It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
The synagogue has remained a central institution in Jewish communities throughout the world for over 2,000 years. While the origins of the synagogue remain shrouded in mystery, valuable information regarding its subsequent development is available from both literary sources as well as epigraphic and archaeological remains. Considering the central role the synagogue played in Jewish societies throughout time, any investigation into the ancient Jewish past almost necessitates an intimate familiarity with the institution in its various manifestations. Study of the ancient synagogue is especially crucial for understanding the character of ancient Jewish societies on the level of the local community. Synagogue research focuses on questions such as how the community defined itself, the character of the community’s hierarchical structures, how it interacted with neighboring Jewish and non-Jewish communities and its relationship with local and imperial authorities.
 Abridged from the course description for JDST 706 (The Ancient Synagogue: Archaeology and Texts), Yonatan Adler.
Ancient synagogue at Kfar Bar'am.
The Ancient Synagogue: The First Thousand Years by Lee I. Levine
A history of the synagogue from the Hellenistic period to the end of late antiquity. It traces its development from a communal institution to one which had a distinctively religious profile, describing its basic features, the roles of its rabbis and priests, its liturgy, and its art.
Ancient Synagogues - Archaeology and Art by Rachel Hachlili
See: Lee I. Levine, “The Synagogue,” pp. 521-544.
Written by an international and interdisciplinary team of distinguished scholars, The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Daily Life in Roman Palestine is an indispensable reference compendium on the day-to-day lives of Jews in the land of Israel in Roman times. Ranging from subjects such as clothing and domestic architecture to food and meals, labour and trade, and leisure time activities, the volume covers all the major themes in an encompassing yet easily accessible way. Individual chapters introduce the reader to the current state of research on particular aspects of ancient Jewish everyday life - research which has been greatly enriched by critical methodological approaches to rabbinic texts, and by the growing interest of archaeologists in investigating the lives of ordinary people. Detailed bibliographies inspire further engagement by enabling readers to pursue their own lines of enquiry.The Handbook will prove to be an invaluable reference work and tool for all students and scholars of ancient Judaism, rabbinic literature, Roman provincial history and culture, and of ancient Christianity.
Into the Temple Courts: The Place of the Synagogues in the Second Temple Period by Donald D. Binder
Binder explores both the Jewish congregations and the buildings they met in throughout the Middle East from the late sixth century BCE, and the earliest known synagogue (at the time of his writing) to 70 CE, which marks the cessation of the Temple cult, the abrupt termination of the high priestly hegemony that had mostly administered affairs in Palestine since the end of the Babylonian exile, and a major change in Jewish worship and community life throughout the Roman Empire. A companion website provides new information such as Ehud Netzer's March 1998 discovery of what may the oldest synagogue yet. The dissertation was for Southern Methodist University in 1997.
Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World offers the first comprehensive history of the architectural and archaeological development of the synagogue from the third century BCE to 700 CE. Telling the story of over one hundred ancient synagogues throughout the world and their place in the history of Judaism and of Western civilization, this book provides a fascinating representation of the cultural, intellectual, and artistic achievements of three thousand years of Jewish experience. Informative essays detail every aspect of the ancient synagogue, while beautiful illustrations and maps take the reader to the actual historic site.
Ancient Synagogue: from Its Origins until 200 CE by Birger Olsson (Editor); Magnus Zetterholm (Editor)
The renewed intensity during the first part of the 90s on the debate concerning the ancient synagogue was a major influence on the decision to start the synagogue project in Lund: "The Ancient Synagogue: Birthplace of Two World Religions."
Reconstructing the First-Century Synagogue by Stephen K. Catto
The form and function of the 'synagogue' in the first century CE has been the focus of a great deal of recent scholarly discussion. A previous generation of scholars would have perceived a reference to a synagogue in a New Testament text as a monolithic institution with clearly defined functions principally involving worship. More recent scholarship has questioned many of these assumptions, pointing out that in the first century C.E. 'synagogue' should be understood as a reference to a gathering and not a building. The purpose of this work is to engage with primary material, both literary and archaeological, in order to assess the positions of current scholarship in the debate. It addresses the literary and archaeological evidence; the range of sacred activities that could have taken place within a first-century synagogue; and finally, the presentation of the 'synagogue' in Luke-Acts by means of case studies, to draw conclusions not only useful to NT studies in general, but also historical Jesus studies.
Jews, Christians and Polytheists in the Ancient Synagogue by Steven Fine
Jews, Christians and Polytheists in the Ancient Synagogue explores the ways in which divergent ethnic, national and religious communities interacted with one another within the synagogue in the Greco-Roman period. It presents new perspectives regarding the development of the synagogue and its significance of this institution for understanding religion and society under the Roman Empire.
Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity by Susan J. Wendel (Editor); David M. Miller (Editor)
See: Anders Runesson, “Entering a Synagogue with Paul: First-Century Torah Observance,” pp. 11-26.
Thirteen experts here explore the relationship between the Mosaic law and early Christian ethics, examining early Christian appropriation of the Torah and looking at ways in which the law continued to serve as an ethical reference point for Christ-believers -- regardless of whether they thought Torah observance was essential or not.These noteworthy essays compare differences in interpretation and application of the law between Christians and non-Christian Jews, investigate ways in which Torah-inspired ethical practices helped Christ-believing communities articulate their distinct identities and social responsibilities, and look at how presentations of the law in early Christian literature might inform contemporary Christian social and ethical practices.Posing a unified set of questions to a diverse range of texts, Torah Ethics and Early Christian Identity will stimulate new thinking about a complex phenomenon commonly overlooked by scholars and church leaders alike.
Jews in the Hellenistic and Roman Cities by John R. Bartlett (Editor)
See: Tessa Rajak, “Synagogue and Community in the Graeco-Roman Diaspora,” pp. 22-38
Articles examine the city of Jerusalem and other Jewish communities of the Mediterranean diaspora, as reflected in the writings of Luke, Josephus and Philo. Topics covered include social identity, everyday life and religious practice. This will be of interest to students of Roman history, biblical studies, ancient Judaism and Hellenistic history.
Ancient Synagogues: Historical Analysis and Archaeological Discovery by Dan Urman (Editor); Paul V. Flesher (Editor)
The origins of the synagogue remain shrouded in mystery and its development in its early centuries is only slightly better understood. This book brings together over twenty essays from Israeli, British, and American scholars to explore the development of the ancient synagogue. Combining original articles with the best of earlier studies including nine articles here translated from the Hebrew for the first time this collection presents the fullest critical picture of the early synagogue and the scholarly discussions concerning it. The book focuses on two central questions. First, what were the origins of the earliest synagogues, and where did they achieve the greatest growth in the early centuries? Second, what role did the early synagogue play within the Jewish community?
See: Eric Meyers, “The Problem of the Scarcity of Synagogues from 70 to ca. 250 CE: The Case of Synagogue 1 at Nabratein (2nd-3rd century C.E.),” pp. 435-448.
Lee I. Levine has published 12 monographs, 11 edited or coedited volumes, and 180 articles. His scholarship encompasses a broad range of topics relating to ancient Judaism, especially archaeology, rabbinic studies, and Jewish history. Within these disciplines he has dealt with a variety of subfields, including ancient synagogues and liturgy, ancient Jewish art, Galilee, Jerusalem, Hellenism and Judaism, and the historical geography of ancient Palestine. He is one of the first major scholars to draw on and integrate data from all of these fields in order to afford a better understanding of ancient Judaism. The 32 contributions to this volume by 35 authors are a tribute to his influence on this field of study and reflect the broad spectrum of his own interests. The 26 English and 6 Hebrew essays are divided into sections on Hellenism, Christianity, and Judaism; art and archaeology--Jerusalem and Galilee; rabbis; the ancient synagogue; sages and patriarchs; and archaeology, art, and historical geography.
From Dura to Sepphoris: Studies in Jewish Art and Society in Late Antiquity by Lee I. Levine (Editor); Zeev Weiss (Editor)
Following the failure of the Bar-Kokhba revolt in the second century, the majority of the Jewish population of Palestine migrated northward away from Jerusalem to join the communities of Jews in Galilee and the Golan Heights. Although rabbinic sources indicate that from the second century onward the demographic center of Jewish Palestine was in Galilee, archaeological evidence of Jewish communities is found in the southern part of the country as well. In The Ancient Synagogues of Southern Palestine, 300-800 C.E., Steve Werlin considers ten synagogues uncovered in southern Palestine. Through an in-depth analysis of the art, architecture, epigraphy, and stratigraphy, the author demonstrates how monumental, religious structures provide critical insight into the lives of those who were strangers among Christians and Muslims in their ancestral homeland.
Art, History and the Historiography of Judaism in Roman Antiquity by Steven Fine
See: Steven Fine, “The Jewish Helios: A Modest Proposal Regarding the Sun God and the Zodiac on Late Antique Synagogue Mosaics,” pp. 161-180
Art, History, and the Historiography of Judaism in Roman Antiquity explores the complex interplay between visual culture, texts, and their interpretations, arguing for an open-ended and self-aware approach to understanding Jewish culture from the first century CE through the rise of Islam. The essays assembled here range from the "thick description" of Josephus's portrayal of Bezalel son of Uri as a Roman architect through the inscriptions of the Dura Europos synagogue, Jewish reflections on Caligula in color, the polychromy of the Jerusalem temple, new-old approaches to the zodiac, and to the Christian destruction of ancient synagogues. Taken together, these essays suggest a humane approach to the history of the Jews in an age of deep and long-lasting transitions--both in antiquity, and in our own time. This book is also available in paperback. "Taken as a whole, Fine's book exhibits the value of bridging disciplines. The historiographical segments integrated throughout this volume offer essential insights that will inform any student of Roman and late antiquity." Yael Wilfand, Hebrew University, Review of Biblical Literature, 2014.
Ethnicity and Culture in Late Antiquity by Stephen Mitchell (Editor); Geoffrey Greatrex (Editor)
See: Sacha Stern, “Pagan Images in Late Antique Palestine Synagogues,” pp. 241-252
The period AD 300-600 saw huge changes. The Graeco-Roman city-state was first transformed then eclipsed. Much of the Roman Empire broke up and was reconfigured. New barbarian kingdoms emerged in the Roman West. Above all, religious culture moved from polytheistic to monotheistic. Here, twenty papers by international scholars explore how group identities were established against this shifting background. Separate sections treat the Latin-speaking West, the Greek East, and the age of Justinian. Themes include religious conversion, Roman law in the barbarian West, problems of Jewish identity, and what in Late Antiquity it meant to be Roman.
Was 70 CE a Watershed in Jewish History? by Daniel R. Schwartz (Editor); Zeev Weiss (Editor)
See: Zeev Weiss, “Were Priests Communal Leaders in Late Antique Palestine?: The Archaeological Evidence,” pp. 91-111.
These twenty studies ask whether changes in different fields of ancient Jewish culture were caused by the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, what changed for other reasons, and what did not change despite that event.