Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World

By Steven Fine | Go to book overview

6 Synagogues in the Land of Israel
The Literature of the Ancient Synagogue and Synagogue Archaeology

AVIGDOR SHINAN Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Scholars of Jewish literature from late antiquity, particularly those of us who deal with the literary record of life in the ancient synagogue, often wonder what it must have been like to visit an ancient synagogue on the Sabbath or on a holiday. We would like nothing more than to be transported to a synagogue in ancient Palestine and hear one of the sermons that we know from literary sources when it was first delivered. How did the Sage stand as he spoke, or perhaps he sat? What was his body language, and how did he modulate his voice? How was the sermon received by his audience? Our desire to experience ancient synagogue life becomes even more intense when we visit one of the many well-preserved ancient synagogues in the Land of Israel. The remains of ancient synagogues include floors and alcoves, pillars, and the rubble of walls, mosaics, and inscriptions. When read together, ancient Jewish literature and the remains of ancient synagogues provide a window into the religious life of that institution. We can sense the pulse of the life that flowed through both the archaeological and the literary remains of ancient synagogues.

This chapter describes the liturgical activity that took place in Palestinian synagogues during late antiquity. I will emphasize themes that appear in the Beth Alpha floor mosaic, a masterpiece of ancient Jewish art that has been discussed by both Eric Meyers and Rachel Hachlili in this volume. In particular, I will focus upon the Binding of Isaac panel at Beth Alpha (Plate XLVIII) and treatments of Genesis 22:1-19 in the literature of the ancient synagogue. I will also make reference to synagogue practice in the large Diaspora community of Babylonia, modern Iraq. Ancient Palestinian practice has left few imprints upon modern Jewish liturgies. This is not the case with Babylonian practice, which is the basis of modern synagogue practice. By contrast, the literature of the ancient synagogue in the Land of Israel was far more varied and vibrant than its Babylonian counterpart.

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Sacred Realm: The Emergence of the Synagogue in the Ancient World
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Director's Preface ix
  • Editor's Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xv
  • Donors xvii
  • Lenders to the Exhibition xxi
  • Historical Chronology xxiii
  • Foreword - The Ancient Synagogue and the History of Judaism xxvii
  • 1 - Ancient Synagogues an Archaeological Introduction 3
  • 2 - From Meeting House to Sacred Realm 21
  • 3 - Diaspora Synagogues 48
  • 4 - Diaspora Synagogues 67
  • 5 - Synagogues in the Land of Israel 96
  • 6 - Synagogues in the Land of Israel 130
  • Contributors 153
  • Catalogue of Objects in the Exhibition 155
  • Late Additions to the Exhibition 176
  • Notes 177
  • Glossary 183
  • Selected Bibliography 185
  • Photographic Credits 193
  • Index 195
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