Modern Christians frequently assert that early Christianity accepted Jews and Gentiles on an equal basis as potentially righteous people in fellowship with God, in contrast to more xenophobic attitudes toward non-Israelites in the Hebrew Bible. However, the Hebrew Bible is not of one mind on this topic (and noting the debates in Acts, neither were all early Christians!).
Israelites would always have had contact with non-Israelites, in their land and in circumstances of exile and diaspora. There were Philistine and Canaanite cities amongst Israelite villages from the tribal period into the monarchy; the Philistine cities of Gath and Ekron are classic border towns, showing signs of frequent mixing between Israelites and Philistines (
What is the reason for these attitudes? On one end of the spectrum, with the purity concerns typically advocated by the priesthood, there is a serious suspicion of corruption from contact with foreigners, especially foreign women. Despite the fact that aliens living among the Israelites were to be treated with basic decency—being allowed to glean with the poor among the Israelites (
In the postexilic period, Ezra and Nehemiah’s horror of mixed marriages represents an opinion that such mixing is dangerous to the survival of the Jewish people (
In contrast, Deuteronomy sometimes represents a more positive attitude toward foreigners. Although Deuteronomy permits taking foreign peoples as slaves, their treatment is to be tempered by the realization that “you were a slave in the land of Egypt” (
Some texts even go so far as to say that many foreigners will become part of God’s people. Second and Third Isaiah call on Israel to be a “light to the nations” (
Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”