What was the extent and nature of Jewish proselytizing activity amongst non-Jews in Palestine and the Greco-Roman diaspora leading up to and during the beginning of the Christian era? Was there a clear missional direction? How did Second-Temple Judaism recruit converts and gain sympathizers? This book strives to address these questions and provides an update of the discussion.
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One of the more fascinating discussions in New Testament scholarship today involves the question as to what pre-Christian Judaism thought about mission, if it did so at all. In this book, Michael Bird not only brings much-needed definitional clarity but also offers a sensible and clear path through the multifaceted thicket of historical evidence. Anyone seeking a deeper understanding of either first-century Judaism or Christian origins can ill afford to neglect taking a study like this along for the journey.
—Nicholas Perrin, Franklin S. Dyrness Associate Professor of Biblical Studies, Wheaton College
This excellent study takes up the question of whether ancient Judaism at the time of Jesus and the early church was missionary in character. Scholarly opinion has been divided on this issue, although most recent authors question whether Judaism was a missionary religion as such. Bird notes that the question of what the fate of the Gentiles might be stems from two fundamental biblical convictions: first, that God is the God of the whole world, and second, that Israel is an elect people. After carefully reviewing the evidence Bird concludes that, while Second Temple Judaism welcomed proselytes and in some instances significant numbers of Gentiles became incorporated into Judaism, deliberate outreach or attempts to convert Gentiles were only sporadic and not at the core of Jewish consciousness.
—The Bible Today
Bird offers a compelling discussion regarding whether or not Second Temple Judaism may rightly be identified as having maintained an active and consistent mission to Gentiles. . . . This source book, which offers the original Greek, Latin, and Hebrew texts along with their translations, is in itself a useful resource for those interested in the subject. Bird’s lucid study is accessible for use as an introduction, yet at the same time it will be recognized as a genuine contribution to the ongoing discussion of Jewish attitudes toward mission and conversion in the Second Temple period.
—Theological Book Review
[Bird] contributes significantly to the ongoing discussion of early Jewish missionary activity through his engaging monograph. . . . There is little to criticize in this book. . . . Bird is spot-on in his nuanced linguistic and historical judgments. Indeed, this book might profitably serve as a supplementary text in a course focusing on either missiology or biblical backgrounds. The text models careful research that has relevance for both reading the New Testament and rightly understanding missions. Bird’s book takes its deserved place in the line of missions-related studies by New Testament scholars such as Eckhard Schnabel and I. Howard Marshall—scholars who model careful historical study in the service of the academy and the church.
—Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society