Jewish Literature in New Testament Times



What was a Synagogue in Ancient Times?

Jerusalem Temple CoinSynagogues arose in the days of the Captivity in Babylon. The Temple of Solomon was destroyed, and the nation was scattered, there was a big need for places of instruction and worship wherever there were Jewish communities. After the Jews returned under the command of Cyrus of Persia the synagogues were continued both in Israel and in the Jewish centers in other lands. All larger towns had one or more synagogue. In Jerusalem, even though the Temple was there, there were many synagogues. They were presided over by a board of elders, or rulers. Early Christian meetings were modeled in part after the pattern of synagogues.

The Synagogue

The word synagogue is actually a Greek word which means assembly or congregation. The origin of the synagogue is under speculation, some say it originated with Moses, others say was Ezra and Nehemiah. Still others say that it originated with the prophet Ezekiel in Babylon. However it originated there was a great need for the study of the Torah, organized prayer, and leaders who could answer the many asked questions concerning the Jewish people. During the Persian -period, and the Greek period, the synagogue became an important part of the Jewish community wherever they were. Even though the second Temple was in Jerusalem, there were synagogues spread throughout the cities and towns, under the control of the rabbis. When Jesus arrived on the scene he began his public ministry by coming into the synagogue at Nazareth and a reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

Wikipedia. Although synagogues existed a long time before the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE, communal worship in the time while the Temple still stood centered around the korbanot ("sacrificial offerings") brought by the kohanim ("priests") in the Holy Temple. The all-day Yom Kippur service, in fact, was an event in which the congregation both observed the movements of the kohen gadol ("the high priest") as he offered the day's sacrifices and prayed for his success. During the Babylonian captivity (586537 BCE) the Men of the Great Assembly formalized and standardized the language of the Jewish prayers. Prior to that people prayed as they saw fit, with each individual praying in their own way, and there were no standard prayers that were recited. Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, one of the leaders at the end of the Second Temple era, promulgated the idea of creating individual houses of worship in whatever locale Jews found themselves. This contributed to the continuity of the Jewish people by maintaining a unique identity and a portable way of worship despite the destruction of the Temple, according to many historians.

Synagogue Reconstruction 
Reconstruction of the Synagogue at Capernaum

Ancient Capernaum Synagogue Ruins
Capernaum Synagogue Ruins

Also see The Text of the Old Testament


Jewish Literature

Esther Scroll

John 10:34 "Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law.."

Rabbinical Literature and Second Temple Judaism

Jerusalem Temple CoinThe Rabbinic Writings, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. During the first century A.D. the Pharisaic rabbis created many commentaries on the Torah. When Jesus began his ministry He attacked the Pharisees for putting their traditions above the word of God. All the writings and commentaries of the first two centuries A.D. were compiled and organized into a collection by a man named Judah Hanasi around 200 A.D. forming a collection called the Mishnah. The Pharisaic rabbis were known as the "Tannaim" which in Hebrew is translated teachers, and these men were the teachers who regulated the law. There was another collection of their commentary which was much smaller, it was known as the Tosefta which in Hebrew means "enlargement". The later commentaries on the Mishnah were made by "expositors".

Brief Historical Background

The Jews and Torah
The Holy Scriptures
The Apocrypha
The Apocryphal Literature
The Oral Law
The Mishnah
The Gemara
The Halakah
The Haggadah
The Midrash
The Zugoth
The Tannaim
The Amoraim
The Tosefta
The Baraitha
The Talmud
The Tractates of the Mishnah
The Palestinian Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud

The Purpose and Heart of the Law - A Heart Message
Rabbinical Writings Chart

Historical Timeline

The Persian Period 430-332 B.C.
The Greek Period 331-167 B.C.
The Period of Independence 167-63 B.C.
The Roman Period 63 B.C. to the time of Christ
The Old Testament Canon
The Apocrypha
Other Writings
The Septuagint
The Text of the Old Testament
The Aramaic Language
The Targums
The Talmud
The Great Synagogue
The Sanhedrin
The Dispersion
Preparation for Christ




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