ex Talm. Illust. p. 233 sq., 287 sq.; Witsius, (scon. Fed. 4:15; Kuinll, Comin. in Libros N.T. Histor. ap.  Matthew 3:6; and Dr. Halley's recent volume on the Sacraments (Lond. 1844), p. 114 sq., all of whom contend for the antiquity of Jewish proselyte-baptism, while the following take the opposite side: Wernsdorff, Controv. De Bapt. Recent. § 18; Carpzov, Apparat. p. 47 sq.; Paulus, Comment. i, 279; Bauer, Gottesdienstl. Velfitssung Der Alien Heb. ii, 392; Schneckenburger, Lib. Sub. Cit.; and Moses Stuart, in the American Bib. Rep. No. 10. See also Bible Educator, ii, 38 sq. (See Baptism).

4. Two facts of some interest remain to be noticed in this connection.

(1.) It formed part of the rabbinic hopes of the kingdom of the Messiah that then there should be no more proselytes. The distinctive name, with its brand of inferiority, should be laid aside, and all, even the Nethinim and the Mamzerim (children of mixed marriages), should be counted pure (Schottgen, Hor. Heb. ii, 614).

(2.) Partly, perhaps, as connected with this feeling, partly in consequence of the ill-repute into which the word had fallen, there is, throughout the New Test., a sedulous avoidance of it. The Christian convert from heathenism is not a proselyte, but a Νεόφυτος ( 1 Timothy 3:6).

III. Literature. In addition to the works cited above, see, in general, Buxtorf, Lex. Talmn. Et Rabb. s.v. גר ; Otho, Lex. Rabb. p. 65; Bodenschatz, Kirchl. Verfaiss. Der Juden, 4:70 sq.; Schrider, Sattzunsgen Untd Gebrauche Des Talm.-Reabb. Judenth.; the archgeologies of Jahn (3, 215 sq.), De Wette (p. 348 sq.), Keil (i, 316 sq.), Carpzov, Lewis, and Bauer; Saalschiitz, Mosaisches Recht, ii, 690 sq., 704 sq., 730 sq.; Leusden, Phil. Hebr. Misc. p. 142 sq.; the monographs by Slevogt, Alting, and Muller, in Ugolini Thesaur.; those cited by Danz, Worterb. p. 797 sq.; append. p. 88; by Winer, Renalworterb. s.v.; by Filrst, Biblioth. Jud. i, 146; 3, 345, 392, 459, 471, 488, 555; and by Volbeding, Index Programmatum, p. 22; and those written by Zorn (Lips. 1703) and Wihner (Gitting. 1743); also Lubkert in the Stud. u. Krit. 1835, p. 681 sq.; and Schneckenburger. Jiid. Proselyten-Taufe (Berl. 1828).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [16]

pros´ḗ - lı̄t ( προσήλυτος , prosḗlutos , from prosérchomai , "I approach"): Found 4 times in the New Testament. In the Septuagint it often occurs as the translation of גּר , gēr . The Hebrew verb gūr means "to sojourn"; gēr accordingly means a stranger who has come to settle in the land, as distinguished on the one hand from 'ezrāḥ , "a homeborn" or "native," and on the other from nokhrı̄ or ben - nēkhār , which means a stranger who is only passing through the country. Yet it is to be noted that in   2 Chronicles 2:17 those of the native tribes still living in the land as Amorites, Hittites, etc., are also called gērı̄m . In two places, ( Exodus 12:19;  Isaiah 14:1 ) the Septuagint uses , g ( e ) iṓras , which is derived from gı̄yōr , the Aramaic equivalent for gēr . Septuagint uses pároikos (the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew tōshābh , "a settler") for gēr when Israel or the triarchs are indicated ( Genesis 15:13;  Genesis 23:4;  Exodus 2:22;  Exodus 18:3;  Deuteronomy 23:7;  1 Chronicles 29:15;  Psalm 39:12;  Psalm 119:19;  Jeremiah 14:8 ), and in a few other cases. In Talmudical literature gēr always stands for proselyte in the New Testament sense, i.e. a Gentile who has been converted to Judaism. Onkelos, who was himself a proselyte, always translates the word in this way.

1. Ger in the Old Testament:

No difficulties were put in the way of those strangers who wished to settle down in the land of Israel. All strangers, the third generation of Egyptians and Edomites included, and only Ammonites and Moabites excluded, could enter "the congregation of God" without circumcision and without the obligation to keep the ceremonial law.

'The stranger within the gate' was free to eat meat which was prohibited to the Israelite ( Deuteronomy 14:21 ). If, however, the stranger wished to take part in the Passover, a feast permeated with national ideals, he must be circumcised. The keeping of the Sabbath and other feasts was regarded rather as a privilege than as a duty ( Exodus 23:12;  Deuteronomy 16:11 ,  Deuteronomy 16:14 ); but according to  Leviticus 16:29 the gēr was obliged to keep the fast of Atonement. He was forbidden on pain of death to blaspheme ( Leviticus 24:16 ) or to offer children to Molech ( Leviticus 20:2 ). If he desired to bring a burnt offering, the same law applied to him as to the Israelites ( Leviticus 17:8;  Leviticus 22:18 ). Though the law of circumcision was not forced upon the gēr , it seems that the Mosaic Law endeavored to bring him nearer to the cult of Israel, not from any proselytizing motives, but in order to preserve theocracy from admixture of foreign elements, which would speedily have proved fatal to its existence.

Though the God of Israel, when He is thought of only as such, ceases to be God; though Israel was chosen before all nations for all nations; though Israel had been again and again reminded that the Messiah would bring a blessing to all nations; and though there were instances of pagans coming to believe in Yahweh, yet it did not belong to the economy of Old Testament religion to spread the knowledge of God directly among the Gentiles (the Book of Jonah is an exception to this). There was certainly no active propagandism. Though we read in   Nehemiah 10:28 of those who "separated themselves from the peoples of the lands unto the law of God" (compare   Isaiah 56:3 , "the foreigner, that hath joined himself to Yahweh" - the only and exact description of a proselyte proper in the Old Testament), the spirit of exclusiveness prevailed; the doubtful elements were separated ( Ezra 4:3 ): mixed marriages were prohibited by the chiefs, and were afterward disapproved of by the people ( Ezra 9:1-15; 10;  Nehemiah 13:23 ff). Direct proselytism did not begin till about a century later.

2. Proselytizing:

The preaching of the gospel was preceded and prepared for by the dispersion of the Jews, and a world-wide propagandism of Judaism. In the 5th century Bc the Jews had a temple of their own at Syene. Alexander the Great settled 8,000 Jews in the Thebais, and Jews formed a third of the population of Alexandria. Large numbers were brought from Palestine by Ptolemy I (320 BC), and they gradually spread from Egypt along the whole Mediterranean coast of Africa. After the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (170 BC) they scattered themselves in every direction, and, in the words of the Sibylline Oracles (circa 160 BC), "crowded with their numbers every ocean and country." There was hardly a seaport or a commercial center in Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, or the Islands of the AEgean, in which Jewish communities were not to be found. Josephus ( Ant. , Xiv , vii, 2) quotes Strabo as saying: "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." Thus, in spite of the hatred and contempt which Judaism everywhere excited, its lofty, austere and spiritual religious aspirations and conceptions became known to the pagan world and exercised a profound attraction upon many souls that were deeply dissatisfied with contemporary religions. Judaism was at that period filled with missionary zeal and aspired to world-mastery. Many books on Judaism (e.g. the Sibylline Oracles) were written anonymously by Jews in order to influence pagan readers. The synagogue, which had become the center of Jewish worship, now opened its doors widely to the pagan world (compare  Acts 15:21 ), and many of the sermons delivered there were directly aimed at the conversion of pagans. The Jews began to feel that they were "a guide of the blind, a fight of them that are in darkness" ( Romans 2:19 ).

Not only Josephus ( Apion , II; Bj , VII, iii, 3), but also Seneca ( Apud Aug. De Civit . Dei vi. 11), Dio Cassius (xxxvii. 17), Tacitus ( Ann . ii. 85; Hist .   Nehemiah 10:5 ), Horace ( Sat . i. 4, 142), Juvenal ( Sat. xiv. 96 ff), and other Greek and Roman writers testify to the widespread effects of the proselytizing propaganda of the Jews.

Many gladly frequented the synagogues and kept some of the Jewish laws and customs. Among those were to be found the "men who feared God," spoken of in Acts. They were so called to distinguish them from full proselytes; and it was probably for this class that tablets of warning in the temple were inscribed in Greek and Latin

Another class kept practically all the Jewish laws and customs, but were not circumcised. Some again, though not circumcised, had their children circumcised (Juvenal Sat . xiv. 96 ff). Such Jewish customs as fasting, cleansings, abstaining from pork, lighting the candles on Friday evening, and keeping the Sabbath (Josephus, Apion , II, 29, etc.) were observed by these Gentile sympathizers. Schurer holds that there were congregations of Greeks and Romans in Asia Minor, and probably in Rome, which, though they had no connection with the synagogue, formed themselves into gatherings after the pattern of the synagogue, and observed some of the Jewish customs. Among the converts to Judaism there were probably few who were circumcised, and most of those who were circumcised submitted to the rite in order to marry Jewesses, or to enjoy the rights and privileges granted to the Jews by Syrian, Egyptian and Roman rulers (Josephus, Ant. , Xiv , vii, 2; XX, vii, 1; compare Xvi , vii, 6). It would appear from Christ's words ( Matthew 23:15 , "one proselyte") that the number of full proselytes was not large. Hyrcanus forced the Edomites to adopt Judaism by circumcision (129 BC); and on other occasions the same policy of propagandism by force was followed. Josephus tells an interesting story ( Ant. , XX, ii, 1) of the conversion of Queen Helena of Adiabene and her two sons. The conversion of the sons was due to the teaching of a merchant called Ananias, who did not insist on circumcision. Later, another Jew, Eliezer of Galilee, told the young princes that it was not enough to read the Law, but that they must keep it too, with the result that both were circumcised. From this it is evident that Jewish teachers of the Gentileconverts varied in the strictness of their teaching.

3. Proselytes in the New Testament:

The word "proselyte" occurs 4 times in the New Testament; once in Mt ( Matthew 23:15 ), where our Lord refers to the proselytizing zeal of the Pharisees, and to the pernicious influence which they exerted on their converts; and 3 times in Acts. Proselytes were present at Pentecost ( Acts 2:10 ); Nicolas, one of the deacons appointed by the primitive church at Jerusalem, was a proselyte ( Acts 6:5 ); and after Paul had spoken in the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia, many devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas ( Acts 13:43 ). It is to be noted in this last case that the proselytes are called sebómenoi , a word generally reserved for another class. Certain people are spoken of in Acts as phoboúmenoi tón theón , "fearing God" ( Acts 10:2 ,  Acts 10:22 ,  Acts 10:35;  Acts 13:16 ,  Acts 13:26 ), and as sebómenoi tón theón , "reverencing God," or simply sebómenoi ( Acts 13:50;  Acts 16:14;  Acts 17:4 ,  Acts 17:17;  Acts 18:7 ). These seem (as against Bertholet and EB ) to have been sympathizers with Judaism, who attended the worship of the synagogue, but were not circumcised. It was among this class that the gospel made its first converts among the Gentiles. Those who were fully proselytes were probably as fanatical opponents of Christianity as were the Jews.

4. Ger in the Talmud:

From the old strict Pharisaic-Palestinian point of view, circumcision, with the addition of baptism and the offering of sacrifice, was indispensable (so to Paul every circumcised person was a Jew; compare  Galatians 5:3 ); and thus their converts had to submit to the whole burden of the Mosaic and traditional Law. The rabbinic distinction between gēr tōshābh , "a settler," and gēr cedheḳ , "a proselyte of righteousness," is, according to Schurer, only theoretical, and arose at a later date ( Bābhā' Mecı̄‛ā' 5 6, 9, 12; Makkōth 2 3; Neghā‛ı̄m 3 1, et al.).

While the gēr cedheḳ (or gēr ha - berı̄th , "proselyte of the covenant") was considered as being in every respect a "perfect Israelite," the gēr tōshābh (or gēr sha‛ar , "proselyte of the gate"; compare   Exodus 20:10 ) only professed his faith in the God of Israel, and bound himself to the observance of the 7 Noachic precepts, abstinence from blasphemy, idolatry, homicide, fornication, robbery, eating the flesh of an animal that had died a natural death, and disobedience to (Jewish) authority ( Ṣanh . 56a; compare  Acts 15:20 ,  Acts 15:29;  Acts 21:25 ). He was considered more of a Gentile than a Jew.

Three things were required for the admission of a proselyte, circumcision,. baptism, and the offering of sacrifice ( Ber . 47b; Yebhām . 45b, 46a, 48b, 76a; 'Ābhōth 57a, et al.). In the case of women only baptism and the offering of sacrifice were required; for that reason there were more women converts than men. Josephus ( Bj , II, xx, 2) tells how most of the women of Damascus were addicted to the Jewish religion. Doubt has been expressed as to the necessity of proselytes being baptized, since there is no mention of it by Paul or Philo or Josephus, but it is probable that a Gentile, who was unclean, would not be admitted to the temple without being cleansed.

The proselyte was received in the following manner. He was first asked his reason for wishing to embrace Judaism. He was told that Israel was in a state of affliction; if he replied that he was aware of the fact and felt himself unworthy to share these afflictions, he was admitted. Then he received instruction in some of the "light" and "heavy" commandments, the rules concerning gleaning and tithes, and the penalties attached to the breach of the commandments. If he was willing to submit to all this, he was circumcised, and after his recovery he was immersed without delay. At this latter ceremony two "disciples of the wise" stood by to tell him more of the "light" and "heavy" commandments. When he came up after the immersion, those assembled addressed him saying: "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 his baptism he was considered to be a new man, "a little child newly born" ( Yebhām . 22a, 47a, 48b, 97b); a new name was given him; either he was named "Abraham the son of Abraham," or the Scriptures were opened at hazard, and the first name that was read was given to him. Thenceforth he had to put behind him all his past; even his marriage ties and those of kinship no longer held good (compare Yebhām . 22a; Ṣanhedrin 58b).

Although he was thus juridically considered a new man, and one whose praises were sung in the Talmudical literature, he was yet on the whole looked down on as inferior to a born Jew ( Ḳidd . 4 7; Shebhū‛ōth 10 9, et al.). Rabbi Chelbo said: "Proselytes are as injurious to Israel as a scab" ( Yebhām . 47b; Ḳidd . 70b; compare   Philippians 3:5 ). See also Stranger .


See articles on "Proselyte" and "Ger." in Eb , Hdb , Jewish Encyclopedia , and Re  ; Slevogt, De proselytis Judeorum , 1651; A. Bertholet, Die Stellung der Israeliten und der Juden zu den Fremden , 1896; Schurer, Hjp , 1898; Huidekoper, Judaism at Rome , 1887; Harnack, Mission und Ausbreitung des Christentums , 1906, English translation; Allen, "On the Meaning of proselutos in the Septuagint," The Expositor , 1894; A. B. Davidson, "They That Fear the Lord," Expository Times , 3 (1892), 491 ff.

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [17]

Proselyte, the name applied in the New Testament and the Septuagint to converts from heathenism to Judaism. In the Old Testament such persons are called strangers and settlers. For the reception and treatment of these, provision was made in the law of Moses (;; , etc.); and the whole Jewish state was considered as composed of the two classes, Jews, and strangers within their gates, or proselytes. In later years this distinction was observed even to the second generation. It has been customary to make a distinction between two classes of Jewish proselytes, the one denominated proselytes of the gate, and the other proselytes of the covenant, or of righteousness. Under the former have been included those converts from heathenism who had so far renounced idolatry as to become worshippers of the one God, and to observe, generally, what have been called the seven Noachic precepts, viz., against idolatry, profanity, incest, murder, dishonesty, eating blood, or things strangled, and allowing a murderer to live, but had not formally enrolled themselves in the Jewish state. The latter is composed of those who had submitted to circumcision, and in all respects become converts to Judaism. The accuracy of this distinction, however, has been called in question by several, especially by Lardner, whose arguments appear decisive of the question (Works, vol. vi. pp. 522-533; vol. xi. pp. 313-324, 8vo. edit. 1788). That there were, in later times especially, many among the Jews who had renounced the grosser parts of heathenism without having come over entirely to Judaism, is beyond all doubt; but that these were ever counted proselytes admits of question. Certain it is that the proselytes mentioned in the New Testament were all persons who had received circumcision, and entered the pale of the Jewish community.

The rites by which a proselyte was initiated are declared by the Rabbins to have been, in the case of a man, three, viz., circumcision, baptism, and a free-will sacrifice. In the case of a woman the first was of necessity omitted. As to the first and last of these, their claim to be regarded as accordant with the ancient practice of the Jews has been on all hands admitted without scruple; but it has been matter of keen question whether the second can be admitted to have been practiced before the Christian era. The substance of much learned discussion on this head we shall attempt summarily to state.

There is no direct evidence that this rite was practiced by the Jews before the second or third century of the Christian era; but the fact that it was practiced by them then necessitates the inquiry: when and how did such a custom arise among them? That they borrowed it from the Christians is an opinion which cannot be for a moment admitted by any who reflect on the implacable hatred with which the Jews for many centuries regarded Christianity, its ordinances, and its professors. Some learned men have adopted the notion that the custom of baptizing proselytes arose gradually out of the habit which the Jews had of purifying by ablution whatever they deemed unclean, and that, it was not formally adopted as an initiatory rite till after the destruction of the temple service, and when in consequence of imperial edicts it became difficult to circumcise converts. But as the Rabbins prescribed both baptism and circumcision as initiatory rites for proselytes, it is manifestly absurd to say that the former was instituted in consequence of the difficulty of performing the latter. And this hypothesis still leaves unremoved the master difficulty of that side of the question which it is designed to support, viz., the great improbability of the Jews adopting for the first time subsequently to the death of Christ, a religious rite which was well known to be the initiatory rite of Christianity. On the other hand we have, in favor of the hypothesis that proselyte baptism was practiced anterior to the time of our Lord, some strongly corroborative evidence. We have, in the first, place, the unanimous tradition of the Jewish Rabbins, who impute to the practice an antiquity commensurate almost with that of their nation. Secondly, we have the fact that the Baptism of John the Baptist was not regarded by the people as aught of a novelty, nor was represented by him as resting for its authority upon any special divine relation. Thirdly, we have the fact that the Pharisees looked upon the baptism both of John and Jesus as a mode of proselyting men to their religious views , and that the dispute between the Jews and some of John's disciples about purifying was apparently a dispute as to the competing claims of John and Jesus to make proselytes (, sq.). Fourthly, we have the fact, that on the day of Pentecost Pete addressed to a multitude of persons collected from several different and distant countries, Jews and proselytes, an exhortation to 'Repent and be baptized' , from which it may be fairly inferred that they all knew what baptism means and also its connection with repentance or a change of religious views. Fifthly, we have the fact that according to Josephus, the Essenes were in the habit, before admitting a new convert into their society, solemnly and ritually to purify him with waters of cleansing, a statement which cannot be understood of their ordinary ablutions before meals, for Josephus expressly adds, that even after this lustration two years had to elapse before the neophyte enjoyed the privilege of living with the proficients. And, Sixthly, we have the mode in which Josephus speaks of the baptism of John, when, after referring to John's having exhorted the people to virtue, righteousness, and godliness as preparatory to baptism, he adds, 'For it appeared to him that baptism was admissible no when they used it for obtaining forgiveness of some sins, but for the purification of the body when the soul had been already cleansed by righteousness' (Antiq. xviii. 5. 2); which seems to indicate the conviction of the historian that John did not introduce this rite, but only gave to it a peculiar meaning.

On these grounds we adhere to the opinion that proselyte baptism was known as a Jewish rite anterior to the birth of Christ.

From the time of the Maccabees the desire to make proselytes prevailed among the Jews to a very great extent, especially on the part of the Pharisees, whose intemperate zeal for this object our Lord pointedly rebuked . The greater part of their converts were females, which has been ascribed to the dislike of the males to submit to circumcision. Josephus tells us that the Jews at Antioch were continually converting great numbers of the Greeks, and that nearly all the women at Damascus were attached to Judaism.