Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Synagogues in Jerusalem

It is hotly debated whether or not there were any synaoguges in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. However, both the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud give a different impression:

"There were four hundred and eighty synagogues in Jerusalem, each of which had a bet sefer and a bet talmud. The bet sefer was for [the study of] the Bible, and the bet talmud for [the study of] the Mishnah, and Vespasian destroyed them all" (y. Megillah 3.1.73a).

A similar claim is made in b. Kethuboth 105a, claiming the number of synagogues in Jerusalem was 394.

Do these late texts give sufficient evidence that there were synagogues in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, before 70AD? I seem to recall that in the Essene sector of Jerusalem, there is archaeological evidence for mikvehs, which may suggest the existence of a synagogue there. I will research this further.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Priests and Synagogues

In the Second Temple period, who ruled the synagogues? It seems the general scholarly consensus is that synagogues, especially those of the Diaspora, belonged to the lay people. Two scholars offer a different picture.

1. Donald Binder, in his book Into the Temple Courts, suggests the priests and Levites controlled some (many?) of the synagogues. The Greek terms usually used to denote synagogue leaders in literary and epigraphic evidences include archon (18 times: 2 in Jos.; 16 in epigraphs) and archisynagogos (16 times: 10 in NT; 6 in epigraphs), among several others (which occur between 1 and 4 times). Archon ("prince" or "ruler") appears in the form of archontes in the LXX in Ex16.22; 34.31; Num1.16; 31.13,26; 32.2; Josh9.15,16; 22.30. "During the Second Temple period, these archontes, along with a somewhat exclusive group known as 'elders' (presbyteroi), served as subsidiary rulers under the High Priest, forming a ...synedrion" (Temple Courts, 345). Binder then goes on to show that these archontes also run the synagogues of both Judea and the Diaspora. Entry into the synedrion "was probably by the appointment of the High Priest, though the lineage and popularity among the masses were undoubtedly factors as well" (345). Binder also notes that "terms appear to have been for life, though changes in political regimes could result in the loss of one's position" (345). Further, Binder demonstrates that doorkeepers, those conveying scriptures to and from readers, and general overseers of synagogues (at least in Egypt and Palestine) were often Levites.

After his examination of all the data, Binder concludes, "Our survey has highlighted the role of priests and Levites within synagogues. Here, sources indicate that priests served as archisynagogoi and archontes, and suggested that they frequently served as scribes. Similarly, the Levites functioned as scribes as also appear to have filled the role of synagogue attendant... The evidence points to the conclusion that the Temple and the synagogue both belonged to the priests, Levites and people, with all three groups having a measure of leadership and participation within each institution" (371).

2. E. P. Sanders, in his book Judaism: Practice and Belief (63BCE-66CE), makes the same claim, though on different grounds:

"Philo indicates that priests retained their status as leaders in the Diaspora (Hypothetica 7.12f.), and archeology confirms that in at least some places outside of Palestine priests were specifically designated as such [footnoting an inscription found at a synagogue at Sardis, dating from the 4th century CE, reading "priest and teacher of wisdom"]" (pp. 52-3).

"[Upon assessing the well-known Theodotus inscription] What is clear here is that the rulers of the synagogue were priests, three generations of them, and very prosperous priests at that. If we must assign them to a party, the Sadducean would be the most likely guess [contra Hengel, who believes Theodotus was a Pharisee], but there is no reason to think that they represent a party. What we learn from the inscription is that a family of wealthy priests who could speak Greek built and maintained a synagogue for Greek-speaking pilgrims, and that the synagogue had a dual purpose of serving as a guest house and a place of instruction. The inscription supports the evidence of the literature: it was the priests who taught the law" (pp.176-7).

"The Theodotus inscription is graphic evidence of the role of priests in synagogues, a role that some retained in the Diaspora. We recall that according to Philo a priest or elder was responsible for sabbath instruction (Hypothetica 7.13). At the synagogue in Sardis an inscription was found that refers to a man who was a 'priest and teacher of widsom'. This is from the fourth century. Its relevance is that it shows continuity with the passage of Philo and the Theopdotus inscription. In neither Palestine nor the Diaspora did priests withdraw from public life and community study and worship. By our period, prayer and reading of the Bible had already been incorporated in the temple service. It was a natural development for priests to perform both functions in synagogues as well.... The priest or elder read and interpreted the Bible, and other for the most part remained silent (Philo, Hypothetica, 7.13)" (pp.201-2).

"...Josephus presupposes that the priests were the official teachers of the nation, though he also depicts lay Pharisees and Essenes as public teachers. I think that we cannot safely generalize about who dominated how many sunagogues, but we must doubt that the Pharisees ran all of them" (p.398).

On page 398, Sanders sufficiently shows that there were three times more Levites and priests than Pharisees, based on Josephus' ficgures. And that the number of Pharisees made it impossible for them to be in charge of all of the synagogues in the Diaspora. Thus, he concludes, the priests and Levites were in charge of some of the synagogues.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Johanna and Spirit-infirmities

In Lk8.1-3, we are told that Johanna was one of the women supporting Jesus' ministry who had been healed of "evil spirits and infirmities", pneumaton poneron kai astheneion. It has been posited on this blog that Luke's recipient is Theophilus the high priest of 37-41CE, that his granddaughter Johanna is the same as mentioned by Luke (Lk8.3; 24.10). I wonder if in Luke's story he included the episode in which Johanna was healed, though not naming her. Two episodes strike me as possibilities:

1) The story of Jairus' daughter, a twelve-year-old dying girl (Lk8.40-42, 49ff.). This story comes in close proximity to the first mention of Johanna. I realize the biggest problem with this assertion is that the evidence linking Theophilus with Johanna (an ossuary) mentions Johanna's father, John/Johnathan (Yehohanan). But Luke might perhaps be using a different name, Jairus, for Johanna's protection (a common enough practice in this period, as can be demonstrated elsewhere in the NT), which would also account for Luke's keeping this daughter anonymous. (Protective anonymity in such an instance would have been necessary, given that "Jairus" was a ruler of the synagogue, archon tes synagoges; 8.41.) Further, as best as I can tell, Luke's Johanna, if she were the granddaughter of Theophilus the high priest of 37-41CE, could not have been much older that 12 or 15 or 18, which brings up the second possibility:

2) The woman with a crippling spirit of 18 years (Lk13.1ff.). Again we find Jesus in and around a synagogue healing an infirmity. And again we find a ruler of the synagogue present, though this time indignant that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath (13.14). This episode is interesting because the woman's affliction is said to be "a spirit of infirmity", pneuma astheneias (13.11) - the very same description as that of the women of 8.1-3: pneumaton poneron kai astheneion, "evil spirits and infirmities".

These episodes are striking to me because Luke has given them a kind of place of prominence, with rich details (even names, or pseudonymns, and ages of individuals) absent in other similar healing pericopes. They are high-profile episodes in Luke's story. These episodes are significant in some way for Luke's account for Theophilus, as though they mean to be more than mere proofs that Jesus was legitimate.

I also wonder if perhaps the woman with an issue of blood (Lk8.43ff.) represents Suzanna, another woman said to be healed among Jesus' supporters (8.3). She must have been much older, having been afflicted with the issue of blood for 12 years. But, of course, given the data, this is impossible to demonstrate. I only thought it worth mentioning because this episode is likewise in close proximity to the intitial mention of these women.

I intend to look further into this "Jairus", as to whether or not his name is significant for Luke's story (meaning "God will enlighten/arouse"), or whether or not Luke is pointing to an individual possibly known to Theophilus. Because Luke rarely names individual players in his various episodes (e.g., Cleopas as the only named one of the two on the road to Emmaus), it is most probably significant (to Theophilus) when he does name someone.

copyrighted 2008

Zacchaeus, "a Son of Abraham"

A few notes about Zacchaeus from Lk19.1ff.:

1. He is said to be an architelones, "a chief tax collector". This is a hapax, showing up in Lk19.2 only among all early Christian literature (so, BAGD). Does this office resemble that of Chuza, an epitropos, "steward" (which is also rarely found in early Christian literature)?

2. He is called huios Abraam, "a son of Abraham" (Lk19.9). The only other individual given such a title is the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus healed by Jesus, called thuatera Abraam, "a daughter of Abraham" (13.16). What I find interesting is the entire clause: kathoti kai autos huios Abraam, "because he also is a son of Abraham". Marshall (Luke, NIGTC) suggests the reading, 'even this tax collector', concluding, "The saying probably means 'salvation must be extended to this man because even a tax collector is a Jew'" (citing O. Michel and Schweizer, TDNT). I am wondering if perhaps the kai ought to be understood as "also", thus harkening back to the daughter of Jarius as the initial child of Abraham. I realize the distance between the two pericopes probably makes my query unlikely. But, if the two individuals were known by Theophilus, perhaps Luke intended to arouse Theophilus' memory of the first (13.16) by the inclusion of the kai in the second (19.9), showing that they are two significant players in Luke's story who are embraced by God's Messiah.

copyrighted 2008