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Proseucha

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(προσευχή ), a word signifying "pray er," and always so translated in the A.V. It is, however, applied, per meton., to a place of prayer-a place where assemblies for prayer were held, whether a building or not. In this sense some hold it to be mentioned in Luke 6:12, where it is said that our Savior went up into a mountain to pray and continued all night in the proseucha of God (ἐν τῇ προσευχῇ τοῦ θεοῦ ), which can very w-ell bear the sense our translators have put upon it "in prayer to God." Yet Whitby and others infer, from the use of parallel phrases, such as "the mount of God." "the bread of (God," "the altar of God," "the lamp of God," etc., which were all things consecrated or appropriated to the service of God, that this phrase might here signify "an oratory of God," or a place that was devoted to his service, especially for prayer. In this sense the word must certainly be understood in Acts 16:13, where we are informed that Paul and his companions, on the Sabbath day, went out of the city, by the river side, ου ἐνομίζετο προσευχὴ ειναι, which the A.V. renders "where prayer was wont to be made." But the Syriac here has, "because there was perceived to be a house of prayer;" and the Arabic, "a certain place which was supposed to be a place of prayer." In both these versions due stress is laid upon ου ἐνομίζετο, where there was taken, or supposed to be or where, according to received custom, there was, or where there was allowed by law a proseucha, oratory, or chapel; and where, therefore, they expected to meet an assembly of people. Bos contends (Lxercit. Ihilol. ad loc.), however, that the word ἐνομίζετο is redundant, and that the passage ought simply to be, "where there was a proseucha;" but in this he is ably opposed by Elsner (Observ. Sacr. ad loc.). (See PHILIPPI).

That there really were such places of devotion among the Jews is unquestionable. They were mostly outside those towns in which there were no synagogues, because the laws or their administrators would not admit any. This was, perhaps, particularly the case in Roman cities and colonies (and Philippi, where this circumstance occurred, was a colony); for Juvenal (Sat. 3, 296) speaks of proseuchae. not synagogues. at Rome. They appear to have been usually situated near a river or the seashore, for the convenience of ablution (Josephus, Ant. 14:10, 23). Josephus repeatedly mentions proseuchoe in his Life, and speaks of the people being gathered into the proseucha (44, 46). Sometimes the proseucha was a large building, as that at Tiberias (l.c. 54), so that the name was sometimes applied even to synagogues (Vitringa, Synmag. Ver. p. 119). Proseuchae are frequently mentioned as buildings by Philo, particularly in his oration against Flaccus, where he complains that the proseuchse of the Jews were pulled down, and that no place was left them in which to worship God and pray for Caesar (Philo, ie Flacc. in Op. p. 752). But, for the most part, the proseuchae appear to have been places in the open air, in a grove, or in shrubberies, or even under a tree, although always, as we may presume, near water, for the convenience of those ablutions which with the Jews always preceded prayer, as, indeed, they did among the pagans, and as they do among the Moslems at the present day. The usages of the latter exhibit something answering to the Jewish proseuchae in the shape of small oratories, with a niche indicating the direction of Mecca, which is often seen in Moslem countries by the side of a spring, a reservoir, or a large water-jar, which is daily replenished for the use of travellers (Whitby, De Dieu, Wetstein, Kuinil, on Acts 16:13; Jennings, Jewish Antiquities, p. 379382; Prideaux, Connection, ii, 556). Kitto.

"Questions have been raised," says the late Dr.M'Farlan, of Renfrew, "as to the origin of these, and their being or not being the same with the synagogue. Philo and Josephus certainly speak of them and the synagogues as if they were substantially one. The former expressly declares that they were places of instruction. The places dedicated to devotion,' says he, and which are commonly called proseuchae, what are they but schools in which prudence, fortitude, temperance, righteousness, piety, holiness. and every virtue are talight everything necessary for the discharge of duty, whether human or divine?' As the writer's observations were chiefly confined to the Jews of Alexandria and other parts of Egypt, this description will chiefly apply to these. But there is no doubt, on the other hand. that where synagogues existed, and especially in Judea, they did to some extent differ. We are therefore very much disposed to concur in the opinion that the oratory was substantially and in effect a synagogue. But the latter was the more perfect form, and required, for its erection and support, special means. There was in every synagogue a local court, deriving its authority, at least in Judea, from the Sanhedrim; and there were office-bearers to be maintained; whereas in the oratory there does not seem to have been any very fixed or necessary form of procedure. These might, for aught that appears, have been all or substantially all which belonged to the synagogue, or it might be little more than what we would call a prayermeeting. Hence, perhaps, the reason of the prevalence of the one the synagogue in Judaea, and of the other in Egypt and other countries not subject to Jewish laws."

It is highly probable that proseuchce existed long before synagogues. "It is remarkable," continues Dr. M'Farlan, "that the only places where Daniel is said to have been favored with visions, during the day, were by the sides of rivers (Daniel 8:2; Daniel 8:16; also Daniel 10:4; Daniel 12:5; Daniel 12:7; and Daniel 9:21), the very places where oratories were wont to be. Ezekiel also received his commission by one of the rivers of Babylon, and when among the captives' of Israel (Ezekiel 1:1). And he afterwards mentions his having received visions in the same circumstances (Ezekiel 3:15-16). And Ezra, also, when leading back Israel to the land of their fathers, proclaimed and observed a fast with them by the way; and, as if to keep up the same tender associations, he assembled them by the river Ahaya, where they remained three days (Ezra 8:15; Ezra 8:32). But the very finest illustration which occurs is that contained in the 137th Psalm By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down; yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion' (1-3). The people of Israel were accustomed, in after-times, to make choice of the banks of rivers for their oratories, and this point of agreement is one of the grounds on which we are proceeding. But it will hold equally good, whether the Israelitish captives followed, in this, the example of their fathers, or whether, as is more probable, their circumstances in Babylon led to this choice. It is not unlikely that this led to a similar choice in aftertimes, and particularly in foreign countries. The poor captives of Babylon had perhaps no other covering or even enclosure than the willows of the brook; and thus may they have been driven, when seeking to worship the God of their fathers, into the woody margins of Babylon's many rivers. Meeting in such places, as they had been accustomed to do in the oratories of their native land, it is not wonderful that many tender associations should be renewed."

After the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, synagogue worship was much enlarged and improved, while oratories gradually diminished in number and importance. Hence, in later times, oratories were chiefly found in countries beyond the land of Israel. Under the Roman government synagogues were discountenanced, but oratories, or places of meeting for devotional exercises, were generally permitted all over the empire. Dr. Lardner thinks that the synagogue mentioned in Acts 6:9 was really an oratory; and Josephus speaks of a very large one in the city of Tiberias. But it was chiefly in foreign parts that proseuchoe in later times were found. Josephus, in detailing the decree passed in favor of the Jews at Halicarnassus, says, "We have decreed that as many men and women of the Jews as are willing so to do may celebrate their Sabbaths and perform their holy offices according to the Jewish laws; and may make their proseuchoe at the sea-side, according to the custom of their forefathers." See Riddle, Christian Antiquities (see Index): Stillingfleet, Works, vol. i; and the monographs cited by Volbeding. Index Programmatum, p. 76. (See CHAPEL); (See ORATORY).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Proseucha'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​p/proseucha.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
 
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