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    Koltun-Fromm, Naomi 2014. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

25 - Gentiles in rabbinic thought

The rabbinic constitution of Jewish-Gentile relations admitted a definite range of plurality. The biblical categories of Gentiles seem to be: the Amalekites; the seven Canaanite nations; the nations of the world; the Samaritans; slaves; resident aliens and proselytes. Looking at how the Rabbis understood these classes of Gentiles enables one to see the wide range of rabbinic thought about Gentiles, but a range having within it a normatively significant order with inherent criteria of judgment. What distinguished the Amalekites from other political enemies of Israel is that they were unusually cruel, attacking noncombatants indiscriminately. Very much like the commandment to eliminate the Canaanite nations, the commandment actually to eliminate the Amalekites might well have been considered antiquarian by the time of the Rabbis was considered to be still geographically and politically intact. The most important rabbinic innovation regarding Gentile slavery was the requirement that Gentile slaves be converted to what was, in effect, a form of quasi-Judaism.
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