Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Reading the Law and the Prophets

Luke tells us in Acts 15:21 that the custom of regular Sabbath exposition of the five books of Moses is a long established one: “For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues.” Acts 15:21 show that in Saint Luke’s view, the custom of Sabbath synagogue reading was one of very great antiquity. What evidence is there to support this statement?

Philo, On Dreams, writes: “And would you still sit down in your synagogues, collecting your ordinary assemblies, and reading your sacred volumes in security, and explaining whatever is not quite clear, and devoting all your time and leisure with long discussions to the philosophy of your ancestors?” This certainly suggest that not only there were synagogues in the time of Philo, a contemporary of Jesus, there was also in these synagogues a regular expounding of the holy books on the Sabbath. Josephus ascribes to Moses the institution of regular Sabbath readings of the law. However, the earliest evidence is probably found in the Preface to Ben Sirach where we learn that in the second century BCE the Egyptian Jews had as a permanent institution the public reading of the law.

According to Levine, The Ancient Synagogue (2000), “Undoubtedly, the single most important piece of evidence relating to the pre-70 Judaean synagogues generally, and Jerusalem synagogues in particular, is the Theodotus inscription, founded by Weill during the City of David excavations in 1913-14.” The inscription written in Greek reads as follow:

Theodotus, son of Vettanos, a priest and

an archisynagogos, son of an archisynagogos

grandson of an archisynagogos, built

the synagogue for the reading of

Torah and for teaching the commandments;

furthermore, the hostel, and the rooms, and the water

installation for lodging

needy strangers. Its foundation stone was laid

by his ancestors, the

elders, and Simonides

The inscription indicates that this synagogue was governed by a priestly "synagogue ruler" (archisynagôgos) surrounded by a group of elders (presbyteroi). The building functioned as a place for the reading and exposition of Torah. This designation of the ruler of the synagogue (archisynagogos) is a term used by Luke (Luke 8:49; 13:14; Acts 13:15; 18:8, 17). The term elders (presbuteros) is also found in the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts (Luke 7:3; 9:22; 15:25; 20:1; 22:52; Acts 4:5, 8, 23; 6:12; 11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; 23:14; 24:1 and 25:15).

Parenthetically, some of the epigraphic evidence used to demonstrate the existence of synagogues third century BCE contains the phrase, “the most high God,” which was spoken by the slave girl in Acts 16:17.

Copyrighted 2006


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