“Place of the Jews, who are also [called] God-fearers,” reads this second-century A.D. Greek inscription from Miletus in Asia Minor.

The inscription, found in the city’s Roman theater, provides evidence, says Louis Feldman, that before the third century A.D. the term “God-fearers” (theosebeis) was not limited to gentile “sympathizers” with Judaism—“semi-proselytes” who stopped short of formal conversion—but also referred to full converts to Judaism and to natural-born Jews.

Nevertheless, both literary and epigraphic evidence suggests that such a group of “semi-Jews”—by whatever name—did exist during the Hellenistic and Roman periods (323 B.C.–300 A. D.), asserts the author.

By the third century A.D., theosebeis was used as a term for “God-fearers,” asserts the author. Judaism may have exerted a powerful attraction on the inhabitants of the early Roman empire. One scholar estimates that by the middle of the first century A.D., the world Jewish population stood at eight million and that one out of every ten inhabitants of the Roman empire was a Jew.