Article

Synagogue

Anders Runesson

in Biblical Studies

ISBN: 9780195393361
Published online September 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0119
Synagogue

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The earliest evidence of synagogue institutions consists of two inscriptions and one papyrus text from mid- to late 3rd-century bce Egypt mentioning the term proseuchē, one of seventeen Greek, Latin, and Hebrew terms used in antiquity that are translated into English as “synagogue.” (It should be noted, however, that some scholars would argue that the term proseuchē—at this time—referred to Jewish temple institutions rather than synagogues.) In the 2nd and 1st century bce, we find an increase in the number of inscriptions and papyri referring to synagogues as well as a greater geographic spread of the remains of synagogues. During this time we also find the first mention of these institutions in literary texts. The earliest architectural remains identified by a majority of scholars as synagogue buildings date from the 2nd or 1st century bce. By the 1st century ce, in addition to the continued and increasing presence of architectural and inscriptional evidence, we find frequent mention of synagogues in literary texts, both Jewish and non-Jewish: Philo, Josephus, the New Testament, and Greco-Roman texts. Geographically, evidence from this time period come from most parts of the Mediterranean world, making a circle with Italy in the west, Hungary and the northern shores of the Black Sea in the north, Syria in the east, and Egypt and Libya in the south. Intriguingly, there are few archaeological remains dating from the 2nd century in the land of Israel (only one edifice, if we follow the dating proposed by the excavators). From the 3rd century onward, and particularly in the 4th and 5th centuries, there is a dramatic increase in synagogue construction. In addition, most of these late antique buildings are, in contrast to earlier synagogues, richly decorated.

Article.  9372 words. 

Subjects: Biblical Studies

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