Gentile Impurity in the Bible

Christine E. Hayes

in Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities

Published in print December 2002 | ISBN: 9780195151206
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834273 | DOI:
                      Gentile Impurity in the Bible

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According to the Pentateuch, Gentiles are not subject to the laws of ritual impurity and do not communicate ritual impurity to others (the important and apparently exceptional cases of carcass and corpse impurity are considered at some length). However, Gentiles are subject to moral impurity: like Israelites, Gentiles can engage in sinful acts, generating a moral impurity that impinges on the sanctity of the land and the temple but is not communicable to others by contact or removable through rites of purification. Because the distinction between Gentile and Israelite in the Pentateuch is moral, it is impermanent, and Gentiles who renounce idolatry and immorality may reside within the community, intermarry and assimilate to a high degree. But in the period of the Restoration, Gentile access to Jewish identity is denied by Ezra who posits the intrinsic holiness and genealogical purity of all Israelites (not merely priests). According to Ezra's innovation, conversion is impossible and intermarriage – an admixture of seeds that ought to remain distinct – is denounced as an illegitimate profanation of the holy seed of Israel.

Keywords: conversion; Ezra; genealogical purity; holiness; holy seed; impurity; intermarriage; moral; Pentateuch; ritual

Chapter.  15012 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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