Origins of the Synagogue Term Paper

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Origins of the Synagogue

The definition of synagogue is listed as a "place of assembly for worship, education, and communal affairs," however the origins are uncertain (Synagogue Pp).

One tradition dates the origin of the synagogue to the Babylonian exile of the 6th century B.C., assuming that the returnees brought back the basic structure that was to be developed by the 1st century a.D. "into a well-defined institution around which Jewish religious, intellectual, and communal life was to be centered from this earliest period into the present" (Synagogue Pp). While others believe that the synagogue originated after the Hasmonean revolt, 167-164 B.C., as a Pharisaic alternative to the Temple cult (Synagogue Pp).

The destruction of the Temple in 70 a.D. And the Diaspora during the following centuries increased the importance of the synagogue (Synagogue Pp).

Services in the synagogue were conducted in a simpler manner than in the Temple, rather than an officially appointed priest, services were conducted by a chazan or reader (Synagogue Pp).

Synagogue' comes from a Greek word meaning 'place of assembly' (Atkinson Pp). In Hebrew, the synagogue is known as Kehilla Kedosha or Holy Community, and is not just a building, but is truly a community or congregation (Atkinson Pp). Hebrew terms describing the synagogue's main functions include:

Bet ha Knesset - house of assembly; Bet ha Tefillah - house of prayer; and Bet ha Midrash - house of study (Atkinson Pp).Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on Origins of the Synagogue Assignment

The synagogue's role in preserving Judaism intact throughout the centuries and the influence it has played as an intellectual and cultural force cannot be overestimated (Synagogue Pp). During the modern period, the reform movement restricted its scope for the most part to purely religious purposes, however, among the Orthodox Jews its purview did not diminish (Synagogue Pp). More recently, the synagogue has again taken on its former functions as a social and communal center and the architectural appearance of the synagogue has generally not differed from that of local non-Jewish forms (Synagogue Pp). The interior includes an ark in which the Torah scrolls are held and a platform from which they are read, and a pulpit from which to preach has become common in recent times, however, in many synagogues the three are combines onto one platform (Synagogue Pp). In the United States, the Synagogue Council of America includes the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, the United Synagogue of America, and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (Synagogue Pp).

Perhaps one reason why the origin of the synagogue is so difficult to pinpoint is because the term 'synagogue' can refer to an architectural structure or to a community of people (Magness Pp). This is particularly relevant because it leaves open a wide range of times and places for the origins of the synagogue (Magness Pp). "Since the earliest identifiable synagogue buildings found so far date to the first century B.C.E., or first century C.E., it appears that the synagogue as a gathering of people antedates the development of a distinctive architectural type" (Magness Pp). J. Gwyn Griffiths argues that the proseuchai or 'houses of prayer' that are mentioned in Egyptian inscriptions dating to the 3rd century B.C.E. And later, represent the earliest evidence for synagogues (Magness Pp).

Lester L. Grabbe notes that there are "no definite literary references in Jewish sources or the New Testament to synagogues in Palestine before the Hasmonean period," and concludes that "synagogues originated in the Diaspora, perhaps in Ptolemaic Egypt, and reached Palestine by the first century C.E." (Magness Pp).

Paul Flesher agrees that the synagogue was first developed in the larger Mediterranean world and believes that it was not established in Judea before 70 C.E. due to the influence of the Temple cult, and therefore denies the "identification of the structures at Masada and Herodion as synagogues dating to the time of the First Revolt and proposes a post-70 C.E. date for the Theodotos inscription from Jerusalem" (Magness Pp).

Scholars that advocate a Hellenistic Egyptian origin for the synagogue assume that proseuche is an analogous term to synagogue, however, there is no scholarly consensus on the meaning of this term, nor on the types of activities associated with it (Magness Pp). Lee I Levine concluded that proseuche generally, although not always, denotes a Diaspora institution antedating 70 C.E., while synagogues are characteristic of Palestine (Magness Pp). Levine suggested that "the difference in nomenclature reflects differences in rituals conducted in these institutions" (Magness Pp).

According to Jodi Magness,

Flesher's discussion of Palestinian synagogues of the first century C.E. is beset by a number of factual errors.

Though they lack such features as distinctive iconography, orientation toward Jerusalem, and a set place for the Torah shrine, the assembly halls at Masada and Herodion are identified by most scholars as synagogues dating to the time of the First Revolt" (Magness Pp).

Flesher quotes Y. Yardin as claiming that the structure at Masada was built by Herod and converted by the Jewish rebels into a synagogue at the time of the revolt, however, Yadin believed that Herod originally built the synagogue for the purpose and use as a synagogue (Magness Pp). While E. Netzer believes that the structure served a different function in the Herodian period and was later converted into a synagogue by the Zealots (Magness Pp). Moreover, "the layer of animal dung coveting the floor of the synagogue at Masada is associated with the period between Herod's death and the First Revolt, when the mountain was occupied by a Roman garrison, not with the original use of the building" (Magness Pp).

Howard C. Kee believes the pre-70 C.E. date for the Theodotos inscription does not come from a properly dated archaeological context, however, as Magness points out:

Kee's proposed fourth-century date flies in the face of other historical and archaeological evidence, for it implies the existence of a monumental synagogue in Hadrian's pagan city of Aelia Capitolina, or in early Christian Jerusalem. In fact, not one shred of archaeological evidence exists for the presence of Jews in Jerusalem in the centuries following the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

Even the Jewish burials at Ramat Rachel should be dated no later than the Bar Kokhba

Revolt, instead of to the third century"

Magness Pp).

Until the last two decades, it was thought that ancient Palestinian synagogues could be divided chronologically into three architectural types, Galilean, transitional, and Byzantine, covering the time span from the second and third centuries to the sixth and seventh centuries (Magness Pp). However, renewed excavations by the Franciscans have produced hundreds of coins and potsherds of the late fourth and early fifth centuries, found sealed in the floor of a Galilean-type synagogue that was traditionally dated to the second or third century (Magness Pp). This has resulted in many scholars abandoning the traditional typology altogether, while other attempt to reconcile it with this discovery, while yet others suggest that the fourth to fifth century coins and pottery were deposited during repairs to an existing building (Magness Pp).

However, Dennis E. Groh accepts the fourth to fifth century date for the Capermanum synagogue and tries to construct a new typology based on the results of recent excavations in the Galilee, while Zvi Gal suggests that a group of "decorated synagogue lintels from the Issachar plateaux, which have traditionally been assigned to "Galilean"-type synagogues of the second and third centuries, should be dated to the fifth and sixth centuries instead" (Magness Pp).

Dan Urman suggests that many of the structures identified as synagogues, houses of assembly, in Israel were actually houses of study, such as the one found at Meroth (Magness Pp). "The Galilean-type synagogue at Meroth dates, not to the second or third centuries in accordance with the traditional typology, but to the late fourth or early fifth centuries," because the treasury of coins buried beneath the floor indicates that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Origins of the Synagogue."  October 27, 2004.  Accessed June 5, 2020.