A Jerusalem Synagogue Building from Jesus’ Time?

In 1913 Raymond Weill excavated in the “City of David” and found a large limestone block—ca. 30 in. x 16 in.—that contained a clear 10 line Greek inscription.

TheodotosInscription

“Theodotus Synagogue Inscription” found in Jerusalem. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The inscription reads:

“Theodotos, son of Vettenos, priest and head of the synagogue, son of the head of the synagogue, who was also the son of the head of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of the Law and for the study of the precepts, as well as the hospice [inn or temporary residence] and the chambers and the bathing–establishment, for lodging those who need them, from abroad; it (the synagogue) was founded by his ancestors and the elders and the Simonides.” (Translation from a sign in Israel Museum where the object is on display)

Most scholars date the inscription to prior to AD 70—that is before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  If this dating is correct, then this inscription provides clear contemporary evidence of at least one synagogue building in Jerusalem even while the Temple was still standing!

The term “synagogue” is used 43 times in the Gospels in association with the ministry of Jesus.  In one instance, Luke 7:1–8, there is a clear reference to a building—not merely a “gathering.”  But archaeologically, not many first century AD synagogue buildings have been found—thus the importance of a synagogue building being mentioned in this first century inscription.

According to this inscription it is also clear that the Torah was read and the “precepts” were studied (= teaching of the commandments) in the synagogue.

Note, that there is no mention of prayers and/or singing!  Note too that neither praying nor singing are mentioned in Jesus’ experience in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:16–30), nor in Paul’s experience in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch, ca. AD 37 (Acts 13:14ff).

In addition there was an “inn” with auxiliary rooms and installations near the Jerusalem synagogue.  This was for the use of Jewish pilgrims from “abroad”—note the 15 different people groups that were in Jerusalem on Pentecost (Acts 2:7–12).


For an accessible discussion of this inscription see:   Fant, Clyde E., and Mitchell G. Reddish, “Theodotus Synagogue Inscription,” pp. 358–60.   Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.  They also have provided a translation of the inscription on page 358.

For a detailed discussion of this inscription see:  Kloppenborg, John S.     “The Theodotos Synagogue Inscription and the Problem of First –Century Synagogue Buildings.” Pages 236–82 in Jesus and Archaeology. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.

Marriage and Bottles on the Chimneys?

After visiting Hierapolis in Turkey (Colossians 4:13) we typically travel east down the Meander Valley to Didyma, Miletus and Priene.  Sometimes we have taken a back road that leads through the small village of Sigla.  Here they have the custom of placing bottles on the top of their chimneys to announce that there is a daughter in the family who is available for marriage!

BottlesHierapolis02

Bottles on the chimneys announcing the availability of marriageable daughter in the small village of Sigla!

BottlesHierapolis01

Another house in the village of Sigla — note the bottles on the two chimneys!

Artemis of Ephesus

In the July/August 2016 edition of The Biblical Archaeology Review there is a survey article entitled “Archaeology Gives New Reality to Paul’s Ephesus Riot” by James R. Edwards.  The article deals with the riot that is described in Acts 19:23–41.

TWCSEA01

The BAR article is very informative, but it is to be noted that the recent book by Gary Hoag Wealth in Ancient Ephesus and the First Letter to Timothy: Fresh Insights from Ephesiaca by Xenophon of Ephesus is not mentioned.  Hoag’s book is considered as a “game changer” that goes into the details of how Artemis was worshiped at Ephesus AND it deals with some very problematic passages in 1 Timothy (2::9–15; 3:1–3; 6:1–2a; 6:2b–10; 6:17–19)!

The book is expensive and will be of interest to scholars—but it is also accessible to an informed layperson.  For a great overview of the content of the book and some of its conclusions see the review by Lucy Peppiatt that was posted by Scot McKnight.

I was particularly interested in how actual data related to the site of Ephesus helps in interpreting the following:

1Tim. 2:9     I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes,  10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

1Tim. 2:11     A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.  13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner.  15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety. (NIV)

I totally agree that the book is a “game changer” and for starters, commend Peppiatt’s review as a starting place.

Worshiping the Roman Emperor

After preparing for, leading, and reflecting on some twenty trips to Turkey and Greece that emphasize the development of the early church there, it has become more and more evident that one of the “cutting edges” of scholarship has to do with how the Early Church came into contact and conflict with the common practice of “worshiping” the Roman Emperor.

This conflict has been examined extensively in connection with the New Testament book of Revelation, but it is now more evident that Paul and others interfaced with this cult to a much greater degree than was previously emphasized.

Questions such as to whom did early Christians owe their allegiance arose?

The Roman Emperor Claudius (nude as a deity in a divine epiphany with drapery billowing above his head; A.D. 41-54) portrayed as a deity receiving homage from the earth (cornucopia on the lower left) and the sea (ship’s steering oar lower right)
Claudius is presented as a “universal saviour and divine protector”
Original from the Sebasteion (below) now in the the museum at Aphrodisias

To the Emperor?  To a crucified peasant from a far eastern Roman province—namely Jesus?   How could these “Jesus is the King” people be loyal subjects to the Kingdom of the Emperor while at the same time being loyal subjects to the Kingdom of God?

Continue reading

The Roles of the Roman Emperors

Groups traveling to Turkey will often fly into Istanbul and spend a day or two there before continuing on to other parts of the country.   One of the stops in Istanbul is typically the world-class Archaeological Museum located near the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace.  For students of the Bible it houses some extremely important artifacts.  The main ones are located on the top floor of the museum including the Siloam Tunnel Inscription, The Second Temple Warning Inscription, and the Gezer Calendar (the first two from Jerusalem).

Bronze Statue of the Roman Emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117-138)
In Toga depicting him as “the first citizen” of Rome
Archaeological Museum in Istanbul
For additional information about this statue Click Here

Continue reading

Mysterious Bridge

Many of you have traveled across the Aijalon Valley (where the moon stood still; Joshua 10:12) and have seen the massive bridge that crosses the valley.

AijalonBridge

High Speed Railroad Bridge across the Aijalon Valley.

The folk over at Ynetnews have posted an informative article, “Travelling the tracks to connect Israel’s largest two cities,” that describes the bridges and tunnels for the high speed railroad from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It will only take 28 minutes for the journey at speeds up to 100 miles per hour!

Bridge

Aijalon Bridge Detail — Photo: Sasson Tiram

Continue reading

One of the Best Preserved Ancient Synagogues in Israel

In the most recent issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review the process of the reconstruction of the synagogue at Umm el–Kanatir is described.  The following are some images of the site.  Additional images of this interesting synagogue can be viewed on my web site.

Entrance to synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

Umm el–Q/Kanatir (The Mother of the Arch) is a site located on the upper reaches of the Wadi Samekh, 5 mi. [8.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the Continue reading