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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Congregation, Assembly

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CONGREGATION, ASSEMBLY . In AV [Note: Authorized Version.] these terms are both employed to render either of the two important Heb. words ‘çdhah and qâhâl , with a decided preference, however, in favour of ‘congregation’ for the former, and ‘assembly’ for the latter. In RV [Note: Revised Version.] , as we read in the Revisers’ preface, an effort has been made to secure greater uniformity on these lines. Of the two, qâhâl is the more widely distributed, although neither is frequent in pre-exilic literature; ‘çdhah , which is not used in the prophetic or Deuteronomic sources of the Pentateuch, is found at least 115 times in the Priests’ Code alone, where it denotes the theocratic community of Israel as a whole , the church-nation in its relation to J″ [Note: Jahweh.] . The full designation, as found in Numbers 1:2 and a score of times elsewhere, is ‘(the sum of) all the congregation of the children of Israel,’ which is the equivalent of the Deuteronomic phrase ‘all the assembly ( qâhâl ) of Israel’ ( Deuteronomy 31:30 , RV [Note: Revised Version.] and AV [Note: Authorized Version.] ‘congregation’). In the older and more secular writers the same idea would have been expressed by ‘the sum of the people’ of Israel, as in 2 Samuel 24:2 .

It is extremely doubtful if there is any valid ground for the attempts to find a distinction between the two expressions ‘congregation’ and ‘assembly,’ even within P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] itself, as if ‘assembly’ represented either ‘picked members of the congregation’ ( EBi [Note: Encyclopædia Biblica.] col. 345), or the latter in its capacity as an assembly of worshippers. For in one and the same verse P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] employs ‘congregation’ and ‘assembly’ as synonymous terms, as in Leviticus 4:13 , Numbers 16:3 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , and in the priestly redaction of Judges 20:1 f., the whole body of the people being intended in every case. The only two passages which seem to imply that the ‘assembly’ was a limited section of the ‘congregation,’ viz. Exodus 12:6 , Numbers 14:5 ‘all the assembly of the congregation,’ etc., clearly show conflate readings (cf. LXX [Note: Septuagint.] .). What difference, finally, can be detected between ‘the assembly of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ of Numbers 16:3 ; Numbers 20:4 (cf. Deuteronomy 23:3-4 ) and ‘the congregation of J″ [Note: Jahweh.] ’ of Deuteronomy 27:17 ; Deuteronomy 31:16 all P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] passages?

In the LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ’çdhah is in most cases rendered by synagôgç, qâhâl by ecclçsia , both being used, according to Schürer, without essential distinction to signify the religious community of Israel, in this agreeing, as has been argued above, with the original and with our AV [Note: Authorized Version.] . The subsequent history of these terms in the Jewish and early Christian Churches is of considerable interest. Later Judaism, as Schürer has shown, began to distinguish between synagôgç and ecclçsia in the direction of applying the former in an empirical, the latter in an ideal, sense, the one to signify the religious community in a particular place, the other ‘the community of those called by God to salvation,’ the ideal Israel. This Jewish usage explains how, while synagôgç is occasionally found in early Patristric literature in the sense of ‘the Christian congregation,’ its rival finally gained the day. The Christian synagogue became ‘the Church,’ while the Jewish Church remains ‘the synagogue’ (see under Church, Synagoque).

The expression solemn assembly , in which ‘solemn’ has its etymological, but now obsolete, sense of ‘stated,’ ‘appointed’ (lit. ‘yearly,’ sollennis ), represents a third Heb. word applicable originally to any religious gathering ( Amos 5:21 , Isaiah 1:13 , 2 Kings 10:20 ), but afterwards limited to those appointed for the seventh day of the Feast of Unleavened Cakes ( Mazzoth , Deuteronomy 16:8 ), and the eighth of the Feast of Booths ( Leviticus 23:36 , Numbers 29:35 ).

‘Holy convocation ’ occurs frequently in the Priestly sections of the Pentateuch (esp. Leviticus 17:1-16 ; Leviticus 18:1-30 ; Leviticus 19:1-37 ; Leviticus 20:1-27 ; Leviticus 21:1-24 ; Leviticus 22:1-33 ; Leviticus 23:1-44 ; Leviticus 24:1-23 ; Leviticus 25:1-55 ; Leviticus 26:1-46 [h]).

The ‘mount of the congregation , in the uttermost parts of the north’ ( Isaiah 14:13 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ), to which the king of Babylon aspired, was the Babylonian Olympus or abode of the gods. An echo of this mythological conception is probably to be found in the similar phrase Psalms 48:2 .

For tabernacle of the congregation see Tabernacle.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Congregation, Assembly'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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