There is little evidence of conversion to Israelite religion or Judaism in Jewish scriptures. For instance, while later rabbis understood the book of Ruth to portray the conversion of Ruth to Judaism, the book itself repeatedly refers to her as a Moabite, even after she declares to her mother-in-law Naomi that “your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16). Similarly, the Hebrew text of Esther 8:17 portrays numerous Gentiles Judaizing: “Many peoples of the land Judaized because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” The Septuagint translation (LXX) adds that this “Judaization” included circumcision. While some scholars believe that this verse refers to conversion, the author claims that this action was taken only out of fear of the Jews. These Gentiles did not Judaize out of religious conviction; rather, they merely pretended to be Jews to avoid Jewish retaliation for the violent machinations of Haman.
Pieter W. van der Horst
In ancient literature (both Graeco-Roman and Jewish and Christian) as well as in epigraphic material (mainly Jewish), one finds references to persons or groups variously called theosebeis, sebomenoi, phoboumenoi (ton theon), metuentes (in Hebrew parlance yir’ei shamayim, “fearers of heaven [=God]”). Although in the past scholars sometimes assumed these terms to be just designations of pious persons in general,1 nowadays the prevalent opinion is that they often refer to a quite specific category: gentiles who sympathize with the Jewish religion.2 The evidence evinces the existence of non-Jewish groups or individuals on the fringes of local synagogues who were deeply interested in aspects of Judaism and observed ad libitum precepts of the Jewish law (Torah), for instance by keeping the Sabbath and attending synagogue services or adhering to some form of monotheism, without, however, formally converting to Judaism (in contrast to proselytes).In Greek and Latin literature of the imperial period, references to gentiles who were attracted to Judaism are rare. Juvenal the satirist ridicules gentiles who have themselves circumcised and revere the Law of Moses after their father had begun to observe the Sabbath (metuentem sabbata patrem) and to abstain from pork (Sat.