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.

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