Priest to the Nations, Light to the World, Guides in Life for All Mortals

In addition to material that provides evidence for what I have elsewhere termed Jewish “patterns of universalism” (Judaism and the Gentiles: Jewish Patterns of Universalism [to 135 CE] [Baylor, 2007]), there is a collection of texts that focuses instead on Israel itself, assigning to Israel a beneficial role with respect to the nations. This role is variously described. Israel appears as the custodian of a law given for the enlightenment of all (e.g., Wisd 18:4), or more directly as a light to the nations (Sib. Or. 5.238-41; Rom 2:17-21); as guides in life for all mortals (Sib Or. 3.194-5); as a priestly nation offering prayers on behalf of all nations (Philo Abr 98; Spec. Laws 1.168); as the first-fruits of all the nations (Spec. Laws 4.180-1); as a microcosm of the world (“likeness”; Q.E. 2.42); and so on. Though the theme is especially pronounced in Philo, it is also widely distributed in other Hellenistic Jewish texts. The purpose of this paper is to provide an analytical survey of this material and to make some observations about its significance for our understanding of Jewish “universalism” and related questions (especially that of a Jewish “mission”).