Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

Re: [Synoptic-L] Godfearers, the Aphrodisas Inscription, and Josephus

Expand Messages
  • Yuri Kuchinsky
    Dear Synoptic-L members, In my view, this whole subject of the Godfearers is extremely important for understanding early Christianity, and the historical
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 27 12:50 PM
    • 0 Attachment
      Dear Synoptic-L members,

      In my view, this whole subject of the Godfearers is extremely important for
      understanding early Christianity, and the historical circumstances under
      which the Synoptic gospels were written. I don't think the Synoptic problem
      can be solved without factoring in this background.

      If, as I think, all earliest Christians were religious Jews, and kept
      Torah-obedience to a large extent, they could not have given up their
      customs and core beliefs so easily and so quickly. From this it follows
      that all early versions of the Synoptics were probably written by religious
      Jews. From this it follows that Mk, being in its present form so un-Jewish
      in many respects, simply could not be the earliest gospel. And hence, the
      search for proto-Mk.

      The big misconception in this area is the idea that Judaism 2000 years ago
      was more or less the same as it is today. But substantial evidence
      indicates that it was different, and a lot more open to outsiders. Hence
      the importance of understanding the term Godfearers.

      > From: Jeffrey B. Gibson <jgibson000@...>
      > Cc: Synoptic-L <Synoptic-L@...>
      > Subject: [Synoptic-L] Godfearers, the Aphrodisas Inscription, and
      > Date: Saturday, March 25, 2000 3:36 PM

      > Further in the exchange between Yuri and myself on the validity of his
      > claim regarding how late EC opened to the Gentiles qua Gentiles, Yuri
      > produced an argument that amounted to noting
      > (a) that there **were** Gentiles in the early church, namely, (and,
      > apparently, **only**) the "God fearers" (of whom Yuri thinks there
      > were many),

      Yes, that's correct.

      > but
      > (b) that since these were Gentiles who were were more or less Jews, or
      > who were willing eventually to become Jews, we should then not take
      > the presence of these Gentiles within the church as indicating an
      > early openness on the part of the early church to accepting Gentiles
      > who maintained Gentile identity.


      > THAT, according to Yuri, is something that didn't happen (and
      > something the "evidence" does not indicate as having happened) until
      > at least CE 100..


      > I countered by noting that evidence brought forth by Krabel ( in his
      > "The Disappearance of the God Fearers", 1981) in his examination of
      > the Synagogue sites at Dura Europas, Sardis, Priene, Delos, Stobi, and
      > Ostia, and by Murphy O'Connor in his examination of the non Lukan
      > instances and the meanings therein of the the term (QEOSEBHS) that
      > Luke used of Gentiles who have attached themselves to syagogues
      > (particularly the inscription at Aphrodisias), strongly indicates that
      > the existence of this group is most likely a Lukan construct having no
      > basis in reality.
      > Yuri has since responded as follows:

      > > So let's see what the Aprhodisias Inscription actually says. > > A
      > monumental marble inscription in Greek, dates to approximately 210 CE.
      > It > records the names of over 126 individuals who built a community
      > canteen to > assist the poor. Of the 126 names preserved, 72 are
      > Jewish, and 54 are > described as theosebeis, or Godfearers. Nearly
      > all of these 54 have Gentile > names, so are clearly not Jews by
      > birth. > > So which part of this evidence exactly presents problems? >
      > > Also, how about the fact that Josephus says, > > "...the masses have
      > long since shown much zeal to adopt our religious > observances; and
      > there is not one city, Greek or barbarian, ...to which our > customs
      > have not spread." (Contra Apion 2.282). >

      > Well, a couple of reactions.
      > I find it curious, Yuri, that in your call to look at what the A
      > inscription actually says, you produce a report of what it is reputed
      > to say, not the inscription itself. And a report of what it says
      > always leaves open the possibility of how accurate the report is.

      How is my report inaccurate?

      > More importantly, there's noting -- even in your report of what the
      > inscription says -- that indicates that those Gentiles who are called
      > QEOBESHS are proselytes, let alone attracted to Judaism in any way
      > and/or attached to a Synagogue. Nor is there anything that indicates
      > that they were regarded **by the Jews** mentioned in the inscription
      > as anything but Gentiles.

      All these are natural inferences from the inscription.

      > Indeed, nine of the Gentile names in the
      > inscription are members of the Aphrodisaia city counsel and therefore
      > were full scale and voluntary participants at the time they are
      > mentioned as QEOBESHS in the pagan city cult. So this does not give
      > much credence to the idea that one who was a God fearer was almost a
      > Jew or would have been by recognized by Jews as such.

      This reasoning is problematic. If they are members of the Aphrodisaia city
      counsel does this really mean that they cannot be associated with the
      synagogue? So since they appear on the synagogue inscription, and are
      described as Godfearers, this means that they are not Godfearers?

      Another more logical conclusion from above evidence may be that members of
      the Aphrodisaia city counsel had no problem combining their membership in
      the synagogue with being members of the Aphrodisaia city counsel. In other
      words, Judaism in that particular time and place was less rigid about such

      It is a common misconception to make ancient Hellenistic Judaism rigid,
      exclusionary, and uninviting to outsiders. The truth was different.

      > You seem, too, to play down the fact, noted accurately in the report
      > that the inscription was placed not at the entrance of a synagogue,
      > but of a soup kitchen. And as O'Connor notes, "such a building met a
      > social need to which it would have been perfectly natural for Gentiles
      > with a sense of **civic** [my emphasis] to subscribe because it
      > benefited the city and not merely the Jewish community".

      But "Godfearers" seems to imply much more than merely a sense of civic

      > Accordingly, within the A inscription the title QEOSEBHS should not be
      > taken as an indication of the existence of groups of Gentiles who had
      > attached themselves to synagogues

      But that's the most obvious meaning.

      > and were regarded by the Jews of that synagogue as no longer Gentiles,
      > let alone that those Gentiles who bore the title regarded themselves
      > as such.

      Nobody said "they were no longer Gentiles". They were Gentile Godfearers.
      This means something between Gentiles and Jews.

      > It is simply a compliment on the part of Jews to the moral character
      > of the donors. And indeed, there is no indication that it meant
      > anything more than Gentiles who were friendly to Jews as fellow
      > townspeople.

      That's your interpretation, but I see it as too narrow.

      > So, to answer your question, all of the evidence from the A inscription
      > presents problems for your position.

      I don't see it.

      > Now as to Joesphus: Given what is known about his notorious propensity
      > to exaggerate AND the fact that the text you appeal to not only has no
      > independent attestation,

      Incorrect. Perhaps it has, but it's simply unknown to you?

      > but is part of an apologia, do you -- competent historian that you
      > are, and one who always is reminding us of how we need to be mindful
      > of the TENDENZ of ancient authors -- really think that what Josephus
      > says is to be trusted?


      > In any case, even if what he reports as true is true (and I doubt that
      > this Whiston translation reflects accurately Jospehus' Greek),

      Where's there a problem with translation?

      > does your conclusion that the only Gentiles to whom the early church
      > preached or accepted within their fold were Gentiles who had adopted
      > religious observances, let alone that he regarded them as QEOBESOI
      > even assuming that that term had the technical meaning it reputedly
      > had, actually follow? Hardly.

      The meaning of this word is also confirmed by Julian, as I recall.

      > In the absence of evidence that outside of Luke's usage QEOBESH
      > **had** the technical meaning you think

      What about Julian?

      > it has AND, notably, the absence of this term in the Josephan text you
      > refer to, it should not automatically be assumed that the Gentiles
      > Josephus speaks of here are the same as the Gentiles to whom Luke
      > refers as QEOBESOI. Indeed, using the scientific historical principles
      > that you espouse, it would seem that the most that the Josephus text
      > warrants being said about the Gentiles that it mentions is that they
      > were Gentiles who adopted some practices associated with Judaism. But
      > since the practices ("observances") that Josephus mentions are not
      > spelled out in any detail, it is going far beyond the evidence to
      > claim that the text is speaking about Gentiles who have attached
      > themselves to Synagogues or who have all but given up their Gentile
      > identity or who are being recognized by Jews as Jews.

      So what about the quotations from Seneca as found in Augustine?

      Augustine, The City of God BOOK 6 CHAP. 11


      When he (Seneca) was speaking concerning those Jews, he said, "When,
      meanwhile, the customs of that most accursed nation have gained such
      strength that they have been now received in all lands, the conquered have
      given laws to the conquerors." .. "For," he says, "those, however, know
      the cause of their rites, whilst the greater part of the people [implying
      clearly the Gentile Godfearers -- YK] know not why they perform theirs."

      The above quotation indicates almost the same as what Josephus says, i.e.
      that lots of Gentiles are associating themselves with synagogues while
      being perhaps quite naive and ill-educated. And yet Judaism presents a
      strong appeal even to these kinds of people, who -- on the standard, and
      misguided, view -- are seen as attracted especially to Christianity. Well,
      now it seems like they were just as attracted to Judaism! So the
      attraction of Judaism then was similar to that of Christianity. Or so it
      seems to me.

      So what kind of a TENDENZ does Seneca have in this passage? The same as


      Yuri Kuchinsky | Toronto | http://www.trends.ca/~yuku/bbl/bbl.htm

      Biblical history list http://www.egroups.com/group/loisy - unmoderated

      The goal proposed by Cynic philosophy is apathy, which is
      equivalent to becoming God -=O=- Julian
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.