28 February 2008

hypothetical converts

Terence L. Donaldson has published a good work entitled, Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism (to 135 CE) which surveys the perspective(s) that were held within various Jewish writings (some from communities and individuals as well) regarding the fate of the Gentiles in the final restoration of Israel.  I am still in process of working through the book, so will reserve further comment until a full review can be given.

This morning I was particularly struck, however, with his conclusions regarding Qumran.  It is no secret that this desert community was quite exclusive in their view of salvation, thus driving them to their separatist lifestyle.  In fact, much has pointed to their apparent exclusion of other 
Jewish individuals for their lack of commitment to Torah.  Indeed, a reading through the text clearly leaves a bleak picture for Gentiles.

Yet what Donaldson explores in his examination of their literature is an apparent openness to Gentile conversion and inclusion within their community!  What appears at first to be contradictory is explored further.  The debate itself centers around the identity of the גר in the documents themselves - a debate which Donaldson reviews but does not himself commit to anything further than those people who were not Jewish in their ethnic origin.  And he is probably right to leave it there at this point.  What he discovers, interestingly enough, is that the Qumran texts speak of conversion and posit scenarios of how a גר is brought into the community.

The ins and outs here are fascinating, but can be boiled down quickly to the conclusion which Donaldson reaches: that the apparent contrast between the inclusion of גרימ in Qumran is a matter of belief versus practice.  For, it appears that the community has written about an idealized Israel, ". . .one which included the category of proselytes but as an idealized, hypothetical construct, rather than as a group of flesh-and-blood Gentile converts to Israel."  He further states, "there were proselytes within the Qumran worldview but not within the Qumran community" (215).

And speaking of the church, the more things change the more things stay the same.

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