Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?

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which] many of our prohibitions in the matter of food are not ob-

served."19 On the other hand Seneca bemoaned Judaism's im-

pact. "Meanwhile the customs of this accursed race have gained

such influence that they are now received throughout all the

world. The vanquished have given laws to their victors."20 Bar-

clay points out that though they were a minority, the Jews were not

powerless.21 The Jewish people of antiquity worked the Roman

system efficaciously. Thus they practiced Judaism freely and

thereby influenced many Gentiles—"God-fearers" (Acts 13:16,

48–50; 14:1; 16:14; 17:4, 17) or Gentile Judaizers. This raises the

question of when a person of antiquity lost his Gentile identity

and became a Jew.

As a result of his research about conversion and intermar-

riage in antiquity, Cohen points out that "a gentile who engaged

in ‘Judaizing’ behavior may have been regarded as a Jew by gen-

tiles, but as a gentile by Jews. A gentile who was accepted as a

proselyte by one community may not have been so regarded by

another."22 Since no two Diaspora environments were alike, Co-
19 Josephus, Against Apion 2.38.282.

20 Menahem Stern, From Herodotus to Plutarch, vol. 1 of Greek and Latin Au-

thors on Jews and Judaism (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humani-

ties, 1976), 431.

21 John M. G. Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora: From Alexander to

Trajan (323 BCE to 117 CE) (Edinburgh: Clark, 1996), 276-81, 298-99, 318.

22 Shaye J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard The-

ological Review 82 (1989): 13-33. A similar but converse discussion occurs in John

M. G. Barclay's "Levels of Assimilation among Egyptian Jews" and "Levels of As-

46 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998

hen's latter statements reveal the complexity of the issue. Never-

theless identifying behavior that defined Jewishness in antiquity

is relevant to Luke's description of "God-fearers" or "worshipers

of God"23 as well as those whom Paul described in Philippians.

Cohen describes seven forms of "Judaizing" behavior by

which a Gentile became less a Gentile and more a Jew.24 Of the

seven, the last four are of particular interest for New Testament

studies. Cohen's fourth behavior is the practicing of some or

many of the rituals of the Jews.25 Gentiles who practiced fasting,

similation among Diaspora Jews outside Egypt," in Jews in the Mediterranean Di-

aspora, 103–24, 320-35. Barclay's object of study, however, is limited to the

Mediterranean Diaspora (i.e., Egypt, Cyrenaica, the province of Syria, the province

of Asia, and the city of Rome).

23 Luke used "worshipers of God" and "God-fearers" interchangeably. He de-

scribed a group of Gentiles in Pisidian Antioch as "the ones who fear God" (oi[

foboun qeo

proshluj sebome

some of the Gentile worshipers in Antioch rejected the gospel, a portion accepted it

(v. 50). In Thessalonica, however, all the "worshiping Greeks" (tw?n sebome


Gentiles as worshipers of God, including Lydia of Philippi (sebomen qeo

16:14) and Titius Justus of Corinth (sebomen qeo

centurion who was a "devout and God-fearing man" (eu]sebh>j kai> foboun

qeor di fobou

to>n qeo

ple. Based on the alleged lack of archaeological evidence for Diaspora Judaism,

MacLennan and Kraabel "strongly doubt that there ever was a large and broadly

based group of gentiles known as God-fearers" (Robert S. MacLennan and A.

Thomas Kraabel, "The God-Fearers—A Literary and Theological Invention," Bibli-

cal Archaeology Review 12 [September/October 1986]: 46–53). Archaeological finds

at Aphrodisia, however, seem to support the existence of God-fearers as does the

overwhelming evidence cited by Feldman from classical, Talmudic, and Christian

literature, from Philo to Josephus as well as from inscriptions and papyri. See

Robert F. Tannenbaum, "Jews and God-fearers in the Holy City of Aphrodite," Bib-

lical Archaeology Review 12 (September/October 1986): 55–57; Louis Feldman, "The

Omnipresence of the God–Fearers," Biblical Archaeology Review 12 (September/

October 1986): 58–69; and J. Andrew Overman, "The God-Fearers: Some Neglected

Features," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 32 (February 1988): 17–26.

24 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 14. For a complementary

discussion see Shaye J. D. Cohen, " ‘Those Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not':

How Do You Know a Jew in Antiquity When You See One?" in Diasporas in Antiq-

uity, ed. S. J. D. Cohen and E. S. Frerichs (Atlanta: Scholars, 1993): 1-45.

25 The first three forms of behavior Cohen discussed are these: (1) admiring some

aspect of Judaism, such as imitating Jewish unanimity, liberal charities, en-

durance under persecution on behalf of the Law (Josephus, Against Apion

2.39.283); (2) acknowledging the power of the God of the Jews like Helidorus (2

Mace. 3:35–39), Alexander the Great (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 7.4–

5.329–39); (3) benefiting the Jews or being conspicuously friendly to Jews—pro-Jew-

ish—like Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1:2–4), Petronius, the Syrian governor who refused

to follow Caligula's instruction to erect a statue in the temple (Philo, Legation to

Gaius 33.245). One might also add Augustus and Agrippa (Peter Richardson,

Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans [Columbia, SC: University of

Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish? 47

lighting of lamps, abstention from pork, refraining from work

on the Sabbath, attendance at synagogues and public ceremonies,

and eating kosher food were perceived by non-Jews as behaving

like a Jew.26 For example during the trial of Verres—Rome's

chief administrator of Sicily (73–71 B.C.) who was accused of ex-

tortion and whom Cicero defended—a public official named Cae-

cilius who had served with Verres was believed to be Judaizing

(i]oudaiverres is the Roman word for "pig,"

Cicero joked about the allegation by saying, "What has a Jew to do

with a Verres?"27 Although Cicero's pun may be apocryphal,

Plutarch conveyed the notion that if a Gentile observed customs of

a Jew, that person was a Judaizer. For the Jew, however, the prac-

tice of Jewish rituals merely served as an outward indication that

a Gentile was behaving like a Jew.

The fifth "Judaizing" behavior by which a Gentile became

less a Gentile and more a Jew was the veneration of the God of the

Jews and the denial of pagan gods.28 More specifically, the

Gentile's religious ceremony was void of images and his worship

was limited to Israel's God. For instance, when the Persian king

(in the apocryphal Bel and the Dragon) allowed Daniel to destroy

Bel, Bel's temple, and the "great dragon which the Babylonians

revered," they charged the king with becoming a Jew: "The king

has become a Jew" ( ]Ioudai?oj ge29 According to
South Carolina Press, 1996], 226–34). For further discussion and examples see Co-

hen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 15–20. These first three are not

as significant as the last four because they do not imply that the Gentile is

"becoming a Jew."

26 Cohen differentiates between those practices that bring a person into direct

contact with the Jewish community (i.e., attendance at synagogues and public cer-

emonies) and the other rituals that do not (Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Be-

coming a Jew," 20-21).

27 Stern, From Herodotus to Plutarch, 566. Compare Barclay's discussion in Jews

in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 287–91. A similar third-century example is evi-

dent in Dio Cassius. Mingled with his discussion of Pompey, Dio Cassius de-

scribed the country of Judea and the people who had been named Jews. "I do not

know how this title [ ]Iousdai?oi] came to be given them," he said, "but it applies also to

all the rest of mankind, although of alien race, who [are devoted to] their customs"

(Manahem Stern, From Tacitus to Simplicius, vol. 2 of Greek and Latin Authors on

Jews and Judaism [Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1980],


28 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 21-24.

29 Bel and the Dragon, vv. 22, 26, 28; and the Septuagint of Daniel 14:22, 26, 28. Co-

hen also cites two other early examples. Second Maccabees 9:17 exemplifies Anti-

ochus Epiphanes' depiction of "being a Jew" as linked with proclaiming the power

of the God of the Jews, and Josephus depicted Izates as having venerated God be-

fore converting to Judaism and practicing Jewish laws (Josephus, The Antiquities

of the Jews 20.2.3––47). Izates' final step of conversion was circumcision.
48 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January-March 1998
the allegation of his Gentile subjects, the king's anti-idol

behavior earned him the designation "Jew." In fact Philo argued

that "the proselyte is one who circumcises not his uncircumcision

but his desires and sensual pleasures and the other passions of the

soul.... But what is the mind of the proselyte if not alienation

from belief in many gods and familiarity with the one god and

father of all?"30 Taken in isolation, adherence to monotheism

seems to have been Philo's emphasis, not the observance of the

rituals of Jewish Law (such as circumcision). Although Philo

maintained that circumcision was important, turning from

idolatry was a significant step in behaving less like a Gentile

and more like a Jew.

Early Jewish literature emphasizes that Abraham, the

archetype of one who turned from idols to worship one God, ven-

erated God apart from observance of Jewish rituals.31 Thus

Philo's monotheistic sentiment is reinforced. Barclay points out,

however, that monotheism "obscures the significance of cultic

practice in defining acceptable or unacceptable religion."32 What

concerned the majority of Jews in the Diaspora "was not nomen-

clature so much as the worship of beings other than the one, invis-

ible Deity."33 Despite the importance of worshiping Yahweh

alone, that in itself did not make a Gentile a Jew. Thus a Gentile

who denied idolatry and paid homage only to Yahweh was
Josephus, however, also presented another perspective concerning Izates' conver-

sion and circumcision (see note 30).

30 Philo, Questions and Answers on Exodus 2.2, as translated in Cohen, "Crossing

the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 21. Although "the presence or absence of the

foreskin was ... a wholly superficial phenomenon," Barclay points out that "Philo

knew that it counted for a lot more in the eyes of the Jewish community in Alexan-

dria than a [Jew's] profound knowledge of Greek philosophy (Migratione Abra-

hami 89-93)." Philo's concern, however, was a Jew's claim to Judaism based solely

on the absence of his foreskin (Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 91).

Nevertheless Josephus echoed a comment similar to Philo's when he recorded

Ananias telling King Izates that "the king could . . . worship God even without being

circumcised if indeed he had fully decided to be a devoted adherent of Judaism, for

it was this that counted more than circumcision" (Josephus, The Antiquities of the


31 Abraham was said to have destroyed his father's idols (Jubilees 12:1-12; Apoca-

lypse of Abraham 1:1-8:6; Philo, On the Virtues 39.212-18) and believed in the one

true God (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews; Philo, On the Virtues

39.219). Job is also described as one who destroyed his idols to worship the one true

God (Testament of Job 2:1-5:3). Cohen also identifies rabbinic sources that say

"anyone who denies idolatry is called a Jew" (b. Megilla 13a). Intertestamental and

rabbinic literature vigorously denounces idolatry (Wisdom of Solomon 14:8-15:18;

b Nedarim 25a). See Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 22, n. 24.

32 Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 429 (italics his).

33 Ibid. Also see Philo, Of the Decalogue 52-65.
Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish? 49
branded a Jew or Judaizer by Gentiles, but for Jews it merely in-

dicated that he was behaving less like a Gentile and more like a


Joining the Jewish community without undergoing a reli-

gious conversion (i.e., "nominal conversion"), according to Co-

hen, was the sixth Judaizing behavior that indicated a Gentile

was becoming a Jew.34 Two sorts of nominal conversions seem to

have existed. One form of nominal conversion occurred in the

institution of slavery. When a Gentile male slave was acquired,

he was circumcised, and when emancipated, he or she attained

the status of a proselyte.35 Although the Jewish community might

not grant proselyte status to a slave until after manumission,

Gentiles were inclined to view any circumcised individual

(slave or free) as a Jew.

The other form of nominal conversion occurred in the insti-

tution of marriage. For instance, Genesis 41:45 records that when

Pharaoh elevated Joseph to high office, Pharaoh gave Asenath,

daughter of the priest of On (LXX: Heliopolis), to be Joseph's wife.

That briefly mentioned marriage was "an invitation for an

imaginative literary exercise in which themes from Greek ro-

mance were combined with a detailed portrayal of Asenath's con-

version."36 Hence Joseph and Asenath was written (ca. 100 B.C.–

A.D. 100). Although Asenath's marriage to Joseph symbolized to

Egyptian Gentiles her incorporation into Judaism, the story re-

veals that during her betrothal period she was merely a nominal

convert, not a proselyte, until she turned from dead gods to the liv-

ing God (11:8; 12:5).37

A man who desired to marry a Jewess generally needed first

to be circumcised. On the one hand Azizus, king of Emesa, was

circumcised so that he might marry Drusilla,38 and Polemo,

king of Cilicia, was circumcised so that he might marry Ber-

nice.39 On the other hand Herod the Great prevented a marriage

34 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 24-26.

35 Ibid., 24. Later rabbinic literature seems to emphasize that a slave who per-

formed ritual ablution could acquire emancipation (b. Yebamot 46a).

Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 204.

37 Ibid., 204-16, esp. 213 and then 209.

38 Drusilla, the youngest of Herod Agrippa's daughters (Josephus, The Antiqui-

ties of the Jews;, was initially promised to Epiphanes by

Agrippa, but Epiphanes was unwilling to convert to Judaism. So Drusilla was given

in marriage to Azizus by her brother, Agrippa II (ibid., She is later

mentioned in Acts 24:24 as Felix's Jewish wife.

39 Ibid.,–46. Cohen points out, however, that the sincerity of these con-

versions can be gauged by subsequent events. For instance, when Bernice aban-

50 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / January–March 1998
from taking place between his sister Salome and Syllaeus be-

cause Syllaeus refused to be circumcised. Why? Richardson

points out that "Syllaeus's ambitions with respect to the Nabatean

throne conflicted seriously with identification as a Jew, so he re-

fused."40 Thus Gentiles equated circumcision in the case of mar-

riage with being a Jew. Jewish communities, however, consid-

ered a Gentile who was willingly circumcised as merely being

willing to separate himself from non-Jews and to integrate into

Jewish society, practice Jewish rituals, and be involved in the ex-

clusive worship of Yahweh. Although the act was a painfully sig-

nificant indication of one's openness to becoming a Jew, it

reflected a nominal commitment or nominal conversion.

The seventh step to becoming a Jew, according to Cohen, was

conversion. Despite the diversity that existed between the various

Diaspora communities in the Mediterranean area, Cohen's final

"Judaizing" behavior of conversion involved all three of the pre-

vious forms: the practice of Jewish laws (category 4), exclusive

devotion to Yahweh (category 5), and integration into the Jewish

community (category 6).41 Regardless of what the non-Jewish

community concluded, the Jews realized that a Gentile who prac-

ticed any one category in isolation was not a proselyte.

While gingerly identifying the behaviors that formed a cohe-

sive identity for all Jews of the Diaspora, Barclay lists four fea-

tures of the Jewish pattern of life that "marked off Diaspora Jews

doned Polemo, he abandoned Judaism (Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becom-

ing a Jew," 25). Exceptions to requiring male circumcision before marriage existed.

One biblical example may be Timothy's father who married the Jewess Eunice (Acts

16:1; 2 Tim. 1:5). Many children of Jews in the Diaspora who married Gentiles were

assimilated among their respective Gentile communities because Jewish parents

failed to raise their children as Jews (Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Dias-

pora, 107-8).

40 Richardson, Herod: King of the Jews and Friend of the Romans, 276; cf. 44. Ho-

race (A.D. 65–68) humorously referred to "the clipped Jews." Like Horace, Persius

(A.D. 34–62), Petronius (mid-first century A.D.), and Martial (end of the first cen-

tury A.D.) were poets who viewed circumcision as an indication of Jewishness. In

fact, any circumcised person of Rome was assumed to be a Jew and liable to pay the

Jewish tax as war reparations for the revolt of A.D. 66–70. Although circumcision

was a mark of Jewishness in the west, it was not in the east because portions of

Asia Minor, Syria, Arabia, and Egypt also practiced circumcision (Cohen, "’Those

Who Say They Are Jews and Are Not,’ " 12-22). For parallel discussion see Barclay,

Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 310-17.

41 Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," 26–30. Although Cohen

never specifically identifies the fact that he is limiting his discussion to the

Mediterranean area, his examples do. As a result, Barclay's discussions closely

parallel Cohen's. However, Cohen discusses what it took for a Gentile to become a

Jew, whereas Barclay discusses what it took for a Jew to remain a Jew in the

Mediterranean Diaspora.

Were the Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish? 51
from their neighbors and thus gave definition to Jewish iden-

tity."42 In reverse order they are (a) the practical distinctions that

defined their social identity such as the worship of Yahweh void of

idolatry, separatism at meals, male circumcision, Sabbath ob-

servance (Cohen's first two categories); (b) social and symbolic

resources on which Diaspora Jews consistently drew such com-

munity activities, links with the temple and homeland, the Law

and Moses, and Jewish Scripture; and (c) most significantly, the

ethnic bond, which is the core of Diaspora Judaism (Cohen's third

category).43 Barclay observes that "when non-Jews adopted Ju-

daism as proselytes, they underwent such a thorough resocializa-

tion as to acquire in effect a new ‘ethnicity’ in kinship and cus-

tom."44 Although Cohen and Barclay broach the discussion from

different perspectives, they basically agree. A fourth element, ac-

cording to Barclay, was the social and symbolic resources that

drew Diaspora Jews together. Thus if one accepts Cohen's and

Barclay's corresponding definitions of Jewishness in the

Mediterranean Diaspora, and if no significant Jewish population

existed in Philippi, what reliable evidence exists in Philippians

that the opponents Paul spoke of were ethnic Jews?


Most of Paul's references to the opponents in Philippians are

vague and nondescript. Thus their identity is concealed. Never-

theless those who opposed (tw?n a]ntikeime

Philippi may be referred to in four statements in Philippians

(1:15-17; 1:27-28; 3:2-3; and 3:18-21).


One implicit reference to the opponents occurs in Philippians

1:15-17. While informing the Philippians how the gospel was

spreading in Rome (assuming a Roman confinement), Paul

digressed to review the contrasting motivations of two groups of

preachers. He wrote, "Some people [tine
42 Barclay, Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, 428.

43 Ibid., 399-444.

44 Ibid., 408. Barclay considers ethnicity to refer to "a combination of kinship and

custom, reflecting both shared genealogy and common behavior" (ibid., 403). Tacitus

reflected a similar grouping of events. He said distinctive customs of the Jews in-

cluded eating separately, not being involved in mixed marriages, and circumcision.

Converts learned to despise the gods, shed their patristic loyalties, and treat their

parents, children, and siblings as of little account (Histories 5.5.1—2). For a full

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