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Conversion and Initiation in Antiquity

Shifting Identities – Creating Change


Birgitte Secher Bøgh

For decades, Arthur D. Nock’s famous definition of conversion and his distinction between conversion and adhesion have greatly influenced our understanding of individual religious transformation in the ancient world. The articles in this volume – originally presented as papers at the conference Conversion and Initiation in Antiquity (Ebeltoft, Denmark, December 2012) – aim to nuance this understanding. They do so by exploring different facets of these two phenomena in a wide range of religions in their own context and from new theoretical and empirical perspectives. The result is a compilation of many new insights into ancient initiation and conversion as well as their definitions and characteristics.
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Observations on Late Antique Rabbinic Sources on Instruction of Would-Be Converts



Abstract: Abate investigates which kind of education rabbinic Judaism envisioned in connection with conversion. The sources reveal the requirements for valid conversion, and they also imply that an on-going process of acculturation will continue to unfold after formal conversion, but they display no attempt at exerting control over the further stages in this process.


According to late antique rabbinic views, with a certain degree of variation throughout the sources, the requirements for a valid conversion to Judaism include acceptance of the Torah, proper intention, circumcision, immersion, and sacrifice.2 Scant attention is devoted to the instruction of would-be converts, namely in two parallel texts describing how a non-Jew or a non-Jewess could join Israel (as will be seen below, Yevamot 47ab in the Babylonian ← 257 | 258 → Talmud, and Gerim 1:1; 4). The aim of this contribution is to illustrate aspects of both sources relating to the question of which kind of education rabbinic Judaism envisioned in connection with conversion and also to touch upon a complementary phenomenon: a relative lack of concern about defining the process that would lead converts to become competent members in the new group and new religion. A thorough investigation of these topics lies far beyond the present limits. However, I hope that the reflections proposed here might serve as an introduction and lead to future developments.

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