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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament [1]

1. The name. -The name ‘synagogue’ (συναγωγή, Aram. כְּנִישְׁהָּא, Heb. כְּנָסֶת, ‘assembly,’ like ἐκκλησία, Septuagintfor either עֵדִה or קָהָל, ‘congregation’) denotes primarily the religious community of Jews ( Sirach 24:23,  Luke 12:11,  Acts 9:2;  Acts 26:11; also used by the Judaeo-Christians [Epiphan. Haer. xxx. 18; Harnack, ad Hermas Mand. xi. 9]) but became afterwards the regular term for the Jewish place of worship. Aram. בֵּכְּנִישְׁתָּא (see E. Levy, Neuhebr. und chald. Wörterbuch über die Talmud-im und Midraschim, Leipzig, 1876-89, s.v.) = Heb. בֵּית חַכְּנֶסֶת, ‘the house of the congregation’ (Mishna throughout); so Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 458; Jos. Ant. XIX. vi. 3, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xiv. 4-5, VII. iii. 3; Cod. Theodos. xvi. 8. Often προσευχή is used for οἶκος προσευχῆς, ‘house of prayer’ (Septuagintto  Isaiah 56:7;  Isaiah 60:7; Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 523, 535, 568, 596, 600; Jos. Vita, 54;  Acts 16:13), for προσευκτήριον (Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 168), and for σαββατεῖον = ‘Sabbath place’ in an edict of Augustus (Jos. Ant. XVI. vi. 2). Through the Pauline writings ἐκκλησία (Fr. église) became the exclusive name for the Christian Church in the double sense of congregation and house of worship (Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.3 [Leipzig, 1898] 433, 443; but cf. F. Spitta, Zur Geschichte und Litteratur des Urchristentums, ii. [Göttingen, 1896] 343).

2. Origin. -Like the beginnings of all great movements in history, the origin of the institution is wrapped in obscurity. The ancients ascribed it to Moses (Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 168; Jos. c. Apion. ii. 17;  Acts 15:21, Targ.[Note: Targum.] Exodus 18:20; cf. Targ.[Note: Targum.] Judges 5:2,  1 Chronicles 16:39,  Isaiah 1:13,  Amos 5:12). But the Mosaic system of sacrifices had no provision made for regular prayers; and so the identification of ‘the house of the people’ ( Jeremiah 39:8 [see Rashi and Ḳimḥi]) with the synagogue is without foundation. The synagogue is a new creation for which the Exile alone offered the conditions (see Wellhausen, Isr. und jüd. Gesch.6, pp. 149, 194). As the prescribed sacrifices could not be offered on foreign soil, which was regarded as ‘unclean’ ( Amos 7:17,  Ezekiel 4:13), another organized form of worship became an imperative necessity. In place of the priesthood, whose exclusive domain was the Temple with its sacrificial cult, a new class of men in the Exile voiced the needs of the people, accentuating the significance of prayer and song as the more spiritual elements of the Divine service, and at the same time appealed to the people, like the prophets of old, by words of warning and consolation, offering public instruction through the Word of God, whether spoken or read. Such a class of men were the ’anâvîm, ‘the meek ones,’ ḥasîdîm, ‘the godly ones,’ or kedôshîm, ‘the holy ones,’ of the Psalms; they had devotional assemblies of their own ( Psalms 1:5;  Psalms 26:12;  Psalms 89:7;  Psalms 107:32;  Psalms 111:1;  Psalms 149:1). To them, in fact, the Psalm literature owes in the main its origin, and they coined the language of prayer (see I. Lceb, La Littérature des pauvres dans la Bible, Paris, 1892); hence the abundance of prayers in the post-Exilic literature ( 1 Chronicles 17:16-27;  1 Chronicles 29:10-19,  2 Chronicles 6:14-42;  2 Chronicles 14:11;  2 Chronicles 20:6-12,  Ezra 9:6-15,  Nehemiah 9:6-38,  Daniel 2:20-23;  Daniel 9:4-19, also  Isaiah 36:15-20), not to mention the apocryphal books such as the Maccabees, Enoch, Judith, etc. Music and song likewise occupy a prominent place in the Chronicles and the Psalms, while they are ignored in the Priestly Code. The very fact that the Exilic seer speaks of ‘an house of prayer for all peoples’ ( Isaiah 56:7; cf. Septuagintto  Isaiah 60:7) indicates the existence of places for devotional assemblies of the people in the Exile. King Solomon’s dedication prayer, which was composed in the Exile ( 1 Kings 8:46 ff.), also shows that the exiled Jews prayed ‘in the land of the enemy’ with their faces turned towards Jerusalem, exactly as did Daniel ( Daniel 6:10). Such devotional assemblies were held on the banks of rivers ( Psalms 137:1; cf.  Ezekiel 1:3,  Daniel 8:2), the Sabbath, which assumed a higher meaning in the Exile (see Wellhausen, loc. cit.), as well as the feast and fast days offering the incentives to the same ( Isaiah 58:4;  Isaiah 58:13,  Zechariah 7:5; cf.  2 Kings 4:23). To such assemblies the writings of Deutero-Isaiah were in all likelihood addressed (cf. L. Herzfeld, Geschichte des Volkes Israel, Leipzig, 1871, i. 132); and the composition of the prophetical books in their present shape, with the message of comfort at the end of each portion or book, if not also that of the Pentateuch (cf., for instance,  Leviticus 27:34 as the conclusion of the Holiness Code), seems to have been made with such devotional assemblies in view. Whether the new religious spirit which emanated from Persia under Cyrus exerted a re-awakening influence on Judaism, as E. Meyer (Geschichte des Alterthums, Stuttgart, 1884-1901, iii. 122-200) asserts, or not, it is certain that Parsiism had a large share in the shaping of the synagogal liturgy, as pointed out by Graetz (Geschichte der Juden, ii. [1876] 409-418, note 14) and J. H. Schorr (He-Ḥâlûẓ, vii. [1865], viii. [1869]).

3. History. -The words of  Ezekiel 11:16 (see Targ.[Note: Targum.]Meg. 29a), ‘To Israel scattered among the nations I shall be a little sanctuary,’ were actually verified through the synagogue, as Bacher (see article‘Synagogue’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)) states. It is noteworthy that the synagogue at Shâf Yâthîb near Nahardea in Babylonia was in the 2nd cent. taken to be the work of King Jehoiachin, who was said to have had the stones and the earth brought from Jerusalem; and it was claimed to be the seat of the Shekinah like the Temple of yore, the statue erected there (against the Jewish Law) being probably a Persian symbol of the Divine Presence (Meg. 29a; Rôsh hash. 24b; Kohler, MGWJ[Note: GWJ Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums.]xxxviii. [1893] 442). The claim of being the seat of the Shekinah was also raised for another old synagogue at Hûzâl (Meg. 29a). Another one was ascribed to Daniel (‛Erûb. 21a).

The earliest testimony for the existence of the synagogue in Palestine is found in  Psalms 74:6 : ‘They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land’ (so Symmachus and Aquila for מֹוֹעֲדַי־אַל). Most commentators refer the psalm to the Maccabaean time, though it seems strange that the destruction of the synagogues should not have been mentioned in the Maccabaean books. H. L. Strack (PRE[Note: RE Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche.]3 xix. 224) refers the psalm to the war of Artaxerxes Ochus (359-333 b.c.). Wellhausen (loc. cit.) thinks that the synagogue took the place of the ancient bâmôth (‘high places’)-a view which seems to be confirmed by Targ.[Note: Targum.]on  1 Chronicles 16:39 and  1 Maccabees 3:46; cf. Ḳimḥi on  Judges 20:1. Possibly the rule to have the synagogue in the heights of the city (Tôs. Meg. iv. 23; cf. Tanḥ. Beḥuḳḳothai, ed. S. Buber, Wilna, 1885, p. 4; Shabb. 11a; Epiphan. Haer. lxxx. 1) has some connexion with this ancient practice. On the other hand, the site of the synagogue was, on account of the necessary ablutions, preferably chosen near some flowing water or at the seaside, as is shown by the Halicarnassus decree (Jos. Ant. XIV. x. 23: ‘They may make their proseuches at the seaside, following the customs of their fathers’; cf.  Acts 16:13). Hence also the interpretation of ‘the well in the field’ ( Genesis 29:2), that is the synagogue (Ber. R. lxx. 8). Owing to this, the synagogue was frequently outside the city (Ḳid. 73b, Shab. 24b, Rashi; Tanḥ. Ḥayç Sârâh, ed. Buber, p. 7; Ṭûr. Ô. Ḥ. 236; cf. Mekilta Bô, 1; Shemôṭh R. on  Exodus 9:29; Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 298). There being no special provision made for a synagogue within the Temple, the Hall of the Hewn Stones was used for the daily prayer (Tâmîd iv-v), but Rabbi Joshua of the 1st cent. (Tôs. Suk. iv. 5) speaks of a synagogue and a school-house on the Temple hill near by. The term מְלֵאֲתִי (= 481, being the numerical value of the letters) in  Isaiah 1:21 causes the Haggâdist to speak of 480 synagogues which Jerusalem had besides the Temple (Jer. Meg. 73d, Keth B. 35c, ‛Çkâh R. Introd. 12; Babl. Keth. has erroneously 394). It is certain that the number was quite large, as may be seen from  Acts 6:9 (cf. 2:5-11), according to which each settlement of foreign Jews had a synagogue of its own-Alexandrians (cf. Tôs. Meg. iii. 6, iv. 13), Cyrenians, Cilicians, and Asiatics. Epiphanius (de Mensuris, 14) speaks of seven on Zion. Josephus (Vita, 54) mentions the Great Synagogue at Tiberias, where during the Roman war political meetings took place (see also ‛Çrûb. x. 10). In the 5th cent. Tiberias had thirteen synagogues (Ber. 8a), one in the village of Tiberias (Pesîḳ. R. 196b). The synagogue at Caesarea, where the revolt against Rome was started (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xiv. 4-5), continued its existence under the name of the synagogue of the revolution to the 4th cent. (Jer. Bik. iii. 65d), and was probably the one in which Rabbi Abbahu had his frequent disputes with the Church Fathers (H. Graetz, Geschichte der Juden, iv.3 [1893] 288). The Gospels mention the synagogues of Capernaum ( Mark 1:21 and ||s) and Nazareth ( Luke 4:16 and ||) wherein Jesus taught. The former was built for the Jews by the Roman centurion, a proselyte ( Luke 7:5-6). About the interesting ruins discovered in recent times of many synagogues in Galilee from the 1st and 2nd centuries, possibly even that of Capernaum, see Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4 [1901] 517, note 59. At Sepphoris, the seat of the academy of Rabbi Judah, the prince, of the 2nd cent., one synagogue was called ‘the great Synagogue’ (Pesîḳ. 136b); another one, probably after an engraved symbol, ‘the Synagogue of the Vine’ (Jer. Nâzîr, vii. 56a). The wealth spent on the synagogue at Lydda gave the Rabbis cause for complaint (Jer. Shekâlîm, v. 49b). As Philo (ed. Mangey, ii. 168) says, each city inhabited by Jews had its synagogue ‘for instruction in virtue and piety’ (cf. Tôs. B.M. xi. 23 and Sanh. 17b).

The oldest synagogue on record is that built in Alexandria under Ptolemy III. (247-221 b.c.) and dedicated to him and his sister Berenice according to the inscription discovered in 1902 (Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4, 497, iii.4 [1909] 41). The large Jewish population had many synagogues in the different quarters of the city (Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 568), the largest and most famous of which was the one built in the shape of a basilica and described in glowing colours (Tôs. Suk. iv. 6, Jer. Suk. v. 55a, Babl. Suk. 51a); it was totally destroyed under Trajan (Graetz, Gesch. der Juden, iv.3 117). The legendary narrative  3 Maccabees 7:17-20 tells of the founding of a synagogue at Ptolemais in Southern Egypt under Ptolemy IV. In Syria the most famous was the Great Synagogue at Antioch, to which the brazen vessels carried off from the Temple at Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes were presented by his successors (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)VII. iii. 3). Damascus also had a number of synagogues; in these Paul the Apostle preached ( Acts 9:2-20). Throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece and its islands, in cities such as Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, and Corinth, the synagogues, being the gathering-places for Jews and ‘God-fearing’ half-proselytes ( Acts 13:16;  Acts 13:26;  Acts 13:43;  Acts 17:17), offered a sphere of activity to St. Paul and his fellow-workers ( Acts 13:5;  Acts 13:14;  Acts 14:1;  Acts 16:13;  Acts 17:1;  Acts 17:10;  Acts 17:17;  Acts 18:4;  Acts 18:7). In Rome there were quite a number of synagogues at the time of Augustus (Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 569), and the inscriptions discovered in recent times mention nine different ones named either after persons, such as Augustus, Agrippa, and Volumnus, or after places, such as Campus (Martius) and the Subura, or after the language of the members, Hebraic or the vernacular, one after the trade ‘lime burners,’ and another after an engraved symbol ‘the Synagogue of the Olive Tree.’ A synagogue of Severus is mentioned in Ber. R. ix. 5 quoted by Ḳimḥi on  Genesis 1:3 (Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]iii.4, 83g). On disputes held there by Palestinian masters with Romans and Christians under Domitian see H. Vogelstein and P. Rieger, Geschichte der Juden in Rom, i. [Berlin, 1896] 29.

4. Form and furniture of the synagogue. -Like the Alexandrian Great Synagogue and the Hall of Hewn Stones in the Temple (Yômâ, 25a), the synagogue at Tiberias had the form of a basilica with a double row of pillars (Midr. Tehillîm on Psalms 93 [end]). As to the style of the synagogue, as shown by the ruins in Galilee see Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4 446; their orientation, however, does not conform to the rule that they should be directed towards the East, corresponding with the tabernacle ( Numbers 3:38). However, the same was also the rule for the Church (Apost. Const. ii. 57, 3, 14; cf. Tylor, PC[Note: C Primitive Culture (E. B. Tylor).]3, London, 1891, ii. 426 ff.).

The chief furniture was the תֵּבָה, ‘ark’ (Meg. iii. 1, Ta‛an. ii. 1), in which the scrolls were kept covered with cloth or put in a case, over which was spread a baldachin (kilah) or curtain (pârôketh,  Exodus 26:31; Jer. Meg. 73d, 75b). It was placed near the upper end of the synagogue, and in front of it stood the ‘delegate of the congregation,’ who offered the prayer (Ber. v. 3, 4 and elsewhere). In the centre was the bçmâh (= βῆμα, ‘platform’) made of wood (Sôṭâ, vii. 8; Suk. 51b; cf.  Nehemiah 8:4 Authorized Version, ‘the pulpit of wood’), called in more modern times almemar, the Muhammadan al-minbar (Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. ‘Almemar’); upon it stood or sat in a chair called ‘the seat of Moses’ ( Matthew 23:2; cf. article‘China’ in Jewish Encyclopediaiv. 37a) those who read from the scroll of the Law or other sacred books, which were placed upon the lectern, called after the Greek ἀναλογεῖον (see Levy, Wörterbuch, s.vv. אנלנין and בּימה), or the tablets. There were also chairs set for the elders and the scribes (Tôs. Suk. iv. 6,  Matthew 23:6 and ||). For the candelabra (menôrâh) see Tôs. Meg. iii. 3, Jer. Meg. 74a.

5. Organization of the synagogue. -The members of a religious community having a synagogue for its centre-and there were, as shown above, often many in the larger cities-were called bene hakkeneseth, ‘sons of the synagogue’ (Meg. ii. 5, iii. 1). The number required for the formation of a synagogue community was ten (Bekôr. v. 5, Zâbîm, iii. 2, Tôs. Meg. iv. 3, Sanh. i. 6). At the head was a ruler, rôsh hak-keneseth (Yômâ, vii. 1, Sôṭâ, vii. 7) = ἀρχισυνάγωγος ( Mark 5:22,  Luke 13:14,  Acts 13:15; cf.  Luke 8:41), whose function was to maintain order in the synagogue and to decide who should conduct the service. The subaltern officer, who had to carry out the orders of the former, assisting him in keeping order, hand the sacred scroll to the reader and return it to its place (Sôṭâ, vii. 7,  Luke 4:20), take charge of the palm branches of the Sukkôth feast (Suk. iv. 4), and give the signal for the service (Tôs. Suk. iv. 6, Sifrç Nu 39) and for the suspension from work on Sabbath and Holy-day Eve (Tôs. Suk. iv. 12), was called ḥazzan hak-keneseth = ὑπηρέτης (Epiph. Haer. xxx. 11). He also assisted in the instruction of the school children by showing the passage that was to be read (Shab. 13) and acted as lictor of the synagogue court in scourging offenders (Mak. iii. 12, Tôs. Mak. v. 12). In the course of time, however, he rose in rank while officiating in smaller congregations as leader in prayer and as instructor (Jer. Yeb. xii. 13a, Jer. Ber. ix. 12, Bablî Meg. 23h, Mas. Sôferîm x. 8, xiv. 1; Pirḳç de R.E. xii. [end]). For the various functions of the service itself no permanent official existed in the ancient time, and he who was to lead in prayer was selected by the congregation-mostly through its ruler-as the representative, or ‘the delegate of the community,’ shelîaḥ zîbbûr, and upon being invited in the usual formula-at least in the Talmudic period-‘Come and bring for us the offering,’ he stepped in front of the ark to offer the prayer (Ber. v. 3-5, Jer. Ber. iv. 8b). In Mishnaic times it seems that the functions of reciting the Shemâ’ (the proclamation of the Unity of God,  Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and its corollaries  Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and  Numbers 15:37-41), with its accompanying benedictions, of reading from the Prophets, and of offering the Priestly Blessing at the close of the service were all preferably assigned to one person (Meg. iv. 5); but this was by no means the case originally (see below). For the reading from the Pentateuch different members of the congregation were called up, on Sabbath seven, on the Day of Atonement six, on festival days five, on New Moon and semi-festivals four, and on the second and fifth weekdays and Sabbath afternoons three (Meg. iv. 1-2), and as a rule Aaronites first and Levites afterwards (Giṭṭîn, v. 5). The one who was to translate the text into the vernacular (Aramaic), called metûrgemân (Meg. iv. 4), was, however, permanently engaged. The more learned men of the congregation, and especially learned guests, were as a rule invited to read the last portion and some portion from the Prophets, which they afterwards expounded in a sermon. This prophetic portion was called in Aramaic aphṭartâ (Heb. haphthârâh-word of dismissal; whence the name of the last reader, maphṭîr [see Levy, Wörterbuch, s.v. אפטרתא], Tanḥ. Terûmâh, 1;  Luke 4:16 f.).

It was principally on Sabbath and festival days, when the people were at leisure, that the service was well attended, and accordingly the weekly lesson from the Torah was read in full (cf. Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 282, 630, 458); wherefore the synagogue was called the ‘Sabbath place’ par excellence (Jos. Ant. XVI. vi. 2; cf. Bacher’s quotation from Payne Smith, article‘Synagogue,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols)iv. 636b). On Monday and Thursday the villagers coming to the cities for the court or the market attended the synagogue in sufficient numbers to have a portion of the Torah read (Tôs. Ta‛an. ii. 4). On week days only larger cities had the required ‘ten men of leisure’ (baṭlânîm || Meg. i. 3, Sanh. 17b; see Jewish Encyclopedia, article‘Baṭlanim’) for the daily service; later it became a fixed custom to engage ‘ten men of leisure’ for the holding of the daily service where the attendance was too small.

6. The service: its elements and its development. -The Divine service assumed at the very outset a two-fold character: it was to offer common devotion and public instruction. But the devotional part, again, consisted at the very beginning, as far as we can trace it, of two elements: (a) the confession of faith, (b) the real prayer (tefillâh).

(a) The confession of faith, termed in the Mishna ‘the acceptance of the yoke of sovereignty of God,’ Ḳabbâlath ‛ôl Malkût Shâmayim (Ber. ii. 2), by the recital of the Shema‛ ( Deuteronomy 6:4-9;  Deuteronomy 11:13;  Deuteronomy 11:21,  Numbers 15:37-41), was preceded by two benedictions, one containing the praise of the Lord as the Giver of light in view of the rising sun each morning, and of the Withdrawer of the light of day each evening, and another containing the praise of the Lord as Giver of the Law to Israel, His chosen people, and followed by one benediction beginning with a solemn attestation of the monotheistic truth proclaimed in the Shemâ‛, and ending with the praise of God as the Redeemer of Israel with reference to the deliverance from Egypt mentioned in the closing verse of the Shemâ‛ chapters ( Numbers 15:41). That this part is very old is shown, not merely by the discussion of the oldest Rabbinical schools concerning the details of observing the commandment found in  Deuteronomy 6:7 : ‘When thou liest down, and when thou risest up,’ but by Josephus’ source (Ant. IV. viii. 13), which ascribes to Moses the recital of the Shemâ’ and of the benediction for Israel’s redemption. But what Philo tells of the Therapeutes, that ‘they prayed each morning and evening for the light of heaven’ (ed. Mangey, ii. 475), and Josephus of the Essenes, that ‘they offer prayers handed down from their fathers towards the rising sun as if supplicating for its rising,’ that is to say, with hands outstretched towards the streaks of light coming forth (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. viii. 5; cf. Enoch lxxxiii. 11,  Wisdom of Solomon 16:28, Sib. Orac. iii. 591f.), which corresponds with what the Talmud says (Ber. 9b, Jer. Ber. i. 3a) of the Vethîḳîm, ‘the enduring, conscientiously pious’ (another name for the Essenes), that ‘they recited the Shemâ‛ at the time of the radiance of the morning sun,’ points almost with certainty to Zoroastrian influence (see, besides Graetz, Schorr, and Kohler, also T. K. Cheyne, The Origin and Religious Contents of the Psalter [BL[Note: L Bampton Lecture.]], London, 1891, pp. 283, 448), and thus indicates a time when these prayers were offered under the open sky.

(b) The real prayer (tefillâh) consisted of either eighteen benedictions or seven benedictions on Sabbath and festival days. In both cases the three opening and three concluding benedictions were the same. On week days, however, twelve specific prayers are offered between these, six concerning human life in general and five concerning the national life of the Jewish people, the twelfth containing the supplication that all the prayers offered either collectively or individually be heard, whereas on Sabbaths and festivals only one specific prayer with reference to the day is offered.

The three opening benedictions are: (1) Birkath Âbôth, ‘the praise of the God of the fathers,’ dwelling on the merits of the patriarchs and closing with the words ‘Shield of Abraham’; (2) Gebûrôth, ‘the praise of the Divine Omnipotence,’ as manifested in cosmic life and in the future resurrection: it closes, ‘Blessed be Thou who revivest the dead’; (3) Ḳedûshâh, ‘the sanctification of the Lord by the heavenly hosts’: it closes with, ‘Blessed be Thou, the holy God.’ The three concluding benedictions are: (1) ‛Abôdâh, prayer for the favourable acceptance of the Divine service in the Temple, which, since the destruction of the Temple, has been changed into a prayer for the restoration of the sacrificial cult: it now closes, ‘Blessed be Thou who restorest Thy Shekinah to Zion’; (2) Hôdââh, thanksgiving for all the bounties of life and the wondrous doings of Providence; (3) Birkath Kôhanîm, the benediction connected with the Priestly Blessing ( Numbers 6:24-27), which formed the conclusion of the service.

The twelve week-day benedictions are: (1) prayer for knowledge and wisdom; (2) for spiritual regeneration; (3) for Divine forgiveness; (4) for the redemption of those in bondage; (5) for the healing of the sick; (6) for the produce of the year; (7) for the gathering of the dispersed of Israel; (8) for the restoration of a reign of righteousness; (9) originally for the destruction of the kingdom of arrogancy (= the heathen powers): after the Bar Cochba war, however, it was changed into a curse of the heretics and (Christian) informers in the service of Rome; (10) prayer for the leading authorities, the Zaddîḳîm, the Ḥasîdîm, the elders, the remnant of the Sôferîm, and the proselytes; (11) originally a prayer for the restoration of the Davidic dynasty in Jerusalem, afterwards divided into a prayer for Jerusalem’s restoration as the city of God and another for the Branch of David-hence arose nineteen instead of eighteen week-day prayers (cf. Tôs. Ber. ii. 25, Jer. Ber. ii. 4d-5d, iv. 8ac, Rôsh hash. iv. 49c; Lekaḥ Tob Waëthḥanan; Yalḳûṭ on 1 Samuel 2; Ber. 28bf.); (12) prayer for the acceptance of all petitions (see Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4 540). As to the age of these prayers in their original form, the mention of the Sanhedrin, elders, and the remnant of the Sôferîm in the 10th (resp. 13th) prayer indicates the Maccabaean, if not the pre-Maccabaean, time (cf. also  Sirach 51:12 and Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4 542 n.[Note: . note.], 156). The three opening and three concluding benedictions have been preserved in a more elaborate and original form in the ancient Church liturgy that came down under the name of Clement (Apost. Const. vii. 33-35, 37-38, viii. 37), the opening and concluding formulas being almost identical (see article‘Didascalia’ in Jewish Encyclopediaiv. 593 ff.). The Sabbath and Holy-day benediction (Apost. Const. vii. 36) has also the original Jewish character. All these prayers evidently originated in Hasidaean circles, and were only afterwards reduced in length to suit the people at large, as the synagogue became a common institution (see also L. Zunz, Göttesdienstliche Vorträge der Juden2, Frankfort a.M., 1892, pp. 379-383, and G. Dalman, Die Worte Jesu, Leipzig, 1898, p. 299 ff.). As a matter of fact, the entire angelology of the first Shema’ benediction and of the third of the eighteen benedictions is, like those in the ancient Church liturgy, altogether Essene in character, intended only for the initiated into the ‘higher wisdom,’ and the popularization of these prayers was as much the work of the synagogue as was the propagation of religious knowledge among the people-a work begun by the Levites ( Nehemiah 8:7;  Nehemiah 9:5,  2 Chronicles 19:8;  2 Chronicles 31:2;  2 Chronicles 35:3; Test. Levi, viii. 7; Yômâ, 26a; Tanḥ. Waëra, 4; Num. R., i., iii., v.) and achieved in the course of centuries through the synagogue by the Pharisees (see R. T. Herford, Pharisaism, London, 1912, pp. 80-83).

The reading from the Law introduced by Ezra ( Nehemiah 8:5) became soon afterwards a fixed custom for each Sabbath, and so the Pentateuch was completed at first in triennial (possibly originally septennial [cf.  Deuteronomy 31:10]) and later in annual cycles (Zunz, op. cit., p. 3 f.), it having been divided at first into 154 and afterwards into 54 sections accordingly. The seven men called up for public reading seem to have been originally identical with the seven leading men of each community (Meg. 26a; Jos. Ant. IV. viii. 14, Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. xx. 5), probably the Ḥeber‛Îr (Tôs. Bik. iii. 12, Ber. iv. 7, and elsewhere), but were afterwards chosen from among all the members of the synagogue. The reading from the Prophets which followed that from the Pentateuch ( Acts 13:15) is probably of an older origin than the latter; its selection was left to the preacher of the day ( Luke 4:17), but afterwards the selection for each Sabbath and Holy-day was fixed so as to correspond with the character of the day or the Pentateuch section.

7. Women in the synagogue. -Women could not be members of the synagogue, though they seem to have performed synagogal functions of their own, and so prominent women were elected as mothers of the synagogue (‘Mater Synagogae’ [Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]iii.4 88]). They attended the service ( Acts 16:13, Ab. Zârâ 38b, Sôṭâ 22a), but could take no part in the common service (Tôs. Meg. iv. 11, Bab[Note: ab Babylonian.]. Meg. 23a). They were without doubt at all times (Tôs. Suk. iv. 11, Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Suk. 51b; cf. Philo, ad. Mangey, ii. 482; Ḳid. 81a; Chrysos. Hom. 74 in Matt., quoted by Lcew) separated from the men by some sort of wall or barrier (against Lcew, Gesammelte Schriften, iv. 62 f., and Bacher, loc. cit.). See also Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4 521, 527, where the emporium found in the ruins of the ancient synagogue is correctly assigned by him to the women.

8. Schoolhouse. -The synagogue was at the outset the place for public instruction (Philo, ed. Mangey, ii. 168: ‘Their houses of worship are nothing but schools of wisdom and virtue’; and Jos. c. Apion. ii. 17-18), and at an early time elementary schools for the young were established therein, or near by (Jer. Keth. xiii. 35c; M.K. iii. 31d; Bab.[Note: Babylonian.]Ḳid. 30a; Ber. 17a; Meg. 28b; B.B. 21; Giṭṭ. 58a).

9. Other uses of the synagogue. -To eat, drink, or sleep in the synagogue was regarded as profanation, but it was used for funeral addresses (Tôs. Meg. iii. 7; Bab[Note: ab Babylonian.]. Meg. 28b), for public announcement, especially of charity donations (Lev. R. xxxii. 6; Schürer’s quotation of  Matthew 6:2 refers to the Temple [see articles ‘Alms’ in Jewish Encyclopediai. and ‘Didascalia,’ ib. iv. 591d-592a]). The ancient Ḥasîdîm or Essenes seem to have had their meals in, or near, the synagogue, and the poor were housed and fed in rooms adjoining it (Pes. 101a; Kohler, MGWJ[Note: GWJ Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums.]xxxvii. 494). Punishment by scourging was inflicted in the synagogue ( Matthew 10:17;  Matthew 23:34,  Acts 26:11).

10. The synagogue discipline. -The maintenance of the synagogue community required certain disciplinary measures to keep obnoxious or hostile elements out. The following were the different forms of exclusion or excommunication used against unsubmissive members.

(1) Ḥerem, anathema-a term used since  2 Esdras 10:8 (see articles ‘Anathema’ and ‘Ban’ in Jewish Encyclopedia) in the sense of absolute exclusion from the congregation (M.Ḳ. 16a;  1 Corinthians 16:22, where the Greek ἀνάθεμα is followed by the Aramaic formula Mârân athâ [‘thou art accursed’]  Galatians 1:8), for which also the term ἀποσυνάγωγος is used ( John 9:22;  John 12:42;  John 16:2; Apost. Const. II. xliii. 1, III. viii. 3, IV. viii. 3; the Syrian Didascalia is less exact).

(2) Niddûy, conditional or temporary exclusion-a term used chiefly in Mishna (Ta’an. iii. 8, M.Ḳ. iii. 1-2; ‛Çdûy. v. c; Midd. 112; Jer. M.Ḳ. 81a; Bab[Note: ab Babylonian.]. Ber. 19a; M.Ḳ 16-17; B.Ḳ. 112b ff.; Ned. 7b, and elsewhere). It corresponds with ἀφορίζειν ( Luke 6:22; Apost. Const. II. xvi. 3, 4; xxi. 3, 7; xxviii. 2, 4; xl. 2; xlvi., xlvii. 3; xlviii. 1; III. viii. 2; VI. xliii. and VII. ii. 8; also in the later ecclesiastical rules [VIII. xxviii. 3, 7, 8; xxxii. 5; xlvii. 5, 8ff.]); probably also with ἐκβάλλειν ἐκ τῆς ἐκκλησίας,  3 John 1:10.

(3) Nezîphâh, severe public reprimand implying a seven days’ seclusion in accord with  Numbers 12:14 (cf. Sifrç, ad loc.; M.Ḳ. 16a; Shab. 115a), found as early as the 1st cent. b.c. in Apost. Const. II. xvi. 3-4; cf. article‘Didascalia’ in Jewish Encyclopediaiv. 589d, against Hamburger, article‘Bann,’ p. 150.

(4) Shammatâ, handing over to desolation (from shammâinion with another lady called Euodiaemâmâh = παραδοῦναι τῷ Σατανᾷ,  1 Corinthians 5:5; cf. Jos. Bellum Judaicum (Josephus)II. viii. 8 and Jewish Encyclopediai. 561-562; M.Ḳ. 17a).

(5) Lûṭ, execration-a milder form of shammatâ resorted to by the Talmudic leader in Babylonia (see articleלוט in Levy, Wörterbuch; M.K. 16d; cf.  Judges 5:23,  Deuteronomy 27:15-26).

(6) Corporal punishments such as the thirty-nine stripes for transgression of Mosaic commandments ( Deuteronomy 25:3,  2 Corinthians 11:24) or beating for rebelliousness against the Rabbinical authorities-Makkath Mardûth (Nâzîr iv. 3,  2 Corinthians 11:25,  Acts 16:22). The entire disciplinary system, which in the course of time became rather less severe in the same measure as heresy and antagonism ceased within the synagogue (M.Ḳ. 16ab), was no longer clearly understood in Talmudic times; it receives better light, however, from the Essene Church rules preserved in the Apost. Const. II. xl. 2-43 and 47, as shown above. It is from the ancient Hasidaean synagogue that the Christian Church adopted her own disciplinary system.

Literature.-E. Schürer, GJV[Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).]ii.4 [Leipzig, 1907] 497-541, where the entire literature is given; W. Bacher, article‘Synagogue,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols). Especially to be mentioned are L. Lcew, Der synagogale Ritus (= Gesammelte Schriften, Szegedin, 1889-1900, iv. 1-71, v. 21-33); K. Kohler, ‘Ueber die Ursprünge und Grundformen der synagogalen Liturgie,’ in MGWJ[Note: GWJ Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums.]xxxvii. [1893] 441-451, 489-497; W. O. E. Cesterley and G. H. Box, The Religion and Worship of the Synagogue, London, 1907; W. Bousset, Religion des Judentums2, Berlin. 1906, pp. 83, 197f., 197 ff.; J. Wellhausen, Israelitische und jüdische Geschichte6, do., 1907, pp. 193 f., 199f.; I. Elbogen, Der jüdische Gottesdienst in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung, Leipzig, 1913.

K. Kohler.

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [2]

συναγωγη , "an assembly,"  Revelation 2:9;  Revelation 3:9 . The word often occurs in the Gospels and in the Acts, because Jesus Christ and his Apostles generally went to preach in those places. Although the sacrifices could not be offered, except in the tabernacle or the temple, the other exercises of religion were restricted to no particular place. Accordingly we find that the praises of God were sung, at a very ancient period, in the schools of the prophets; and those who felt any particular interest in religion, were assembled by the seers on the Sabbath, and the new moons, for prayers and religious instruction,  1 Samuel 10:5-11;  1 Samuel 19:18-24;  2 Kings 4:23 . During the Babylonish captivity, the Jews, who were then deprived of their customary religious privileges, were wont to collect around some prophet or other pious man, who taught them and their children in religion, exhorted to good conduct, and read out of the sacred books,  Ezekiel 14:1;  Ezekiel 20:1;  Daniel 6:11;  Nehemiah 8:18 . These assemblies, or meetings, became, in progress of time, fixed to certain places, and a regular order was observed in them. Such appears to have been the origin of synagogues. In speaking of synagogues, it is worthy to be noticed, that there is nothing said in respect to the existence of such buildings in Palestine, during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. They are, therefore, by some supposed to have been first erected under the Maccabean princes, but that, in foreign countries, they were much more ancient. Whether this statement be correct or not, it is nevertheless certain, that in the time of the Apostles, there were synagogues wherever there were Jews. They were built, in imitation of the temple of Jerusalem, with a court and porches, as is the case with the synagogues in the east at the present day. In the centre of the court is a chapel, supported by four columns, in which, on an elevation prepared for it, is placed the book of the law, rolled up. This, on the appointed days, is publicly read. In addition to the chapel, there is erected within the court a large covered hall or vestry, into which the people retire, when the weather happens to be cold and stormy, and each family has its particular seat. The uppermost seats in the synagogue, that is, those which were nearest the chapel where the sacred books were kept, were esteemed peculiarly honourable,  Matthew 23:6;  James 2:3 . The "proseuchae," προσευχαι , are understood by some to be smaller synagogues, but by others are supposed to be particular places under the open sky, where the Jews assembled for religious exercise. But Josephus calls the proseucha of Tiberias a large house, which held very many persons. See Proseuchae . The Apostles preached the Gospel in synagogues and proseuchae, and with their adherents performed in them all the religious services. When excluded, they imitated the Jews in those places, where they were too poor to erect these buildings, and held their religious meetings in the houses of individuals. Hence we not only hear of synagogues in houses in the Talmud, but of churches in houses in the New Testament,   Romans 16:5;  1 Corinthians 16:19;  Colossians 4:15; Philippians 2; Acts 3:46;  Acts 5:42 . The Apostles sometimes hired a house, in which they performed religious services, and taught daily,  Acts 19:9;  Acts 20:8 . Συναγωγη means literally a convention or assembly, but by metonymy, was eventually used for the place of assembling; in the same way that εκκλησια , which means literally a calling together, or convocation, signifies also at the present time the place of convocation. Synagogues were sometimes called by the Jews schools; but they were careful to make an accurate distinction between such, and the schools, properly so called, the מדרשים , or "sublimer schools," in which the Talmud was read, while the law merely was read in the synagogues, which they placed far behind the Talmud.

The mode of conducting religious instruction and worship in the primitive Christian churches, was derived for the most part from the practice which anciently prevailed in synagogues. But there were no regular teachers in the synagogues, who were officially qualified to pronounce discourses before the people; although there were interpreters who rendered into the vernacular tongue, namely, the Hebraeo-aramean, the sections, which had been publicly read in the Hebrew.

The "synagogue preacher," דרשן , whose business it is, in consequence of his office, to address the people, is an official personage that has been introduced in later times; at least we find no mention of such a one in the New Testament. On the contrary, in the time of Christ, the person who read the section for the Sabbath, or any other person who was respectable for learning and had a readiness of speech, addressed the people,  Luke 4:16-21;  Acts 13:5;  Acts 13:15;  Acts 15:21;  Matthew 4:23 .

The other persons who were employed in the services and government of the synagogue, in addition to the one who read the Scriptures, and the person who rendered them into the vernacular tongue, were as follows:

1. "The ruler of the synagogue," αρχισυναγωγος , ראש הבגסת , who presided over the assembly, and invited readers and speakers, unless some persons who were acceptable voluntarily offered themselves,  Mark 5:22;  Mark 5:35-38;  Luke 8:41;  Luke 13:14-15;  Acts 13:15 .

2. "The elders of the synagogue," וקנים , πρεσβυτεροι . They appear to have been the counsellors of the head or ruler of the synagogue, and were chosen from among the most powerful and learned of the people, and are hence called αρχισυναγωγοι ,  Acts 13:15 . The council of elders not only took a part in the management of the internal concerns of the synagogue, but also punished transgressors of the public laws, either by turning them out of the synagogue, or decreeing the punishment of thirty- nine stripes,  John 12:42;  John 16:2;  2 Corinthians 11:24 .

3. "The collectors of alms," גבאי צדקה , διακονοι , "deacons." Although every thing which is said of them by the Jews was not true concerning them in the time of the Apostles, there can be no doubt that there were such officers in the synagogues at that time, Acts 6.

4. "The servants of the synagogue," חזן , υπηρετης ,  Luke 4:20; whose business it was to reach the book of the law to the person who was to read it, and to receive it back again, and to perform other services. The ceremonies which prevail in the synagogues at the present day in presenting the law were not observed in the time of our Saviour.

5. "The messenger or legate of the synagogue," שליה צבור . This was a person who was sent from synagogues abroad, to carry alms to Jerusalem. The name, messenger of the synagogue, was applied likewise to any person, who was commissioned by a synagogue, and sent forth to propagate religious knowledge. A person likewise was denominated the messenger, or angel, αγγελλος , της αγγελλος εκκλησιας , &c, who was selected by the assembly to recite for them the prayers; the same that is called by the Jews of modern times the synagogue singer, or cantilator,  Revelation 2:1;  Revelation 2:8;  Revelation 2:12;  Revelation 2:18;  Revelation 3:1;  Revelation 3:7;  Revelation 3:14 .

The Jews anciently called those persons who, from their superior erudition, were capable of teaching in the synagogue, פרנסים , "shepherds," or "pastors." They applied the same term, at least in more recent times, to the elders of the synagogue, and also to the collectors of alms, or deacons. The ground of the application of this term in such a way, is as follows: the word פרנם is, without doubt, derived from the Greek word πυρνος , "bread," or "a fragment of bread;" and, as it is used in the Targums, it corresponds to the Hebrew verb רעה , "to feed." It is easy to see, therefore, how the word פרנס might be applied to persons who sustained offices in the synagogue, in the same way as רעה is applied to kings, &c.

We do not find mention made of public worship in the synagogues, except on the Sabbath,  Matthew 12:9;  Mark 1:21;  Mark 3:1;  Mark 6:2;  Luke 4:16;  Luke 4:32-33;  Luke 6:6;  Luke 13:10;  Acts 13:14;  Acts 15:21;  Acts 16:13-25;  Acts 17:2;  Acts 18:4 . What is said of St. Paul's hiring the school of one Tyrannus at Ephesus, and teaching in it daily, is a peculiar instance,  Acts 19:9-10 . Yet there can be no doubt that those Jews who were unable to go to Jerusalem attended worship on their festival days, as well as on the Sabbath, in their own synagogues. Individuals sometimes offered their private prayers in the synagogue. When an assembly was collected together for worship, the services began, after the customary greeting, with a doxology. A section was then read from the Mosaic law. Then followed, after the singing of a second doxology, the reading of a portion from the prophets,  Acts 15:31;  Luke 4:16 . The person whose duty it was to perform the reading, placed upon his head, as is done at the present day, a covering called tallith, to which St. Paul alludes,   2 Corinthians 3:15 . The sections which had been read in the Hebrew were rendered by an interpreter into the vernacular tongue, and the reader or some other man then addressed the people,  Luke 4:16;  Acts 13:15 . It was on such occasions as these, that Jesus, and afterward the Apostles, taught the Gospel. The meeting, as far as the religious exercises were concerned, was ended with a prayer, to which the people responded Amen, when a collection was taken for the poor.

The customs which prevail at the present day, and which Vitringa has treated of, were not all of them practised in ancient times. The readers, for instance, were not then, as they are at the present day, called upon to perform, but presented themselves voluntarily,  Luke 4:16; the persons also who addressed the people were not rabbins expressly appointed for that purpose, but were either invited from those present, or offered themselves,  Acts 13:15;  Luke 4:17 . The parts to be publicly read, likewise, do not appear to have been previously pointed out, although the book was selected by the ruler of the synagogue,  Luke 4:16 . Furthermore, the forms of prayer that are used by the Jews at the present time do not appear to have been in existence in the time of Christ; unless this may perhaps have been the case in respect to the substance of some of them, especially the one called שמפּ? קרי , concerning which the Talmudists, at a very early period, gave many precepts.

It was by ministering in synagogues that the Apostles gathered the churches. They retained also essentially the same mode of worship with that of the synagogues, excepting that the Lord's Supper was made an additional institution, agreeably to the example of Christ,  Acts 2:42;  Acts 20:7-11;  1 Corinthians 11:16-34 . They were at length excluded from the synagogue and assembled at evening in the house of some Christian, which was lighted for the purpose with lamps,  Acts 20:7-11 . The Apostle, with the elders, when engaged in public worship, took a position where they would be most likely to be heard by all. The first service was merely a salutation or blessing, namely, "The Lord be with you," or, "Peace be with you." Then followed the doxologies and prelexions, the same as in the synagogues. The Apostle then addressed the people on the subject of religion, and urged upon them that purity of life which it required. Prayer succeeded, which was followed by the commemoration of the Saviour's death in the breaking and distribution of bread. The meeting was ended by taking a collection for the poor, especially those at Jerusalem,  2 Corinthians 9:1-15 .

Those who held some office in the church were the regularly qualified instructers in these religious meetings; and yet laymen had liberty to address their brethren on these occasions the same as in the synagogues; also to sing hymns, and to pray; which, in truth, many of them did, especially those who were supernaturally gifted, not excepting the women.

Those females who were not under a supernatural influence were forbidden by the Apostle Paul to make an address on such occasions, or to propose questions; and it was enjoined on those who did speak, not to lay aside their veils,  1 Corinthians 11:5;  1 Corinthians 14:34-40 . The reader and the speaker stood; the others sat; all arose in the time of prayer. Whatever was stated in a foreign tongue was immediately rendered by an interpreter into the speech in common use. This was so necessary, that Paul enjoined silence on a person who was even endowed with supernatural gifts, provided an interpreter was not at hand,  1 Corinthians 14:1-33 . It was the practice among the Greek Christians to uncover their heads when attending divine service,  1 Corinthians 11:11-16; but in the east, the ancient custom of worshipping with the head covered was retained. Indeed, it is the practice among the oriental Christians to the present day, not to uncover their heads in their religious meetings, except when they receive the eucharist.

It is affirmed that in the city of Jerusalem alone there were no less than four hundred and sixty or four hundred and eighty synagogues. Every trading company had one of its own, and even strangers built some for those of their own nation. Hence we find synagogues of the Cyrenians, Alexandrians, Cilicians, and Asiatics, appointed for such as came up to Jerusalem from those countries,  Acts 6:9 .

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [3]


1. Meaning and history . Like its original synagôgç (lit. a gathering, assembly for its use in LXX [Note: Septuagint.] see Congregation), ‘synagogue’ is used in NT in a double signification: (1) in the sense of a community organized for religious purposes, as   Acts 6:9;   Acts 9:2 (cf.   Revelation 2:9;   Revelation 3:9 ‘the synagogue of Satan’); and (2) to denote the building in which the community met for worship so some 50 times in the Gospels and Acts from   Matthew 4:23 onwards. The strict Heb. equivalent in the latter sense is ‘the house of assembly.’ Of other names for the synagogue as a place of worship may be mentioned the older term proseuchç (  Acts 16:13 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ‘place of worship’; Jos. [Note: Josephus.] Life , § 54, of the synagogue of Tiberias)

The origin of the synagogue as a characteristic institution of Judaism is hidden in obscurity. Most probably it took its rise in the circumstances of the Hebrew exiles in Babylonia. Hitherto worship had practically meant sacrifice, but sacrifice was now impossible in a land unclean (cf.  Hosea 3:4;   Hosea 9:3 f.). There was still left to the exiles, however, the living word of the prophet, and the writings of God’s interpreters from a former age. In those gatherings in the house of Ezekiel of which we read (  Ezekiel 8:1;   Ezekiel 20:1-3 ) we may perhaps detect the germs of the future synagogue. We are on more solid ground when we reach the religious reform of Ezra and Nehemiah (b.c. 444 443). With the introduction of the ‘Law of Moses’ as the norm of faith and life, the need for systematic instruction in its complex requirements was evident to the leaders of the reform, as is clear from   Nehemiah 8:7 f. The closing century of the Persian rule, b.c. 430 330, may therefore be regarded as the period of the rise and development of the synagogue. From this period, more precisely from the reign of Artaxerxes iii. Ocbus (358 337), may be dated the only mention of the synagogue in OT, viz.   Psalms 74:8 ‘they have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land.’ The papyrus finds of recent years have contained not a few references to the synagogues of the Jewish communities in Egypt, from the time of the third Ptolemy, Euergetes, b.c. 247 221, onwards (details in Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes.] 4 ii. 499 f.).

By the first century of our era the synagogue was regarded as an institution of almost immemorial antiquity. In referring it back to Moses himself, Josephus ( c. Apion . ii. 17) is only echoing the contemporary belief, which is also reflected in the words of the Apostle James, ‘for Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath’ (  Acts 15:21 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). For the wide extent and historical importance of the synagogues of ‘the Dispersion,’ see below, § 5 .

2. The synagogue building and its furniture . Remains, more or less extensive, of Jewish synagogues still survive from the second and third, more doubtfully from the first, centuries of our era, chiefly in Galilee. The examination of these remains, first undertaken by the Palestine Exploration Fund (see Survey of West Pal . i. 224 ff. with plans), has recently been carried out more fully by the German Orient Society, and the results published in the Society’s Mittheilungen (Nos. 23, 27, 29 [1904, 1905]). In plan and details of ornamentation these Galilæan synagogues display a general similarity. The buildings are rectangular in shape, and divided into three or five aisles by two or three rows of pillars. The entrance is almost always in the south front, and often consists of a large main, and two smaller side, entrances. The most elaborate was the synagogue of Capernaum, where, as elsewhere, traces were found of galleries running round three sides of the central aisle. These were probably assigned to the women (for a similar arrangement in Herod’s Temple, see Temple § 11 ( b )), although the question of the separation of the sexes in NT times is one on which the best authorities disagree.

As regards the furniture of the synagogue, the most important item was the chest or cupboard ( tçbâ , the ‘ark’), in which the sacred rolls of the Law and the Prophets were kept. The synagogues of NT times were also doubtless provided with a raised platform ( bçmâ ), on which stood the reading-desk from which the Scriptures were read. The larger portion of the area was occupied by benches for the congregation, the worshippers facing southwards, in Galilee at least, towards the holy city. A few special seats in front of the bçmâ , and facing the congregation, were occupied by the heads of the community. These are the ‘chief seats in the synagogues’ coveted by the Pharisees (  Matthew 23:5 and ||). In front of the ‘ark’ a lamp burned day and night.

3. The officials of the Synagogue . The general management of the synagogue of a Jewish town, where it served also as a court of justice and in the smaller towns and villages at least as a school, was in the hands of the elders of the community. It had no special priest or ‘ minister ,’ as will appear presently. It was usual however, to appoint an official called ‘ the ruler of the synagogue ’ (  Mark 5:22 ,   Luke 8:41 , and oft.), to whom the authorities of the community committed the care of the building as well as the more important duty of seeing that everything connected with the public services was done ‘decently and in order.’ Hence the indignation of the ruler of   Luke 13:14 at the supposed breach of the decorum of worship related in the preceding verses (vv. 10 13). It lay with the ruler also to select the readers for the day, and to determine the order in which they were to be called up to the reading-desk. Occasionally, it would seem, a synagogue might have two or more rulers, as at Antioch of Pisidia (  Acts 13:15 ).

The only other permanent official was the chazzân , ‘the ‘ attendant ’ of   Luke 4:20 RV [Note: Revised Version.] (A V ‘ minister ’ in the same, but now obsolete, sense; cf.   Acts 13:5 ). The duties of the synagogue ‘officer’ (as we say in Scotland) were somewhat varied. He was responsible for the cleaning and lighting of the building; and during service it was his special duty to convey the sacred rolls from the ark to the readers at the desk, and to restore them when the reading was over, as recorded in   Luke 4:17-20 . To him fell also the duty of scourging criminals condemned by the court (  Matthew 10:17;   Matthew 23:34 etc.), but not, as is usually represented, the teaching of the school children (art. ‘Education’ in DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] i. 650 a ).

4. The synagogue service in NT times . For this part of our subject we are dependent mainly on the fuller information preserved in the Mishna, which reflects the later usage of the 2nd century. According to Megillah , iv. 3, the service consisted of four parts, and with this the scattered hints in the Gospels and Acts agree. These parts are: ( a ) the recitation of the Shema ’, ( b ) the lifting up of hands, i.e. the prayers, ( c ) the lessons from the Law and the Prophets, and ( d ) the priestly benediction. Two elements of the full service, however, are here omitted as not strictly belonging to the essentials of worship, viz. the translation of the lessons into the vernacular, and the sermon.

( a ) The recitation of the Shema ’. The shema ’ is the standing designation of three short sections of the Pentateuch,   Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (which opens with the word Shema ’ = ‘Hear,’ whence the name)   Deuteronomy 11:13-21 ,   Numbers 15:37-41 . Their recitation by the congregation was preceded and followed by one or two short benedictions, such as that beginning, ‘Blessed be thou, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, who didst form the light and create darkness.’

( b ) The lifting up of hands . In contrast to the first item of the service, in which all took part, the prayers were said by a single individual chosen for the purpose, named ‘the deputy of the congregation,’ the worshippers’ however, repeating the Amen at the close of each collect. This mode of prayer in the public services was taken over by the early Church, as is attested by   1 Corinthians 14:16 (where the word rendered ‘the giving of thanks’ is the Gr. equivalent of that rendered ‘benediction’ below). By the middle of the 2nd cent. a.d. a formal liturgy had been developed the famous ‘eighteen benedictions,’ which may be read in any Jewish prayer-book. It is impossible, however, to say with certainty how many of these were in use in our Lord’s day. Dalman is of opinion that at least twelve of the eighteen collects are older than a.d. 70. These he arranges in three groups, consisting of three opening benedictions, six petitions, and three closing benedictions (see his art. ‘Gottesdienst [synagogaler]’ in Hauck’s PRE [Note: RE Real-Encykl. für protest. Theol. und Kirche] 3 vii.).

( c ) The OT lessons . The liturgy was followed by a lesson from the Law. The five books were divided into 154 (or more) Sabbath pericopes or sections, so that the whole Pentateuch was read through in three years (or 3 1 / 2 years, half of a Sabbatic period). The custom of calling up seven readers in succession a priest, a Levite, and five others may be as old as the 1st century. After the Law came, at the Sabbath morning service only a lesson from the Prophets, read by one person and left to his choice. It was the haphtarâ , as the prophetic lesson was termed, that our Lord read in the synagogue of Nazareth (  Luke 4:16 ff.). ‘The Hagiographa except Esther, were not at this period read at Divine service. Even the Psalms had no place in the usual service’ (Dalman).

In order that the common people might follow the lessons with Intelligence, these were translated into Aramaic, the vernacular of Palestine, by an interpreter ( methurgemân our ‘dragoman’ is from the same root). The unique position of the Law in the estimation of the time is shown by the fact that the Pentateuch lessons had to be translated a verse at a time, while the Prophets might he rendered three verses at a time. Reader and interpreter stood while at the reading-desk.

At this point in the service at the principal diets of worship, the sermon was introduced. The preacher sat while giving his exposition, which is so often described in NT as ‘teaching’ ( Matthew 4:23 ,   Mark 1:21;   Mark 6:2 etc.). In the synagogue there was full liberty of prophesying.’ Any member of the community was free to exercise his gift. When a likely stranger was present, he was invited by the ruler of the synagogue to address the congregation (  Acts 13:15 ). ( d ) The service was closed by a priest pronouncing the priestly benediction ,   Numbers 6:24-26; if no priest was present, it is said that a layman gave the blessing in the form of a prayer.

On some occasions, at least, it was usual to ask the alms of the congregation ( Matthew 6:2 ) on behalf of the poor. The full service, as sketched above, was confined to the principal service of the week, which was held on the forenoon of the Sabbath. At the other services, such as those held daily in the larger towns, where ten ‘men of leisure’ were available to form the minimum legal congregation, and the Monday and Thursday services, some of the items were omitted.

5. The influence of the Synagogue . This article would be incomplete without a reference, however brief, to the influence of the synagogue and its worship not only upon the Jews themselves, but upon the world of heathenism. As to the latter, the synagogue played a conspicuous part in the preparatio evangelica . From the outworn creeds of paganism many earnest souls turned to the synagogue and its teaching for the satisfaction of their highest needs. The synagogues of ‘the Dispersion’ (  John 7:35 , Jam 1:1 ,   1 Peter 1:1 , all RV [Note: Revised Version.] ) became in consequence the seed-plots of Christianity, as every student of the Book of Acts is aware.

The work which the synagogue did for Judaism itself is best seen in the ease with which the breach with the past involved in the destruction of the Temple in a.d. 70, and the cessation of sacrificial worship, was healed. The highest religious life of Judaism had already transferred its channels from the grosser and more material forms of the Temple to the spiritual worship of the synagogue.

Nor must a reference be wanting to the fact that the synagogue, and not the Temple, supplied the mould and model for the worship of the Christian Church.

6. The Great Synagogue. In late Jewish tradition Ezra is alleged to have been the founder and first president of a college of learned scribes, which is supposed to have existed in Jerusalem until the early part of the Gr. period ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 300). To ‘the men of the Great Synagogue,’ or rather ‘of the Great Assembly,’ were ascribed the composition of some of the later OT books, the close of the Canon, and a general care for the development of religion under the Law. Recent writers, however, have in the main accepted the results of Kuenen’s careful investigation in his Gesamm . Abhandlungen (Germ. tr. [Note: translate or translation.] 125 160), and now regard the Great Synagogue as unhistorical, the tradition of its existence having arisen from a distorted view of the nature and purpose of the great popular assembly, of which we read in   Nehemiah 8:1-18;   Nehemiah 9:1-38;   Nehemiah 10:1-39 .

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Fausset's Bible Dictionary [4]

Hebrew Eedah , "a congregation" or "appointed solemn meeting," in the Pentateuch; Qaahaal , "a meeting called", represents Ekklesia the "Church". (See Church .) In the New Testament Synagogue (Greek) is used of the Christian assembly only by the most Judaic apostle ( James 2:2). The Jews' malice against Christianity caused Christians to leave the term "synagogue" to the Jews ( Revelation 2:9). The first hints of religions meetings appear in the phrases "before the Lord," "the calling of assemblies" ( Isaiah 1:13). The Sabbaths were observed from an early time by gatherings for prayer, whether at or apart from the tabernacle or temple ( 1 Samuel 20:5;  2 Kings 4:23).

Jehoshaphat's mission of priests and Levites ( 2 Chronicles 17:7-9) implies there was no provision for regular instruction except the septennial reading of the law at the feast of tabernacles ( Deuteronomy 31:10-13). In  Psalms 74:4;  Psalms 74:8 (Compare  Jeremiah 52:13 ;  Jeremiah 52:17 , Which Shows That The Psalm Refers To The Chaldaean Destruction Of The Sanctuary) the "congregations" and "synagogues "refer to the tabernacle or temple meeting place between God and His people; " Mo'Eed Mo'Adee " in the psalm is the same word as expresses "the tabernacle of congregation," or meeting between God and His people, in  Exodus 33:7, compare  Exodus 29:42-43. So in  Lamentations 2:6, "He (The Lord) hath destroyed His places of assembly." But the other places of devotional meetings of the people besides the temple are probably included. So  Psalms 107:32, "the congregation of the people ... the assembly of the elders" ( Ezra 3:1). The prophets' assemblies for psalmody and worship led the way ( 1 Samuel 9:12;  1 Samuel 10:5;  1 Samuel 19:20-24).

Synagogues in the strict and later sense are not mentioned until after the desecration of the temple by Antiochus Epiphanes. The want of the temple in the Babylonian captivity familiarized the exiles with the idea of spiritual worship independent of locality. The elders often met and sat before the prophet, Ezekiel to hear Jehovah's word ( Ezekiel 8:1;  Ezekiel 11:15-16;  Ezekiel 14:1;  Ezekiel 20:1); in  Ezekiel 33:31 the people also sit before him to hear. Periodic meetings for hearing the law and the prophets read were customary thenceforth on the return ( Ezra 8:15;  Nehemiah 8:2;  Nehemiah 9:1;  Zechariah 7:5;  Acts 15:21). When the Jews could not afford to build a synagogue they built "an oratory" ( Proseuchee ) by a running stream or the seashore ( Acts 16:13). The synagogue was the means of rekindling the Jewish devotion and patriotism which shone so brightly in the Maccabean struggle with Antiochus.

The synagogue required no priest to minister; this and the reading of the Old Testament prepared the way for the gospel. Sometimes a wealthy Jew or a proselyte built the synagogue ( Luke 7:5). The Kibleh or "direction" was toward Jerusalem. The structure, though essentially different from the temple (For It Had Neither Altar Nor Sacrifice) , resembled in some degree that of the temple: the ark at the far end contained the law in both; the lid was called the Kopereth or "mercy-seat"; a veil hung before it. Here were "the chief seats" sought by the Pharisees and the rich ( Matthew 23:6;  James 2:2-3). In the middle was a raised platform on which several could be together, with a pulpit in the middle for the reader to stand in when reading and to sit when teaching. A low partition separated men on one side from women on the other. Besides the ark for "the law" ( Torah ) there was a chest for the Haphtaroth or "roll of the prophets". In the synagogue a college of elders was presided over by the chief or ruler of the synagogue ( Luke 7:3;  Luke 8:41;  Luke 8:49).

The elders were called Parnasiym , "pastors," "shepherds" ( Ephesians 4:11;  1 Peter 5:1), ruling over the flock ( 1 Timothy 5:17;  Hebrews 13:7); they with the ruler managed the affairs of the synagogue and had the power of excommunication. The officiating minister was delegate ( Sheliach , Answering To The Term Apostle, "Sent") of the congregation, the forerunner of "the angel (Messenger Sent) of the church" ( Revelation 1:20;  Revelation 2:1). The qualifications required were similar to those of a bishop or presbyter; he must be of full age, father of a family, apt to teach ( 1 Timothy 3:1-7;  Titus 1:6-9). The Chazzan or "minister" (  Luke 4:16-20 , Where Christ By Rising Indicated That As A Member Of The Synagogue At Nazareth. He Desired To Undertake The Office Of Maptir Or "Reader Of The Lesson From The Prophets", And Was At Once Permitted Owing To His Fame) answered to our deacon or subdeacon; besides getting the building ready for service he acted as schoolmaster during the week.

There were also the ten Batlaniym or "men of leisure", permanently making up a congregation (Ten Being The Minimum ( Minyan "Quoram") To Constitute A Congregation) , that no single worshipper might be disappointed; also acting as alms collectors. Three were Archisunagogai , "chiefs of the synagogue"; then also the "angel" or "bishop" who prayed publicly and caused the law to be read and sometimes preached; and three deacons for alms; the interpreter of the old Hebrew Testament, who paraphrased it; also the theological schoolmaster and his interpreter (Lightfoot, Horae. 4:70). The government of the church evidently came from the synagogue not from the Aaronic priesthood. So also did the worship; with the addition of the new doctrines, the gifts of the Spirit, and the supper of the Lord; fixed liturgical forms, creeds, as the Shema , "Hear O Israel," etc. ( Deuteronomy 6:4), and "prayers", the Kadish , Shemoneh 'Esreh , Berachoth ; (Compare Brief Creeds,  1 Timothy 3:16 ;  2 Timothy 1:13 , The "Lord'S Prayer" (Luke 11) , the "order" ( 1 Corinthians 14:40);) the teaching out of the law, which was read in a cycle, once through in three years.

The prophets were similarly read as second lessons; the exposition ( Derash ) or "word of exhortation" followed ( Acts 13:15;  Acts 15:21). The psalms were selected to suit "the special times"; "the times of prayer" ( Shacharit , Minchah , 'Arabit ) were the "third", "sixth", and "ninth" hours ( Acts 3:1;  Acts 10:3;  Acts 10:9); so in Old Testament,  Psalms 55:17;  Daniel 6:10. Clemens Alex. (Strom.) and Tertullian (Orat. 25) state the same in the church of the second century. Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday were the devotional days of the synagogue as of the church. The custom of ending the Saturday Sabbath with a feast formed the connecting link between the seventh day Jewish sabbath and the first day, Christian Lord's day and Lord's supper ( 1 Corinthians 11:20;  Revelation 1:10).

Preparatory ablutions ( Hebrews 10:22;  John 13:1-15; Tertullian, Orat. 11), standing in prayer, not kneeling ( Luke 18:11; Tertullian 23), the arms stretched out (Tertullian 13), the face toward the E. (Clemens Alex., Strom.), the Amen in responses ( 1 Corinthians 14:16), the leaping as if they would rise toward heaven in the Alexandrian church (Clemens Alex., Strom. 7:40) as the Jews at the tersanctus of Isaiah 6 (Vitringa 1100, Buxtorf 10), are all reproductions of synagogue customs. However the Hebrew in prayer wears the Talith ("prayer shawl") drawn over his ears to the shoulders (A Custom Probably Later Than Apostolic Times) , whereas the Christian man is bareheaded ( 1 Corinthians 11:4). The synagogue officers had judicial power to scourge, anathematize, and excommunicate ( Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9;  Luke 12:11;  Luke 21:12;  John 12:42;  John 9:22): so the church ( 1 Corinthians 6:1-8;  1 Corinthians 16:22;  Galatians 1:8-9;  1 Corinthians 5:5;  1 Timothy 1:20;  Matthew 18:15-18); also to seize and send for trial before the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem ( Acts 9:2;  Acts 22:5).

The Great Synagogue (  Mark 7:3 "The Elders";  Matthew 5:21-27 ;  Matthew 5:33 , "They Of Old Time") is represented in the rabbinical book, Ρirke Αboth ("The Sayings of the [Jewish] Fathers"), of the second century A.D., to have succeeded the prophets, and to have been succeeded by the scribes, Ezra presiding; among the members Joshua, the high priest Zerubbabel, Daniel, the three children Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Nehemiah, Mordecai; their aim being to restore the crown or glory of Israel, the name of God as great, mighty, and terrible ( Daniel 9:4;  Jeremiah 32:18;  Deuteronomy 7:21); so they completed the Old Testament canon, revising the text, introducing the vowel points which the Masorete editors have handed down to us, instituting "the feast" Ρurim , organizing the synagogue ritual. Their motto, preserved by Simon high-priest, was "set a hedge about the law." (See Scribes .)

The only Old Testament notice of anything like such a body is  Nehemiah 8:13, "chiefs of the fathers of all the people, the priests; and the Levites ... Ezra the scribe" presiding. The likelihood is that some council was framed at the return from Babylon to arrange religious matters, the forerunner of the Sanhedrin. Vitringa's work on the synagogue, published in 1696, is the chief authority. In the last times of Jerusalem 480 synagogues were said to be there (see  Acts 6:9). Lieut. Conder found by measurement (Taking The Cubit At 16 In.) that a synagogue was 30 cubits by 40, and its pillars 10 ft. high exactly.

There are in Palestine eleven specimens of synagogues existing; two at Kefr Bir'im, one at Meiron, Irbid, Tell Hum, Kerazeh, Nebratein, two at El Jish, one at Umm el 'Amed, and Sufsaf. In plan and ornamentation they are much alike. They are not on high ground, nor so built that the worshipper on entering faced Jerusalem, except that at Irbid, The carved figures of animals occur in six out of the eleven. In all these respects they betray their later origin, as vitally differing from the known form of synagogue and tenets of the earlier Jews. Their erection began probably at the close of the second century, the Jews employing Roman workmen, at the dictation of Roman rulers in the time of Antoninus Pins and Alexander Severus, during the spiritual supremacy of the Jewish patriarch of Tiberias. (See Tiberias .) Their date is between A.D. 150 and 300. (See (Palestine Exploration Quarterly Statement, July 1878, p. 123.)

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [5]

The synagogue was the place where Jews gathered for instruction and worship in the New Testament period. The Greek word synagoge [   James 2:2 ) or to the building in which they gather ( Luke 7:5 ). The origins of the synagogue are obscure, but they probably extend back at least to the period of Ezra. At the time of the New Testament, synagogues were found throughout the Roman Empire as local centers for the study of the law and for worship. As such, they served a different role in the life of the Jewish people than did the Jerusalem temple, with its focus on the sacrificial cult.

Synagogue services included prayers, the reading of Scripture, and, usually, a sermon explaining the Scripture. The chief administrative officer was the synagogue ruler ( Mark 5:22;  Luke 13:14;  Acts 13:15;  18:8,17 ), who was assisted by an executive officer who handled the details of the synagogue service ( Luke 4:20 ). Laypeople were allowed to participate in the services, especially in the reading of the prayers and the Scripture ( Luke 4:16-20 ). Visiting sages could be invited to provide the sermon ( Luke 4:21;  Acts 13:15 ). Synagogues were attended by both men and women, as well as by God-fearing Gentiles who were committed to learning more about the God of the Jews ( Acts 17:4,12 ).

In the New Testament synagogues are occasionally mentioned merely in their role as Jewish institutions. The people at Capernaum, for example, commend to Jesus a certain centurion as one who "loves our nation and has built our synagogue" ( Luke 7:5 ). At the Jerusalem council James notes that "Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath" ( Acts 15:21 ). Paul, at his trial before Felix, observes that his accusers "did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else" in Jerusalem ( Acts 24:12 ). Indeed, in an early letter to Jewish Christians James even refers to their gatherings as "synagogues" (2:2).

Yet for the most part synagogues take on a larger meaning in the New Testament. In particular, synagogues frequently serve as places of God's revelatory activity. At several points the Gospel writers' summaries of Jesus' ministry include preaching or teaching "in their synagogues" ( Matthew 4:23;  9:35;  Mark 1:39;  Luke 4:15; cf.  Luke 4:44 ). Specifically, Jesus teaches in the synagogues at Nazareth ( Matthew 13:53-58;  Mark 6:1-6;  Luke 4:16-30 ) and Capernaum ( Mark 1:21-22;  John 6:59 ), casts out an evil spirit from a man in the synagogue at Capernaum ( Mark 1:23-27 ), heals a man with a withered hand in an unspecified Galilean synagogue ( Matthew 12:9-14;  Mark 3:1-6;  Luke 6:6-11 ), and heals a woman crippled for eighteen years in another ( Luke 13:10-17 ). Indeed, Luke's account of the Nazareth incident includes a programmatic self-revelation by Jesus of the very nature of his ministry (4:16-21).

A similar situation holds in the Book of Acts. Stephen argues powerfully in the Synagogue of the Freedmen in Jerusalem (6:9-10); Paul preaches in the synagogues of Damascus shortly after his conversion (9:20-22); and Apollos preaches boldly in the synagogue of Ephesus (18:26). Indeed, once he begins his missionary journeys Paul consistently uses the synagogue as his initial platform for preaching the gospel as he moves from one city to the next. As was the case with Jesus' synagogue appearance in  Luke 4 , so also Luke's account of Paul's teaching in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch not only contains a prototypical sermon (13:16-46) but also a self-revelatory statement concerning Paul's role as missionary to the Gentiles (13:46-47). Clearly, synagogues are places where both Jews and Gentiles hear the Word of God proclaimed by God's chosen agents.

Yet despite this display of divine power and teaching in the synagogues, the response of those who encounter Jesus and the apostles in them is mixed. To be sure, those in the Capernaum synagogue are amazed at Jesus' actions, recognize his unique authority, and spread the news about him ( Mark 1:22,27-28 ). But in the Nazareth synagogue an initial amazement turns to offense and Jesus' own amazement at the people's lack of faith ( Matthew 13:54-58;  Mark 6:2-6;  Luke 4:22-23 ). In Luke's account the people become so furious with Jesus that they try to throw him down the cliff (4:28-29). John's account of Jesus' bread of life discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum ends with a similar turning against Jesus, though not with violence (6:41-42,52, 60-61,66). The two synagogue healings occur on the Sabbath and thus raise the question of Jesus' understanding of the Sabbath commandment; after the one healing the synagogue ruler is indignant with Jesus ( Luke 13:14 ), and as a result of the other the Pharisees begin to plot to kill Jesus ( Matthew 12:14;  Mark 3:6 ).

Again the situation in Acts is similar. Paul's synagogue preaching frequently results in Jews and Gentiles coming to faith (13:42-44,48 [Pisidian Antioch]; 14:1 [Iconium]; 17:1-4 [Thessalonica], 10-12 [Berea]; cf. 18:4-8 [Corinth], 20 [Ephesus]). Yet members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen oppose Stephen and bring about his martyrdom (6:9-14); an initial astonishment on the part of the Jews in Damascus turns into a conspiracy to kill Paul (9:21-24); and Jews oppose Paul's synagogue preaching in Pisidian Antioch (13:45), Corinth (18:6), and Ephesus (19:9). Jewish opposition is such that in Corinth and Ephesus Paul is forced to move his teaching outside the synagogue (18:7; 19:9), and in Pisidian Antioch he is even expelled from the region (13:50). In addition, in both Pisidian Antioch and Corinth Paul responds to the opposition by resolving to turn his attention to the Gentiles (13:46; 18:6). Thus, synagogues serve as places where both Jews and Gentiles respond positively to the Word of God, yet also where other Jews oppose it. They therefore serve a certain transition role as the proclamation of the gospel moves from a focus on Jews and God-fearing Gentiles (within the synagogue) to one directed primarily to Gentiles (outside the synagogue).

The opposition that Paul encounters in certain synagogues is consistent with Jesus' warnings that synagogues will be places of persecution. Jesus tells his disciples that they will be delivered to synagogue authorities ( Luke 12:11;  21:12 ), flogged in synagogues ( Matthew 10:17;  23:34;  Mark 13:9 ), and even put out of synagogues ( John 16:2 ). The pre-Christian Paul himself travels from synagogue to synagogue in his relentless zeal to imprison, beat, and otherwise punish Christians ( Acts 9:2;  22:19;  26:11 ).

Despite such warnings and instances of persecution, certain synagogue rulers fare well in the New Testament. Jesus responds to Jarius' plea by raising his twelve-year-old daughter from the dead ( Matthew 9:18-19,23-25;  Mark 5:21-24,35-43;  Luke 8:40-42,49-56 ); the synagogue rulers at Pisidian Antioch invite Paul and Barnabas to preach ( Acts 13:15 ); and Crispus and his household are among the small number of Jews at Corinth who believe in the Lord ( Acts 18:8 ). Yet one synagogue ruler is indignant when Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath ( Luke 13:14 ), and another, Sosthenes (who may have become a Christian later cf.  1 Corinthians 1:1 ), is beaten by his fellow Jews at Corinth when their legal maneuvers against Paul fail ( Acts 18:17 ).

Some associated with synagogues do not fare as well as the synagogue rulers. Jesus criticizes those who flaunt their religiosity by seeking recognition in the synagogues for their almsgiving and prayer ( Matthew 6:2,5 ) and loving the most important seats in the synagogue ( Matthew 23:6;  Mark 12:39;  Luke 11:43;  20:46 ). These people are variously identified as teachers of the law ( Mark 12:39;  Luke 20:46 ), Pharisees ( Luke 11:43 ), teachers of the law and Pharisees ( Matthew 23:6 ), and hypocrites (6:2,5). Such criticism indicts neither synagogues nor the majority of the Jews who attend them, but it does show how synagogues could be misused by those concerned with self-promotion.

The harshest words concerning synagogues are found in the Book of Revelation. In the letters to the seven churches Jesus twice speaks of the synagogue of Satan (2:9; 3:9). He notes that these people claim to be Jews, but are not; rather, they are liars and are guilty of slander. Such individuals will be responsible for the coming persecution of the church at Smyrna (2:10) and will be brought to fall down before the church at Philadelphia and acknowledge that Jesus has loved it (3:9). Such language seems to be indicative of the widening gulf between Judaism and Christianity by the end of the first century and of the tendency to view the church increasingly in terms formerly associated with the Jews (1:5-6; 7:3-17; 14:1-5; 21:9-22:5).

Joseph L. Trafton

See also The Church; Israel; Judaism Jews; Pharisees

Bibliography . J. Gutman, ed., The Synagogue: Studies in Origins, Archaeology, and Architecture  ; L. I. Levine, ed., Ancient Synagogues Revealed  ; idem, The Synagogue in Late Antiquity  ; E. M. Meyers and R. Hachili, ABD, 6:251-63; S. Safrai, The Jewish People in the First Century, 2:908-44.

Smith's Bible Dictionary [6]

Synagogue. History. - The word synagogue ( sunagoge ), which means a "Congregation", is used, in the New Testament, to signify a recognized place of worship. A knowledge of the history and worship of the synagogues is of great importance, since, they are the characteristic institution of the later phase of Judaism. They appear to have arisen during the exile, in the abeyance of the Temple-worship, and to have received their full development, on the return of the Jews from captivity. The whole history of Ezra presupposes the habit of solemn, probably of periodic, meetings.  Ezra 8:15;  Nehemiah 8:2;  Nehemiah 9:1;  Zechariah 7:5.

After the Maccabaean struggle for independence, we find almost every town or village had its one or more synagogues. Where the Jews were not in sufficient numbers to be able to erect and fill a building, there was the proseucha ( proseuche ), or Place Of Prayer , sometimes open, sometimes covered in, commonly by a running stream, or on the seashore, in which devout Jews and proselytes met to worship, and perhaps to read.  Acts 16:13 Juven. Sat. Iii. 296. It is hardly possible to overestimate the influence of the system thus developed. To it, we may ascribe the tenacity with which, after the Maccabaean struggle, the Jews adhered to the religion of their fathers, and never again relapsed into idolatry.

Structure. - The size of a synagogue varied with the population. Its position was, however, determinate. It stood, if possible, on the highest ground, in or near the city to which it belonged. And its direction too was fixed. Jerusalem was the Kibleh of Jewish devotion. The synagogue was so constructed that the worshippers, as they entered and as they prayed, looked toward it. The building was commonly erected at the cost of the district. Sometimes, it was built by a rich Jew, or even, as in  Luke 7:5, by a friend or proselyte.

In the internal arrangement of the synagogue, we trace an obvious analogy to the type of the Tabernacle. At the upper or Jerusalem end stood the ark, the chest which, like the older and more sacred Ark, contained the Book of the Law. It gave to that end, the name and character of a sanctuary. This part of the synagogue was naturally the place of honor. Here were the "chief seats," for which Pharisees and scribes strove so eagerly,  Matthew 23:6, and to which the wealthy and honored worshipper was invited.  James 2:2-3.

Here too, in front of the ark, still reproducing the type of the Tabernacle, was the eight-branched lamp, lighted only on the greater festivals. Besides this, there was one lamp kept burning perpetually. More toward the middle of the building was a raised platform, on which several persons could stand at once, and in the middle of this, rose a pulpit, in which the reader stood to read the lesson, or sat down to teach.

The congregation were divided, men on one side, women on the other, with a low partition, five or six feet high, running between them. The arrangements of modern synagogues, for many centuries, have made the separation more complete by placing the women in low side galleries, screened off a lattice-work.

Officers. - In smaller towns, there was often, but one rabbi. Where a fuller organization was possible, there was a college of elders,  Luke 7:3, presided over by one, who was "the chief of the synagogue."  Luke 8:41;  Luke 8:49;  Luke 13:14;  Acts 18:8;  Acts 18:17. The most prominent functionary, in a large synagogue, was known as the sheliach , ( legatus ).

The officiating minister, who acted as the delegate of the congregation, and was, therefore, the chief reader of prayers, etc., in their name. The chazzan , or "Minister" of the synagogue,  Luke 4:20, had duties of a lower kind, resembling those of the Christian deacon, or sub-deacon. He was to open the doors, and to prepare the building for service. Besides these, there were ten men attached to every synagogue, known as the ballanim , ( otiosi ). They were supposed to be men of leisure, not obliged to labor for their livelihood, able, therefore, to attend the week-day as well as the Sabbath services. The legatus of the synagogues appears in the Angel ,  Revelation 1:20;  Revelation 2:1, perhaps, also in the apostle of the Christian Church.

Worship. - It will be enough, in this place, to notice in what way, the ritual, no less than the organization, was connected with the facts of the New Testament history, and with the life and order of the Christian Church. From the synagogue, came the use of fixed forms of prayer. To that, the first disciples had been accustomed from their youth. They had asked their Master to give them a distinctive one, and he had complied with their request,  Luke 11:1, as the Baptist had done before for his disciples, as every rabbi did for his.

"Moses" was "read in the synagogues every Sabbath day,"  Acts 15:21, the whole law being read consecutively, so as to be completed, according to one cycle, in three years. The writings of the prophets were read, as second lessons, in a corresponding order. They were followed by the derash ,  Acts 13:15, the Exposition, The Sermon of the synagogue.

The conformity extends, also, to the times of prayer. In the hours of service, this was obviously the case. The third, sixth and ninth hours were in the times of the New Testament,  Acts 3:1;  Acts 10:3;  Acts 10:9 , and had been, probably, for some time before,  Psalms 55:17;  Daniel 6:10, the fixed times of devotion. The same hours, it is well known, were recognized in the Church, of the second century, probably, in that of the first also.

The solemn days of the synagogue were the second, the fifth and the seventh, the last, or Sabbath , being the conclusion of the whole. The transfer of the sanctity of the Sabbath to the Lord's Day involved a corresponding change in the order of the week, and the first, the fourth, the sixth, became to the Christian society what the other days had been to the Jewish.

From the synagogue, lastly, come many less conspicuous practices, which meet us in the liturgical life of the first three centuries: Ablution, entire or partial, before entering the place of meeting,  John 13:1-15;  Hebrews 10:22; standing, and not kneeling, as the attitude of prayer,  Luke 18:11; the arms stretched out; the face turned toward the Kibleh of the east; the responsive, amen, of the congregation to the prayers and benedictions of the elders.  1 Corinthians 14:16.

Judicial functions. - The language of the New Testament shows that the officers of the synagogue exercised, in certain cases, a judicial power. If is not quite so easy, however, to define the nature of the tribunal, and the precise limits of its jurisdiction. In two of the passages referred to -  Matthew 10:17;  Mark 13:9 - they are carefully distinguished from the councils. It seems probable that the council was the larger tribunal of twenty-three, which sat in every city, and that, under the term, synagogue, we are to understand a smaller court, probably that of the ten judges, mentioned in the Talmud.

Here also, we trace the outline of a Christian institution. The Church, either by itself, or by appointed delegates, was to act as a court of arbitration, in all disputes its members. The elders of the church were not, however , to descend to the trivial disputes of daily life. For the elders, as for those of the synagogue, were reserved the graver offences, against religion and morals.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]

This word occurs but once in the A.V. of the Old Testament,  Psalm 74:8 , but the same Hebrew word ( moed ) is many times translated 'congregation.' Mr. Darby, and the R.V. margin translate in  Psalm 74:8 "places of assembly." The word συναγωγή occurs very often in the LXX, but as a translation of some twenty different Hebrew words: 'congregation' or 'gathering' is the main thought. As far as is known there were no buildings called synagogues in Old Testament times. It has been judged that they arose after the captivity, and may perhaps have been occasioned by a desire to perpetuate the work begun by the people calling upon Ezra to read to them the book of the law, when those who heard were deeply affected.   Nehemiah 8 ,  Nehemiah 9 .

In the exploration of Palestine remains of buildings have been discovered, which are judged to have been synagogues. They are uniform in plan, and differ from the ruins of churches, temples, and mosques. In two of them an inscription in Hebrew was over the main entrance, one in connection with a seven-branched candlestick, and the other with figures of the paschal lamb. A plain rectangular building answered the purpose. They were often erected by general contributions, though at times by a rich Jew, or in some instances by a Gentile, as the one built by the centurion at Capernaum.  Luke 7:5 .

An ark was placed at one end, in which were deposited the sacred books. Near this was the place of honour, or the 'chief seats,' which some sought after,  Matthew 23:6 , and  James 2:2,3 (where the word translated 'assembly' is 'synagogue'). Nearer the centre of the building was a raised platform with a kind of desk or pulpit, where the reader stood. A screen separated the women from the men.

It is known that a portion of the law and of the prophets was read every Sabbath, and it is clear from  Acts 13:15 that if any one was present who had a "word of exhortation for the people," the opportunity was given for its delivery. Prayers also were doubtless offered, but how far these resembled the modern Jewish ritual is not known. The Lord spoke of the hypocrites who loved to pray standing in the synagogues, where they also ostentatiously offered their alms.   Matthew 6:2,5 .

It was the custom of the Lord to visit the synagogues, and in them He wrought some of His miracles and taught the people.  Matthew 4:23 . In  Luke 4 the Lord, in the synagogue at Nazareth, stood up to read, and there was handed to Him the book of the prophet Isaiah. After reading a portion which set forth His own attitude among them (stopping in the middle of a sentence), He sat down and spake "gracious words" to them. His exposition of the passage is not given except "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." It is recorded that the people were in the habit of freely expressing their opinions respecting what was taught, and here they said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" In   Acts 13:45 the Jews "spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming."

Paul also was permitted to speak in the synagogue at Damascus, when he showed the Jews that Jesus was the Son of God,  Acts 9:20; and often afterwards he 'reasoned' or 'disputed' (διαλέγομαι)with the Jews in their synagogues.  Acts 18:4,19;  Acts 19:8 .

It is important to see that everywhere in their own buildings a clear testimony was borne by the Lord Himself as to the significance of His appearance among them; and afterwards by Paul and others to the work He had accomplished by His death and resurrection for them — reference being constantly made to the scriptures which they professed to reverence and to follow. The reality of the testimony was happily proved by the salvation of many, and which left those who refused it without excuse.

To be "put out of the synagogue" was the Jewish excommunication. The Lord told His disciples that this would be enforced towards them.  John 9:22;  John 16:2 . The only case recorded is that of the man born blind, when he bore testimony to Christ. It was a happy exchange for him, for the Lord thereupon revealed Himself to him as the Son of God.  John 9:34-38 . Of others we read that many of the chief rulers believed on the Lord, but feared to confess Him lest they should be cast out, "for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God."  John 12:42,43 .

It is evident from what Pilate said to the Jews in reference to the Lord — "Take ye him, and judge him according to your law" — that they were allowed to judge certain matters and to inflict limited punishments.  John 18:31 . This appears to have been carried out wherever there was a synagogue, though it is not clear who were the judges, probably the 'elders' mentioned in  Luke 7:3 . The Lord told His disciples that they would be scourged in the synagogues,  Matthew 10:17; and Paul confessed that when persecuting the church he had imprisoned and beaten in every synagogue those that believed on the Lord.  Acts 22:19 . Paul himself doubtless suffered the like punishment in the same buildings.  2 Corinthians 11:24 . Thus a very undignified use was made of their places of worship.

The officials connected with the synagogues were

1. the zaqenim, πρεσβύτεροι, the elders.   Luke 7 . These were presided over by

2. an ἀρχισυνάγωγος, ruler of the synagogue.   Mark 5:22,35,36,38;  Luke 8:49;  Luke 13:14;  Acts 13:15;  Acts 18:8,17 . In the last two passages the A.V. has 'chief ruler,' but the Greek is the same.

3. the sheliach, a delegate of the congregation, who acted as chief reader: he is not mentioned in the New Testament.

4. the chazzan, ὑπηρέτης, translated in the A.V. 'servant, minister, officer,' only once mentioned in connection with the synagogue as the 'attendant' to whom the Lord gave the book when He had done reading.  Luke 4:20 .

5. the batlanim, described as 'leisure men,' who attended meetings regularly. There were at least ten of these attached to each synagogue, so as to form a quorum, ten being the lowest number to form a congregation.

Synagogue Of Satan Some who professed, like Jews, to have a claim to be considered the people of God on the ground of hereditary right. These are declared to be liars, for they really form a congregation of Satan, doing his work in seducing the saints from their heavenly character.  Revelation 2:9;  Revelation 3:9 . In both cases they may be Jews actually, though disowned of God.

Holman Bible Dictionary [8]

Origin Some Jewish traditions say that the synagogue was begun by Moses, but the Old Testament does not support this claim. Local worship was discouraged during most of the Old Testament because it often was associated with pagan practices. Worship centered around the Temple in Jerusalem.  Psalm 74:8 , written late in Old Testament times, seems to refer to local places of worship destroyed when the Temple was destroyed. Some English translations use the word synagogues for these local places of worship, but we know nothing else about them.

The synagogue, as we find it in the New Testament, had its roots in the time after Solomon's Temple was destroyed and many of the people were carried into Exile. Local worship and instruction became necessary. Even after many of the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the Temple, places of local worship continued. By the time of Jesus these places and assemblies were called synagogues.

Facts about synagogues Synagogues existed not only among the many Jews who lived outside Palestine but also among those who lived in Palestine. While the Temple stood until A.D. 70, it continued to be the center for sacrificial worship. Faithful Jews continued to go to the Temple for the appointed feasts. They also participated in their local synagogues. During Jesus' time, there was even a synagogue within the Temple itself. This was probably the part of the Temple where the twelve-year-old Jesus was talking with the teachers ( Luke 2:46 ).

Most communities of any size had at least one synagogue; some had several. Jewish sources indicate that a synagogue was to be established wherever there were as many as ten Jewish men. The principal meeting was on the Sabbath. A typical service consisted of the recitation of the Shema (confession of faith in the one God), prayers, Scripture readings from the Law and the Prophets, a sermon, and a benediction.  Luke 4:16-21 is the best biblical passage on what happened in a synagogue service in first-century Palestine. See Shema .

Local elders had general oversight of the synagogue. They often appointed a ruler of the synagogue. The ruler was a layman who cared for the building and selected those who participated in the service. The ruler was assisted by an attendant. One of his duties was to deliver the sacred scrolls to those who read and return them to the special place where they were kept ( Luke 4:17 ,Luke 4:17, 4:20 ).

Jesus and Synagogues Jesus customarily went to the synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth on the Sabbath ( Luke 4:16 ). After Jesus began His public ministry, He frequently taught and preached in synagogues throughout the land ( Matthew 4:23;  Matthew 9:35;  Mark 1:39;  Luke 4:44 ). Early in His ministry, Jesus healed a man in the synagogue in Capernaum ( Mark 1:21-28;  Luke 4:31-37 ).

Jesus often encountered opposition in synagogues.  Luke 4:16-30 tells what happened in His home synagogue of Nazareth (see also   Matthew 13:54-58;  Mark 6:1-6 ). It shows how Jesus' preaching and teaching aroused strong negative reactions.  Luke 13:10-16 tells of Jesus healing a woman in a synagogue on the Sabbath. This brought an angry reaction from the ruler of the synagogue. Jesus, in turn, rebuked the man for his hypocrisy.

Jesus warned against the hypocrisy of those who paraded their righteousness in the synagogue. He warned against giving and praying in order to be seen and praised ( Matthew 6:2 ,Matthew 6:2, 6:5 ). He also rebuked those who sought the chief seats ( Matthew 23:6;  Mark 12:39;  Luke 11:43;  Luke 20:46 ).

As opposition to Jesus increased, He warned His disciples of a future time when they would be persecuted in the synagogues of their people ( Matthew 10:17;  Matthew 23:34;  Mark 13:9;  Luke 12:11;  Luke 21:12 ).

Synagogues in Acts The early part of the Book of Acts seems to reflect a period when some Jewish believers continued to worship in the synagogues. Saul went into the synagogues to find and persecute believers in Christ ( Acts 9:2;  Acts 22:19;  Acts 26:11 ). This shows that Christian Jews were still in some synagogues, especially those outside Palestine. As persecution developed, the believers were forced out of the synagogues.

After Saul's conversion, he immediately preached Christ in the synagogues in Damascus ( Acts 9:20 ). During Paul's missionary journeys, he customarily began his work in a new city by going into the synagogue ( Acts 13:5 ,Acts 13:5, 13:14;  Acts 14:1;  Acts 17:1 ,Acts 17:1, 17:10 ,Acts 17:10, 17:17;  Acts 18:4;  Acts 19:8 ). The exception in Philippi was probably because there were not enough Jews there to have a synagogue. Paul, therefore, went to a place where faithful Jews met to pray on the Sabbath ( Acts 16:13 ).

Generally, Paul was welcomed and given the opportunity to present his views. He found special interest among the Gentiles who attended the synagogue, but some Jews also believed ( Acts 13:42-43 ). Others strongly opposed Paul. Usually, he was forced to leave the synagogue and go elsewhere with the band of believers ( Acts 18:6-8;  Acts 19:8-10 ). Thus did the church and synagogue go their separate ways.

Influence of the Synagogue The synagogue was the means of preserving Jewish faith and worship. Jews all over the ancient world continued to maintain their distinctive faith. These synagogues became the seedbed for Christian faith as missionaries took the message of Christ to new places. Nearly everywhere the missionaries went, they found a Jewish synagogue. The first-century synagogue worshipers believed in the one true God, studied the Scriptures, and looked for the coming Messiah. What better place for Paul and others to go first with the message of Jesus Christ!

Robert J. Dean

American Tract Society Bible Dictionary [9]

A word which primarily signifies an assembly; but, like the word church, came at length to be applied to the buildings in which the ordinary Jewish assemblies for the worship of God were convened. From the silence of the Old Testament with reference to these places of worship, many commentators and writers of biblical antiquities are of opinion that they were not in use till after the Babylonish captivity; and that before that time, the Jews held their social meetings for religious worship either in the open air or in the houses of the prophets. See  2 Kings 4:23 . In  Psalm 74:8 , it is at least very doubtful whether the Hebrew word rendered synagogues, refers to synagogue-buildings such as existed after the captivity. Properly the word signifies only places where religious assemblies were held. In the time of our Savior they abounded.

Synagogues could only be erected in those places when ten men of age, learning, piety, and easy circumstances could be found to attend to the service, which was enjoined in them. Large towns had several synagogues; and soon after the captivity their utility became so obvious, that they were scattered over the land, and became the parish churches of the Jewish nation. Their number appears to have been very considerable; and when the erection of a synagogue was considered a mark of piety,  Luke 7:5 , or a passport to heaven, we need not be surprised to hear that they were multiplied beyond all necessity, so that in Jerusalem alone there were not fewer than 460 or 480. They were generally built on the most elevated ground, and consisted of two parts. The westerly part of the building contained the ark or chest in which the book of the law and the section of the prophets were deposited, and was called the temple by way of eminence. The other, in which the congregation assembled, was termed the body of the synagogue. The people sat with their faces towards the temple, and the elders in the contrary direction, and opposite to the people; the space between them being occupied by the pulpit or reading desk. The seats of the elders were considered more holy than the others, and are spoken of as "the chief seats in the synagogues,"  Matthew 23:6 . The women sat by themselves in a gallery secluded by latticework.

The stated office-bearers in every synagogue were ten, forming six distinct classes. We notice first the Archisynagogos, or ruler of the synagogue, who regulated all its concerns and granted permission to address the assembly. Of these there were three in each synagogue. Dr. Lightfoot believes them to have possessed a civil power, and to have constituted the lowest civil tribunal, commonly known as "the council of three," whose office it was to judge minor offences against religion, and also to decide the differences that arose between any members of the synagogue, as to money matters, thefts, losses, etc. To these officers there is perhaps an allusion in  1 Corinthians 6:5 . See also  Revelation 2:3 .

The service of the synagogue was as follows: The people being seated, the "angel of the synagogue" ascended the pulpit, and offered up the public prayers, the people rising from their seats, and standing in a posture of deep devotion,  Matthew 6:5   Mark 11:25   Luke 18:11,13 . The prayers were nineteen in number, and were closed by reading the execration. The next thing was the repetition of their phylacteries; after which came the reading of the law and the prophets. The former was divided into fifty-four sections, with which were united corresponding portions from the prophets; (see  Acts 13:15,27   15:21 ) and these were read through once in the course of the year. After the return from the captivity, an interpreter was employed in reading the law and the prophets,  Nehemiah 8:2-8 , who interpreted them into the Syro-Chaldaic dialect, which was then spoken by the people. The last part of the service was the expounding of the Scriptures, and preaching from them to the people. This was done either by one of the officer, or by some distinguished person who happened to be present. The reader will recollect one memorable occasion on which our Savior availed himself of the opportunity thus afforded to address his countrymen,  Luke 4:20; and there are several other instances recorded of himself and his disciples teaching in the synagogues. See  Matthew 13:54   Mark 6:2   John 18:20   Acts 13:5,15,44   14:1   17:2-4,10   18:4,26   19:8 . The whole service was concluded with a short prayer or benediction.

The Jewish synagogues were not only used for the purposes of divine worship, but also for courts of judicature, in such matters as fell under the cognizance of the Council of Three, of which we have already spoken. On such occasions, the sentence given against the offender was sometimes, after the manner of prompt punishment still prevalent in the East, carried into effect in the place where the council was assembled. Hence we read of persons being beaten in the synagogue, and scourged in the synagogue,  Matthew 10:17   Mark 13:9   Acts 22:19   26:11   2 Corinthians 11:24 . To be "put out of the synagogue," or excommunicated from the Jewish church and deprived of the national privileges, was punishment much dreaded,  John 9:22   12:42   16:2 . In our own day the Jews erect synagogues wherever they are sufficiently numerous, and assemble on their Sabbath for worship; this being conducted, that is, the reading or chanting of the Old Testament and of prayers, in the original Hebrew, though it is a dead language spoken by few among them. Among the synagogues of Jerusalem, now eight or ten in number, are some for Jews of Spanish origin, and others for German Jews, etc., as in the time of Paul there were separate synagogues for the Libertines, Cyreians, Alexandrians, etc.,  Acts 6:9 .

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [10]

During the time of the Jews’ captivity in Babylon, they were unable to carry out sacrificial rituals. Not only were they in a foreign land, but their place of sacrifice, the Jerusalem temple, had been destroyed in 587 BC. The Jewish religious leaders therefore placed greater emphasis on teaching the moral commandments of the law than on teaching temple rituals. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple (completed in 516 BC), they maintained this emphasis on teaching and explaining the law ( Nehemiah 8:1-4;  Nehemiah 8:7-8;  Nehemiah 9:1-3). This teaching activity was a contributing factor in the emergence of local meeting places known as synagogues (from a Greek word meaning ‘to gather or bring together’).

Community centre

A synagogue was a centre for prayer, worship, teaching and administration in any locality where there were enough Jews to make such a centre workable. It was a gathering point for the Jews in the locality, a place where they had fellowship and discussed community affairs. The gathering as well as the building could be called the synagogue ( Luke 12:11). There was no altar in a synagogue and no sacrifices were offered there.

Wherever the Jews went they built synagogues, with the result that there were synagogues in many countries of the ancient world ( Mark 1:21;  Luke 4:16;  Acts 9:1;  Acts 13:5;  Acts 13:14;  Acts 17:1;  Acts 17:10;  Acts 18:1;  Acts 18:4;  Acts 19:8). These synagogues soon became more important in the development and operation of Judaism than the temple in Jerusalem. They helped give Judaism the particular features with which we are familiar in the New Testament.

The leaders of the synagogues were the recognized leaders in the Jewish community and were known as elders ( Mark 15:1;  Luke 7:3-5). They had power to punish wrongdoers, even to the extent of arresting them, whipping them, or expelling them from the synagogue community ( Matthew 10:17;  Matthew 23:34;  John 9:22;  John 16:2;  Acts 22:19).

Religious services

In design a synagogue was a simple building. It consisted of a main meeting room entered through a porch, with an open court outside. During religious services, women and men sat on opposite sides of the room, with the leaders sitting in the chief seats, facing the audience ( Matthew 23:6). The chief leader was known as the ruler of the synagogue ( Mark 5:22;  Acts 18:8).

Synagogue services were conducted at least every Sabbath and were under the control of the leaders ( Mark 1:21;  Luke 13:14;  Acts 13:14-15). The service opened with prayers, followed by readings from the Old Testament scrolls. These were kept in a special box and were handed to the reader by an attendant ( Luke 4:16-17;  Luke 4:20;  Acts 15:21).

Since many Jews were not familiar with the Hebrew language, a paraphrase or interpretation of the Old Testament readings was usually given. (These paraphrases, known as targums, later became authorized interpretations and eventually were put into writing.) Then followed an address. This was usually based on the previously read portion of Scripture ( Luke 4:20-21), and was given either by one of the leaders or by some other suitable person whom the leaders invited ( Luke 4:16-17;  Luke 6:6;  Acts 13:15;  Acts 17:10-11;  Acts 18:4). The service was closed with prayers.

By the time of Jesus, the people who most influenced the teaching given in the synagogues were the scribes, or teachers of the law. These people had risen to places of power during the centuries leading up to the New Testament era (see Scribes ), but instead of teaching the law of Moses they taught Judaism, a system of religious regulations that they had developed ( Matthew 23:2-8;  Mark 7:1-5;  Mark 12:38-39;  Luke 6:6-7).

Because of the scribes, the synagogues became more of a hindrance than a help to God’s people. Jesus often came into conflict with the synagogue authorities, and so did the early Christians ( Matthew 6:2;  Matthew 6:5;  Matthew 10:17;  Matthew 12:9-14;  Luke 13:14-15;  John 9:22;  John 12:42;  Acts 14:1-2;  Acts 17:1-5;  Acts 18:4-7;  Revelation 2:9;  Revelation 3:9).

Easton's Bible Dictionary [11]

 Psalm 74:8

Some, however, are of opinion that it was specially during the Babylonian captivity that the system of synagogue worship, if not actually introduced, was at least reorganized on a systematic plan ( Ezekiel 8:1;  14:1 ). The exiles gathered together for the reading of the law and the prophets as they had opportunity, and after their return synagogues were established all over the land ( Ezra 8:15;  Nehemiah 8:2 ). In after years, when the Jews were dispersed abroad, wherever they went they erected synagogues and kept up the stated services of worship ( Acts 9:20;  13:5;  17:1;  17:17;  18:4 ). The form and internal arrangements of the synagogue would greatly depend on the wealth of the Jews who erected it, and on the place where it was built. "Yet there are certain traditional pecularities which have doubtless united together by a common resemblance the Jewish synagogues of all ages and countries. The arrangements for the women's place in a separate gallery or behind a partition of lattice-work; the desk in the centre, where the reader, like Ezra in ancient days, from his 'pulpit of wood,' may 'open the book in the sight of all of people and read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and give the sense, and cause them to understand the reading' ( Nehemiah 8:4,8 ); the carefully closed ark on the side of the building nearest to Jerusalem, for the preservation of the rolls or manuscripts of the law; the seats all round the building, whence 'the eyes of all them that are in the synagogue' may 'be fastened' on him who speaks ( Luke 4:20 ); the 'chief seats' ( Matthew 23:6 ) which were appropriated to the 'ruler' or 'rulers' of the synagogue, according as its organization may have been more or less complete;", these were features common to all the synagogues.

Where perfected into a system, the services of the synagogue, which were at the same hours as those of the temple, consisted, (1) of prayer, which formed a kind of liturgy, there were in all eighteen prayers; (2) the reading of the Scriptures in certain definite portions; and (3) the exposition of the portions read. (See  Luke 4:15,22;  Acts 13:14 .)

The synagogue was also sometimes used as a court of judicature, in which the rulers presided ( Matthew 10:17;  Mark 5:22;  Luke 12:11;  21:12;  Acts 13:15;  22:19 ); also as public schools.

The establishment of synagogues wherever the Jews were found in sufficient numbers helped greatly to keep alive Israel's hope of the coming of the Messiah, and to prepare the way for the spread of the gospel in other lands. The worship of the Christian Church was afterwards modelled after that of the synagogue.

Christ and his disciples frequently taught in the synagogues ( Matthew 13:54;  Mark 6:2;  John 18:20;  Acts 13:5,15,44;  14:1;  17:2-4,10,17;  18:4,26;  19:8 ).

To be "put out of the synagogue," a phrase used by ( John 9:22;  12:42;  16:2 ), means to be excommunicated.

People's Dictionary of the Bible [12]

Synagogue. A place of public worship for Jews. Greek term means a congregation. Synagogues were instituted after the exile by Ezra and Nehemiah. See  Acts 15:21 : "For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day." In the later periods of Jewish history synagogues were not only found in all the chief cities and lesser towns in Syria, but in the principal cities of the Roman empire.  Mark 1:21;  Acts 6:9;  Acts 9:2-20;  Luke 7:5. The establishment of these synagogues providentially prepared the way for the preaching of the gospel. As any one who happened to be present was at liberty to read and expound the sacred books,  Acts 13:14-15;  Acts 15:21, this privilege afforded our Lord and his disciples many opportunities for preaching the gospel of the kingdom in the various synagogues.  Isaiah 61:4;  Luke 4:16;  Luke 4:28;  Matthew 13:54;  Mark 6:2;  John 18:20;  Acts 13:5-44;  Acts 14:1;  Acts 17:2;  Acts 17:17;  Acts 18:4;  Acts 18:26;  Acts 19:8. The "ruler of the synagogue" granted permission to read or speak.  Luke 8:49;  Luke 13:14;  Mark 5:35;  Acts 18:8. The "minister," answering nearly to the modern sexton of the synagogue, was the attendant who handed the books to the reader, and opened and closed the synagogue.  Luke 4:20. The "elders" of the synagogue preserved order in the assembly,  Luke 7:3;  Mark 5:22;  Acts 13:15, and appear also to have constituted the lowest tribunal, which took cognizance mainly of religious matters, and sometimes inflicted the punishment.  Matthew 10:17;  Matthew 23:34;  Mark 13:9;  Luke 12:11;  Luke 21:12;  John 16:2;  Acts 22:19;  Acts 26:11. Ruins of synagogues, in several places in Palestine, have been found.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words [13]

1: Συναγωγή (Strong'S #4864 — Noun Feminine — sunagoge — soon-ag-o-gay' )

properly "a bringing together" (sun, "together," ago, "to bring"), denoted (a) "a gathering of things, a collection," then, of "persons, an assembling, of Jewish religious gatherings," e.g.,  Acts 9:2; an assembly of Christian Jews,  James 2:2 , RV, "synagogue" (AV, marg.; text, "assembly"); a company dominated by the power and activity of Satan,  Revelation 2:9;  3:9; (b) by metonymy, "the building" in which the gathering is held, e.g.  Matthew 6:2;  Mark 1:21 . The origin of the Jewish "synagogue" is probably to be assigned to the time of the Babylonian exile. Having no temple, the Jews assembled on the Sabbath to hear the Law read, and the practice continued in various buildings after the return. Cp.  Psalm 74:8 .

Webster's Dictionary [14]

(1): ( n.) The building or place appropriated to the religious worship of the Jews.

(2): ( n.) The council of, probably, 120 members among the Jews, first appointed after the return from the Babylonish captivity; - called also the Great Synagogue, and sometimes, though erroneously, the Sanhedrin.

(3): ( n.) Any assembly of men.

(4): ( n.) A congregation in the early Christian church.

(5): ( n.) A congregation or assembly of Jews met for the purpose of worship, or the performance of religious rites.

King James Dictionary [15]

SYNAGOGUE, n. syn'agog. Gr. together, and to drive properly an assembly.

1. A congregation or assembly of Jews, met for the purpose of worship or the performance of religious rites. 2. The house appropriated to the religious worship of the Jews. 3. The court of the seventy elders among the Jews, called the great synagogue.

Charles Buck Theological Dictionary [16]

A place where the Jews meet to worship God.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [17]

sin´a - gog  :

1. Name

2. Origin

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'"

(2) Prayers

(3) Reading of the Law and the Prophets

(4) The Sermon

(5) The Benediction


1. Name:

Synagogue, Greek συναγωγή , sunagōgḗ , "gathering" (  Acts 13:43 ), "gathering-place" ( Luke 7:5 ), was the name applied to the Jewish place of worship in later Judaism in and outside of Palestine Proseuchḗ , "a place of prayer" ( Acts 16:13 ), was probably more of the nature of an enclosure, marking off the sacred spot from the profane foot, than of a roofed building like a synagogue. Sabbateı́on in Ant. , XV, i, 2, most probably also meant synagogue. In the Mishna we find for synagogue bēth ha - keneṣeth , in the Targums and Talmud - khenı̄shtā' , or simply kenı̄shtā' . The oldest Christian meetings and meeting-places were modeled on the pattern of the synagogues, and, in Christian-Palestinian Aramaic the word kenı̄shtā' is used for the Christian church (compare Zahn, Tatian's Diatessaron , 335).

2. Origin:

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 ‛Ābhōth 3 10, it seems that "the people of the land," i.e. the masses, especially in the country, who were far removed from the influence of the scribes, and were even opposed to their narrow interpretation of the Law had their own synagogues.

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 Pefs , July, 1878,126), though we read in the Talmud that this was one of the requirements ( Tōṣ Meghillāh , edition Zunz, 4:227; Shabbāth 11a). From   Acts 16:13 it does not follow that synagogues were intentionally built outside the city, and near water for the sake of ceremonial washing (compare Monatsschr. fur Gesch. und Wissensch. des Judenthums , 1889, 167-70; Hjp Ii , 370).

(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 ( Tōṣ Ṣukkāh , edition Zunz, 198 20; Ṣukkāh 51b one imagrees the synagogues to have been modeled on the pattern of the temple or of the temple court. From the excavations in Palestine we find that in the building the stone of the country was used. On the lintels of the doors were different forms of ornamentation, e.g. seven-branched candlesticks, an open flower between two paschal lambs, or vine leaves with bunches of grapes, or, as in Capernaum, a pot of manna between two representations of Aaron's rod. The inside plan "is generally that of two double colonnades, which seem to have formed the body of the synagogue, the aisles East and West being probably used as passages. The intercolumnar distance is very small, never greater than 9 1/2 ft." (Edersheim). Because of a certain adaptation of the corner columns at the northern end, Edersheim supposes that a woman's gallery was once erected there. It does not appear, however, from the Old Testament or New Testament or the oldest Jewish tradition that there was any special gallery for women. It should be noted, as against this conclusion, that in De Vita Contemplativa , attributed by some to Philo, a certain passage (sec. iii) seems to imply the existence of such a gallery.

(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 'ărōn ha - ḳōdhesh , but chiefly tēbhāh ( Meghillāh 3 1; Nedhārim 5 5; Ta‛ănı̄th 2 1,2), and it stood facing the entrance. According to Ta‛ănı̄th 15a it was taken out and carried in a procession on fast days. In front of the ark, and facing the congregation, were the "chief seats" (see Chief Seats ) for the rulers of the synagogue and the learned men ( Matthew 23:6 ). From  Nehemiah 8:4 and   Nehemiah 9:4 it appears that the bēmah (Jerusalem Meghillāh 3 1), a platform from which the Law was read, although it is not mentioned in the New Testament, was of ancient date, and in use in the time of Christ.

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 Berākhōth 4 7; Nedhārim 5 5; Meghillāh 3 1). To them belonged, most probably, among other things, the power to excommunicate (compare  Ezra 10:8;  Luke 6:22;  John 9:22;  John 12:42;  John 16:2; ‛Ēdhuyōth 5 6; Ta‛ănı̄th 3 8; Middōth 2 2).

(2) The Ruler.

Greek archisunágōgos (  Mark 5:35;  Luke 8:41 ,  Luke 8:49;  Luke 13:14;  Acts 18:8 ,  Acts 18:17 ), Hebrew rō'sh ha - keneseth ( Ṣōtāh 7 7, 8). In some synagogues there were several rulers ( Mark 5:22;  Acts 13:15 ). They were most probably chosen from among the elders. It was the ruler's business to control the synagogue services, as for instance to decide who was to be called upon to read from the Law and the Prophets ( Yōmā' 7 1) and to preach ( Acts 13:15; compare  Luke 13:14 ); he had to look after the discussions, and generally to keep order.

(3) The Servant (or Servants).

Greek hupērétēs  ; Talmud ḥazzān (  Luke 4:20; Yōmā 7 1; Ṣōtāh 7 7, 8). He had to see to the lighting of the synagogue and to keep the building clean. He it was who wielded the scourge when punishment had to be meted out to anyone in the synagogue ( Matthew 10:17;  Matthew 23:34;  Mark 13:9;  Acts 22:19; compare Maḳḳōth 16). From Shabbāth 1 3 it seems that the ḥazzān was also an elementary teacher. See Education .

(4) Delegate of the Congregation.

Hebrew shelı̄aḥ cibbūr ( Rō'sh ha - shānāh 4 9; Berākhōth 5 5). This office was not permanent, but one was chosen at each meeting by the ruler to fill it, and he conducted the prayers. According to Meghillāh 4 5, he who was asked to read the Scriptures was also expected to read the prayers. He had to be a man of good character.

(5) The Interpreter.

Hebrew methōrgemān . It was his duty to translate into Aramaic the passages of the Law and the Prophets which were read in Hebrew ( Meghillāh 3 3; compare   1 Corinthians 14:28 ). This also was probably not a permanent office, but was filled at each meeting by one chosen by the ruler.

(6) The Almoners.

( Demā'ı̄ 3 1; Ḳiddūshı̄n 4 5). Alms for the poor were collected in the synagogue (compare   Matthew 6:2 ). According to Pē'āh 8 7, the collecting was to be done by at least two persons, and the distributing by at least three.

6. The Service:

(1) Recitation of the "Shema'".

At least ten persons bad to be present for regular worship ( Meghillāh 4 3; Ṣanhedhrı̄n 1 6). There were special services on Saturdays and feast days. In order to keep the synagogue services uniform with those of the temple, both were held at the same hours. The order of service was as follows: the recitation of the shema‛ , i.e. a confession of God's unity, consisting of the passages   Deuteronomy 6:4-9;  Deuteronomy 11:13-21;.  Numbers 15:37-41 ( Berākhōth 2 2; Tāmı̄dh 5 1). Before and after the recitation of these passages "blessings" were said in connection with the passages ( Berākhōth 1 4). This formed a very important part of the liturgy. It was believed to have been ordered by Moses (compare Ant. , IV, viii, 13).

(2) Prayers.

The most important prayers were the Shemōneh ‛esrēh , "Eighteen Eulogies," a cycle of eighteen prayers, also called " The Prayer" ( Berākhōth 4 3; Ta‛ănı̄th 2 2). Like the shema‛ they are very old.

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; O K ing, Helper, Saviour and Shield! Blessed art Thou, O L ord, the Shield of Abraham."

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 pārāshāh , i.e. the pericope from the Law for that Sabbath, was read, and the interpreter translated verse by verse into Aramaic ( Meghillāh 3 3). The whole Pentateuch was divided into 154 pericopes, so that in the course of 3 years it was read through in order. After the reading of the Law came the Haphṭārāh , the pericope from the Prophets for that Sabbath, which the interpreter did not necessarily translate verse by verse, but in paragraphs of 3 verses ( Meghillāh , loc. cit.).

(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 'ādhōm , i.e. 'red,' for it is said ( Isaiah 63:2 ): 'Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel?' But the garment which He will put upon the Messiah, this will shine afar, from one end of the earth to the other, for it is said ( Isaiah 61:10 ): 'As a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland.' And the Israelites will partake of His light, and will say:

'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" ' "

( Peṣiḳtā' , edition Buber).

(5) The Benediction.

After the sermon the benediction was pronounced (by a priest), and the congregation answered Amen ( Berākhōth 5 4; Ṣōtāh 7 2,3).


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; Hjp , II, 357-86; Gjv 4 , II; 497-544; Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah , 5th edition, I, 431-50; Oesterly and Box, "The Religion and Worship of the Synagogue," Church and Synagogue , IX, number 2, April, 1907, p. 46; W. Bacher, article "Synagogue" in Hdb  ; Strack, article "Synagogen," in RE, 3edition, Xix .

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature [18]

Syn´agogue, a Jewish place of worship. The Greek, from which the word is immediately derived, denotes 'an assembly;' but afterwards, by a natural deflection of meaning, came to designate the building in which such assembly met.

The precise age of the introduction of synagogues among the Israelites, it does not appear easy to determine. In all probability, however, they had their origin about the period of the exile; and there were then peculiar circumstances which called for their establishment. Deprived of the solemnities of their national worship, yet still retaining their religious convictions, and keenly feeling the loss they had endured, earnestly, too, longing and praying for a restoration of their forfeited privileges, the captive Israelites could not help meeting together for the purposes of mutual sympathy, counsel, and aid, or of prayer and other devout exercises. But prayer makes every spot holy ground. Some degree of secrecy, too, may have been needful in the midst of scoffing and scornful enemies. Thus houses of prayer would arise; and the peculiar form of the synagogue worship—namely, devotion apart from external oblations—would come into being.

The authority of the Talmudists (such as it is) would go to show that a synagogue existed wherever there were ten families. What, however, is certain is, that in the times of Jesus Christ synagogues were found in all the chief cities and lesser towns of Palestine. From , it appears that every separate tribe and colony had a synagogue in Jerusalem. Synagogues were built sometimes on the outside of cities, but more frequently within, and preferably on elevated spots. At a later period they were fixed near burial-places. A peculiar sanctity was attached to these spots, even after the building had fallen to ruin. In the Synagogue pious Israelites assembled every Sabbath and festival day, the women sitting apart from the men; and at a later period, on every second and fifth day of each week, for the purposes of common prayer, and to hear portions of the sacred books read; which was performed sometimes by anyone of the company , or, according to Philo, by anyone of the priests or elders, who expounded each particular as he proceeded. The writings thus read aloud and expounded were the Law, the Prophets, and other Old Testament books .

The expositor was not always the same person as the reader. A memorable instance in which the reader and the expositor was the same person, and yet one distinct from the stated functionary, may be found in , sq., in which our Lord read and applied to himself the beautiful passage found in the prophecy of Isaiah .

After the reading and exposition were concluded, a blessing was pronounced, commonly by a priest. The people gave a response by uttering the word Amen; when the assembly broke up .

At the head of the officers stood the 'ruler of the synagogue.' who had the chief direction of all the affairs connected with the purposes for which the synagogue existed (;; , seq.; ). Next in rank were the elders , called also 'heads of the synagogue' , as well as 'shepherds' and 'presidents,' who formed a sort of college or governing body under the presidency of the chief ruler. There was in the third place 'the angel of the church,' who in the synagogue meetings acted commonly as the speaker, or as the Protestant minister, conducting the worship of the congregation, as well as performed on other occasions the duties of secretary and messenger. Then came, fourthly, 'the minister' , the attendant who handed the books to the reader, was responsible for the cleanliness of the room, and for its order and decency, and opened and closed the synagogue, of which he had the general care. In addition, there probably were almoners or deacons , who collected, held, and distributed the alms of the charitable.

In regard to the furniture of the synagogue, seats merely are mentioned in the New Testament . The 'chief seats,' or rather 'front seats,' were occupied by the Scribes and Pharisees. The outfit may have been more simple in the days of Christ; still there was probably then, as well as at a later period, a sort of pulpit, and a desk or shelf, for holding the sacred books. Some sort of summary judicature seems to have been held in the synagogues, and punishments of flogging and beating inflicted on the spot (;;;;;;; ). The causes of which cognizance was here taken were perhaps exclusively of a religious kind. It certainly appears from the New Testament that heresy and apostasy were punished before these tribunals by the application of stripes.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [19]

A Jewish institution for worship and religious instruction which dates from the period of the Babylonian Captivity, specially to keep alive in the minds of the people a knowledge of the law. The decree ordaining it required the families of a district to meet twice every Sabbath for this purpose, and so religiously did the Jewish people observe it that it continues a characteristic ordinance of Judaism to this day. The study of the law became henceforth their one vocation, and the synagogue was instituted both to instruct them in it and to remind them of the purpose of their separate existence among the nations of the earth. High as the Temple and its service still stood in the esteem of every Jew, from the period of the Captivity it began to be felt of secondary importance to the synagogue and its service. With the erection and extension of the latter the people were being slowly trained into a truer sense of the nature of religious worship, and gradually made to feel that to know the will of God and do it was a more genuine act of homage to Him than the offering of sacrifices upon an altar or the observance of any religious rite. Under such training the issue between the Jew and the Samaritan became of less and less consequence, and he and not the Samaritan was on the pathway which led direct to the final worship of God in spirit and in truth (John iv. 22).

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [20]

Bibliography Information McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Synagogue'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.