The Supreme Gods of the Bosporan Kingdom: Celestial Aphrodite and the Most High God

By Yulia U. Ustinova | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
THEOS HYPSISTOS AND JUDAISM

2.2.1 Jewish Sympathizers?

Schürer suggested a Jewish connection for Theos Hypsistos; later advocates of his approach have not added new arguments of substantial importance. In their opinion, the phrase σεβόμενοι θεὲν ὕψιστον designated Jewish semi- or quasi-proselytes all over the Mediterranean, disregarding the context. This conviction has, however, been challenged: the question under discussion is, using the apt words of Lake (1933: 84), “to what extent φοβούμενοι τòν θεόν is a technical description of the non Jewish fringe attending the Synagogue, or is merely an honorable epithet applicable to Jew, Gentile, or Proselyte, as the context may decide.”

In terms of Jewish law, the word “semi-proselyte” is senseless (Moore 1927: 326; Lake 1933: 76; Siegert 1973: 163), Feldman (1950: 200), therefore, prefers the designation “sympathizer.” But what kind of reality lay behind this conventional nomination? There is no doubt that pagans came to the synagogues, attracted by their teaching and practice.1 However, there is an air of vagueness about the definition of the Jewish sympathizers, both in the classical and the rabbinical literature (Reynolds and Tannenbaum 1987: 58–59; Cohen 1989: 33).2 Gentiles interested in Judaism could simply study its teachings, adopt monotheism as a kind of philosophy, or visit the synagogue and imitate the Jewish way of life to whatever degree, observing some regulations, but not converting (Reynolds and Tannenbaum 1987: 65).3

1 The literature on the “god-fearers” is enormous. See especially: Lake 1933:
Feldman 1950; 1986; 1989; 1992; 1993: 342–382; Robert 1964: 39–45; Romaniuk
1964; Siegert 1973; Stern 1974–84: 103–107; Kraabel 1981; Wilcox 1981; MacLennan
and Kraabel 1986; Millar 1986; Overman 1992; Reynolds and Tannenbaum 1987;
Kant 1987: 687–690. For a fuller bibliography see Feldman 1993: 569, note 1.

2 For an analysis of different aspects in “crossing the boundary and becoming a
Jew,” with an emphasis on the stages preceding full conversion see: Cohen 1989.

3 Indeed, during the first centuries AD even such categories as “Jew” and
“Christian” were far from being clearly defined. As Kee (1992: 184) emphasizes,

-203-

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