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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(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).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Proselyte'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/proselyte.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.