James M. Freeman
writers claim for the synagogue a very remote antiquity, but
its origin probably dates during the captivity. There were
no fixed proportions in the building, as there were in the
tabernacle and in the temple. When a synagogue was to be
built the highest ground that could be found in the vicinity
was selected for the site, and, if possible, the top was
erected above the roofs of surrounding buildings. Where this
could not be done a tall pole was placed on the summit in
order to make the building conspicuous.
Synagogues were often built without roofs. They were also so
constructed that the worshipers, as they entered and prayed,
faced Jerusalem. At the Jerusalem was the chest or ark which
contained the book of the law. Toward the middle of the
building was a raised platform, and in the center of the
platform was a pulpit. A low partition five or six feet high
divided the men from the women.
The leading object of the synagogue was not worship, but
instruction. The temple was "the house of prayer," the
synagogue was never called by that name. Reading and
expounding the law was the great business of the synagogue:
and, though a liturgical service was connected with these,
it was subordinate to them.
The priests had no official standing or privileges in the
synagogue, though they were always honored when present.
They were the hereditary officials of the temple, but the
officers of the synagogue were elected either by the
congregation or by the council.
The leader of the congregation might ask any suitable person
to address the assembly. Persons who were known as learned
men, or as the expounders of religious faith, were allowed
to speak. Hence in the text and in the parallel passages we
find Christ publicly speaking in the synagogue, also the
apostles on their missionary journey addressed the people in
these places of public gathering."
Freeman, "Manners and Customs of the Bible" Reprint
(Plainfield, NJ: Logos International, 1972) pp. 334-335.