I finished Scot McKnight’s A Light Among the Gentiles. Like Martin Goodman in Mission and Conversion, McKnight questions the idea that Second Temple Judaism had an active missionary program to the Gentiles. Matthew 23:15, however, says that the Pharisees travel on sea and on land to make one proselyte. How do Goodman and McKnight explain that? Quite differently. For Goodman, Matthew 23:15 is saying that the Pharisees try to convert other Jews to Pharisaism. McKnight, by contrast, says that what is going on is that the Pharisees are encouraging Gentile God-fearers—-Gentiles who are interested in the Torah and observe some Jewish customs—-to go all the way and to become circumcised. McKnight refers to Josephus’ Antiquities 20:40-42, in which the Jew Eleazar encourages the Gentile king Izates (who is devoted to the Torah) to become circumcised (see here). Eleazar was not an active missionary, traveling specifically to convert Gentiles to Judaism. But he did try to persuade Izates to go from being a partial convert to being a full convert. Because this sort of thing was going on in Jesus’ day, McKnight interprets Matthew 23:15 in light of that.
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