A critical analysis of the present state of synagogue research and its implications for the study of Luke-Acts
The purpose of this dissertation is to engage with primary material, both literary and archaeological, in order to assess the positions of current scholarship in the debate. First, we will address the literary and archaeological evidence for the first-century ‘synagogue’ incorporating discussion of the most recently proposed examples of first-century synagogue buildings. It will be shown that in this period a ‘synagogue’ could have been a gathering in a private home or a large purpose made building with a variety of possibilities between these two points. Throughout our discussions particular attention will be paid to the geographical location and socio-economic background of our various sources. This will allow us to highlight possible differences in practice in various communities. Second, we will discuss the range of sacred activities that could have taken place within a first-century ‘synagogue’. While the term ‘worship’ will be used, it will be necessary to identify what a first-century Jew may or may not have understood by worship; in this regard, scholars who have applied twenty-first century meanings will be critiqued. It will be argued that one of the principal functions of the synagogue was sacred, but, just as there was diversity in the style of gathering(place) so also there would have been diversity in the way such scared activity took place. Having assessing the variety of evidence available, we will then compare it to the presentation of the ‘synagogue’ in Luke-Acts by means of case studies. The importance of incorporating the available archaeological evidence when describing synagogue building in a particular location will be highlighted, and such a background will also provide a more detailed understanding of the particular setting of Jesus’ or Paul’s interaction with the local population. A fuller understanding of the ‘synagogue’, one of the important Jewish institutions of the first century period, will also provide a useful addition to historical Jesus studies.