Monthly Archives: June 2013

A synagogue on the island of Delos

In the previous post we mentioned that there were numerous synagogues used by Jews of the Diaspora. Paul visited synagogues in many of the cities where he preached.

During his Spring travels, Dr. Carl Rasmussen visited the Greek island of Delos. Delos is one of those places that can only be reached with much effort. Carl has graciously granted permission for me to use a couple of his photos here. The first one shows a view to the west, southwest, showing various rooms of the synagogue. Note the “Moses Seat” in the upper right of the photo. The entrance is visible in the lower left.

Delos synagogue. Photo by HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

The second photo shows a close up of the “Moses Seat” and the marble seats on each side. You may click on the photos for larger images provided by Dr. Rasmussen at the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

Delos synagogue. Photo by Carl Rasmussen, HolyLandPhotos.

This large synagogue dates to the mid-second century B.C. Two inscriptions found in 1979-80 indicate that the worshipers here (Israelites) were likely Samaritans who revered Argarizein (Mount Gerizim). (See Kraabel, “New Evidence of the Samaritan Diaspora has been Found on Delos.” BA 47:1; 1984).

The Moses Seat. We commonly identify a special seat like the one in this synagogue as the Seat of Moses. Jesus may have made reference to such a seat (Matthew 23:2-3). For more information about the “Moses Seat” see here. Michael White suggests at least the possibility that this seat may be a “Proedrion, either for the major donor (or patron) or for the leader of the group” (HTR 80:2 (1987). I don’t see that this changes the fact that a reader and teacher of the Law might sit here.

If you have any interest in the synagogues scattered over the Mediterranean world, you will want to visit the HolyLandPhotos’ Blog here.

Tradition has it that Delos is the birthplace of Apollo, the son of Zeus, and his twin sister Artemis.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Marble head of Apolls from Perga. Second century A.D. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins in the Antalya Archaeological Museum.

An article by Gordon Franz a few years ago piqued my interest in Delos. He wrote on “The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos And The Epistle Of James” in Bible and Spade (18:3; 2005). Franz provides the history and geography of the island. He includes a photo of the “Samaritan inscription,” and then proceeds to use the synagogue of Delos to illustrate two passages from the Epistle of James. He discusses James 2:2-4 and selected verses from James 3.

For those who have an interest in visiting Delos, Prof. Rasmussen explains exactly how to reach the synagogue from the Delos Museum. Rasmussen is author of the Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, and provides nearly 4000 thousand photos at the Holy Land Photos archive.

The synagogue — a place of study and discussion

The origin of the synagogue is difficult to determine, but it is generally held that it arose during the time of the Babylonian exile. Synagogues did not become common until the intertestamental period. The term intertestamental is used by many writers to describe the period between the close of the Old Testament (about 425 B.C.) and the coming of John the Baptist in the early first century A.D. Others use the term interbiblical, or the longer phrase, between the testaments.

With the destruction of the Temple (586 B.C.), sacrifices ceased. Prayer and the study of the sacred Scriptures, however knew no geographical limitations. The Book of Ezekiel describes the elders of Israel gathering in the prophet’s house (8:1; 20:1-3) (Charles Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, 59).

In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord GOD fell upon me there. (Ezekiel 8:1 ESV)

In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you. (Ezekiel 20:1-3 ESV)

The word synagogue is of Greek origin. It simply refers to a gathering of the people, or a congregation. “The Hebrew word for such a gathering is keneseth, the name used for the parliament in the modern state of Israel” (Pfeiffer, 59).
After the rebuilding of the Temple (520–516 B.C.), the synagogue continued to fill the spiritual needs of the Jews of the Diaspora. There were synagogues in many of the cities visited by Paul: Damascus (Acts 9:2); Salamis (13:5); Antioch of Pisidia (13:14); Thessalonica (17:1); Corinth (18:4); Ephesus (19:8), and others. Only ten families were needed to compose a synagogue.

In 1898 a partial inscription mentioning a “synagogue of the Hebrews” was found at Corinth. It was published by Benjamin Powell in 1903 and identified as having come from the synagogue where Paul preached. McRay says that further study showed that it should be dated considerably later than the time of Paul. (Archaeology and the New Testament, p. 319).

Synagogue Inscription displayed in Corinth Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Synagogue Inscription displayed in Corinth Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A small plaque mounted underneath the inscription at the Corinth Museum reads, “Inscription from a late Roman synagogue.”

One rabbinic tradition has it that there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem alone. Even the small villages of Galilee had synagogues at the time of Jesus (Mt. 4:23; 9:35).

More about Ephraim

In the previous post we pointed out that Ephraim, where Jesus went a short time before His death (John 11:54), is identified with Taybeh on the edge of the wilderness.

Ephraim is included on the Madaba Map dating to about 560-565 A.D. Below is a photo of a portion of the Madaba Map. The large town with palm trees around it represents Jericho. Below Jericho the land color changes to black. The entry closest to Jericho, but a little to the right, is Ephraim.

According to the website dealing with The Madaba Map, provided by the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum – Jerusalem, the two lines of white lettering read,

Ephron also Ephraia, where went the Lord

Portion of the Madaba Map mentioning Ephron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Portion of the Madaba Map mentioning Ephron. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Here is a larger cropped portion of the map identifying Ephron. If your Byzantine Greek is up to date, you can make out all of the words.

Closeup of Ephron reference in Madaba Map. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Closeup of the Ephron reference in Madaba Map. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The inscription is located close to the wilderness, but is too far south. Other similar mistakes are made on the map. One such example would be the location of Ebal and Gerizim (See Victor R. Gold. “The Mosaic Map of Madaba.” Biblical Archaeologist, Sept. 1958: 50-71).

Ruins of a Byzantine church remain at Taybeh. There are also Crusader ruins. The Madaba Map from Jordan reflects the traditions of the 6th century A.D. Add this to the biblical evidence we mentioned equating Ephron, Ophrah, and Ephraim, and we have strong evidence that Taybeh marks the site of Ephraim.

Barry Britnell pointed out that Google Maps spell the name of Taybeh as Taibe.

You may read more about the Madaba Map section on Ephron here. Click on Ancient Sources for quotations from Eusebius and Josephus. Also check the Discussion section for more explanation.

William F. Albright suggested, as early as 1924, that Ephraim was to be identified with En Samye (Ein Samiyeh), a few miles northeast of Taybeh. Well, that gives me another place to visit in the future.