Who Are the Gentiles in the Bible?

by Christina Lee

In Jewish biblical history gentiles are non-Jews, but they are by no means a monolithic entity. The Hebrew Bible differentiates between different categories of gentiles. The Jewish people saw some gentiles as allies or friends. Other groups of gentiles, however, had a much more fraught or even antagonistic relationship with the Jews.

Closest Relationships

Jewish converts new to Israel, called proselytes, were the closest to the people of Israel, but thought to retain some links to their gentile roots. Non-Jewish residents of Israel who co-existed peacefully with the Jewish people were second closest in their relationships with the Jews. By the time of the biblical Book of Leviticus, this referred explicitly to non-Jewish residents who traveled to Israel from foreign lands.

Enslaved People

Jews encouraged their slaves to engage in rituals including water immersion for women and male circumcision The Jewish owner was responsible for helping secure the religious redemption of the slave.

Coexisting Nations

The Samaritans, who had politically strained relationships with the nation of Israel, practiced a form of Judaism that members of the Jewish nation thought inferior. They also claimed a direct line to the nation of Israel through Moses' brother, Aaron.

Enemy Nations

The seven Canaanite nations came next, followed by the Amalekites. The Canaanites, victims of Israel's conquests, were viewed as enemies of Israel and in some cases subjected to genocidal practices. The Amalekites, the Jews' greatest enemies, waged a war of conquest against the nation of Israel.

About the Author

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.

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