Jews and Gentiles in Bible Times
In conjunction with the study of several New Testament epistles,
such as the Epistle to Titus, this paper will give some insight
into some of the difficulties facing local church congregations
of the early church as they tried to come to grips with the great
cultural differences between Jews and Gentiles.
The first section is a quotation from from Alfred Edersheim, The
Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah.
"And then, as the proud Roman passed on the Sabbath through
the streets, Judaism would obtrude itself upon his notice, by
the shops that were shut, and by the strange figures that idly
moved about in holiday attire. They were strangers in a strange
land, not only without sympathy with what passed around, but with
marked contempt and abhorrence of it, while there was that about
their whole bearing, which expressed the unspoken feeling, that
the time of Rome's fall, and of their own supremacy, was at hand.
"To put the general feeling in the words of Tacitus, the
Jews kept close together, and were ever most liberal to one another;
but they were filled with bitter hatred of all others. They would
neither eat nor sleep with strangers; and the first thing which
they taught their proselytes was to despise the gods, to renounce
their own country, and to rend the bonds which had bound them
to parents, children or kindred...",
"To begin with, every Gentile child, so soon as born, was
to be regarded as unclean. Those [Gentiles] who actually worshipped
mountains, hills, bushes, etc, idolaters, should be cut down with
the sword. But as it was impossible to exterminate heathenism,
Rabbinic legislation kept certain definite objects in view, which
may be summarized:
- To prevent Jews from being inadvertently led into idolatry
- To avoid all participation in idolatry
- Not to do anything which might aid the heathen in their worship;
and, beyond all this...
- Not to give pleasure, or even help, to heathens. The latter
involved a most dangerous principle, capable of almost indefinite
application by fanaticism."
From the Talmudic Tractate Abhodah Zarah, on the subject of
idolatry, paraphrased - Even the Mishnah goes so far as to forbid
aid to a mother in the hour of her need, or nourishment to her
babe, in order not to bring up a child for idolatry. But this
is not all. Heathens were, indeed, not to be forced into danger,
but yet not to be delivered from it. "The best among the
Gentiles, Kill; the best among serpents, crush its head."
Still more terrible was the fanaticism which directed that heretics
and those who had left the Jewish faith should be thrown into
actual danger, or, if they were already in it, to remove any chance
for them to escape. No contact of any kind was to be had with
such - not even to call medical aid in case of danger to life,
since it was deemed, that he who had to do with heretics was in
imminent peril of becoming one himself, and that, if a heretic
returned to the true faith, he should die at once - partly to
pay for his sin, and partly from fear of relapse.
The Jew had a low estimate of the Gentile's character. The most
vile and unnatural crimes were imputed to Gentiles. They considered
it not safe to leave cattle in their charge, to allow their women
to nurse infants, or their physicians to attend the sick, nor
to walk in their company, without taking precautions against sudden
The Gentiles should, as far as possible, be altogether avoided,
except in cases of necessity or for the sake of business. They
and theirs were defiled; their houses unclean, as containing idols
or things dedicated to idols. Their feasts and their joyous occasions
were polluted by idolatry. You could not leave the room if a Gentile
was in it because he might, carelessly or on purpose, defile the
wine or food on the table, or the oil and wheat in the cupboard.
Under such circumstances, everything must be regarded as unclean.
Three days before a heathen festival, and three days after, all
business or contact with heathen was avoided, for fear of giving
help or pleasure. Jews were to avoid passing through a city where
there was an idolatrous feast - nay, they were not even to sit
down within the shadow of a tree dedicated to idol-worship. Such
a tree's wood was polluted; if it was used in cooking, the bread
was unclean; if a shuttle of a loom had been made from it, all
the cloth woven on it was forbidden. In addition, if such cloth
had been mixed with other pieces of cloth, or if a garment made
with it had been placed with other garments, all of the garments
Jewish workmen were not to help in building basilicas, stadiums,
or places where judicial sentences were pronounced by the heathen.
If was not lawful to rent houses or sell cattle to Gentiles. Milk
drawn by a heathen, if a Jew had not been present to watch it,
bread and oil prepared by them, were unlawful. Their wine was
wholly forbidden; the mere touch of a heathen polluted a whole
cask of wine. Even to smell of heathen wine was forbidden! If
wine had been dedicated to an idol, it defiled a man to carry
on a stick even an olive's weight of it. Other wine, if prepared
by a heathen, was prohibited for personal use and for trading.
Wine prepared by a Jew, however, which had been deposited in the
custody of a Gentile, was prohibited for personal use, but it
was permitted to sell it.