- Paperback: 816 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; 2nd edition (October 24, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300106289
- ISBN-13: 978-0300106282
- Product Dimensions: 7 x 1.6 x 10 inches
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The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years, Second Edition 2nd Edition
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In the third and second centuries BC there are scant references to synagogues; from the first century AD onwards, and especially after the destruction of the temple, there are not only references, but we begin to find archaeological evidence. Among the textual evidence, there is Jesus' visits to synagogues on the Sabbath and Josephus' mention of proseuche three times, and there is physical evidence as well, such ps as Gamla, perhaps the earliest structure have definitively found to be a synagogue. "Enough has survived to enable us to appreciate the wide diversity which characterized the pre-70 Judaean synagogue" (p 70), although much is also standard.
The Jewish Diaspora , which Levin puts at between 3-5 million (p 75) has left evidence more debatable. Leaders would have been priests and the archisynagogos. Buildings that were used as synagogues appear to be more diverse than the synagogues from Galilee, at least in some architectural details. One of the difficulties may be we don't find as many of the diaspora synagogues may have been due to their deliberate destruction. After the Jewish war against the Romans, we know that Vespasian "built a very large odeum, the site...had formerly been that of a Jewish synagogue'" (p 118).
Synagogues functioned as schools for the young. "Josephus...emphasizes the instruction received by Jewish children" (p 133). There is little physical evidence of such schools prior to 70 AD but "one late rabbinic tradition speaks of 480 synagogues in pre-70 Jerusalem, each of which had a primary school...and and an advanced school " (p 133). Children apparently began school at age five. When they were ten they were taught the Mishnah (p 376) and when they were fifteen, the Talmud. Both children of the wealthy and children of the poor took school together which, for the older students, could last until evening.
From Philo, we know Jews in Rome held 'sacred Sabbaths" where those who were 'trained' in Judaism held schools and perhaps philosophical discussions. These discussions apparently drew a number of pagans, for God-fearers were known to be drawn to Judaism in Syria, and Greece and Antioch and even Rome.
The targumin "already existed in the first century AD in both written and oral form" (p 150) according to both Philo and Josephus. However, Levin argues that we cannot say for certain that the early synagogues were used for prayer although "the very name used for the Diaspora synagogue: proseuche, literately 'house of prayer'" (p 153) would certainly suggest so.
For a long time, the assumption was that Jews rarely used figural representations in synagogue art. Archaeological digs have changed that view, especially since the discoveries of the Dura Europa synagogue. Rabban Gamaliel had a logical but tolerant response to being asked whether or not it was wrong to visit a bathhouse in which stood an enormous pagan statue. he pointed out that "one walks around naked and urinates with no regard to the...statue" (p 212 so it was not to be regarded as something sacred.
Levin also notes the way Christianity impacted Jews in late antiquity. First, there were the changes brought by the large number of pilgrimages to what Christians regarded as holy sites. Perhaps as a result of these contacts, "Synagogue structures found ...in areas with a far greater Christian presence were clearly fashioned with an eye toward the Christian basilica" (p 229). As Christianity took hold there were even tragic instances of Christians destroying synagogues. Later, the Arab conquests would significantly constrict Jewish building.
One main function of synagogues was charity. Many sources, both Jewish and pagan attest to this. Synagogues performed as soup kitchens for those in dire need.
*The extent to which synagogues honored pagan rulers in some places. Before the Roman takeover of Egypt, Egyptian Jews commonly dedicated synagogues to the ruling royal family. And Roman synagogues were named after Augustus and other political leaders (although such practices were unknown in many other places).
*It is clear, based on both the New Testament and other sources such as Philo, that early synagogues included readings from the Torah and from the prophets. However, the extent of prayer in early synagogues is unclear.
*Synagogues have been oriented towards Jerusalem since the 3rd century, but not so consistently in earlier centuries. Levine speculates that this fact indicates that the synagogue's religious functions became dominant by then (as opposed to its role as center of the Jewish community). But even after that, synagogues included Jewish courts, schools, and other functions not directly related to prayer.
*Synagogal art differed dramatically from place to place. Some synagogues had no images of man or beast (perhaps interpreting the Torah's restrictions on pagan imagery more strictly), while others continued a wide variety of art, including pictures of Biblical figures and the signs of the Zodiac.
*In the early 300s as today, Jews were often at least somewhat part of the broader community. In Greek-speaking cities, some synagogue remains list Jews holding public office of various types.
*What we don't know often outweighs what we know, given the fragmentary evidence available. For example, one synagogue in Asia Minor gave a woman the honor of sitting in the front row of the congregation, indicating that this synagogue (unlike synagogues over the past 1500 years or so) did not segregate men and women. Was this synagogue an aberration? Levine speculates not (given the absence of clear evidence of segregation) but there is no clear archaeological evidence either way.