Ancient Jewish Missionary Activity

We often imagine that animosity between Jews and Gentiles must have prevented Jews from positively influencing Gentiles. That this was frequently not the case is another demonstration of God’s compassion for all peoples. To gain some idea of the extent of Jewish influence, consider the following facts:

* Moses told the Israelites to obey God’s laws ‘for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who shall hear all these statutes, and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” ’ (Deuteronomy 4:6)

* Solomon’s prayer of dedication of the temple is most instructive:

    1 Kings 8:41-43 Moreover concerning the foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, when he comes out of a far country for your name’s sake (for they shall hear of your great name, and of your mighty hand, and of your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house; hear in heaven, your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you for; that all the peoples of the earth may know your name, to fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by your name.

* Hezekiah’s prayer:

    2 Kings 19:19 Now therefore, Lord our God, save us, I beg you, out of his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, the Lord, are God alone.

* In the Old Testament we see representatives of God’s chosen people raised to positions of prominence in important nations – Joseph in Egypt, Daniel and his friends in Babylon, Queen Esther and Mordecai in the Persian Empire.

* Consider this outcome of the events described in Esther:

‘ . . . Many from among the peoples of the land became Jews; for the fear of the Jews was fallen on them.’ (Esther 8:17)

* When the northern kingdom went into exile they were replaced by people from several other countries. The Lord caused lions to be such a problem that they concluded it was because they were not worshipping the God of Israel. Amazingly, the king of Assyria sent a Jewish priest to teach these people. Most of them ended up mixing this knowledge with their own religions, but regardless of what they did with the information, they were taught the ways of God. (2 Kings 17:24-34)

* Let’s not so focus on Jonah’s missionary reluctance that we overlook the key fact that this story of God’s longing to save Gentiles from divine judgment is part of the Jewish Bible. The Old Testament is liberally sown with verses divinely designed to inspire missionary endeavor. (I urge you to at least quickly scan these significant Scriptures.) With such a Bible as their guide it is not surprising that we find considerable evidence of Jewish missionary activity in the inter-testament period.

* Long before Christ, the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the language of the Gentiles.

* In 139 BC some Jewish missionaries were so zealous that the Romans were provoked to expel them from Rome. (Reference)

* Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees would ‘travel around by sea and land to make one proselyte’ (Matthew 23:15)

* The Roman centurion whose servant Jesus healed dearly loved the Jews and their religion. (Luke 7:3-5)

* Jews must have profoundly influenced the Ethiopian eunuch for him to travel all the way to Jerusalem to worship and to be found by Philip reading Scripture. (Acts 8:27-28)

* The Jew, Philo, wrote for a cultured Gentile audience, seeking to show that Greek philosophy was related to Judaism.

* The famous Jewish historian, Josephus, writing just after the time of Christ, sought to present the Bible and Jewish history to a Gentile audience.

See also The Distribution of Jews in Ancient Times



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