AskDefine | Define proselyte

Dictionary Definition

proselyte n : a new convert; especially a gentile converted to Judaism

User Contributed Dictionary



From proselite, from proselutus, from προσηλυτος


  1. One who has recently converted to a religion or doctrine, especially a gentile converted to Judaism.


  1. To proselytize.

Extensive Definition

Proselyte, from the Koine Greek προσήλυτος/proselytos, is used in the Septuagint for "stranger", i.e. a "newcomer to Israel"; a "sojourner in the land", and in the New Testament (Strong's G4339) for a convert to Judaism from Paganism. It is a translation of the Hebrew word גר/ger (Strong's H1616).

Two kinds of proselyte in Judaism

There are two kinds of proselyte:
  1. Ger tzedek (righteous proselytes, proselytes of righteousness, religious proselyte, devout proselyte)
  2. Ger toshav (resident proselyte, proselytes of the gate, limited proselyte, half-proselyte)
A righteous proselyte was a Gentile who had converted to Judaism, was bound to all the doctrines and precepts of the Jewish economy, and was considered a full member of the Jewish people. They were to be circumcised and immersed in a mikvah should they wish to eat of the Passover sacrifice. A gate proselyte was a "resident alien" who lived in the Land of Israel and followed some of the customs. They were not required to be circumcised nor to comply with the whole of the Torah. They were bound only to conform to the so-called seven precepts of Noah, the Noahide Laws: do not worship idols, do not blaspheme God's name, do not murder, do not commit immoral sexual acts, do not steal, do not tear the limb from a living animal, and do not fail to establish courts of justice. Besides these laws, however, they were also required to abstain from work on the Sabbath, and to refrain from the use of leavened bread during the time of the Passover.

Proselytes in early Christianity

The "religious proselytes" spoken of in Early Christian writings were righteous proselytes, as distinguished from gate proselytes. There is some debate however as to whether proselytes known as Godfearers (Phobeomenoi) and/or Worshippers (Sebomenoi) - who were baptized but not circumcised - fit into the righteous or gate category. A dispute over this subject is recorded in the Council of Jerusalem, see also Circumcision in the Bible.

History of the proselyte in Israel

Proselytes have had a place in Judaism from early times. The Law of Moses made specific regulations regarding the admission into Israel's kehilla of such as were not born Israelites. The Kenites, the Gibeonites, the Cherethites, and the Pelethites were thus admitted to levels of Israelite privileges. Thus also we hear of individual proselytes who rose to positions of prominence in the Kingdom of Israel, as of Doeg the Edomite, Uriah the Hittite, Araunah the Jebusite, Zelek the Ammonite, Ithmah and Ebedmelech the Ethiopians. In the time of Solomon there were 153,600 proselytes in the land of Israel and the prophets speak of the time as coming when the proselytes shall share in all the privileges of Israel. Accordingly, in New Testament times, we read of proselytes in the synagogues.
The name proselyte occurs in the New Testament only in Matthew and Acts. The name by which they are commonly designated is that of "devout men", or men "fearing God", or "worshipping God", or "Godfearers".
On the historical meaning of the Greek word, in chapter 2 of Acts of Pilate (roughly dated from 150 to 400), Annas and Caiaphas define "proselyte" for Pilate:
''"And Pilate, summoning the Jews, says to them: You know that my wife is a worshipper of God, and prefers to adhere to the Jewish religion along with you. ... Annas and Caiaphas say to Pilate: All the multitude of us cry out that he [Jesus] was born of fornication, and are not believed; these [who disagree] are proselytes, and his disciples. And Pilate, calling Annas and Caiaphas, says to them: What are proselytes? They say to him: They are by birth children of the Greeks, and have now become Jews"'' - Roberts Translation
In the citation we can also see that Pilate's wife is a gate proselyte. Though drawn to the Jewish religion, she could never become a Jewess as long as she was married to a gentile uninterested in adhering to Judaism.

Rules for proselytes in the Torah

The Torah lists several rules that proselytes (גר/ger,Strong's H1616) must follow. These precepts and their interpretation in the Talmud form the basis for any rules regarding converts to Judaism.
  • partake in Yom Kippur (Bible verse |Lev|16:29|)
  • not possess Chametz during Pesach (Bible verse |Ex|12:19|)
  • celebrate the Feast of Weeks (Bible verse |Deut|16:11|)
  • celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles (Bible verse |Deut|16:13-14|) and stand at the Day of Assembly of the Sabbatical Feast of Tabernacles (Bible verse |Deut|31:9-13|)
  • not follow after any Nochri gods & their abominations (Idolatry) (Bible verse |Deut|29:09-30:20|)
  • not worship Molech (Bible verse |Lev|20:2|) nor practice any of the abominations of the Egyptians & Canaanites (depravity) (Bible verse |Lev|18:3-26|, see also Leviticus 18)
  • not blaspheme (Bible verse |Lev|24:16|, Bible verse |Num|15:30-31|),
  • may be donated carrion to eat if in need, but must observe ritual after eating carrion or treif to escape sin (Bible verse |Lev|17:15|; Bible verse |Deut|14:21|)
  • not engage in bloodshed (Bible verse |Lev|24:17-22|) but Proselytes of the gates & the settlers among them guilty of accidental manslaughter may flee to any of the six cities of refuge (Bible verse |Num|35:15|)
  • not steal by not making compensation for damages (Bible verse |Lev|24:18-22|)
  • not if also settlers steal rights by not following the laws on contracting Jews (Bible verse |Lev|25:47-55|)
  • not steal by eating the Paschal Feast Offering if also a settler (Bible verse |Ex|12:45) or if not without accepting circumcision as compensation if he does (Bible verse |Ex|12:48) there being one law for all in this regard (Bible verse |Ex|12:49|; Bible verse |Num|9:14|)
  • not steal God's compensation for sins by consuming blood and must remember also to drain & bury the blood of any edible game ever caught (Bible verse |Lev|17:10-14|),
  • not steal God's due by not offering the first fruits after immigration (Bible verse |Deut|26:1-11|)
  • not steal from Aaron if anyone of the Proselytes of the gates would burn an offering by not bringing it to the tent of meeting to offer. (Bible verse |Lev|17:8|) but shall bring any free-will, vow, or sin offerings to the Aaronites to make atonement on the altar (Bible verse |Lev|22:18-25|; Bible verse |Num|15:22-29|) and shall follow the same rules as the kehillat of Israel with regards to them. (Bible verse |Num|15:14-16|)
  • have the right to a just hearing of cases before the Shoftim (Bible verse |Deut|1:16|; ; )
  • have the right to be chosen to carry the red heifer ashes for a water of sprinkling, but must wash his clothes and declare himself unclean until evening (Bible verse |Num|19:10|)
  • have the right to loving unopressive treatment from Jews especially if a poor or needy hired help (Bible verse |Ex|22:21|; ; Bible verse |Lev|19:33-34|; Bible verse |Deut|10:18-19|; )
  • have the right to exemption from being charged interest by Jews (Bible verse |Lev|25:36-37|)
  • have the right if also settlers to have their children contracted to a Jew for life (Bible verse |Lev|25:45|)
  • have the right as Israel's brethren (Bible verse |Exod|12:19|, Bible verse |Lev|10:6|) not to be ruled over with rigour if under contract to a Jew (Bible verse |Lev|25:46|)
  • have the right to enjoy rest on the Sabbath (Bible verse |Deut|5:13-14|; Bible verse |Ex|20:9-10|; )
  • have the right if also settlers to eat of Jews' statutorily unharvested Sabbatical year produce (Bible verse |Lev|25:6|)
  • have the right to field corners & purposefully ungleaned & forgotten harvest & fallen fruit in Jews' fields (Bible verse |Deut|24:19-21|; Bible verse |Lev|19:9-10|; )
  • have along with the Levites, Asuphim & widows the right to in the Shaari (Beth Din) feast of Israel's tithe in the end of every third year (Bible verse |Deut|14:29|; )
  • have the right to replace the unfaithful (Bible verse |Deut|28:43|)
proselyte in Danish: Noah-lovene
proselyte in German: Noachidische Gesetze
proselyte in Spanish: Siete preceptos de las naciones
proselyte in Hebrew: גר
proselyte in Swedish: Proselyt
proselyte in Turkish: Nuh’un Evrensel Yasaları
proselyte in Yiddish: זיבן מצוות בני נח

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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