Izates the Convert

In Paul and the Gentiles, Terence Donaldson continually revisits a story by Josephus in Antiquities 20.  In this post, I will tell parts of that story, primarily to see for myself what it says and to get it into my own mind.  I won’t discuss all of it, but, if you’re interested in reading it, see here (the story starts in Chapter 2).

The story is about the conversion in the first century of Queen Helena of Adiabene and her son Izates to Judaism.  Adiabene was a region in Mesopotamia that was once a part of Assyria.  Izates was sent to Charax-Spasinu in Characene, which is located at the head of the Persian Gulf.

While he was in Charax-Spasinu, Izates encountered a Jewish merchant named Ananias.  Izates wanted to convert to Judaism, but he did not want to be circumcised, for he feared that adopting a new religion would alienate his future subjects in Adiabene.  Ananias and Helena were also afraid of Izates converting to Judaism because they thought that, if Izates adopted a new religion and alienated people in Adiabene, those people would blame them (Ananias and Helena) for Izates’ conversion.  Ananias told Izates, therefore, that he could worship God without being circumcised, even though he committed to follow the Jewish law in its entirety, for the worship of God was superior to circumcision.

At first, Izates followed Ananias’ advice.  But then a Galilean Jew named Eleazar saw Izates reading the Torah and told him that he was disobeying the Torah because he was not circumcised.  Izates then got circumcised, and Josephus appears to admire Izates for this, for Josephus narrates that God protected Izates amidst the negative consequences of that act.

That’s the story.  There’s much more to it, including a statement that there are remains of Noah’s Ark in the country of Carrae, as well as a reference to Izates and Helena helping Jerusalem during a famine (which may be the famine mentioned in Acts 11:28).  What I wonder, though, is this: Why did Eleazar believe that Izates needed to be circumcised?  Did he think that all Gentiles needed to be circumcised because all Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be saved, and circumcision was a requirement in proselytism?  Or was Eleazar criticizing a view that Izates could convert to Judaism without circumcision—-essentially saying that, if Izates wanted to convert and embrace the law, he needed to be circumcised?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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