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Re: [Synoptic-L] Re: godfearers

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  • Yuri Kuchinsky
    ... Dear David, I agree that it is important to understand this problem in the context of evaluating the historical context and the editorial intentions of Lk.
    Message 1 of 4 , Mar 30, 2000
      > From: David C. Hindley <dhindley@...>
      > To: Synoptic L <Synoptic-L@...>
      > Subject: RE: [Synoptic-L] Re: godfearers
      > Date: Wednesday, March 29, 2000 11:34 PM


      > PS: When I *have* referred to the recent edition of Schurer it has
      > been in connection with this same subject (Gentile association with
      > Judaism), so the disdain I've noticed *may* relate to that subject
      > rather than to the work itself. The subject does appear to push a
      > couple people's "hot buttons". Would anyone care to comment as to why
      > they think this question elicits such strong opinions?
      > With regard to the Synoptic problem, I think clarification of this
      > question will assist any analysis of authorship or presumed
      > readers/audience. It does not appear to me that all reasonable options
      > have been explored seriously.

      Dear David,

      I agree that it is important to understand this problem in the context of
      evaluating the historical context and the editorial intentions of Lk.

      I believe the general tendency in NT scholarship today is still to accept
      that the use of the term God-fearer by the author of Lk was reflective of
      his/her social milieu, and that there were ancient God-fearers. But
      recently there has been an attempt made by some scholars, especially by
      Kraabel ("The Disappearance of the 'God-Fearers'." Numen 28
      (1981):113-126), to re-evaluate the use of this term, and to argue that
      Luke "invented" God-fearers. Nevertheless, Kraabel's thesis did not pass
      unnoticed, and quite a lot of scholarship has been devoted to answering his
      criticisms, such as,

      Louis H. Feldman, "The Omnipresence of the God-Fearers," BAR 12, no. 5
      (1986): 58–63; Robert F. Tannenbaum, "Jews and God-Fearers in the Holy City
      of Aphrodite," BAR 12, no. 5 (1986): 44–57; John G. Gager, "Jews, Gentiles,
      and Synagogues in the Book of Acts," HTR 79, no. 1–3 (1986): 91–99; Joyce
      Maire Reynolds and Robert Tannenbaum, Jews and God-Fearers at Aphrodisias:
      Greek Inscriptions with Commentary: Texts from the Excavations at
      Aphrodisias Conducted by Kenan T. Erim vol. 12 (Cambridge: Cambridge
      Philological Society, 1987); Irina A. Levinskaya, "The Inscription from
      Aphrodisias and the Problem of God-Fearers," TynBul 41 (1990): 312–318;
      Paul R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor (Cambridge England; New
      York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 145–166; J. Andrew Overman, "The
      God-Fearers: Some Neglected Features" in Diaspora Jews and Judaism: Essays
      in Honor of, and in Dialogue with, A. Thomas Kraabel, edited by J. Overman
      and R. MacLennan (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), 145–152.

      Here's a good definition of this term. A Godfearer or sympathizer, as
      defined by Louis Feldman,

      ". . . refers to an 'umbrella group,' embracing many different levels
      interest and commitment to Judaism, ranging from people who
      supported synagogues financially, (perhaps to get the political
      of the Jews) to people who accepted the Jewish view of G-d in pure or
      modified form to people who observed certain distinctively Jewish
      practices, notably the Sabbath. For some this was an end in itself;
      others it was a step leading ultimately to full conversion to
      (Feldman, Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World, 344).

      Quite a lot of evidence for God-fearers in the ancient world exists, and
      I've already presented some. There's a lot more. Perhaps the single most
      important piece of evidence is the existence at the Jerusalem Temple of the
      huge "Court of the Gentiles",


      The entire complex was enclosed in the Court of the Gentiles,
      represented today by the great platform of the Haram al-Sherif. The
      Court of the Gentiles covered about 35 acres which is much larger
      than the court of the previous temple, and it was extended from its
      former square shape and made into a huge rectangle, paved and
      enclosed by a wall on all four sides. Greco-Roman Corinthian columns
      surrounded the interior.

      Herod's Temple: 19/20 BC



      The existence of such a massive "Court of the Gentiles" at the Temple
      surely would indicate a considerable interest among the Gentiles in the
      Jewish religion.

      Besides the Aphrodisias inscription, also a Second Century CE inscription
      from the Roman theatre at Miletus in Turkey speaks of a special section in
      the theatre reserved for God-fearers.

      Further literary evidence is not lacking either. For example, as supplied
      by Tertullian, here's what appears like a catalogue of Jewish religious
      customs that the Gentiles already adopted widely in his time. Tertullian
      addresses a Gentile critic of Christianity in this passage. Please note
      that, as before, I provide a convenient URL for those who may wish to
      acquaint themselves with the full context of this citation,


      Tertullian "Ad Nationes"

      By resorting to these customs, you deliberately deviate
      from your own religious rites to those of strangers. For the Jewish
      feasts an the Sabbath and "the Purification,"(5) and Jewish also are
      the ceremonies of the lamps,(6) and the fasts of unleavened bread,
      and the "littoral prayers,"(7) all which institutions and practices
      are of course foreign from your gods.

      Tertullian - AD NATIONES [BOOK I]



      Now, it is interesting that Kraabel, in concluding his examination of
      God-fearers, makes a plea for historians to stop using the figure of the
      God-fearer as the quintessential example of the "inadequacy of Judaism" in
      the Greco-Roman world. According to him,

      "The New Testament, provides no evidence of such a failure, if the
      God-fearer texts are properly understood." (Kraabel, "The Disappearance of
      the 'God-Fearers'," 122)

      If this was indeed the main point of Kraabel's analysis, then I can only
      say that his focus appears to have been extremely narrow. Frankly, I even
      have trouble believing that anyone today may wish to use the term
      God-Fearers for pointing out the inadequacy of Judaism, and that it can be
      done persuasively and without logical contradictions.

      In any case, Kraabel's thesis is clearly irrelevant to my own view of
      God-Fearers, because my main point is to show that the existence of
      God-Fearers demonstrates the very opposite of "inadequacy of Judaism" in
      the Greco-Roman world. To the contrary, God-Fearers demonstrate the great
      vigour and vitality of Second Temple Judaism, and also the non-exlusionary
      nature of Second Temple Judaism -- since so many Gentiles were apparently
      attracted to it, were also welcome to associate themselves with it, and to

      Also, I share your puzzlement as to why this question tends to elicit such
      "strong opinions". This is not entirely clear to me, but I suppose it may
      have something to do with the intra-Jewish polemics about the right
      attitude to conversion and to proselytising.

      As is well know, rabbinical opinion is divided in this area, and often
      sharply. Historically, some rabbis have been categorically against Gentile
      conversion to Judaism, while others welcomed it warmly. Also there's a
      debate about what requirements needed to be fulfilled in order for a
      Gentile to become a Jew. Contrary to a wide misconception, the rabbinical
      opinion is not unanimous that circumcision was an absolute requirement for
      all Gentile male converts, so Paul, even if he discounted the importance of
      circumcision for early Christians, was not entirely alone in this area.

      So perhaps this is part of a modern struggle for Judaism. Accepting that
      there were God-fearers, i.e. some important third entity located somewhere
      in between the Jews and Gentiles, will clearly imply also that the Second
      Temple Judaism was quite tolerant of outsiders, and that the Jews were
      willing to make special allowances and various relaxations for Gentile
      converts, welcomed them, and even sought them. It seems like some
      conservative rabbis anxious to draw strict boundaries between "us" and
      "them" may object to this idea.

      Best regards,


      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
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