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Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism

  • Jonathan Klawans (a1)


This study investigates the history and nature of Gentile impurity in ancient Judaism. It is deceptively simple to assume that Gentiles, who did not observe purity laws, would have been considered ritually impure as a matter of course. Indeed, a number of scholars maintain this position. In fact, however, the situation is a bit more complex. Ancient Jewish sources reflect two conflicting tensions. On the one hand, both biblical and rabbinic law(considered Gentiles to be exempt from the laws of ritual purity. On the other hand, Gentiles ate impure foods, came into regular contact with impure substances, and–what is worse–committed idolatry and defiling sexual acts. Ultimately, some rabbinic sources do state that Gentiles are, in fact, ritually impure (e.g., T. Zabim 2:1). The goal of this paper is to analyze, distinguish, and trace the history of these tensions and developments in ancient Judaism.



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1. The best historical review of Jewish purity law remains Jacob, Neusner, The Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1973). There are two important but dated monographs devoted to Gentile impurity: Adolf Buchler′s “The Levitical Impurity of the Gentile in Palestine Before the Year 70,” Jewish Quarterly Review,n.s. 17 (1926–27): 1–79, and Gedalyahu Alon′s “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” in Jews, Judaism and the Classical World: Studies in Jewish History in the Time of the Second Temple and Talmud,trans. Israel Abrahams (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1977), pp. 146–189 (Hebrew original: Tarbiz8 [1937]: 137–161; for convenience, citations throughout this paper will be from the English version). Btichler reviewed a large number of Jewish sources, rabbinic and earlier, and came to the conclusion that Gentiles became legally impure only when edicts to that effect were issued shortly before the first Jewish war against Rome. The first of these edicts extended menstrual impurity to Gentile women, thus making Gentile men defiled through their wives. The rabbis subsequently declared Gentile men impure in their own right, as “a precautionary measure against Roman sodomy” (p. 3). Alon′s article systematically attempts to refute Buchler′s claim that Gentile impurity emerged in the first century. Alon defended the antiquity of the notion by associating the impurity of Gentiles with the impurity of the idols they worshiped. Alon was confident that Gentile impurity was “one of the earliest halakhot” (p. 168). The approaches of Alon and Btichler are assessed in Porton, Gary G., Goyim: Gentiles and Israelites in Mishnah-Tosefta(Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), esp. pp. 276280. See also Beasley-Murray, G.R., Baptism in the New Testament(London: Macmillan, 1962), pp. 2122, n. 2. Also relevant is Sidney B. Hoenig, “Oil and Pagan Defilement,” Jewish Quarterly Review,n.s. 61 (1970–71): 63–75. Falashan Jews consider non-Falashans to be defiling, but their purity rules are often distinct, and thus do not necessarily reflect ancient Jewish practice. See A. Z. Aescoly, Sefer ha-Falashim(Jerusalem: R. Mass, 1943), p. 43.

2. For convenience, this term will be used here throughout to mean both non-Jews and non-Israelites.

3. For example, see Emil, Schtlrer, Geschichte desjiidischen Volkes im ZeitalterJesu Christi,3 vols., 4th ed. (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1901-1909), vol. 2, pp. 8992, and vol. 3, pp. 182–183; Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch,5 vols. (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1924–28), vol. 2, pp. 102–105, and vol. 4, p. 375; Rudolf Meyer, in Theologisches Worterbuch zum Neuen Testament,ed. Gerhard Kittel, 10 vols. (English trans.: Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964–76, vol. 3, pp. 418–423); Emil Schtlrer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ,rev. and ed. Geza Vermes et al., 4 vols. (Edinburgh: T. –87), see esp. vol. 2, pp. 83–84; Jerome H. Neyrey, “The Idea of Purity in Mark′s Gospel,” Semeia35 (1986): 91–128, esp. pp. 100 and 108; and most recently, James D. G. Dunn, “The Incident at Antioch (Gal. 2:11–18),” reprinted with an additional note in Jesus, Paul and the Law: Studies in Mark and Galatians(Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990), pp. 129–182, esp. pp. 142 and 167–168.

4. See below, “Ritual and Moral Impurity” and “The Mishnah: Traces of Gentile Impurity.”

5. At least this was the perception. The truth of such claims is not of concern here; see below, “Impurity and Profaneness” and “Gentiles as Morally Impure.”

6. It is possible–but by no means necessary–that the emergence of Jewish proselyte immersion is connected to the conception of Gentiles as ritually impure. See Solomon, Zeitlin, “The Halaka in the Gospels,” Hebrew Union College Annual 1 (1924): 357373, and idem, “The Institution of Baptism for Proselytes,” Journal of Biblical Literature52 (1933): 203–211. On the general nature of Jewish proselyte immersion, see especially Rowley, H.H., “Jewish Proselyte Baptism and the Baptism of John,” Hebrew Union College Annual 15 (1940): 313334. On the lack of early evidence for the rite, see Shaye, J.D.Cohen, “Conversion to Judaism in Historical Perspective: From Biblical Israel to Postbiblical Judaism,” Conservative Judaism 36, no. 4 (1983): 3145, esp. pp. 37–39. While Zeitlin′s suggestion is in some ways compelling, it is not necessary to view Jewish proselyte immersion solely as a purification ritual. The presence of the rite, therefore, is not clear evidence of a notion of Gentile impurity. It would appear, however, that the notion of Gentile ritual impurity necessitates Jewish proselyte immersion. Thus the lack of early evidence for this rite supports the claim being made here, that Gentile ritual impurity was not an ancient halakhah.

7. It is by no means to be assumed that purity-conscious religions consider outsiders to be defiling. While Shiite Muslims consider outsiders defiling, Sunni Muslims do not; see Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 33–34, and Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,trans. Andras and Ruth Hamori (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), pp. 213–216. On the Zoroastrian conception of outsiders as impure, see Jamsheed K. Choksy, Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrianism: Triumph Over Evil(Austin: University of Texas Press, 1989), pp. 8,41, 79–90. On the Hindus′ acceptance of foreigners into the upper castes, see Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus: the Caste System and Its Implications,rev. ed., trans. Mark Sainsbury et al. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), pp. 193–194 and 202–208.

8. See Dunn, , “Incident at Antioch.” Sanders first responded in “Purity, Food and Offerings in the Greek-Speaking Diaspora,” Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah: Five Studies(London: SCM Press, 1990), pp. 255308, esp. p. 284. Sanders recently expanded his response in “Jewish Association with Gentiles and Galatians 2:11–14,” in The Conversation Continues: Studies in Paul and John in Honor of J. Louis Martin,ed. Robert T. Fortna and Beverly R. Gaventa (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), pp. 177–188. See also Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief, 63 BCE-66 CE(London: SCM Press, 1992), pp. 72–76.

9. “Incident at Antioch,” p. 142.

10. “Jewish Association with Gentiles,” p. 176.

11. Leviticus 1–16: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary,Anchor Bible, vol. 3 (New York: Doubleday, 1992), pp. 10041009.

12. On the particulars of biblical purity law, see Tikva, Frymer-Kensky, “Pollution, Purification, and Purgation in Biblical Israel,” in The Word of the Lord Shall Go Forth: Essays in Honor of David Noel Freedman in Celebration of His Sixtieth Birthday,ed. Meyers, Carol L. and O′Connor, M. (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 1983) or, alternatively, Sanders, “Did the Pharisees Eat Ordinary Food in Purity?” Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah,pp. 131–254. See also Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16;and The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), and Baruch A. Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus(Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), esp. pp. 243–248.

13. On the need for such a distinction in purity law, see the related study of rabbinic purity by Jacob, Neusner and Chilton, Bruce D., “Uncleanness in Formative Judaism: A Moral or an Ontological Category?” in The Religious Study of Judaism: Description, Analysis, Interpretation,vol. 4, Ideas of History, Ethics, Ontology and Religion in Formative Judaism(Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1981), pp. 81106. Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16,alludes to a similar distinction (pp. 37–38,44–45), as does Frymer-Kensky, “Pollution,” p. 404.

14. On the need for this distinction, see Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16,pp. 37, 615–617, and Frymer-Kensky, “Pollution,” pp. 404–406.

15. The term “ontological” (used by Neusner and Chilton) would also be fitting here in that it connotes a natural state, as opposed to a moral one.

16. Frymer-Kensky, , “Pollution,” p. 403; Sanders, “Did the Pharisees Eat Ordinary Food in Purity?” pp. 140–143.

17. Scale disease and house funguses are generally impermanent, but they are not removable; they must heal on their own. The other ritual impurities dissipate after fixed periods of time.

18. See Neusner and Chilton, “Uncleanness in Formative Judaism,” pp. 86–90; Frymer- Kensky, “Pollution,” p. 403.

19. See, for example, Lev. 7:20–21, 15:31, 22:3–7, and Num. 19:20.

20. This term is used by Neusner and Chilton, “Uncleanness in Formative Judaism”; Levine referred to this type of impurity as “figurative,” Leviticus,p. 134. Milgrom, in Leviticus 1–16,speaks of the “metaphorical” use of purity language in moral contexts (p. 37), as does Neusner in Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism,pp. 24–25. Frymer-Kensky contrasts ritual impurity with “danger-beliefs,” see “Pollution,” p. 404. See also Bflchler, “The Defiling Force of Sin in the Bible,” in Studies in Sin and Atonement in the Rabbinic Literature of the First Century(London: Oxford University Press, 1928), pp. 212–269. Biichler distinguishes between “levitical” and “spiritual (or religious)” impurities (p. 214).

21. On sexual sins, see Lev. 18:24–5. For the defiling force of idolatry, see, for example, Lev. 20:1–3, Deut. 7:25, 12:31. Generally, see Levine, Leviticus,pp. 243–248. The prophets also frequently refer to such acts as defiling. See, for example, Jer. 2:23 (idolatry); Ezek. 8:10 (idolatry and diet), 20:30–31 (idolatry); Hos. 5:3, 6:10 (general unfaithfulness); and also Ps. 106:35–40 (idolatry and murder); cf. Amos 2:7 (sexual immorality as a profanation of God′s name).

22. Levine, Leviticus,p. 243; cf. Ps. 106:35–40.

23. Cf. Frymer-Kensky, “Pollution,” p. 403.

24. Cf. BUchler, Studies in Sin and Atonement,pp. 212–217.

25. Women who, willingly or unwillingly, have been partner to a sexual offense, or have been in relations with a foreigner, suffer a permanent debasement, which is often expressed in the language of impurity. See, for example, Gen. 34:5, Num. 5:13, and Ezek. 23:17.

26. The resident alien is considered to be susceptible to impurity from corpses (Num. 19:10) and from eating animal carcasses (Lev. 17:15–16). On the disparate views of P and H vis-a-vis the resident alien, see Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16,pp. 48–49, and Numbers,pp. 398–402. See also Christiana van Houten, The Alien in Israelite Law (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1991). On P, H, and purity, see Moshe Weinfeld, Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972), pp. 225–232. Interestingly, the Temple Scroll does not mention non-Israelites in the (extant) parallel to Num. 19 (11 QT XLDC-L).

27. See below, “The Mishnah: Traces of Gentile Impurity.”.

28. Generally, see Cohen, Shaye J.D., “Solomon and the Daughter of Pharaoh: Intermarriage, Conversion, and the Impurity of Women,” Journal of the Ancient Near East Society 16 (1984-1985): 23–38, esp. pp. 23–26. On the disregard for this commandment, see Roland de Vaux, Ancient Israel(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961), p. 31. For an assessment of the various biblical traditions and their implications, see Shaye J. D. Cohen, “From the Bible to the Talmud: The Prohibition of Intermarriage,” Hebrew Annual Review7 (1983): 23–39.

29. See Ezra 9:1–10:44; Neh. 9:1–3, 10:29–31, 13:1–3, 13:23–30; cf. 1 Esdr. 8:68–9:36. It is true that only local women are of immediate concern here, but then again, local women are the only ones likely to have been available to the Israelites for marriage at that time. It is a short step from Ezra 9:10–12 to a general prohibition of intermarriage.

30. Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16,p. 1055 and Numbers,pp. 398–402. Milgrom makes a distinction between “prohibitive” commandments, which are violated by sins of commission and apply to both Israelites and resident aliens, and “performative” commandments, which are violated by sins of omission and apply only to Israelites.

31. See, for example, Isa. 2:1–4 and Mic. 4:1–5.

32. Cf. Ezek. 22:26 and 44:23. See Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16,pp. 615–617.

33. Thus a violation of the Sabbath is seen as a profanation (Exod. 31:14). The use of to denote a ritual impurity does appear, but this use is exceptional. See Lev. 21:12, 22:9; and Milgrom, Leviticus 1–16,p. 37.

34. It is true that the legal codes of the Pentateuch never explicitly refer to Gentiles as profane. Nonetheless, since “profane” is the ontological opposite of “sacred,” the status of non-Israelites as profane is implied when Israel is called sacred. See Lev. 10:10 and, for example, 19:1–2.

35. Although there is no explicit early evidence for the exclusion of Gentiles from the Temple, a number of postexilic sources are replete with this ideal. In addition to the sources cited below, see Isa. 52:1 and 2 Chron. 8:11. But on the latter verse, see Cohen, “Solomon and the Daughter of Pharaoh,” pp. 34–37; Cohen suggests that Solomon′s motive in 2 Chron. 8:11 was not to exclude foreigners, but to prevent his having marital relations in the vicinity of the sanctuary.

36. See 7:21, 36:20–21, and the following quotation.

37. Cf. Hoenig, “Oil and Pagan Defilement,” p. 70.

38. The bulk of the evidence suggests that the exclusion of Gentiles from the Temple gained popularity in the Persian period. Sanders, in his Judaism,recalls Num. 15:14–16 and Josephus, Antiquities12.145–146, and concludes that the exclusion of Gentiles from the Temple was achieved by “the late third or early second century B.C.E.” (p. 72). Yet Sanders errs in believing that the exclusion from the Temple is a reflection of Gentile impurity (“Jewish Association with Gentiles,” p. 176); this view is also held by Scot McKnight, A Light Among the Gentiles: Jewish Missionary Activity in the Second Temple Period(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), p. 23. In favor of the position taken here are Elias J. Bickerman, “The Warning Inscriptions of Herod′s Temple,” Jewish Quarterly Review37 (1946–47): 387–405; Hoenig, “Oil and Pagan Defilement,” p. 70, and Porton, Goyim,pp. 259–268.

39. Generally, on Jewish purity law in this period, see Neusner, Idea of Purity in Ancient Judaism,pp. 32–71.

40. Scholarly consensus dates Jubilees to the second century B.C.E. Since it will be demonstrated that Jubilees does not consider Gentiles to be ritually impure, it will not be necessary for our purposes to consider the sectarian nature of this work. See Schtlrer and Vermes, History of the Jewish People,vol. 3, pp. 312–313

41. Translation here and below from James C. VanderKam, The Book of Jubilees, 2vols. (Louvain: Peeters, 1989); here vol. 2, p. 131. Also see O. S. Wintermute, “Jubilees: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,ed. James Charlesworth, vol. 2 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1983), pp. 35–142.

42. For example, Dunn, “Incident at Antioch,” p. 142; and Neyrey, “Idea of Purity in Mark′s Gospel,” p. 100.

43. Jubilees allows for the ownership of Gentile slaves (15:12–13, 24), a practice which would not be condoned if Gentile persons were considered an inherent source of ritual defilement. Presumably, the behavior of slaves can be controlled.

44. See also 1:9, 12:2, 20:7, 21:15, and 22:22, which all consider idolatry to be defiling.

45. The concern about eating with Gentiles (22:16) is echoed in other texts of the period as well; cf. Dan. 1:8; Jud. 12:1–2; Tob. 1:10–12; Joseph and Asenath7:1, 8:5; Add. Est. 14:17; and 3 Mace. 3:4. The concern about “inter-eating” results generally from concern about impure foods, but idolatry is also noted as a concern (Joseph and Asenath8:5; Add. Est. 14:17; and Aristeas139, 142, 145). It is difficult, if not impossible, to see this concern as a reflection of Gentile ritual impurity. If that were the concern, all such contact would be problematic, not just eating together. See Hoenig, “Oil and Pagan Defilement,” esp. pp. 70–71; Sanders, “Purity, Food and Offerings in the Greek-Speaking Diaspora,” Jewish Law from Jesus to the Mishnah,pp. 255–308; cf. idem, Judaism,pp. 214–217.

46. See Cohen, , “From the Bible to the Talmud,” p. 26.

47. VanderKam, Book of Jubilees,vol. 2, p. 193

48. Cf. 16:5, 20:3–7, and 23:14–17. On the interpretation of Lev. 18, see Cohen, “From the Bible to the Talmud,” p. 26.

49. The connection between the prohibition of intermarriage and the concern with idolatry is commonplace in Jewish literature of the Greco-Roman period. The following passages, among others, all explicitly connect the prohibition with the concern that intermarriage leads to idolatry: Josephus, Antiquities8:190–196; Philo, Special Laws3:29; Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities21:1, 30:1, 43:5; and Test. Levi 9:10. Generally, see Cohen, “From the Bible to the Talmud,” esp. pp. 26–27; and McKnight, Light Among the Gentiles,pp. 23–24.

50. Surprisingly, there is no great concern in Jubilees about ritual purity per se. The extensive narrative of Abraham′s death, for instance, does not include any mention of corpse impurity or any reminders of the need to be concerned with that taboo.

51. Cf. the passages listed in nn. 45 and 49 above.

52. This work most likely originated in Egypt, between ca. 100 B.C.E. and 117 C.E. See SchUrer and Vermes, History of the Jewish People,vol. 3, pp. 548–549.

53. Translation by C. Burchard in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,vol. 2, pp. 177–248.

54. It is not perfectly clear that Asenath has converted; she may only have renounced idolatry, which is not tantamount to conversion to Judaism. See Cohen, Shaye J.D., “Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew,” Harvard Theological Review 82, no. 1 (1989): 1333, esp. p. 21.

55. This would not, however, be sufficient for the removal of ritual impurity.

56. It also seems that it is possible for Jews and Gentiles to eat together (21:8); see n. 46 above and the discussion of Aristeasbelow.

57. See Dunn, “Incident at Antioch,” p. 142.

58. Translation from Moses, Hadas, Aristeas to Philocrates(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1951), p. 157. This letter is generally believed to date from the second century B.C.E. (Schiirer and Vermes, History of the Jewish People,vol. 3, pp. 679–684). Also see R. J. H. Shutt, “Letter of Aristeas: A New Translation and Introduction,” in Charlesworth, Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,vol. 2, pp. 7–34.

59. These preparations, though not clearly explained, are alluded to again in 203, 221, 236, 248, 262, and 275. See also 274, where the king is depicted as “mingling” (owtbv) with his Jewish guests.

60. Alon originally suggested that Judith′s rituals of purification (12:7) were a response to the contact with Gentiles that occurred while she was in Holofemes′ camp (“Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” p. 154). Yehoshua Grintz also entertains the idea in his (Hebrew) The Book of Judith: A Reconstruction of the Original Hebrew Text with Introduction, Commentary, Appendices and Indices(Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1986), pp. 158–159. Alon later suggested that Judith bathed before her prayers because it was her custom to do so, whether in the company of Israelites or Gentiles; cf. “The Bounds of the Laws of Levitical Cleanness,” Jews, Judaism and the Classical World,pp. 190–234, esp. p. 202 (Hebrew original: Tarbiz9 [1937]: 1–10, p. 8). Alon′s retraction was wise: there is not enough material in the text to conclude that Judith considered her Gentile associates to be ritually impure. Indeed, the ease with which Achior enters the city and even becomes a Jew–all without any ritual of purification–argues against the notion that this text assumes Gentiles to be ritually impure.

61. Jewish War5:193; Antiquities12:145, 15:417; cf. Philo, Embassy to Gaius212. See also Jewish War1:152, 1:354; Antiquities3:318–319, 11:101, 14:482. The Mishnah′s position on this issue (e.g., M. Kelim 1:8) will be considered below in “The Mishnah: Traces of Gentile Impurity.” See McKnight, Light Among the Gentiles,pp. 22–23.

62. P. Jean-Baptiste Frey, Corpus Inscriptionum ludaicarum,2 vols. (Vatican City: Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, 1936, 1952), vol. 2,# 1400. The text is also reproduced in Ralph Marcus and Allen Wikgren, eds., Josephus,vol. 8 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press [Loeb Classical Library], 1969), pp. 202–203. For a discussion, see Bickerman, “Warning Inscriptions of Herod′s Temple,” and Virgil Roy Lee Fry, “The Warning Inscriptions from the Herodian Temple” (Ph.D. diss., Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1974).

63. “Warning Inscriptions of Herod′s Temple,” p. 390; cf. Against Apion2:209–210, 2:257–261. According to Bickerman, the exclusion of aliens was a common practice among the peoples of the ancient world (pp. 389–390).

64. Cf. Baumgarten, J.M., “Exclusions from the Temple: Proselytes and Agrippa I,” Journal of Jewish Studies 33 (1982): 215225, esp. pp. 215–216.

65. Jewish War5:198–204, Antiquities15:319; cf. M. Kelim 1:8–9, cited below in “The Mishnah: Traces of Gentile Impurity.”

66. Thus we must reject Sanders′s suggestion that the exclusion of Gentiles was the only practical ramification of Gentile impurity (“Jewish Association,” p. 176).

67. Both the Temple Scroll and 4Q Florilegium suggest that proselytes were to be excluded from the Temple (11QT XL:6; 4Q Flor 1:4). See Joseph M. Baumgarten, “The Exclusion of ′Netinim′ and Proselytes in 4Q Florilegium,” Revue de Qumran8, no. 1 (1972): 87–95, and “Exclusions from the Temple,” pp. 215225. At Qumran, proselytes (again, like women) are excluded from the Temple but are not otherwise considered to be impure. The exclusion of proselytes results from their inherent profaneness: so inherent is this profaneness that it endures even after conversion. See Lawrence H. Schiffman, “Exclusion from the Sanctuary and the City of the Sanctuary in the Temple Scroll,” Hebrew Annual Review9 (1985): 301–320, esp. pp. 303–305.

68. Presumably Sukkoth (cf. the rabbinic use of in). See Ralph Marcus, ed., Josephus,vol. 7 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press [Loeb Classical Library], 1976), p. 413 n.d. The Greek translated by Marcus as “to purify” is ccyveuw. The regular Septuagint parallel for

69. “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” p. 154.

70. Malichus had murdered Antipater, and Herod did subsequently kill him in revenge (Antiquities14:292).

71. Note Jewish War′s (“pretense”) and Antiquities′ (“he gave as a pretext”).

72. Josephus describes in detail the care taken to keep the priestly vestments pure (Antiquities18:90–95), and Alon believes that the passage also testifies to the ritual impurity of Gentiles (“Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” p. 154). However, there is a text-critical problem here that Alon does not mention: the purification being discussed may apply only to the high priest (Antiquities18:94; see L. H. Feldman, ed., Josephus,vol. 9 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press [Loeb Classical Library], 1969), p. 67, n.b.). More importantly, the text itself gives no reason to assume that the vestments–or the priest–were made impure by contact with Gentiles.

73. “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” pp. 153–154.

74. Hoenig, , “Oil and Pagan Defilement,” pp. 63, 66.

75. Even though the relationship between Qumran and the Essenes is questioned, it is important to note that, Jewish War2:150 notwithstanding, there is little evidence from the Qumran literature itself to support the claim that all Gentiles were considered to be ritually impure. Despite Qumran′s purity consciousness, some of the sectarian legislation assumes economic relations with the Gentiles. For example, CD XII:6–11 prohibits selling certain animals and Jewish slaves to Gentiles, but not all economic activity.

76. Alon, , “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” p. 154; Neyrey, “Idea of Purity in Mark′s Gospel,” p. 100; Strack and Billerbeck,Kommentar zum Neuen Testament,vol. 1, p. 102. Acts is commonly dated to the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century C.E. See Hans, Conzelmann, Acts of the Apostles(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), p. xxxiii.

77. At least until the houses are examined (18:8); see below, “The Mishnah: Traces of Gentile Impurity.”

78. The word means “join” in Luke 15:15 and Acts 5:13, 8:29, 9:26, and 17:34, and “cling” in Luke 10:11. See also Rom. 12:9, where RSV translates the verb as “hold fast.”

79. Gen. 2:24: “Hence a man leaves his father and clings to his wife.” The word is used similarly in a number of other New Testament passages. See particularly 1 Cor. 6:16–17 and Eph. 5:31.

80. Cf. Schtlrer and Verities, History of the Jewish People,vol. 2 pp. 83–84, which interprets Acts 10:28 in the light of M. Ohalot 18:7: “[Acts 10:28] does not mean that such an association was forbidden, but that each such association was a cause of defilement.” This view, however, is forced: the Greek term used here () means “unlawful.”

81. Another important New Testament verse to consider is John 18:28, which states that there were Jews who refused to enter the praetorium lest they be denied and not be able to eat the Passover sacrifice. It should be noted that according to John 18, Matt. 27, and Mark IS, the praetorium is where Jesus was beaten. One can assume that any number of bloody activities took place there, and that there would have been a fear of contracting corpse impurity.

82. Helmut, Koester, Introduction to the New Testament,vol. 2, History and Literature of Early Christianity(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1982), p. 310; Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary,Anchor Bible, vol. 28 (New York: Doubleday, 1979), pp. 41–7.

83. Sanders, Jack T., The Jews in Luke-Acts(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1987).

84. Ibid., p. 257.

85. Kraabel, A.T. questioned the existence of God-fearers in antiquity in “The Disappearance of the ‘God-Fearers’,” Numen 28 (1981): 113116. Yet Louis Feldman provides a thorough review of the evidence, and all but proves the existence of God-fearers in antiquity in his “Proselytes and ′sympathizers′ in the Light of the New Inscriptions from Aphrodisias,” Revue des e′tudes juives148 (1989): 265–305.

86. See Acts 10:2, 22, 35; 13:16,26,43,50; 16:14; 17:4,17; 18:7 (Kraabel, “Disappearance of the ′God-fearers′,” pp. 114–115).

87. One other passage in Acts is pertinent to our topic, and that is the narrative in Acts j 21 in which Paul is arrested on the charge of having introduced Gentiles into the Temple. The I interpretations applied to the Josephus passages noted above apply here as well. Note how, in. ] 21:28, Paul is accused of profaning the Temple, not defiling it. Acts 24:6 employs the similar term (which in the Septuagint commonly translates ). Note also that Paul purifies himself before entering the Temple (Acts 21:23–26). In this regard see M. Yoma 3:3, which obligates all Jews–even those not impure–to immerse before entering the Temple court for service.

88. Generally, on rabbinic purity law, see Neusner, , A History of the Mishnaic Law of Purities,22 vols. (Leiden, E. J. Brill, 1974-1977), esp. vol. 22.

89. This point is emphasized by Neusner and Chilton in “Uncleanness in Formative Judaism,” pp. 81–85.

90. See, for example, Zarah, M. Avodah 3:6. Generally, see Btlchler, “The Defiling Force of Sin in Post-Biblical and Rabbinic Literature,” in Studies in Sin and Atonement,pp. 270374.

91. The best review of Gentile impurity in tannaitic sources is Porton, Goyim,pp. 269–283. Porton, however, deals with the Mishnah and Tosefta as a unit, while for this topic, it is better to deal with them separately.

92. Generally, see Alon, “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” pp. 154–156; Porton, Goyim,pp. 272–273.

93. Unless otherwise noted, all cited passages are unattributed. Translations of the Mishnah and of certain mishnaic terms here and below are taken from Herbert Danby, The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933). Note that Danby uses “uncleanness” in place of “impurity.”

94. “All are susceptible to uncleanness by reason of a flux, even proselytes,” but not Gentiles. Compare T. Zabim 2:1, quoted below in “The Tosefta: Gentile Impurity Established.”

95. Cf. B. Nazir 61b.

96. Gentile lands are presumed to be impure (M. Toharot 4:5), but this affects Israelites, not Gentiles.

97. Btlchler emphasizes the importance of this text and suggests that the attribution of menstrual impurity to Gentile women was the earliest stage (ca. early 1st cent, C.E.) in the emergence of the notion of Gentile impurity (“Levitical Impurity of the Gentile,” pp. 9–15). Alon, on the other hand, accepts the Gemara′s resolution of this conflict, and suggests that the dispute in M. Niddah 4:3 actually concerns flux impurity (Ibid, pp. 161–162, esp. n. 27). The plain sense of the Mishnah, which explicitly mentions the blood of a Gentile woman, precludes Alon′s interpretation.

98. It is also possible, but less likely, that M. Makshirin 2:3 assumes that Gentiles are never impure. Thus the pots would be considered clean if the combined number of Gentiles and pure Israelites is higher than that of impure Israelites. There is another relevant ruling that is equally inconclusive with regard to our topic. M. Sheqalim 8:1 states: “Any spittle found in Jerusalem may be deemed free from uncleanness, excepting what is found in the Upper Market. So R. Meir.” Since this statement is attributed to Rabbi Meir, it can be assumed that the rest of the sages held a different opinion, and it is difficult–if not impossible–to tell here what that opinion would have been. In the Yerushalmi (8:1; 51a), R. Avin says in the name of Joshua b. Levi that the prohibition is due to the presence of Gentiles in Jerusalem, but other explanations ate offered as well.

99. Cf. M. Ohalot 18:8 and M. Niddah 3:7; cf. Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnahad loc; Chanokh Albeck, Shishah Sidre Mishnah,6 vols. (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1958), vol. 6, p. 186; Neusner, Mishnaic Law of Purities,vol. 4, pp. 340–341; Porton, Goyim,p. 274, n. 22.

100. Alon, “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” pp. 150–151; Dunn, “Incident at Antioch,” p. 142; cf. Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament,vol. 1, pp. 102–104.

101. The Gemara (Pesahim 92a) suggests that this is a preventive measure, lest the new convert, who could never have contracted impurity before his conversion, think that impurities contracted before Passover can be removed without waiting a week.

102. On the rampart see M. Middot 2:3.

103. Mention should be made of M. Terumot 8:11, which implies that a Gentile can defile a heave-offering. It is not indicated, however, how that defilement occurs–whether the Gentile′s touch is sufficient, or whether the Gentile intends to bring the offering into contact with some impure substance. It is likely that the term “defile” here means something more insidious than simple contact, since the following paragraph (M. Terumot 8:12) uses the term “defile” in the sense of “rape.”

104. For the juxtaposition of sinners with tax collectors, cf. Matt. 9:9–13, Mark 2:13–17, and Luke 5:27–32.

105. The Tosefta (Toharot 8:6) assigns this ruling to R. Meir. For a ruling that permits admitting a Gentile woman into a Jewish home, see M. Avodah Zarah 2:1, discussed in this section.

106. Alon ultimately suggests that Gentile impurity results from the impurity of idols and idolatry (“Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” p. 147). Alon′s reasoning is as follows: He notes that rabbinic sources differ with regard to the nature of Gentile impurity, some sources comparing Gentiles to a zab,others to a reptile, and others to a corpse (pp. 168–169). Alon sees a similar confusion with regard to idol impurity, and therefore assumes that there must be a linear connection between the two (pp. 171–172). Alon′s logic is faulty enough on its own, but the analysis of M. Avodah Zarah further weakens his thesis. If Gentiles were considered to be inherently impure from the earliest times, because of association with idolatry, as Alon suggests, then one would expect to find reflections of that injunction here in the tractate. Yet, as will be seen, there are few echoes of the impurity of idols here, and none of the impurity of Gentiles.

107. Only in M. Avodah Zarah 5:11 do the ontological categories become somewhat blurred. There, certain winepresses are deemed clean, in contrast to an earthenware press, which is deemed to be forbidden.

108. The Mishnah then states that an idol that encroaches on public space does not convey the impurity normally conveyed to an Israelite who passes under an idol. And in M. Avodah Zarah 3:3, Israelites are commanded to throw certain idols into the Dead Sea, without mention of impurity contracted either from touch or from carrying.

109. See also M. Bekorot 5:2, where the School of Hillel permit a Gentile to join with a priest in the consumption of a firstling. See also M. Berakot 7:1: the exclusion of a Gentile from a pits suggests that eating with a Gentile is permissible. Generally, see Sanders, “Jewish Association with Gentiles,” p. 175.

110. Generally, the Mishnah prohibits drinking Gentile wine because of the possibility of its use in idolatrous libations. While the rabbis considered Gentile impurity to be a rabbinic law, they ascribed scriptural authority to the prohibition of Gentile wine. See B. Avodah Zarah 29b, Deut. 32:38; cf. Dan. 1:5–16.

111. Any nursing by a Gentile is to take place in the house of a Jew. At least for this purpose, it was considered permissible for Gentile women to enter a Jewish residence. Here there is no concern that the house will be deemed impure. Compare M. Toharot 7:6, discussed above.

112. Israelites are not permitted to serve in such capacities for Gentiles, lest by doing so they contribute to the proliferation of pagan worship.

113. But here the ruling is attributed to R. Simeon, who also states that the impurity of Gentiles derives only from the scribes See below, “The Talmudim: Impurity by Decree.”

114. Porton, Goyim,p. 273.

115. And T. Toharot 5:2 parallels M. Makshirin 2:3; see discussion above.

116. Alon, “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” pp. 152–153, 165; Biichler, “Levitical Impurity of the Gentile,” pp. 8–9; cf. See Saul Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-Fshutah: A Comprehensive Commentary on the Tosefta,10 vols. (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1955–88), vol. 4, pp. 805–806.

117. The last passage connects Gentiles to corpse impurity as well; cf. T. Avodah Zarah 4(5): 11, which also operates on an assumption of Gentile impurity. Afidrar-impurity is conveyed to any object on which a zableans, sits, or walks. The object so denied then conveys impurity as well.

118. Lieberman, Tosefeth Rishonim: A Commentary Based on Manuscripts of the Tosefta and Works of the Rishonim and Midrashim in Manuscripts and Rare Editions(Jerusalem: Bamberger & Wahrmann, 1937–39), vol. 3, p. 269.

119. Yet T. Niddah 2:5 permits the activity. Compare T. Avodah Zarah 3:3, and see Lieberman, Tosefta Ki-Fshutah,vol. 3, pp. 149–150. The Palestinian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2:1,40c) permits the activity, but states that there is to be no fear about impurity (which can be taken to mean that one should expect there to be concern about impurity).

120. Recall that the Mishnah paired Gentiles with those who who suffer from corpse impurity (permitting them up to the rampart), while zabimwere excluded from the Temple Mount altogether. See the discussion of M. Kelim 1:8 above.

121. This notion is reflected also in T. Niddah 9:14, where R. Simeon connects Gentile impurity to the scribes.

122. Michael Higger, Otzar ha-Baraitot,10 vols. (New York: Shulsinger Bros., 1944), vol. 8, p. 399,# 56.


124. Higger, Otzar ha-Baraitot,vol. 7, p. 181,# 489.

125. For a romantic reconstruction, see Solomon Zeitlin, The Rise and Fall of the Judaean State,3 vols. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1967) vol. 2, p. 239. Unlike B. Shabbat and the other traditions noted above, the tradition in B. Avodah Zarah considers Gentile women to be like menstruants, not zabim.

126. Higger, Otzar ha-Baraitot,vol. 9, p. 280,#55. For a discussion of the possible antiquity of this source, see David Halivni, Meqorot U-Mesorot: Seder Moed Shabbat(Jerusalem: Jewish Theological Seminary, 1982), pp. 236–268.

127. “Proselytes and Proselytism During the Second Commonwealth and the Early Tannaitic Period,” in Harry Austryn Wolf son Jubilee Volume,ed. Saul Lieberman et al., 2 vols. (Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research, 1965), vol. 2, pp. 871–881; see esp. pp. 877–878. Zeitlin, by extension, associates the origin of Jewish proselyte immersion with the same decree. It is truly a curious coincidence that the requirements for conversion (immersion and sacrifice) are also required for the purification of a tab(pp. 877–878). See n. 6 above.

128. Alon, , “Levitical Uncleanness of Gentiles,” pp. 156158.

129. The decree(s) may or may not have explicitly placed Gentiles in the legal category of the Tfib.While most of the sources agree with this analogy, a few (B. Shabbat 83b and B. Avodah Zarah 36b) question the point. Since flux impurity is a severe form of impurity, it is possible to explain the “traces” of impurity found in the Mishnah as echoes of such a decree, for flux impurity affects blood, urine, and spittle.

130. For citations in subsequent halakhic literature, see “Tum′ah be-Goy ve-Eved,” Talmudic Encyclopedia,vol. 19, p. 500.

131. Geneba says in the name of Rav that the edicts were declared because of idolatry (B. Avodah Zarah 36b), and Rav Nahman b. Isaac says that young Gentile boys were declared impure to prevent sexual contact between them and Jewish boys (B. Avodah Zarah 36b, B. Shabbat 17b).

132. Thus Zeitlin′s suggestion that nationalist motives lay behind the decrees is probably not far from the truth, but it remains just a suggestion. See “Halaka in the Gospels,” p. 361.

133. I would like to thank Professors Burton L. Visotzky and Lawrence H. Schiffman for kindly assisting me in the preparation of this paper.

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Notions of Gentile Impurity in Ancient Judaism

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