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Re: orion synagogues

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Hi all!  

The article in ABD was by Eric Meyers, and the article in OEANE by Meyers
and myself.  I would like to clarify some points on this very difficult
subject.  This is another case where we would like to know much more than
we do!

The evidence is not contradictory, though it must be read together
carefully.  Literary sources are numerous, and include the Theodotos
Inscription.  In reference to Jim's "disagreement," he is right about
Herodium  (note my recent publications, which do not take the ID of
Herodium seriously, and the OEANE article, which questions the
identification).  and wrong about Masada. Almost every scroll found on
Masada was found within 20 meters of this room, and two were found buried
inside.  If a synagogue during this period is defined foremost as a place
for communal study, then Masada is a synagogue.  Gamla is problematic,
since we have the shell of a building with virtually no religious
appurtenences and no signage.  It's ID is nevertheless very plausible, if
unprovable.  See my comments on Masada in -Sacred Realm- (OUP, 1996)
expanded in -This -Holy Place- (Notre Dame UP, forthcoming in 1998). 
Incidentally, archaeology is no more reliable than any other area of
historical reconstruction, and should not be given precedence.  There was
an article a number of years ago on this in -Maarav- by Fred Branfon
(Sp.?), an archaeologist.

The problem with 1st century synagogues is that we may not recognize them
when we see them, since they have none of the furnishings we might expect
in later periods.  A good example might be the Theodotos synagogue.  Were
the place where the inscription was found found without an inscription,
would anyone identify it as a synagogue?  (I realize that there has been
some dispute on this piece recently, though it was effectively disarmed by
Oster, E.P. Sanders and van der Horst in a number of publications).  A
better case is the earlier synagogue at Stobi, which was just a converted
house.  Michael White's Building God's House... provides good examples of
house synagogues-churches-temples, many of which would be archaeologically
invisible without specific and distinctive appurtenances and decorations
that managed to survive and be excavated.

For other approaches, see Lee Levine's in -The Synagogue in Late
Antiquity-, and Paul Flesher's in his edited volume with D. Urman.  

Incidentially, while no synagogue buildings have been found that date
between 74 and the 3rd century, as Levine correctly notes, would you assume
that there were none, based upon the abundant literary evidence and your
assumption that synagogues filled a "need" and became "important" only
after the destruction of the Temple?

Have a nice weekend, and happy synagogue hunting!  I will spend tomorrow in
a house that was refurbished as a synagogue.  In a century, if the signage
and the ark don't survive in situ, no one may know that a synagogue was
ever there!


Steven Fine
Assistant Professor of Rabbinic Literature and History
Baltimore Hebrew University
5800 Park Heights Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21215 
410-578-6908; Fax: 410-578-6940


> Now, I hate to disagree with the authors of ABD and OXford's
> but there simply is no concrete evidence to support the idea that Herod
> built a Synagogue at Herodium; that the room on Masada was used for
> scripture and prayer; or that the site of Gamla was used for religious
> assemblies.  These three sites aside, where are the other archaeological
> remains which would demonstrate that there were hundreds of buildings
> synagogues scattered throughout the land?  If there were so many, why no
> remains (thus far discovered)?  The reason seems quite simple; there was
> need for such buildings while the Temple stood.  Once the Temple was
> destroyed, then such places of meeting would become important.
> And in particular, where is there any evidence at all for a synagogue at
> Finally, for those interested in the subject may I recommend the
> book by Richard A. Horsley, "Archaeology, History and Society in
> In chapter 6, p. 133 he quotes "no synagogue buildings have been found in
> Palestine for the almost 200 years following the destruction of the
> (Quoting Lee Levine).
> Best,
> Jim
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Jim West, ThD
> Petros TN
> jwest@highland.net