Bible Study: New Testament
Jewish Religious Life
Jewish Proselytes, the Dispersion, Synagogues, and the Temple
I. ProselytesThe term "Proselyte," προσήλυτος, means literally "one who is drawn to." The possibility of foreigners being "drawn to" join with the Jews is clearly shown in Exodus 12:48, where it is demanded that in such a case a man be circumcised before he can eat the Paschal lamb. We are repeatedly told in the Pentateuch, e.g. Deut. 26:12, that "strangers" dwelt in their midst, cf. Exodus 12:19, 38, Numbers 11:4. Isaiah 14:1, prophesies that such "strangers" shall be added to the nation, and in Esther 8:17, Judith 14:10, we read of such converts to Judaism. The LXX nearly always translates the Hebrew word גּר by προσήλυτος, but it does not follow that these "proselytes" were such in the strict sense of the term; indeed the Hebrews themselves are termed "proselytes" in Egypt, e.g. Exodus 22:21, etc., so that the word must be understood to mean simply "strangers."
In N.T. the Pharisees are blamed because they went round about the sea and the land to make one proselyte, and when he is made you make him a child of hell twofold more than yourselves, Matt 23:15. This shows us that the Jews of Christ's time did endeavour to induce men to join themselves to their worship. Josephus, too, tells of many such proselytes.  In Acts we frequently read of "those who feared God" or who "worshipped God." This expression is apparently the equivalent of "proselyte," The distinction between "proselytes of the Gate" and "proselytes of justice" does not belong to N.T. times, these are later terms employed by the Rabbis. It is clear from Exodus 12:48, that, if circumcized, a stranger could eat the Paschal lamb; when, then, we find that St. Peter was blamed for eating with Cornelius, Acts 11:3, cf. 10:28, we must suppose that, however devout Cornelius may have been, he was yet not a full circumcised Jew. Consequently it seems clear that the "devout men," "religious men," "God-fearing men," who are so often named in N.T., were not really proselytes in the full sense of the term. We have an instance of this in the case of the Centurion who had built the Jews a synagogue and who can hardly be supposed to have been a circumcised Roman practising the hated Jewish religion, Luke 7:4-5.
II. The DispersionIn Greek, Διάσπορα .
We should have but a narrow view of Israel and of the task divinely committed to that nation if we confined our attention solely to Palestine. Moses had long ago foretold the "dispersion" of Israel amongst the nations of the world, and his words were verified in those successive deportations of the defeated populace which were so characteristic of Assyrian policy.  It would be a mistake to think that those who returned under Zorobabel represented more than a fraction of those who had settled for good in Babylonia. Vast numbers were unaffected by the invitation to return; they had prospered and, where thy treasure is there is thy heart also. Moreover, while the exile was a punishment, it was for the world's gain. Whatever their faults, the Jews who went into exile were monotheists, the fires of the exile had purged out any tendency to idolatry. Their rigid monotheism made appeals to many, and in this sense the scattered Jews were, in accordance with Isaias' prophecy, a light for the illumination of the Gentiles. Nor were these exiles confined to Babylon; they went down into Egypt, they became mercenaries under Alexander  and he bestowed upon them large privileges in his new city of Alexandria. They founded a temple at Leontopolis or Onion, they passed into Syria and Josephus tells us that at Damascus no less than eighteen thousand were slain on one occasion, while at Antioch their number was immense. They flocked into Asia Minor, where Aristotle came into contact with a Jewish philosopher who astonished him by his learning  while Josephus has preserved for us a series of Decrees passed in their favor in Asia by Julius Caesar and Antony. In Cyprus, Crete and Cyrene they were equally numerous. In Italy their numbers were so great that eight thousand came forward in support of the delegation from Jerusalem against the tyranny of Archelaus.
When we grasp these facts, the gathering at Pentecost, Jews, devout men of every nation under heaven, takes on a new character. It is no hyperbole on St. Luke's part; it is in accordance with what we should expect. Further, whereas the exiles in Babylonia became to all intents Babylonians, those who were "dispersed" throughout the rest of the world became Hellenes. They spoke the Greek language, they lived in the paths of Greek commerce, they formed part of that immense body of Greek thought which dominated the known world. But with all that they were still Jews. Hence the Greek Bible, one of the most potent factors for the dissemination of religion; hence the prevalence of monotheistic ideas at the time of Christ's coming; hence — humanly speaking — the amazingly rapid spread of Christianity throughout the world.
In N.T. the references to the "Dispersion" are numerous, though they do not always meet the eye; thus, in addition to such positive references as John 7:35, James 1:1, 1 Peter 1:1, we should notice the constant reference to the "Greeks" or "Hellenes;" these sometimes stand for actual Greeks, sometimes also for Greek-speaking Jews.
III. SynagogueThe word "synagogue" is Greek and is best represented in English by "assembly," cf. Jas. 2:2, or by "congregation," cf. Ecclus. 4:7, 41:22 (18). The Greek word stands as a rule for the Hebrew צֵדׇח which is represented in the Vulgate and the Douay by "multitude" or simply by "people," e.g. Lev. 4:15, seniores populi, Num. 27:16-17, multitudo and populus Domini. The word "synagogue" stands in the N.T. for the "place of assembly" rather than for the actual people so assembled. In Acts 16:13 it is "the place of prayer," cf. Isa. 56:7, "My house of prayer," 60:7, "the House of My Majesty" in the Vulgate and the Hebrew, but in the LXX "of prayer." The origin of the synagogues as distinct from the Temple is unknown. That they were ancient may follow from Acts 15:21. At the time of Christ they appear to have been very numerous as is clear from N.T. According to the Talmudical writers there were 394, or according to some authorities, 480 synagogues in Jerusalem alone at the time of its destruction by Titus. These synagogues were not only places in which the Law and the Prophets were read, Luke 4, they also served as the schools for the children, while from Matt. 10:17, 23:34, Mark 13:9, Luke 12:11, Acts 9:2, 22:19, 26:11, it is clear that they were also places of correction. Considering the number of synagogues in Palestine it is remarkable that so few remains of them have been discovered. It is, however, interesting to note in illustration of John 6:60, that Wilson discovered at Tell Hum which almost certainly represents Capharnaum the remains of a synagogue. Oliphant also discovered the remains of several on the N.E. shore of the Sea of Galilee.
That the Jews excommunicated people is clear from John 9:22, if any man should confess Him to be Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue, cf. 12:42, 16:2.
IV. The TempleThe Temple of Solomon had been destroyed by the Chaldeans, Jer. 52:13, but was restored on a smaller scale, Esdras 3:8-13, 6:14-16, on the return from the Captivity. To this second Temple the Messiah was to come, Agg. 2:7-10, Mal. 3:1-3. But even this second Temple had suffered much, and Josephus tells us how the great cloisters were set on fire by the Romans under Sabinus at the time that Archelaus went to Rome to get his kingdom confirmed to him. Before this date, however, Herod the Great had begun to restore the Temple in his eighteenth year, or in his fifteenth year as Josephus says elsewhere. This may have been about 18 B.C., and the work was not completed till the Procuratorship of Albinus, A.D. 62-G4. Josephus tells us that Herod "took away the old foundations" apparently of the cloisters on the east side; also that the land enclosed for the Temple "was twice as large as before." Herod himself, as not being a priest, did not enter into the inner court but confined his personal attention to the cloisters and the outer court; the priests rebuilt the Temple itself and the inner court. On the north side stood the old Hasmonean fort which Herod now restored and called Antonia in honor of Mark Antony. The cloisters on the east came to be known as Solomon's Porch. The inner court of the Temple was enclosed by a wall on which there were inscriptions "which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death." One of these inscriptions was recovered by Clermont Ganneau in 1871,[see below] and serves as an interesting comment on Acts 21:28, and Ephes. 2:14. The large gate which gave admittance to this inner court from the east was probably the Beautiful Gate of Acts 3:2; the gate generally pointed out as such in the east wall of the Haram enclosure is of later date, being of Byzantine architecture.
It should be noted that in N.T. the word temple is used to render two distinct words, ναός and ἱερόν. The former denoted the shrine or the holy portion of the Temple, the latter denoted the whole Temple enclosure. Josephus makes special mention of the golden vine which Herod placed in the porch of the Temple; it is possible to see in John 15:1 an allusion to this.
Inscription regarding the precincts of the Temple, discovered by M. Clermont Ganneau in 1871 (see Survey of Western Palestine, Jerusalem Vol. p. 423):
ΡΕΥΕΣΘΑΙ ΕΝΤΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΠΕ
ΡΙ ΤΟ ΙΕΡΟΝ ΤΡΥΦΑΚΤΟΥ ΚΑΙ
ΠΕΡΙΒΟΛΟΥ ΟΣΔ̓ ΑΝ ΛΗ
ΦΘΗ ΕΑΥΤΩΙ ΑΙΤΙΟΣ ΕΣ
ΤΑΙ ΔΙΑ ΤΟ ΕΞΑΚΟΛΟΥ
"No stranger is to enter within the balustrade round the Temple and enclosure. Whosoever is caught will be responsible to himself for his death, which will ensue."
(Cf. also Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement, 1871, p. 132.)
1 - E.g. Ant. XX. ii. 4, of Helena, Queen of Adiabene ; and XVIII. iii. 5, of Fulvia, a Roman matron.
2 - For the term διάσπορα see Isa. xlix. 6 (LXX) and Jer. xv. 7, διασπερϖ αὐτοὺς εὐ διασπορα, and the prayer of Nehemias, 2 Macc 1:27.
3 - Deut. 28:36, 64, 29:28.
4 - 4 Kings 15:29, chap. 17, 24:12-16, 25:11; Jer. 52:15.
5 - Jer. chaps. 43-44.
6 - Josephus Contra Apion, i. 22.
7 - Ibid., ii. 4; B.J. II. xviii. 7.
8 - Ant. XII. ix. 7, XIII. iii. I ; B.J. I. i. i. VII. x. 2-4.
9 - B.J. II. XX. 2 ; VII. viii. 7. For the wide extent of this "dispersion" see BJ. VII. iii. 3, and Ant. XIV. vii. 2.
10 - Contra Apion, II. 4 ; B.J. VII. iii. 3 ; Ant. XIII. v. 3.
11 - Contra Apion, I. 22.
12 - Ant. XIV. x. and xii. 3.
13 - For Cyprus see Ant. XIII. x. 4 ; for Crete, B.J. II. vii. i ; for Cyrene. Ant. V. vi. 1-8.
14 - B.J. II. vi. I.
15 - See Batiffol, R.B. April, 1907; Schurer, H.J.P. II. ii.
16 - Palestine Exploration Fund Reports, 1878, p 128; 1886, p. 73-78; 1907, p. 115; R.B. 1892, p. 137.
17 - Ant. XVII. x. 2, B.J. II. iii. 3.
18 - Ant. XV. xi. i.
19 - B.J. I. xxi. i.
20 - Lightfoot, Biblical Essays, p. 31.
21 - Ant. XX. ix. 6-7.
22 - Ibid., XV. xi. 3.
23 - B.J. I. xxi. i.
24 - Ant. XV. xi. 5.
25 - Ibid.. 6.
26 - Ibid., XV. xi. 3; B.J. I. xxi. i; V. v. 8.
27 - John 10:23; Acts 3:11, 5:12; Ant. XX. ix. 7; B.J. V. v. i.
28 - Ant. XII. iii. 4, XV. xi. 5. According to Wars, V. v. 2, these inscriptions were in Greek and Latin; according to Wars, VI. i . 4, in Greek and Hebrew.
29 - BJ. V. v. 3, 5. For Herod's Temple see P.E.F. April, 1886, and Expository Times, January-March, 1909.
30 - Ant. XV. xi. 3.
By Hugh Pope, O.P., S.T.M., D.S.ScR.
Professor of New Testament Exegesis
The Collegio Angelico, Rome
F. Thomas Bergh, O.S.B.,
Edm. Can. Surmont,