God-fearers Inscription(s) from Aphrodisais

God-fearers Inscription(s) from Aphrodisais May 28, 2011

On our last day in Turkey, on Wednesday of this week, we visited the ancient site of Aphrodisias. The city does not appear in the New Testament but it is smack dab in the middle of the seven churches of Revelation and Paul’s cities. The picture above was taken in the restored majestic city gate called the Tetrapylon.

In Aphrodisias an important inscription was found in the late the Twentieth century. Published only in 1987 by Reynolds and Tannenbaum (Cambridge Philological Society), the inscription not only shows that Luke was a competent historian, but also gives primary evidence for a category of Gentile.

The inscription(s), dated somewhere between the 3rd and 5th century A.D., is on a square marble column that to the eyeball looks to be about 9 ft tall. It was most likely part of the synagogue building at the center of a thriving Diaspora Jewish community. The inscription raps around two sides of the column and provides a list of about 135 names. The front (side facing in picture) being much longer than the side.

Since the publication of the inscription, a consensus has been reached, according to Kock (2006), that believes the inscriptions on the two sides of the marble are not connected. The front side (longer) being earlier (3rd c.) than the other (shorter) (5th c.). This conclusion seems warranted given the different hands, although the original argument for a unified inscription cannot be ruled out.

There’s much that can be said about this very important inscription. However, I want to note the use of the term “God-fearer” which appears on both sides. The marble clearly derives from a Jewish context given the priority and separation of Jewish and Gentile names. The term “God-fearer” follows two names on the shorter inscription designating two individuals of one of the categories of people: Jews, Proselytes and God-fearers. These people are members of a Jewish association most likely one that was responsible for the burial of Jews (funeral associations were common in the Greco-Roman world). Their names are inscribed because they contributed to the building of a tomb for Jewish burial. Most striking is that all three groups are designated as “lovers of learning” and “those who wholly praise God”.

On the longer side of the marble, two lists of names is provided, although the context for their honor is unknown if we follow the consensus. The first set of names are Jews. There is then a space of five lines. After the space a new list begins of Gentile names. This list is introduced with the phrase:

ΚΑΙ ΟCΟΙ ΘΕΟCΕΒCΙ (και οσοι θεοσεβις)
“and to these god-fearers”

A Gentile “God-fearer” in a Jewish context can refer to a wide range of “kinds” of Gentiles–from one socially connected to the Jewish community to one committed in some way to Jewish belief and practice.

This inscription(s), however, provides direct and primary evidence to support Luke’s designation of Gentile God-fearers congregating in the Synagogue in Acts (Acts 10:1., 22; 13:16, 26; 16:14; 18:7). It was to this kind of Gentile that Paul primarily conducted his Apostolic missionary work according to Luke in Acts. The implication of which, Oskar Skarsuane has rightfully pointed out in his book In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity

We meet a very Jewish Paul, who conducted his mission almost entirely within the bounds of the synagogue and the circle of God-fearing Gentiles attached to it (174).

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