ONḲELOS (commonly called the Proselyte Onḳelos):
Tanna of the end of the first century
As a characteristic of Onḳelos is mentioned his extraordinarily strict observance of the Levitical laws of purity; he observed in his daily life the same laws of purity that Scripture commands at sacrifices. He surpassed on this point even the patriarch Gamaliel II., who also was extremely rigorous in these observances (Tosef., Ḥag. iii. 2-3). Once, when both were at Ashkelon, Onḳelos took his ritual bath in the sea because he held that the bathing-places outside of the Jewish territory were not fit to be used; the patriarch, however, was not so rigorous (Tosef., Miḳ. vi. 3). The relation between the two seems to have been a very close one, as Onḳelos is almost always mentioned together with the patriarch (in addition to the passages quoted, comp. Tosef., Kelim, B. Ḳ. ii. 4); hence when R. Gamaliel died Onḳelos arranged a costly funeral by burning spices and other materials that were used at the burial of royal personages (Tosef., Shab. vii. 18; 'Ab. Zarah 11a; Sem. vii.). It is related, as an example of Onḳelos' piety; that on coming into possession of the property which his pagan father had left to him and his pagan brother, he laid aside those things that were forbidden to the Jews, nor would he exchange them for anything else, as he might legally have done (Tosef., Dem. vi. 13; Yer. Dem. 25a reads "Aquila" instead of "Onḳelos," but it has been by no means proved—notwithstanding Frankel and many other modern scholars—that Yerushalmi has the right reading).Conversion to Judaism.
There are a number of Talmudic legends concerning Onḳelos. He is said to have been the son of a Kalonymus, or, according to another version, of Kalonikos. When he had become a convert to Judaism, the emperor sent a cohort to take him prisoner, but Onḳelos converted his would-be captors by citing Biblical sentences; this happened no less than three times. The fourth time he was taken prisoner because the soldiers had strict orders not to speak with him. They noticed, however, on leaving the house, that he laid his hand on the mezuzah, and had the curiosity to ask what it was; whereupon the proselyte gave them such an answer that they also were converted: thereafter he was left in peace ('Ab. Zarah 11a, top). This story, and also the legend of the acts of necromancy which "Onḳelos, the son of Kalonikos, and sister's son of Titus," performed before his conversion to Judaism (Giṭ. 50a; comp.
- Anger, De Onkelo;
- Friedmann, Onkelos und Akylos (especially pp. 96-104;
- his arguments concerning Onḳelos' activity under Gamaliel I. are not convincing);
- comp. also the bibliography to Aquila in Rabbinical Literature and to Targum.