1 Dedicatory Inscription for Prayer Hall (Fig. 3.1) Egypt, c. first or second century C.E. Sandstone 40.7 x 33.7 cm Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum 916.1.15, Walter Massey Gift
Παπου + ̃ς οἰϰόμηση τὴν πϱοσευχὴν αὑτου ̃ ϰαὶ τῆς 〈γ〉υναιϰὸς ϰαὶ τω + ∼ν τέϰνων (ἔτους) δ′ ϕαϱμου + ̃θι 〈ζ〉′.
Papous built the place of prayer on behalf of himself and his wife and children. In the 4th year, Pharmouthi 7.
Numerous Greek inscriptions from Egypt mention Jewish prayer places, the proseuche. The earliest date to the third century B.C.E. The Royal Ontario Museum inscription has been dated to the first or second century C.E. on epigraphic grounds. Many scholars consider the Egyptian proseuche inscriptions to be the earliest evidence for the history of the synagogue. Based upon them J.G. Griffiths posits that the synagogue originated in Ptolemaic Egypt. The title proseuche suggests that at least in its origins the most important feature of the "prayer place" was prayer. It is possible, however, that some other sort of worship (perhaps sacrificial) occurred in "prayer places." We know virtually nothing about this institution in its early stages other than that it had rights of asylum and architectural affinities to contemporaneous polytheistic temples and associations in Egypt. By the first century C.E. the term proseuche was essentially a synonym for "synagogue" in Egypt and other areas of the Greek-speaking Diaspora. Philo of Alexandria provides considerable evidence for "prayer places," of which "there are many in each section of the city" ( Embassy to Gaius, line 132).
Fox 1917: 411, no. 11; Horbury and Noy 1992: 214-16; Noy 1992: 118-22; Griffiths 1995; Fine and Della Pergola 1995: 50-52; Fine 1996.
2 Incense Burner (Fig. 4.18) Egypt, fourth to fifth century C.E. Bronze 28.3 x 14 cm Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 41.684
This fine Egyptian incense burner was cast in three separate parts: a tripod base with claw feet, a baluster, and a bowl. The rim of the bowl is composed of open-work rings, a bird standing atop each (two are missing). Three lines of a crude, almost unintelligible Greek (dedicatory?) inscription were added to the exterior of the bowl. The first line is preceded by a seven- branched menorah, which suggests that this piece was used within a Jewish context. The inscription has been reconstructed by K. Herbert as: