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History of the Christian Church, Volume I: Apostolic Christianity. A.D. 1-100.
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§ 51. The Synagogue.


Campeg. Vitringa (d. at Franeker, 1722): De Synagoga Vetere libri tres. Franeker, 1696. 2 vols. (also Weissenfels, 1726). A standard work, full of biblical and rabbinical learning. A condensed translation by J. L. Bernard: The Synagogue and the Church. London, 1842.

C. Bornitius: De Synagogis veterum Hebraeorum. Vitemb., 1650. And in Ugolinus: Thesaurus Antiquitatum sacrarum (Venet., 1744–69), vol. XXI. 495–539.

Ant. Th. Hartmann: Die enge Verbindung des A. Testamenes mit dem Neuen. Hamburg, 1831 (pp. 225–376).

Zunz (a Jewish Rabbi): Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden. Berlin, 1832

The Histories of the Jews, by Jost, Herzfeld, and Milman.

The Histories of N. T. Times, by Hausrath (I. 73 sqq. 2d ed.) and Schürer (463–475, and the literature there given).

Art. "Synag.," by Ginsburg in "Kitto"; Plumptre: in "Smith" (with additions by Hackett, IV. 3133, Am. ed.); Leyrer in "Herzog" (XV. 299, first ed.); Kneuker in "Schenkel" (V. 443).


As the Christian Church rests historically on the Jewish Church, so Christian worship and the congregational organization rest on that of the synagogue, and cannot be well understood without it.

The synagogue was and is still an institution of immense conservative power. It was the local centre of the religious and social life of the Jews, as the temple of Jerusalem was the centre of their national life. It was a school as well as a church, and the nursery and guardian of all that is peculiar in this peculiar people. It dates probably from the age of the captivity and of Ezra.642642    The Jewish tradition traces it back to the schools of the prophets, and even to patriarchal times, by far-fetched interpretations of Gen. 25:27 Judg. 5:9; Isa. 1:13, etc. It was fully organized at the time of Christ and the apostles, and used by them as a basis of their public instruction.643643    Comp. § 17, p. 152. It survived the temple, and continues to this day unaltered in its essential features, the chief nursery and protection of the Jewish nationality and religion.644644    "Bei dem Untergang aller Institutionen,"says Dr. Zunz (l.c. p. 1), " blieb die Synagoge als einziger Träger ihrer Nationalität; dorthin floh ihr Glauben und von dorther empfingen sie Belehrug für ihren irdischen Wandel, Kraft zur Ausdauer in unerhörten Leiden und Hoffnung auf eine künftige Morgenröthe der Freiheit. Der öffentliche Gottesdienst der Synagoge ward das Panier jüdischer Nationalität, die Aegide des jüdischen Glaubens."

The term "synagogue" (like our word church) signifies first the congregation, then also the building where the congregation meet for public worship.645645    συναγωγή, often in the Septuagint (130 times as translation of הדﬠֵ , 25 times for להָקָ); in the Greek Test. (Matt. 4:23; Mark 1:21; Luke 4:15; 12:11; Acts 9:2; 13:43, etc.; of a Christian congregation, James 2:2); also in Philo and Josephus; sometimes συναγώγιον (Philo), σαββατεῖον (Josephus), προσευκτήριον (Philo), προσευχή house of prayer, oratory (Acts 16:13 and Josephus); also ἐκκλησία . Hebrew designations: הדְָﬠֵלהָקָרוּבּצִרבֶחֶדלַוַ תיבֵּתלָּפִתְּ תבֵּ תסֶנֶכְּהַ תיבֵּ Every town, however small, had a synagogue, or at least a place of prayer in a private house or in the open air (usually near a river or the sea-shore, on account of the ceremonial washings). Ten men were sufficient to constitute a religious assembly. "Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."646646    Acts 15:21. To erect a synagogue was considered a work of piety and public usefulness.647647    Luke 7:5. In large cities, as Alexandria and Rome, there were many; in Jerusalem, about four hundred for the various sects and the Hellenists from different countries.648648    Acts 6:9. The number of synagogues in Jerusalem is variously stated from 394 to 480.

1. The building was a plain, rectangular ball of no peculiar style of architecture, and in its inner arrangement somewhat resembling the Tabernacle and the Temple. It had benches, the higher ones ("the uppermost seats") for the elders and richer members,649649    Matt. 23:6; comp. James 2:2, 3. In the synagogue of Alexandria there were seventy-one golden chairs, according to the number of members of the Sanhedrin. The πρωτοκαθεδρίαι were near the ark, the place of honor. a reading-desk or pulpit, and a wooden ark or closet for the sacred rolls (called "Copheret" or Mercy Seat, also "Aaron"). The last corresponded to the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle and the Temple. A sacred light was kept burning as a symbol of the divine law, in imitation of the light in the Temple, but there is no mention made of it in the Talmud. Other lamps were brought in by devout worshippers at the beginning of the Sabbath (Friday evening). Alms-boxes were provided near the door, as in the Temple, one for the poor in Jerusalem, another for local charities. Paul imitated the example by collecting alms for the poor Christians in Jerusalem.

There was no artistic (except vegetable) ornamentation; for the second commandment strictly forbids all images of the Deity as idolatrous. In this, as in many other respects, the Mohammedan mosque, with its severe iconoclastic simplicity, is a second edition of the synagogue. The building was erected on the most elevated spot of the neighborhood, and no house was allowed to overtop it. In the absence of a commanding site, a tall pole from the roof rendered it conspicuous.650650    Ruins of eleven or more ancient synagogues still exist in Palestine (all in Galilee) at Tell-Hum (Capernaum), Kerazeh (Chorazin), Meiron, Irbid (Arbela), Kasyun, Umm el-’Amud, Nebratein, two at Kefr-Birim, two at el-Jish (Giscala). See Palest. Explor. Quart. Statement for July, 1878.

2. Organization.—Every synagogue had a president,651651    The ἀρχισυνάγωγος(תסֶנֶֶֶכְּהַ שׁאל), Luke 8:49; 13:14; Mark 5:36, 33; Acts 18:8, 17; or ἀρχων τῆς συναγωγῆς,Luke 8:41; or ἄρχων, Matt. 9:18. He was simply primus inter pares; hence, several ἀρχισυνάγωγοι appear in one and the same synagogue, Luke 13:14; Mark 5:22; Acts 13:15; 18:17. In smaller towns there was but one. a number of elders (Zekenim) equal in rank,652652    πρεσβύτεροιינִקֵזְ). a reader and interpreter,653653    After the Babylonian captivity an interpreter (Methurgeman) was usually employed to translate the Hebrew lesson into the Chaldee or Greek, or other vernacular languages. one or more envoys or clerks, called "messengers" (Sheliach),654654    ἀπόστολοι, ἄγγελοι (רוּבּצִ הַילִשִׁ ). Not to be confounded with the angels in the Apocalypse. and a sexton or beadle (Chazzan) for the humbler mechanical services.655655    ὑπηρέτης (וזּחַ), Luke 4:20 There were also deacons (Gabae zedaka) for the collection of alms in money and produce. Ten or more wealthy men at leisure, called Batlanim, represented the congregation at every service. Each synagogue formed an independent republic, but kept up a regular correspondence with other synagogues. It was also a civil and religious court, and had power to excommunicate and to scourge offenders.656656    Matt. 10:17; 23:34; Luke 12:11; 21:12; John 9:34; 16:2; Acts 22:19; 26:11. The Chazzan had to administer the corporal punishment.

3. Worship.—It was simple, but rather long, and embraced three elements, devotional, didactic, and ritualistic. It included prayer, song, reading, and exposition of the Scripture, the rite of circumcision, and ceremonial washings. The bloody sacrifices were confined to the temple and ceased with its destruction; they were fulfilled in the eternal sacrifice on the cross. The prayers and songs were chiefly taken from the Psalter, which may be called the first liturgy and hymn book.

The opening prayer was called the Shema or Keriath Shema, and consisted of two introductory benedictions, the reading of the Ten Commandments (afterward abandoned) and several sections of the Pentateuch, namely, Deut. 6:4–9; 11:13–21; Num. 15:37–41. Then followed the eighteen prayers and benedictions (Berachoth). This is one of them: "Bestow peace, happiness, blessing, grace, mercy, and compassion upon us and upon the whole of Israel, thy people. Our Father, bless us all unitedly with the light of thy countenance, for in the light of thy countenance didst thou give to us, O Lord our God, the law of life, lovingkindness, justice, blessing, compassion, life, and peace. May it please thee to bless thy people lsrael at all times, and in every moment, with peace. Blessed art thou, O Lord, who blessest thy people Israel with peace." These benedictions are traced in the Mishna to the one hundred and twenty elders of the Great Synagogue. They were no doubt of gradual growth, some dating from the Maccabean struggles, some from the Roman ascendancy. The prayers were offered by a reader, and the congregation responded "Amen." This custom passed into the Christian church.657657    1 Cor. 14:16. The responsive element is the popular feature in a liturgy, and has been wisely preserved in the Anglican Church.

The didactic and homiletical part of worship was based on the Hebrew Scriptures. A lesson from the Law (called parasha),658658    The Thorah was divided into 154 sections, and read through in three years, afterwards in 54 sections for one year. and one from the Prophets (haphthara) were read in the original,659659    The ἀναγνωσις τοῦ νόμου καὶ τῶν προφητῶν, Acts 13:15. and followed by a paraphrase or commentary and homily (midrash) in the vernacular Aramaic or Greek. A benediction and the "Amen" of the people closed the service.

As there was no proper priesthood outside of Jerusalem, any Jew of age might get up to read the lessons, offer prayer, and address the congregation. Jesus and the apostles availed themselves of this democratic privilege to preach the gospel, as the fulfilment of the law and the prophets.660660    Luke 4:17-20; 13:54; John 18:20; Acts 13:5, 15, 44; 14:1; 17:2-4, 10, 17; 18:4, 26; 19:8. Paul and Barnabas were requested by the rulers of the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia to speak after the reading of the law and the prophets (Acts 13:15). The strong didactic element which distinguished this service from all heathen forms of worship, had the effect of familiarizing the Jews of all grades, even down to the servant-girls, with their religion, and raising them far above the heathen. At the same time it attracted proselytes who longed for a purer and more spiritual worship.

The days of public service were the Sabbath, Monday, and Thursday; the hours of prayer the third (9 a.m.), the sixth (noon), and the ninth (3 p.m.).661661    Comp. Ps. 55:18; Dan. 7:11; Acts 2:15; 3:1; 10:30. These hours of devotion are respectively called Shacharith, Minchah, andArabith.

The sexes were divided by a low wall or screen, the men on the one side, the women on the other, as they are still in the East (and in some parts of Europe). The people stood during prayer with their faces turned to Jerusalem.



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