TUB tells us that the Jewish synagogue was an essential feature in the spread of the Gospel.
121.2.4 Greece provided a language and a culture, Rome built the roads and unified an empire, but the dispersion of the Jews, with their more than two hundred synagogues and well-organized religious communities scattered hither and yon throughout the Roman world, provided the cultural centers in which the new gospel of the kingdom of heaven found initial reception, and from which it subsequently spread to the uttermost parts of the world.
121.2.5 Each Jewish synagogue tolerated a fringe of gentile believers, “devout” or “God-fearing” men, and it was among this fringe of proselytes that Paul made the bulk of his early converts to Christianity. Even the temple at Jerusalem possessed its ornate court of the gentiles. There was very close connection between the culture, commerce, and worship of Jerusalem and Antioch. In Antioch Paul’s disciples were first called “Christians.”
Reicke explains why the synagogue was so crucial to the spread of Christianity:
Without this connection with Judaism the Christian communities would have found themselves in a legally dubious position; for in the Roman Empire, since the time of Caesar and Augustus, the formation of new associations had been prohibited. The Jewish synagogues, however, were excepted. Only with the Neronian persecution was a temporary distinction made between Jews and Christians before the law. (Reicke, pgs.226-227)
The history books I am reading expound greatly on this topic. First, the term "synagogue" is derived from the Gk. word "synagoge" meaning a place of assembly, a council and pedagogical center. It is no wonder that the synagogues were so successful; they were not only buildings used for religious purposes, but also community centers and schools where religious living embraced all of aspects of life. Such centers must have contributed greatly to the cohesiveness of the community despite the fact that the Jewish people were scattered throughout the known world. Another benefit to the synagogue was the lack of sacrifices. The type of worship in the synagogue had to do with teaching and gaining knowledge of scriptures and their meanings in order to fulfill the law and commandments of God.
139.0.3 Do not make the mistake of regarding the apostles as being altogether ignorant and unlearned. All of them, except the Alpheus twins, were graduates of the synagogue schools, having been thoroughly trained in the Hebrew scriptures and in much of the current knowledge of that day. Seven were graduates of the Capernaum synagogue schools, and there were no better Jewish schools in all Galilee.
Reicke describes the purpose of the synagogue:
In many places, within the framework of the synagogues, the Jews were allowed to exercise their own jurisdiction, hold communal banquets, and establish communal financial institutions--in short, to enjoy a legal and commercial, religious and social freedom of movement that was exceptional in the Greek cities for reasons of civil defense and in the Roman Empire because of the law against associations promulgated in 55. One should not overlook the significance this freedom was later to have for the spread of the Gospel, which took place in and through the synagogues of the Diaspora, including their membership and adherents. (Reicke, pg. 89)
Representatives of this nation [Jewish] were now scattered throughout the Roman world; they had synagogues and social organizations in every important city, at least in the eastern parts of the commonwealth. . . . The exceptionally vigorous expansion of the Jews, together with their freedom of movement within the framework of Augustus' world empire and the Pax Romana, which are important considerations in the New Testament period, had of course long been in the making especially under Caesar. (Reicke, pg. 101)
TUB tells us that Alexandria played an important role in the spread of Christianity, partly because of the presence of synagogues.
130.3.8 Alexandria was the city of the blended culture of the Occident and next to Rome the largest and most magnificent in the world. Here was located the largest Jewish synagogue in the world, the seat of government of the Alexandria Sanhedrin, the seventy ruling elders.
195.3.10 Conditions, however, were not so bad at Alexandria. The early schools continued to hold much of Jesus’ teachings free from compromise.
Reicke goes on to explain the history of the synagogue which originated in Egypt, the first being built in 525B.C. in Upper Egypt. Eventually, Alexandria became home to the largest known synagogue, not to mention the world's largest library at the time, the place of refuge for the infant Jesus and also the home of the early Christian Church.
One of the essential institutions for the religious life of Galilee was the synagogue. This type of community center and place of worship was undoubtedly borrowed from the Diaspora, where the social and religious need for a common meeting place was especially great and the environment furnished certain models.
The earliest historical evidence of a synagogue is an inscription from Lower Egypt which states that the Jews of Schedia, near Kafr el-Dawar, fourteen miles east-southeast of Alexandria, built a place of prayer about 225B.C. in honor of Ptolemy III and his family. . . . Alexandria in particular was distinguished by its possession of a large number. Essentially, then, the Jewish synagogue system can be derived from Ptolemaic Egypt, where the Hellenistic associations, with their meeting places, influenced its development. . . .
During the judaization of Galilee in the first century B.C. the Jewish scribes obviously found this system, developed in the Diaspora, to be of value in teaching the law to the Galileans . . . By the time of Jesus, at any rate, Galilee had been won to Judaism, and a network of synagogues had been buiilt in which scribes from Jerusalem often supervised the conduct of worship. Originally colonial and missionary institutions, these synagogues developed into community centers. . . . (Reicke, pgs. 119-120)
In addition to religious worship, the synagogue also provided a center for social service; in fact, the distinction between a place of prayer and a community center seems to have been rather vague. In particular we read about instruction of children and care of the poor. The synagogue officials were also concerned with such juristic matters as flogging and excommunication.
We know a little about the physical layout of the synagogues from TUB, especially the women's gallery.
150.1.3 It was most astounding in that day, when women were not even allowed on the main floor of the synagogue (being confined to the women’s gallery), to behold them being recognized as authorized teachers of the new gospel of the kingdom.
150.3.1 The Sabbath services of the apostolic party had been put in the hands of the women by Andrew, upon instructions from Jesus. This meant, of course, that they could not be held in the new synagogue.
Reicke describes more about the structure of the synagogue:
The synagogue buildings in Galilee often took the form of a basilica with three doors at the southern end, a long tripartite room, and perhaps a gallery for the women. During worship and other transactions, the members of the community and the worshipers sat on benches in the front part of the nave; the elders or rulers sat on chairs further back in the choir, facing the people. The last section, the Holy Place, contained the so-called ark, a container for the scrolls of the law and the Prophets. Two men were responsible for the building and its worship: a "ruler of the synagogue" and an "attendant". At least ten persons had to be present at worship, which was often held on Monday and Thursday as well as every Sabbath and feast day. (Reicke, pg. 121)
Another feature of the synagogue was Moses' seat where the discourse on the Torah readings was given. Jesus' referenced Moses' seat in regard to those who claimed to have authority to teach the law according to the Torah. The seat represents religious authority rather than the teaching of truth, which is what Jesus did every time he sat in Moses' seat in the synagogue which is one of the reasons why he was later rejected by the Jews.
175.1.8 Nevertheless, I admonish you that these scribes and Pharisees still sit in Moses’ seat, and therefore, until the Most Highs who rule in the kingdoms of men shall finally overthrow this nation and destroy the place of these rulers, I bid you co-operate with these elders in Israel.
177.3.7 While they feared he would stir up a tumult among the people, the Master’s last words to the multitude had been an exhortation to conform in every reasonable manner with the authority of those “who sit in Moses’ seat.”
"And he [Jesus] closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down" (Luke 4:20); that is, he sat down on the special preaching seat of the synagogue (called "Moses' seat" in Matt. 23:2) in order to deliver a sermon based on the reading. Technically this scene at Nazareth corresponds to the usual course of synaogue worship, except that Jesus provided not scribal wisdom but messianic revelation. (Reicke pgs. 122-123)
The "leading sect" in popular eyes, however, was the Pharisees. Their teachers were called rabbis, "held to be the most authoritative exponents of the Law", meaning the Torah. . . . the rabbis, who felt that to make up a doctrine of one's own was a betrayal, and this would be fundamental to the Jewish rejection of Pauline Christianity. Any authentic teaching had its origins not with the teacher who articulated it, but with his teachers starting with Moses at Mount Sinai, who learned from God. (Klinghoffer, pgs. 20&22)
Edited by Bonita, 22 July 2010 - 07:11 PM.