In the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts and in the ministry of the Apostle of Paul, Jews, Proselytes, and God-fearers are mentioned (see for example Acts 2:11; 6:5; 13:16, 26, 43; 17:4, 17). Because of Paul’s activities in Asia Minor (= modern Turkey), Christian scholarship has been interested in finding evidence of these groups in that area. Unfortunately, there is little archaeological indication of first-century Judaism in the region. However, synagogues from the Late Roman Period have been found at sites such as Sardis, Priene, Andriace, etc. And later inscriptions mentioning “God-fearers” have been discovered at Miletus and Sardis.
At Aphrodisias a unique find related to the Jewish presence in the city was discovered—that mentions all three categories noted above. It is a 9 ft. tall marble block that was found during the construction of the Aphrodisias Museum.
The marble block is engraved on two sides—both visible in the photo. It is a list of over 120 donors to a synagogue and is composed of three categories of names—all males: Jews, recent converts to Judaism (proselytes), and unconverted members of the synagogue community (“godfearers;” theosebeis). It evidently dates to ca. AD 350–500) and probably served as a doorpost in a synagogue. (Please see below for sources used in this blog post)
This main list is divided into two sections—see the blank space between the upper and lower portions of the list. First come men who have distinctly Biblical names or names favored by Jews, such as Benjamin, Judas, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, Zachary, and names such as Amantios (loving), Eusabatios (the good Sabbath).
The second portion of the list is headed with the word theosebeis (“god fearers” ΘΕΟΣΕΒΙΣ ) who are gentiles who have a strong chosen affiliation with Judaism but who are not themselves Jews. They have traditional Greeκ-Roman names such as Alexandros or Eutychos.
Several local councilors head the list of god fearers, and ten of the Jews and seventeen of the God-fearers list their professions. They are all tradesmen who range from food-providers to painters to leather-workers, to sculptors and builders. The pillar probably stood outside the local synagogue and is a striking testimony to the proud place of the Jewish community in the city, to continuing fluid religious interaction in the fourth century AD, and especially to the high valuation of craft professions among this group of like-minded monotheists. (from the description in the Aphrodisias’ Museum)
This side also lists the names of members of the Jewish community and includes “14 men with predominantly Hebrew names (including three proselytes) and two Godfearers.” (Chaniotis, p. 40)
Compare the quality of this side inscription with that on the front of it. Chaniotis argues the ‘these two distinct carving styles suggest that the inscription on the front face was carved first, when the stone was still lying flat on the ground and was fully accessible to the engraver, while the text on this side face was carved at a later date—once the pillar had already been installed in the synagogue and the engraving had to be completed from atop a ladder.’ (p. 40)
For detailed pictures of this Inscription see Here.
Chaniotis, Angelos. “Godfearers in the City of Love.” Biblical Archaeology Review 36, no. 3 (May/June 2010): 32–44, 77.
Fairchild, Mark R. Christian Origins in Ephesus & Asia Minor. Istanbul: Arkeoege, 2015.