was originally so used of converts to Judaism, but any one who sets out to convert others to his own opinions is said to “proselytize.” The word is commonly used in the Alexandrian Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) for the Hebrew word (ger) which is derived from a root (gut) denoting to sojourn. The English versions often render the word by “stranger,” but though distinguished from the home-born ‛ezrah (=one rising from the soil), the person denominated ger became the equal of the native Israelite, and, when the meaning of ger passed from a mainly civil to a religious connotation, enjoyed many rights. Like the Arabic jar (which is philologically cognate to ger), the ger attached himself as a client to an individual or as a protected settler to the community. He shared in the Sabbath rest (Exod. xx. 10), and was liable to the same duties and privileges as Israel (see references in Oxford Gesenius, p. 158). The Hebrew word later came to mean what we now understand by proselyte, a term which appears in the sense of convert to Judaism in the New Testament (Matt. xxiii. 15; Acts ii 10).
The Rabbinic law recognized two classes: (a) the full proselyte, the stranger of righteousness (ger sedeq), who was admitted after circumcision, baptism and the offering of a sacrifice (after the destruction of the Temple the first two ceremonies were alone possible); and (b) the limited proselyte, the resident alien (ger toshab) or proselyte of the gate (ger ha-sha‛ar), who, without accepting Judaism, renounced idolatry and accepted Jewish jurisdiction, thereby acquiring limited citizenship in Palestine. Some authorities think that the “God-fearers” of some of the Psalms and of the New Testament were these limited proselytes. The Hebrew and Greek terms, however, lost the connotation of a change of residence, and both ger and “proselyte” came to apply to a convert without regard to his nationality.
At various periods there were proselytes to Judaism. The Maccabaeans used compulsion in some cases, but Judaism in the Diaspora was a missionary religion in the less militant sense. Heathens felt in the religion of Israel an escape from their growing scepticism, and a solution to the problem of life. Josephus testifies that there was much proselytism in Rome (Against Apion, ii. 39), and several Latin writers confirm this (Cicero, Pro Flacco, § 28; Juvenal xiv. 96; cf. Reinach, Textes d’auteurs grecs et romains relatifs an Judaïsme (1895). The well-known reference in Matt. xxv. 15 supports the view that proselytes were actively sought by the Pharisees, and the famous Didachē was probably in the first instance a manual for instructing proselytes in the principles of Judaism. There were, however, varying opinions as to the value to the Jewish body of these accessions. Some rabbis interpreted Israel’s dispersion as divinely designed for the very purpose of proselytizing (Pesahim 87b.). In the Diaspora admission of converts may have been made easy, circumcision being sometimes omitted, but the conditions became gradually more severe, until they reached their present form. It is thought that the Hadrianic persecution led to this change. The Jews seem to have suffered during the war from the treachery of half-hearted friends. Again, many who had become converts to Judaism afterwards joined the new Christian communities. Moreover, in the middle ages, it was not lawful for the Jews to admit proselytes. Various church councils prohibited it, and the Code of Alfonso X. (1261) made conversion to the synagogue a capital crime. (In 1222 a Christian deacon was executed at Oxford for his apostasy to Judaism: Matthew Paris, ed. Luard, iii. 71.) Again, the pragmatic theory of Judaism, enunciated in Talmudic times, and raised almost to the dignity of a dogma by Maimonides (On Repentance, iii. 5, &c.), was that Judaism was not necessary for salvation, for “the pious of all nations have a share in the world to come” (Tosephta, Sanh. xiii. 2). If to these causes be added a certain exclusiveness, which refused to meet a would-be convert more than half-way, we find no difficulty in accounting for the reluctance which the medieval and modern synagogue has felt on the subject. Yet willing proselytes to Judaism are still freely received, provided that their bona fides are proven. In some reformed congregations in America proselytes are admitted without circumcision, and a similar policy is proposed (not yet adopted) by the Jewish Religious Unionin London, though the male children of proselytes are to be required to undergo the rite. In 1896 the central conference of American Rabbis formulated as a proselyte Confession of faith these five principles: (I) God the Only One; (2) Man His Image; (3) Immortality of the Soul; (4) Retribution; and (5) Israel's Mission. Most cases of conversion to Judaism at the present time are for purposes of marriage, and emale proselytes are more numerous than male. Female proselytes are admitted after the total immersion in a ritual bath, though in some Reformed congregations this rite is omitted. Proselytes are still not allowed, in Orthodox circles, to become the wives of reputed descendants of the priestly families, but otherwise marriage with proselytes is altogether equal to marriage between born Jews.
See Schürer, Geschichte des jndischen Volkes, ed. 3, iii. 102–135, Bertholet, Die Stellung der I sraeliten und der Juden zu den Frernden, 179-349; articles in Envy. Bib., Hastings's Diet. Bib. and the Jewish Ency. For the Jewish law of the admission of proselytes, see Shulhan 'Aruch, Yore Deah, § 268. (I. A.)
PROSERPINE (Proserpina), the Latin form of Persephone, a Greek goddess, daughter of Zeus and the earth-goddess Demeter. In Greek mythology Demeter and Proserpine were closely associated, being known together as the two goddesses, the venerable or august goddesses, sometimes as the great goddesses. Proserpine herself was commonly known as the daughter (Core), sometimes as the first-born. As she was gathering flowers with her playmates in a meadow, the earth opened and Pluto, god of the dead, appeared and carried her off to be his queen in the world below. This legend was localized in various places, as at Eleusis, Lerna, and “ that fair field of Enna ” in Sicily. Torch in hand, her sorrowing mother sought her through the wide world, and finding her not she forbade the earth to put forth its increase. So all that year not a blade of corn grew on the earth, and men would have died of hunger if Zeus had not persuaded Pluto to let Proserpine go. But before he let her go Pluto made her eat the seed of a pomegranate, and thus she could not stay away from him for ever. So it was arranged that she should spend two-thirds (according to later authors, one-half) of every year with her mother and the heavenly gods, and should pass the rest of the year with Pluto beneath the earth. There can be little doubt that this is a mythological expression for the growth of vegetation in spring and its disappearance in autumn. According to Theopompus there was a Western people who actually called the spring Proserpine. As wife of Pluto, she sent spectres, ruled the ghosts, and carried into effect the curses of men. The lake of Avernus, as an entrance to the infernal regions, was sacred to her. From the head of a dying person Proserpine was supposed to cut a lock of hair which had been kept sacred and unshorn through life. She was sometimes identified with Hecate. On the other hand in her character of goddess of the spring she was honoured with flower-festivals in Sicily and at Hipponium in Italy. Sicily was a favourite haunt of the two
- Some, however, regard Proserpina as a native Latin form, not borrowed from the Greek, and connected with proserpere, meaning the goddess who aided the germination of the seed.
- The story is reminiscent of the old form of marriage by capture.
- The idea that persons who have made their way to the abode of the dead can return to the upper world if they have not tasted the food of the dead appears elsewhere, as in New Zealand (R. Taylor, New Zealand, pp. 233, 271).
- Hymn to Demeter; Ovid, Fasti, iv. 419; Metam. v. 385.
- Aen., iv. 698 seq. It appears to have been a Greek custom to cut a lock of hair from a dead man's head, and hang it outside of the house door, in token that there was a corpse in the house. At least this seems a fair inference from Eurip. Alc., 75, 76, 101-104. The lock so cut may have been that which was kept sacred to the gods and unshorn (Etym. Mag., sxv. dweaxokvppévos). For examples of hair dedicated to gods, see Il. xxiii. 141 seq.; Plut., Thes. 5; Paus. viii. 20, 3. In Tibet a lama (priest) is called in to cut off some hairs from the head of a dying person, in order that his soul may escape through the top of his head, which is deemed an essential condition of a good transmigration (Horace de la Penna, in Bogle and Manning's Travels in Tibet, ed. C. R. Markham, 1876). We can hardly doubt that the intention of the Graeco-Roman custom was similar. In modern Greece the god of death, Charos, is supposed to draw the soul out of the body, and if a man resists the Arachobites believe that Charos slits open his breast (B. Schmidt, Volksleben der Neugriechen, 1871, p. 228). There are other instances of incisions made in the body of a dying person to allow his soul to escape (cf. A. Bastian, Der Mensch in der Geschichte, 1860, ii. 342). The custom probably dates from the times when death in battle was the usual death. In the legend of Nisus and Scylla there is a trace of the custom which was still observed in classical times in the sacrifice of animals. The practice of cutting off the hair of the dead prevailed in India, though it does not appear in the Vedas (Monier-Williams, Religious Thought and Life in India, p. 281). We are reminded of the practice ofg the Pawnees and other North-American Indians, who shaved the head with the exception of one lock (the scalp-lock), which was removed by a victorious enemy (Catlin, North American Indians, ii. 24). The Sandwich Islanders also cut a lock from a slain foe (W. Ellis, Polynesian Researches, 1834, iv. 159).