Synagogue [N] [E] [S]

The synagogue was the place where Jews gathered for instruction and worship in the New Testament period. The Greek word synagoge [sunagwghv] means "assembly" and can refer simply to the gathering of people itself ( 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 ; Acts 18:8 Acts 18:17 ), 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 Acts 17:12 ).

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" ( Matt 4:23 ; 9:35 ; Mark 1:39 ; Luke 4:15 ; cf. Luke 4:44 ). Specifically, Jesus teaches in the synagogues at Nazareth ( Matt 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 ( Matt 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 Mark 1:27-28 ). But in the Nazareth synagogue an initial amazement turns to offense and Jesus' own amazement at the people's lack of faith ( Matt 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 ( Luke 6:41-42 Luke 6:52 Luke 6:60-61 Luke 6:66 ). 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 ( Matt 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 ( Acts 13:42-44 Acts 13:48 [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 ( Matt 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 Matthew 9:23-25 ; Mark 5:21-24 Mark 5:35-43 ; Luke 8:40-42 Luke 8:49-56 ); 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 Cor 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 Matthew 6:5 ) and loving the most important seats in the synagogue ( Matt 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 ( Matt 23:6 ), and hypocrites ( Revelation 6:2 Revelation 6:5 ). 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 Church, the; Israel; Jews, Judaism; 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.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Synagogue'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.

Synagogue [N] [B] [S]

(Gr. sunagoge, i.e., "an assembly"), found only once in the Authorized Version of Psalms 74:8 , where the margin of Revised Version has "places of assembly," which is probably correct; for while the origin of synagogues is unknown, it may well be supposed that buildings or tents for the accommodation of worshippers may have existed in the land from an early time, and thus the system of synagogues would be gradually developed.

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 Nehemiah 8:8 ); 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 Luke 4:22 ; 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 Acts 13:15 Acts 13:44 ; 14:1 ; Acts 17:2-4 Acts 17:10 Acts 17:17 ; Acts 18:4 Acts 18:26 ; 19:8 ).

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

These dictionary topics are from
M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition,
published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Easton, Matthew George. "Entry for Synagogue". "Easton's Bible Dictionary". .

Synagogue. [N] [B] [E]

  1. 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 ; 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.
  2. Structure . --The size of a synagogue varied with the population. Its position was, however, determinate. If 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 James 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 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.
  3. 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 ; 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 ; 2:1 ) perhaps also in the apostle of the Christian Church.
  4. 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 Lords 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 )
  5. 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.

[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[B] indicates this entry was also found in Baker's Evangelical Dictionary
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary

Bibliography Information

Smith, William, Dr. "Entry for 'Synagogue'". "Smith's Bible Dictionary". . 1901.



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 sunagoge, "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 Proseuche, "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. Sabbateion in Ant, XV, i, 6, 2, most probably also meant synagogue. In the Mishna we find for synagogue beth ha-keneceth, in the Targums and Talmud be-khenishta', or simply kenishta'. The oldest Christian meetings and meeting-places were modeled on the pattern of the synagogues, and, in Christian-Palestinian Aramaic the word kenishta' 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; 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; 6:2; Luke 4:15,33; 6:6; 13:10; John 6:59; 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 'Abhoth 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 (Tos Meghillah, edition Zunz, 4:227; Shabbath 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 (Toc Cukkah, edition Zunz, 198 20; Cukkah 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 'aron ha-qodhesh, but chiefly tebhah (Meghillah 3 1; Nedharim 5 5; Ta`anith 2 1,2), and it stood facing the entrance. According to Ta`anith 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 9:4 it appears that the bemah (Jerusalem Meghillah 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 Berakhoth 4 7; Nedharim 5 5; Meghillah 3 1). To them belonged, most probably, among other things, the power to excommunicate (compare Ezra 10:8; Luke 6:22; John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2; `Edhuyoth 5 6; Ta`anith 3 8; Middoth 2 2).

(2) The Ruler.

Greek archisunagogos (Mark 5:35; Luke 8:41,49; 13:14; Acts 18:8,17), Hebrew ro'sh ha-keneseth (Sotah 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 (Yoma' 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 huperetes; Talmud chazzan (Luke 4:20; Yoma' 7 1; Sotah 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; 23:34; Mark 13:9; Acts 22:19; compare Makkoth 16). From Shabbath 1 3 it seems that the chazzan was also an elementary teacher.


(4) Delegate of the Congregation.

Hebrew sheliach tsibbur (Ro'sh ha-shanah 4 9; Berakhoth 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 Meghillah 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 methargeman. It was his duty to translate into Aramaic the passages of the Law and the Prophets which were read in Hebrew (Meghillah 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.

(Dema'i 3 1; Kiddushin 4 5). Alms for the poor were collected in the synagogue (compare Matthew 6:2). According to Pe'ah 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 (Meghillah 4 3; Sanhedhrin 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; 11:13-21;. Numbers 15:37-41 (Berakhoth 2 2; Tamidh 5 1). Before and after the recitation of these passages "blessings" were said in connection with the passages (Berakhoth 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 Shemoneh `esreh, "Eighteen Eulogies," a cycle of eighteen prayers, also called "The Prayer" (Berakhoth 4 3; Ta`anith 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 King, Helper, Saviour and Shield! Blessed art Thou, O Lord, 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 parashah, i.e. the pericope from the Law for that Sabbath, was read, and the interpreter translated verse by verse into Aramaic (Meghillah 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 HaphTarah, the pericope from the Prophets for that Sabbath, which the interpreter did not necessarily translate verse by verse, but in paragraphs of 3 verses (Meghillah, 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 (Psalms 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 'adhom, 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 (Psalms 31:19):

"How great is Thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee" ' "

(Pesiqta', edition Buber).

(5) The Benediction.

After the sermon the benediction was pronounced (by a priest), and the congregation answered Amen (Berakhoth 5 4; Sotah 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; GJV4, 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, 3rd edition, XIX.

Paul Levertoff

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'SYNAGOGUE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.