International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
3. Spread of Synagogues
4. The Building
(1) The Site
(2) The Structure
(3) The Furniture
5. The Officials
(1) The Elders
(2) The Ruler
(3) The Servant (or Servants)
(4) Delegate of the Congregation
(5) The Interpreter
(6) The Almoners
6. The Service
(1) Recitation of the "Shema'"
(3) Reading of the Law and the Prophets
(4) The Sermon
(5) The Benediction
Synagogue, Greek συναγωγή ,
That the synagogue was, in the time of our Lord, one of the most important religious institutions of the Jews is clear from the fact that it was thought to have been instituted by Moses ( Apion , ii, 17; Philo, De Vita Moses , iii. 27; compare Targum Jer to Exodus 18:20 ). It must have come into being during the Babylonian exile. At that time the more devout Jews, far from their native land, having no sanctuary or altar, no doubt felt drawn from time to time, especially on Sabbath and feast days, to gather round those who were specially pious and God-fearing, in order to listen to the word of God and engage in some kind of worship. That such meetings were not uncommon is made probable by Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 20:1 . This would furnish a basis for the institution of the synagogue. After the exile the synagogue remained and even developed as a counterpoise to the absolute sacerdotalism of the temple, and must have been felt absolutely necessary for the Jews of the Dispersion. Though at first it was meant only for the exposition of the Law, it was natural that in the course of time prayers and preaching should be added to the service. Thus these meetings, which at first were only held on Sabbaths and feast days, came also to be held on other days, and at the same hours with the services in the temple. The essential aim, however, of the synagogue was not prayer, but instruction in the Law for all classes of the people. Philo calls the synagogues "houses of instruction, where the philosophy of the fathers and all manner of virtues were taught" (compare Matthew 4:23; Mark 1:21; Mark 6:2; Luke 4:15 , Luke 4:33; Luke 6:6; Luke 13:10; John 6:59; John 18:20; CAp , ii, 17).
3. Spread of Synagogues:
In Palestine the synagogues were scattered all over the country, all the larger towns having one or more (e.g. Nazareth, Matthew 13:54; Capernaum, Matthew 12:9 ). In Jerusalem, in spite of the fact that the Temple was there, there were many synagogues, and all parts of the Diaspora were represented by particular synagogues (Acts 6:9 ). Also in heathen lands, wherever there was a certain number of Jews, they had their own synagogue: e.g. Damascus (Acts 9:2 ), Salamis (Acts 13:5 ), Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14 ), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1 ), Corinth (Acts 18:4 ), Alexandria (Philo, Leg Ad Cai , xx), Rome (ibid., xxiii). The papyrus finds of recent years contain many references to Jewish synagogues in Egypt, from the time of Euergetes (247-221 BC) onward. According to Philo (Quod omnis probus liber sit , xii, et al.) the Essenes had their own synagogues, and, from
4. The Building:
(1) The Site.
There is no evidence that in Palestine the synagogues were always required to be built upon high ground, or at least that they should overlook all other houses (compare
(2) The Structure.
Of the style of the architecture we have no positive records. From the description in the Talmud of the synagogue at Alexandria (
(3) The Furniture.
We only know that there was a movable ark in which the rolls of the Law and the Prophets were kept. It was called
5. The Officials:
(1) The Elders.
These officials (Luke 7:3 ) formed the local tribunal, and in purely Jewish localities acted as a Committee of Management of the affairs of the synagogue (compare
(2) The Ruler.
(3) The Servant (or Servants).
(4) Delegate of the Congregation.
(5) The Interpreter.
(6) The Almoners.
6. The Service:
(1) Recitation of the "Shema'".
At least ten persons bad to be present for regular worship (
The most important prayers were the
The following is the first of the eighteen: "Blessed art Thou, the Lord our God, and the God of our fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: the great, the mighty and the terrible God, the most high God Who showest mercy and kindness, Who createst all things, Who rememberest the pious deeds of the patriarchs, and wilt in love bring a redeemer to their children's children for Thy Name's sake;
The prayers of the delegate were met with a response of Amen from the congregation.
(3) Reading of the Law and the Prophets.
After prayers the
(4) The Sermon.
After the reading from the Law and the Prophets followed the sermon, which was originally a caustical exposition of the Law, but which in process of time assumed a more devotional character. Anyone in the congregation might be asked by the ruler to preach, or might ask the ruler for permission to preach.
The following example of an old (lst century AD) rabbinic sermon, based on the words, "He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation" (Isaiah 61:10 , a verse in the chapter from which Jesus took His text when addressing the synagogue of Nazareth), will serve as an illustration of contemporary Jewish preaching:
"Seven garments the Holy One - blessed be He! - has put on, and will put on from the time the world was created until the hour when He will punish the wicked Edom (i.e. Roman empire). When He created the world, He clothed Himself in honor and majesty, as it is said (Psalm 104:1 ): 'Thou art clothed in honor and majesty.' Whenever He forgave the sins of Israel, He clothed Himself in white, for we read (Daniel 7:9 ): 'His raiment was white as snow.' When He punishes the peoples of the world, He puts on the garments of vengeance, as it is said (Isaiah 59:17 ): 'He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.' The sixth garment He will put on when the Messiah comes; then He will clothe Himself in a garment of righteousness, for it is said (same place) : 'He put on righteousness as a breast-plate, and an helmet of salvation upon His head.' The seventh garment He will put on when He punishes Edom; then He will clothe Himself in
'Blessed is the hour when the Messiah shall come!
Blessed the womb out of which He shall come!
Blessed His contemporaries who are eye-witnesses!
Blessed the eye that is honored with a sight of Him!
For the opening of His lips is blessing and peace;
His speech is a moving of the spirits;
The thoughts of His heart are confidence and cheerful-ness;
The speech of His tongue is pardon and forgiveness;
His prayer is the sweet incense of offerings;
His petitions are holiness and purity.
O how blessed is Israel, for whom such has been prepared!
For it is said (Psalm 31:19 ): "How great is Thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee" ' "
(5) The Benediction.
After the sermon the benediction was pronounced (by a priest), and the congregation answered Amen (
L. Zunz, Die gottesdienstlichen Vortrage der Juden , 2nd edition; Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel , III, 129-37,183-226; Hausrath, Neutestamentliche Zeitgesch ., 2d edition, 73-80;
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Synagogue'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/s/synagogue.html. 1915.