Who Are the Gentiles in the Bible?
29 SEP 2017
In Jewish biblical history gentiles are non-Jews, but they are by no means a monolithic entity. The Hebrew Bible differentiates between different categories of gentiles. The Jewish people saw some gentiles as allies or friends. Other groups of gentiles, however, had a much more fraught or even antagonistic relationship with the Jews.
1 Closest Relationships
Jewish converts new to Israel, called proselytes, were the closest to the people of Israel, but thought to retain some links to their gentile roots. Non-Jewish residents of Israel who co-existed peacefully with the Jewish people were second closest in their relationships with the Jews. By the time of the biblical Book of Leviticus, this referred explicitly to non-Jewish residents who traveled to Israel from foreign lands.
2 Enslaved People
Jews encouraged their slaves to engage in rituals including water immersion for women and male circumcision The Jewish owner was responsible for helping secure the religious redemption of the slave.
3 Coexisting Nations
The Samaritans, who had politically strained relationships with the nation of Israel, practiced a form of Judaism that members of the Jewish nation thought inferior. They also claimed a direct line to the nation of Israel through Moses' brother, Aaron.
4 Enemy Nations
The seven Canaanite nations came next, followed by the Amalekites. The Canaanites, victims of Israel's conquests, were viewed as enemies of Israel and in some cases subjected to genocidal practices. The Amalekites, the Jews' greatest enemies, waged a war of conquest against the nation of Israel.
- 1 Oxford University Press: Gentiles
- 2 The Cambridge History of Judaism -- Volume 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period; William David Davies et al
- 3 The Routledge Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus; Craig A. Evans
- 4 Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World; Louis H. Feldman
- 5 Grace Theological Journal: The Origins and History of the Samaritans