Chapter 9 | Table
of Contents | Chapter 11
The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
THE ASCENT: FROM THE RIVER JORDAN TO THE MOUNT OF
THE SYNAGOGUE AT NAZARETH
SYNAGOGUE, WORSHIP AND ARRANGEMENTS.
(St. Luke 4:16.)
The stay in Cana, though we have no means of determining its
length, was probably of only short duration. Perhaps the Sabbath of the same
week already found Jesus in the Synagogue of Nazareth. We will not seek
irreverently to lift the veil of sacred silence, which here, as elsewhere, the
Gospel-narratives have laid over the Sanctuary of His inner Life. That silence
is itself theopneustic, of Divine breathing and inspiration; it is more
eloquent than any eloquence, a guarantee of the truthfulness of what is said.
And against this silence, as the dark background, stands out as the Figure of
Light the Person of the Christ. Yet, as we follow Jesus to the city of His
Childhood and home of His humility, we can scarcely repress thoughts of what
must have stirred His soul, as He once more entered the well-known valley, and
beheld the scenes to each of which some early memory must have attached.
Only a few months since He had left Nazareth, but how much that
was all-decisive to Him, to Israel, and to the world had passed! As the
lengthening shadows of Friday's sun closed around the quiet valley, He would
hear the well-remembered double blast of the trumpet from the roof of the
Synagogue-minister's house, proclaiming the advent of the holy day.1
Once more it sounded through the still summer-air, to tell all, that work must
be laid aside.2
Yet a third time it was heard, ere the 'minister' put it aside close by where
he stood, not to profane the Sabbath by carrying it; for now the Sabbath had
really commenced, and the festive Sabbath-lamp was lit.
1. Shabb. 35 b.
2. Jer. Shabb. xvii. p. 16 a.
Sabbath morn dawned, and early He repaired to that Synagogue
where, as a Child, a Youth, a Man, He had so often worshipped in the humble
retirement of His rank, sitting, not up there among the elders and the
honoured, but far back. The old well-known faces were around Him, the old
well-remembered words and services fell on His ear. How different they had
always been to Him than to them, with whom He had thus mingled in common
worship! And now He was again among them, truly a stranger among His own
countrymen; this time, to be looked at, listened to, tested, tried, used or
cast aside, as the case might be. It was the first time,3
so far as we know, that He taught in a Synagogue, and this Synagogue that of
His own Nazareth.
3. The remark in the 'Speaker's Commentary' (St. Luke iv. 16), that Jesus had been in
the habit of expounding the Scriptures in Nazareth, is not only groundless, but
inconsistent with the narrative. See ver. 22. Still more strange is the
supposition, that 'Jesus offered to read and to expound, and signified this intention by standing up. This might be done by any member of the
congregation.' Most assuredly such would not be the case.
It was, surely, a wondrously linked chain of circumstances,
which bound the Synagogue to the Church. Such a result could never have been
foreseen, as that, what really was the consequence of Israel's dispersion, and,
therefore, indirectly the punishment of their sin, should become the means of
fulfilling Israel's world-mission. Another instance this, of how Divine
judgment always bears in its bosom larger mercy; another illustration how the
dying of Israel is ever life to the world; another manifestation of that
supernatural Rule of God, in which all is rule, that is, law and order, and all
the supernatural, bringing to pass, in the orderly succession of events, what
at the outset would have seemed, and really is, miraculous. For the Synagogue
became the cradle of the Church. Without it, as indeed without Israel's
dispersion, the Church Universal would, humanely speaking, have been
impossible, and the conversation of the Gentiles have required a succession of
That Synagogues originated during, or in consequence of the
Babylonish captivity, is admitted by all. The Old Testament contains no
allusion to their existence,4
and the Rabbinic attempts to trace them even to patriarchal times5
deserve, of course, no serious consideration. We can readily understand how
during the long years of exile in Babylon, places and opportunities for common
worship on Sabbaths and feast-days must have been felt almost a necessity. This
would furnish, at least, the basis for the institution of the Synagogue. After
the return to Palestine, and still more by 'the dispersed abroad,' such
'meeting-houses' (Battey Khenesiyoth, domus congregationum, Synagogues)
would become absolutely requisite. Here those who were ignorant even of the
language of the Old Testament would have the Scriptures read and 'targumed' to
them.6 It was
but natural that prayers, and, lastly, addresses, should in course of time be
added. Thus the regular Synagogue, service would gradually arise; first on
Sabbaths and on feast, or fast-days, then on ordinary days, at the same hours
as, and with a sort of internal correspondence to, the worship of the Temple.
The services on Mondays and Thursdays were special, these being the ordinary
market-days, when the country-people came into the towns, and would avail
themselves of the opportunity for bringing any case that might require legal
decision before the local Sanhedrin, which met in the Synagogue, and consisted
of its authorities. Naturally, these two days would be utilised to afford the
country-people, who lived far from the Synagogues, opportunities for worship;7
and the services on those days were of a somewhat more elaborate character.
Accordingly, Monday and Thursday were called 'the days of congregation' or
'Synagogue' (Yom ha-Kenisah).
4. This seems at first sight inconsistent with Ps. lxxiv.8. But the term rendered 'Synagogues' in the A. V. has never been used in that sense. The solution of the difficulty here comes to us through the LXX. Their rendering, katapauswmen (let us make to cease),
shows that in their Hebrew MSS. They read wtb#. If so, then the w probably belonged to the next word, and the text would read: l)' ydi(aw$:m lkafw: tb@af#a. 'Let us
suppress altogether - the Sabbath and all the festive seasons in the land.' Comp. Ehrt, Abfass. Zeit. u. Abschl. d. Psalt. pp. 17-19.
5. The introduction of morning, midday, and afternoon prayers is respectively ascribed
to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Targum of Onkelos and the Targum Ps., Jon. on Gen. xxv. 27 imply their existence in the time of Jacob. In B. Kama 82 a, and Jer. Megill. 75 a, its services are traced to the time of Moses. According to Sanh. 94 b, Synagogues existed in the time of Hezekiah. It is needless to follow the subject further. We take the present opportunity of
adding, that, as the Rabbinic quotations in this chapter would be so numerous, only those will be given which refer to points hitherto unnoticed, or of special importance.
6. The expressions 'Targum' and 'targuming' have been previously explained. The first indication of such paraphrasing in the vernacular is found in Neh. viii. 7, 8.
7. Baba K. 82 a.
In another place8
it has been shown, how rapidly and generally the institution of Synagogues
spread among the Jews of the Dispersion in all lands, and what important
purposes they served. In Palestine they were scattered over the whole country,
though it is only reasonable to suppose, that their number greatly increased
after the destruction of the Temple, and this without crediting the Jewish
legend as to their extraordinary number in certain cities, such as 480, or 460,
In the capital, and probably in some other large cities, there were not only
several Synagogues, but these arranged according to nationalities, and even
crafts.10 At the
same time it deserves notice, that even in so important a place as Capernaum
there seems either not to have been a Synagogue, or that it was utterly
insignificant, till the want was supplied by the pious gentile centurion.11
This would seem to dispose of the question whether, as is generally assumed, a Jewish
community in a place, if numbering ten heads of families, was obliged to build
a Synagogue, and could enforce local taxation for the purpose. Such was
undoubtedly the later Rabbinic ordinance,12
but there is no evidence that it obtained in Palestine, or in early times.
8. See Book I. pp. 19, 77.
9. These numbers, however, seem to have been symbolical. The number 480 is, by Gimatreya,
deduced from the word 'She that was full of' (meleathi) in Is. i. 21. Comp. Yalkut, vol. ii. p. 40 d, towards the end, or else 480 = 4 x 10 x 12.
10. Comp. Megill. 26.
11. St. Luke vii. 5.
12. Maimonides, Hilc. Tephill, xi 1.
Generally, of course, a community would build its own
Synagogue, or else depend on the charitable assistance of neighbours, or on
private munificence. If this failed, they might meet for worship in a private
dwelling, a sort of 'Synagogue in the house.'13
For, in early times the institution would be much more simple than at a later
period. In this, as in other respects, we must remember that later Jewish
arrangements afford no evidence of those which prevailed while the Temple
stood, nor yet the ordinances of the chiefs of Babylonian Academies of the
customs existing in Palestine, and, lastly, that the Rabbinic directions mark
rather an ideal than the actual state of things. Thus - to mention an instance
of some importance, because the error has been so often repeated as to be
generally believed, and to have misled recent explorers in Palestine - there is
no evidence that in Palestine Synagogues always required to be built in the
highest situation in a town, or, at least, so as to overtop the other houses.
To judge from a doubtful14
passage in the Talmud,15
this seems to have been the case in Persia, while a later notice16
appeals in support of it to Prov. viii. 2. But even where the Jews were most
powerful and influential, the rule could not have been universally enforced,
although later Rabbis lay it down as a principle.17
Hence, the inference, that the Galilean Synagogues lately excavated cannot date
from an early period, because they are not in prominent positions, is
13. Comp. Philem. 2.
14. See the notes in Maimonides, Hilc. Tephill. xi. 2; p. 75 b.
15. Shabb. 11 a.
16. Tos. Meg. ed. Z iv. 23.
17. Maimonides, Hilc. Tephill. xi. 2.
18. Comp. Lieut. Kitchener's article on the Synagogues of Galilee (P.E.F. Report, July 1878, pp. 126 &c.). The inference, that they date from the beginning of the third century, when the Jews were in high favour with the Emperor Alexander Severus, is all the more ungrounded, that at that time, if ever, the Jewish authorities would strictly adhere to Talmudic directions as to the structure of Synagogues.
But there were two rules observed, which seem to have been
enforced from early times. One of these enjoined, that a Synagogue should not
be erected in a place, unless it contained ten Batlanim,19
or men of leisure, who could devote their time to the Synagogue worship and
This was proved by the consideration, that common worship implied a
congregation, which, according to Jewish Law, must consist of at least ten men.21
Another, and perhaps more important rule was as to the direction in which
Synagogues were to be built, and which worshippers should occupy during prayer.
Here two points must be kept in view: 1st. Prayer towards the east was
condemned, on the ground of the false worship towards the east mentioned in
Ezek. viii. 16.22
2ndly. The prevailing direction in Palestine was towards the west, as in the
Temple. Thus, we read23
that the entrance into the Synagogue was by the east, as the entrance through
the Beautiful Gate into the Sanctuary. This, however, may refer, not to the
door, but to the passage (aisle) into the interior of the building. In other
advice is simply given to turn towards Jerusalem, in whatever direction it be.
In general, however, it was considered that since the Shekhinah was everywhere
in Palestine, direction was not of paramount importance.
19. From 'battel,' which here seems to have the same meaning as the Latin vacare rei, to have leisure for a thing.
20. This is expressly stated in Jer. Megill. i. 6, p. 70 b, towards the end.
21. Comp. Megill. iv. 3; Sanh. i. 6. That ten constituted a congregation was derived from Numb. xiv. 27. Similarly, it was thought to be implied in the fact, that if ten righteous men had been in Sodom, the city would not have been destroyed. But in case of necessity the number ten might be made up by a male child under age (Ber. R. 91, pp. 160 a and b).
22. Comp. Jer. Ber. iv. 5; Baba B. 25 a.
23. Tos. Megill. iii. 3.
24. Baba B. 25 a and b; Jer. Ber. iv. 5.
If we combine these notices, and keep in view the general
desire to conform to the Temple arrangements, the ruined Synagogues lately
excavated in the north of Galilee seem, in a remarkable manner, to meet the
Talmudic requirements. With the exception of one (at 'Irbid, which has its door
to the east), they all have their entrances on the south. We conjecture that
the worshippers, imitating in this the practice in the Temple, made a circuit,
either completely to the north, or else entered at the middle of the eastern
aisle, where, in the ground-plan of the Synagogue at Capernaum, which seems the
most fully preserved ruin, two pillars in the colonnade are wanting.25
The so-called 'Ark' would be at the south end; the seats for the elders and
honourable in front of it, facing the people, and with their back to the Ark.26
Here two pillars are wanting in the Synagogue at Capernaum. The lectern of the
reader would be in the centre, close to where the entrance was into the double
colonnade which formed the Synagogue, where, at present, a single pillar is
marked in the plan of the Capernaum Synagogue; while the women's gallery was at
the north end, where two columns and pillars of peculiar shape, which may have
supported the gallery, are traceable. For it is a mistake to suppose that the
men and women sat in opposite aisles, separated by a low wall. Philo
notices, indeed, this arrangement in connection with the Therapeut�;27
but there is no indication that the practice prevailed in the Synagogues, or in
25. On the next page we give a plan of the Synagogue excavated at Tell Hum
(Capernaum). It is adapted from Capt. Wilson's plan in the P. E. F.
Quarterly Statement, No. 2.
26. Tos. Meg. iii. 3.
27. De Vit. Contempl. 3 and 9, ed. Mang. ii. pp. 476, 482.
We can now, with the help given by recent excavations, from a
conception of these ancient Synagogues. The Synagogue is built of the stone of
the country. On the lintels over the doors there are various ornamentations - a
seven-branched candlestick, an open flower between two Paschal lambs, or
vine-leaves with bunches of grapes, or, as at Capernaum, a pot of manna between
representations of Aaron's rod. Only glancing at the internal decorations of
mouldings or cornice, we notice that the inside plan is generally that of two
double colonnades, which seem to have formed the body of the Synagogue, the
aisles east and west being probably used as passages. The intercolumnar
distance is very small, never greater than 9� feet.28
The 'two corner columns at the northern end invariably have their two exterior
faces square like pillars, and the two interior ones formed by half-engaged
pillars.' Here we suppose the women's gallery to have risen. The flooring is
formed of slabs of white limestone;29
the walls are solid (from 2 even to 7 feet in thickness), and well built of
stones, rough in the exterior, but plastered in the interior. The Synagogue is
furnished with sufficient windows to admit light. The roof is flat, the columns
being sometimes connected by blocks of stone, on which massive rafters rest.
28. Comp. Palestine Exploration Fund Report, Quarterly Statement, ii. p. 42 &c.
29. Comp. Warren's 'Recovery of Jerusalem,' p. 343 &c.
Entering by the door at the southern end, and making the
circuit to the north, we take our position in front of the women's gallery.
These colonnades form the body of the Synagogue.30
At the south end, facing north, is a movable 'Ark,' containing the sacred rolls
of the Law and the Prophets. It is called the Holy Chest or Ark, Aron
haqqodesh (to call it simply 'aron' was sinful),31
but chiefly the Tebhah, Ark.32
It was made movable, so that it might be carried out, as on public fasts.33
Steps generally led up to it (the Darga or Saphsel). In front
hangs (this probably from an early period) the Vilon or curtain. But the
Holy Lamp is never wanting, in imitation of the undying light in the Temple.34
Right before the Ark, and facing the people, are the seats of honour, for the
rulers of the Synagogue and the honourable.35
The place for him who leads the devotion of the people is also in front of the
Ark, either elevated, or else, to mark humility, lowered.36
In the middle of the Synagogue (so generally) is the Bima,37
or elevation, on which there is the Luach, or desk,38
from which the Law is read. This is also called the Kurseya, chair, or
throne,39 or Kiss�, and Pergulah.
Those who are to read the Law will stand, while he who is to preach or deliver
an address will sit. Beside them will be the Methurgeman, either to
interpret, or to repeat aloud, what is said.
30. There is a curious passage in Ber. 8a, which states that although there were thirteen Synagogues in Tiberias, it was the practice of the Rabbis only to pray 'between the columns where they studied.' This seems to imply that the Academy consisted also of colonnades. For it would be difficult to believe that all the supposed Synagogues excavated in Galilee were Academies.
31. Shabb. 32a.
32. It was also called Argas and Qomtar (Megill. 26b), but more generally Chest.
33. Megill. 26 b; Taan. 15 a.
34. Exod. xxvii. 20.
35. St. Matt. xxiii. 6; Tos. Megill. ed. Z. iv. 21.
36. Hence the expression 'yored liphney hattebhah,' and 'obhed liphney hattebhah.
37. Seems also to have been called 'Kathedrah,' just as by our Lord (St. Matt. xxiii. 2). Comp. Buxtorf's Lexicon, p. 2164.
38. Megill. 32 a.
39. Megill. 26 b.
As yet the Synagogue is empty, and we may therefore call to
mind what we ought to think, and how to bear ourselves. To neglect attendance
on its services would not only involve personal guilt, but bring punishment
upon the whole district. Indeed, to be effectual, prayer must be offered in the
Synagogue.40 At the
same time, the more strict ordinances in regard to the Temple, such as, that we
must not enter it carrying a staff, nor with shoes, nor even dust on the feet,
nor with scrip or purse, do not apply to the Synagogue, as of comparatively
However, the Synagogue must not be made a thoroughfare. We must not behave
lightly in it.42
We may not joke, laugh, eat, talk, dress, nor resort there for shelter from sun
or rain. Only Rabbis and their disciples, to whom so many things are lawful,
and who, indeed, must look upon the Synagogue as if it were their own dwelling,
may eat, drink, perhaps even sleep there. Under certain circumstances, also,
the poor and strangers may be fed there.43
But in general, the Synagogue must be regarded as consecrated to God. Even if a
new one be built, care must be taken not to leave the old edifice till the
other is finished. Money collected for the building may, in cases of necessity,
be used for other purposes, but things dedicated for it are inalienable by
sale. A Synagogue may be converted into an Academy, because the latter is
regarded as more sacred, but not vice versa. Village Synagogues may be disposed
of, under the direction of the local Sanhedrin, provided the locale be
not afterwards used for incongruous purposes, such as public baths, a
wash-house, a tannery, &c. But town Synagogues are inalienable, because
strangers may have contributed to them; and, even if otherwise, they have a
right to look for some place of worship. At the same time, we must bear in mind
that this rule had its exceptions; notably that, at one time, the guild of
coppersmiths in Jerusalem sold their Synagogue.44
40. Comp. Ber. 6 a and b; 8 a.
41. Ber. 63 a.
42. Tos. Megill. ed. Z. iii. 7.
43. Pes. 101 a.
44. Megill. 26 a.
All this, irrespective of any Rabbinic legends, shows with what
reverence these 'houses of congregation' were regarded. And now the weekly
Sabbath, the pledge between Israel and God, had once more come. To meet it as a
bride or queen, each house was adorned on the Friday evening. The Sabbath lamp
was lighted; the festive garments put on; the table provided with the best
which the family could afford; and the Qiddush, or benediction, spoken
over the cup of wine, which, as always, was mixed with water.45
And as Sabbath morning broke, they hastened with quick steps to the Synagogue;
for such was the Rabbinic rule in going, while it was prescribed to return with
slow and lingering steps. Jewish punctiliousness defined every movement and
attitude in prayer. If those rules were ever observed in their entirety,
devotion must have been crushed under their weight. But we have evidence that,
in the time of our Lord, and even later, there was much personal freedom left;46
for, not only was much in the services determined by the usage of each place,
but the leader of the devotions might preface the regular service by free
prayer, or insert such between certain parts of the liturgy.
45. This, not for symbolical reasons, but probably on account of the strength of the wine. It is needless here to give the rules how the cup is to be held, or even the liturgical formula of the Qiddush. Comp. Jer. Ber. p. 3 c, d; vii. 6, p. 11 c, d.
46. As to all this, and the great liberty in prayer, comp. Zunz, Gottesd. Vortr. d. Jud. pp. 368, 369, and notes a, b, and d; and Ritus des Synag. Gottesd. pp. 2 and 3.
We are now in the Nazareth Synagogue. The officials are all
assembled. The lowest of these is the Chazzan, or minister,47
who often acts also as schoolmaster. For this reason, and because the conduct
of the services may frequently devolve upon him, great care is taken in his
selection. He must be not only irreproachable, but, if possible, his family
also. Humility, modesty, knowledge of the Scriptures, distinctness and
correctness in pronunciation, simplicity and neatness in dress, and an absence
of self-assertion, are qualities sought for, and which, in some measure, remind
us of the higher qualifications insisted on by St. Paul in the choice of
ecclesiastical officers. Then there are the elders (Zeqenim), or rulers
(arconteV), whose chief is the Archisynagogos,
or Rosh ha-Keneseth. These are the rulers (Parnasim) or shepherds
(poimeneV). There can be no
question (from the inscriptions on the Jewish tombstones in Rome),48
that the Archisynagogos49
was chief among the rulers, and that, whether or not there was, as in
the community at Rome, and probably also among the dispersed in the West,
besides him, a sort of political chief of the elders, or Gerousiarch.50
All the rulers of the Synagogue were duly examined as to their knowledge, and
ordained to the office. They formed the local Sanhedrin or tribunal. But their
election depended on the choice of the congregation; and absence of pride, as
also gentleness and humility, are mentioned as special qualifications.51
Sometimes the office was held by regular teachers.52
47. St. Luke iv. 20.
48. Comp. Sch�rer, Gemeind. Verfass. in Rom, pp. 27 &c.
49. In St. Mark v. 22, several Archisynagogoi seem to be spoken of. But the expression may only mean, as Weiss suggests, one of the order of the Archisynagogoi.
The passage in Acts xiii. 15 is more difficult. Possibly it may depend upon local circumstances - the term Archisynagogoi including others beside the Archisynagogoi in the strictest sense, such as the Gerousiarchs
of the Roman inscriptions.
50. Sch�rer, u.s., pp. 18-20.
51. Sanh. 92 a; Cag. 5 b.
52. Gitt. 60 a.
If, as in Rome, there was an apparently unordained eldership (Gerousia),
it had probably only the charge of outward affairs, and acted rather as a
committee of management. Indeed, in foreign Synagogues, the rulers seem to have
been chosen, sometimes for a specified period, at others for life. But,
although it may be admitted that the Archisynagogos, or chief ruler of
the Synagogue, was only the first among his equals, there can be no doubt that
the virtual rule of the Synagogue devolved upon him. He would have the
superintendence of Divine service, and, as this was not conducted by regular
officials, he would in each case determine who were to be called up to read
from the Law and the Prophets, who was to conduct the prayers, and act as Sheliach
Tsibbur, or messenger of the congregation, and who, if any, was to deliver
an address. He would also see to it that nothing improper took place in the
Synagogue,53 and that
the prayers were properly conducted. In short, the supreme care, both of the
services and of the building, would devolve upon him. To these regular
officials we have to add those who officiated during the service, the Sheliach
Tsibbur, or delegate of the congregation - who, as its mouthpiece,
conducted the devotions - the Interpreter or Methurgeman, and those who
were called on to read in the Law and the Prophets, or else to preach.
53. St. Luke xiii. 14.
We are now in some measure prepared to follow the worship on
that Sabbath in Nazareth. On His entrance into the Synagogue, or perhaps before
that, the chief ruler would request Jesus to act for that Sabbath as the Sheliach
Tsibbur. For according to the Mishnah,54
the person who read in the Synagogue the portion from the Prophets, was also
expected to conduct the devotions, at least in greater part.55
If this rule was enforced at that time, then Jesus would ascend the Bima, and
standing at the lectern, begin the service by two prayers, which in their most
ancient form, as they probably obtained in the time of our Lord, were as
54. Megill. v. 5.
55. Part of the Shema, and the whole of the Eulogies.
I. 'Blessed be Thou, O Lord, King of the world, Who formest the
light and createst the darkness, Who makest peace, and createst everything;
Who, in mercy, givest light to the earth, and to those who dwell upon it, and
in Thy goodness, day by day, and every day, renewest the works of creation.
Blessed be the Lord our God for the glory of His handiworks, and for the
light-giving lights which He has made for His praise. Selah. Blessed be the
Lord our God, Who has formed the lights.'
II. 'With great love hast Thou loved us, O Lord our God, and
with much overflowing pity hast Thou pitied us, our Father and our King. For
the sake of our fathers who trusted in Thee, and Thou taughtest them the
statutes of life, have mercy upon us, and teach us. Enlighten our eyes in Thy
Law; cause our hearts to cleave to Thy commandments; unite our hearts to love
and fear Thy Name, and we shall not be put to shame, world without end. For
Thou art a God Who preparest salvation, and us hast Thou chosen from among all
nations and tongues, and hast in truth brought us near to Thy great Name -
Selah - that we may lovingly praise Thee and Thy Unity. Blessed be the Lord,
Who in love chose His people Israel.'
After this followed what may be designated as the Jewish Creed,
called the Shema, from the word 'shema,' or 'hear,' with which it
begins. It consisted of three passages from the Pentateuch,56
so arranged, as the Mishnah notes,57
that the worshipper took upon himself first the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven,
and only after it the yoke of the commandments; and in the latter, again, first
those that applied to night and day, and then those that applied to the day
only. They were probably but later determinations, conceived in a spirit of
hostility to what was regarded as the heresy of Christianity, which insisted
that, as the first sentence in the Shema, asserting the Unity of God,
was the most important, special emphasis should be laid on certain words in it.
The recitation of the Shema was followed by this prayer: -
56. Deut. vi. 4-9; xi. 13-21; Numb. xv. 37-41.
57. Ber. ii. 2.
'True it is that Thou art Jehovah, our God, and the God of our
fathers, our King, and the King of our fathers, our Saviour, and the Saviour of
our fathers, our Creator, the Rock of our Salvation, our Help and our
Deliverer. Thy Name is from everlasting, and there is no God beside Thee. A new
song did they that were delivered sing to Thy Name by the sea-shore; together
did all praise and own Thee King, and say, Jehovah shall reign, world without
end! Blessed be the God Who saveth Israel.'
This prayer finished, he who officiated took his place before
the Ark, and there repeated what formed the prayer in the strictest sense, or
certain 'Eulogies' or Benedictions. These are eighteen, or rather nineteen, in
number, and date from different periods. But as on Sabbaths only the three first
and the three last of them, which are also those undoubtedly of greatest age,
were repeated, and between them certain other prayers inserted, only these six,
with which the series respectively began and ended, need here find a place. The
first Benediction was said with bent body. It was as follows:
I. 'Blessed be the Lord our God, and the God of our fathers,
the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; the Great, the
Mighty, and the Terrible God, the Most High God, Who showeth mercy and
kindness. Who createth all things, Who remembereth the gracious promises to the
fathers, and bringeth a Saviour to their children's children, for His own
Name's sake, in love. O King, Helper, Saviour, and Shield! Blessed art Thou, O
Jehovah, the Shield of Abraham.'
II. 'Thou O Lord, art mighty for ever; Thou. Who quickenest the
dead, art mighty to save. In Thy mercy Thou preservest the living, Thou
quickenest the dead; in Thine abundant pity Thou bearest up those who fall, and
healest those who are diseased, and loosest those who are bound, and fulfillest
Thy faithful word to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like unto Thee, Lord
of strength, and who can be compared to Thee, Who killest and makest alive, and
causest salvation to spring forth? And faithful art Thou to give life to the
dead. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah, Who quickenest the dead!'
III. 'Thou art Holy, and Thy name is Holy. Selah. Blessed art
Thou Jehovah God, the Holy One.'
After this, such prayers were inserted as were suited to the
day. And here it may be noticed that considerable latitude was allowed. For,
although58 it was
not lawful to insert any petition in the three first or the three last
Eulogies, but only in the intermediate Benedictions, in practice this was
certainly not observed. Thus, although, by the rubric, prayer for rain and dew
was to be inserted up to the season of the Passover in the ninth Benediction,
yet occasionally reference to this seems also to have been made in the second
Benediction, as connected with the quickening of that which is dead.59
Nay, some Rabbis went so far as to recommend a brief summary of the eighteen
Eulogies, while yet another (R. Eliezer) repudiated all fixed forms of prayer.60
But gradually, and especially after the insertion of the well-known prayer
against the heretics or rather Christian converts (Eulogy XI.61),
the present order of the eighteen Eulogies (Amidah) seems to have been
established. Both the Jerusalem62
and the Babylon Talmud63
contain much on this subject which is of very great interest.64
58. According to Ber. 34 a.
59. Ber. 33 a.
60. There is even doubt, whether the exact words of at least some of the Benedictions were fixed at an early period. See Zunz, u. s.
61. Originally the eulogies were eighteen in number. The addition of that against the heretics
would have made them nineteen. Accordingly, Eulogy xv., which prayed for the coming of the Branch of David, was joined to the previous one in order to preserve the number eighteen. Comp. Jer. Ber. iv. 3. It is sadly characteristic
that, together with a curse upon Christian converts, the Messianic hope of
Israel should thus have been pushed into the background.
62. Jer. Ber. iv. 3 to end.
63. Ber. 33 a &c.
64. For the sake of brevity, I can only here refer the reader to the passages.
Following the order of the service, we
now come to the concluding Eulogies, which were as follows:
XVII. (XVI.) 'Take gracious pleasure, O
Jehovah our God, in Thy people Israel and in their prayers, and in love accept
the burnt-offerings of Israel, and their prayers with Thy good pleasure, and
may the services of Thy people be ever acceptable unto Thee. And O that our
eyes may see it, as Thou turnest in mercy to Zion. Blessed be Thou, O Jehovah,
Who restoreth His Shekhinah to Zion.'
XVIII. (XVII.) In saying this Eulogy, which was simply one of
thanks, it was ordered that all should bend down. It was as follows: - 'We give
praise to Thee, because Thou art He, Jehovah, our God, and the God of our
fathers, for ever and ever. The Rock of our life, the Shield of our salvation,
Thou art He, from generation to generation. We laud Thee, and declare Thy
praise. For our lives which are bound up in Thine Hand, for our souls which are
committed to Thee, and for Thy wonders which are with us every day and for Thy
marvellous deeds and Thy goodnesses which are at all seasons, evening, and
morning, and midday - Thou Gracious One, for Thy compassions never end, Thou
Pitying One, for Thy mercies never cease, for ever do we put our trust in Thee.
And for all this, blessed and exalted be Thy Name, our King, always, world
without end. And all the living bless Thee - Selah - and praise Thy Name in
truth, O God, our Salvation and our Help. Selah. Blessed art Thou, Jehovah. The
Gracious One is Thy Name, and to Thee it is pleasant to give praise.'
After this the priests, if any were in the Synagogue, spoke the
blessing, elevating their hands up to the shoulders65
(in the Temple above the head). This was called the lifting up of hands.66
In the Synagogue the priestly blessing was spoken in three sections, the people
each time responding by an Amen.67
Lastly, in the Synagogue, the word 'Adonai' was substituted for Jehovah.6869
If no descendants of Aaron were present, the leader of the devotions repeated
the usual priestly benediction.70
After the benediction followed the last Eulogy, which, in its abbreviated form
(as presently used in the Evening Service), is as follows:
65. Sot. vii. 6.
66. Comp. 1 Tim. ii. 8.
67. Sot. 37 b 38 a.
68. Siphr� on Numb. par. 39, p. 12 a.
69. Minor differences need not here be detailed, especially as they are by no means certain.
70. Numb. vi. 23-26.
XIX. (XVIII.) 'O bestow on Thy people Israel great peace for
ever. For Thou art King, and Lord of all peace. And it is good in Thine eyes to
bless Thy people Israel at all times and at every hour with Thy peace. Blessed
art Thou, Jehovah, Who blesseth His people Israel with peace!'
It was the practice of leading Rabbis, probably dating from
very early times, to add at the close of this Eulogy certain prayers of their
own, either fixed or free, of which the Talmud gives specimens. From very early
times also, the custom seems to have obtained that the descendants of Aaron,
before pronouncing the blessing, put off their shoes. In the benediction the
priests turned towards the people, while he who led the ordinary prayers stood
with his back to the people, looking towards the Sanctuary. The superstition,
that it was unlawful to look at the priests while they spoke the blessing,71
must be regarded as of later date. According to the Mishnah, they who pronounce
the benediction must have no blemish on their hands, face, or feet, so as not
to attract attention; but this presumably refers to those officiating in the
Temple.72 It is a
curious statement, that priests from certain cities in Galilee were not allowed
to speak the words of blessing, because their pronunciation of the gutturals
According to the Jerusalem Talmud,74
moral blemishes, or even sin, did not disqualify a priest from pronouncing the
benediction, since it was really God, and not man, Who gave the blessing.75
On the other hand, strict sobriety was insisted on on such occasions. Later
Judaism used the priestly benediction as a means for counteracting the effects
of evil dreams. The public prayers closed with an Amen, spoken by the
71. Chag. 16 a.
72. It seems also to have been the rule, that they must wash their hands before pronouncing the benediction (Sot. 39 a).
73. Megill. 24.
74. Jer. Gitt. v. 9. p 47 b; comp Duschak. J�d. Kultus, p. 270.
75. The question is discussed: first, who blessed the priests? and, secondly, what part
God had in that benediction? The answer will readily be guessed (Chull. 49 a). In Siphr� on Numbers, par. 43, the words are quoted (Numb. vi. 27) to show that the blessing came from God, and not from, although, through, the priests. In
Bemidb. R. 11 ed. Warsh. iv. p. 40 a there is a beautiful prayer, in which Israel declares that it only needs the blessing of God, according to Deut. xxvi. 15, on which the answer comes, that although the priests bring the benediction, it is God Who stands and blesses His people. Accordingly, the
benediction of the priests is only the symbol of God's blessing.
The liturgical part being thus completed, one of the most
important, indeed, what had been the primary object of the Synagogue service,
began. The Chazzan, or minister, approached the Ark, and brought out a
roll of the Law. It was taken from its case (t�q, teqah), and
unwound from those cloths (mitpachoth) which held it. The time had now
come for the reading of portions from the Law and the Prophets. On the Sabbath,
at least seven persons were called upon successively to read portions from the
Law, none of them consisting of less than three verses. On the 'days of
congregation' (Monday and Thursday), three persons were called up; on New
Moon's Day, and on the intermediate days of a festive week, four; on feast
days, five; and on the Day of Atonement, six.76
No doubt, there was even in ancient times a lectionary, though certainly not
that presently in use, which occupies exactly a year.77
On the contrary, the Palestinian lectionary occupied three78
or, according to some, three and a half years,79
half a Sabbatic period. Accordingly, we find that the Massorah divides
the Pentateuch into 154 sections. In regard to the lectionary of three and a
half years we read of 175 sections. It requires, however, to be borne in mind,
that preparatory to, and on certain festive days, the ordinary reading was
interrupted, and portions substituted which bore on the subject of the feast.
Possibly, at different periods different cycles may have obtained - those for
three and a half years, three years, and even for one year.8081
According to the Talmud,82
a descendant of Aaron was always called up first to the reading;83
then followed a Levite, and afterwards five ordinary Israelites. As this practice,
as well as that of priestly benediction,84
has been continued in the Synagogue from father to son, it is possible still to
know who are descendants of Aaron, and who Levites. The reading of the Law was
both preceded and followed by brief Benedictions.
76. For these different numbers very curious symbolical reasons are assigned (Megill. 23 a.)
77. This division seems to have originated in Babylon. Comp. Zunz, Gottesd. Vortr. pp. 3, 4.
78. Meg. 29 b.
79. Jer. Shabb. xvi. 1; Sopher. xvi. 10.
80. Comp. Megill. 31 b.
81. Comp. Duschak, Gesch. des j�d. Cultus, pp. 251-258.
82. Gitt. 59 b.
83. Some of the leading Rabbis resisted this practice, and declared that a Rabbi who yielded to it deserved death (Megill. 28 a; comp. Megill. 22 a. See generally Duschak, u. s. p. 255.).
84. Every descendant of Aaron in the Synagogue is bound to join in the act of benediction, on pain of forfeiture of the blessing on himself, according to Gen. xii. 3. Otherwise he transgresses three commands, contained in Numb. vi.
27 (Sot. 38 b). The present mode of dividing the fingers when
pronouncing the blessing is justified by an appeal to Cant. ii. 9 (Bemidb. R. 11), although no doubt the origin of the practice is mystical.
Upon the Law followed a section from the Prophets,85
the so-called Haphtarah.86 The origin of this practice is not
known, although it is one that must evidently have met a requirement on the
part of the worshippers. Certain it is, that the present lectionary from the
Prophets did not exist in early times; nor does it seem unlikely that the
choice of the passage was left to the reader himself. At any rate, as regarded
the ordinary Sabbath days,87
we are told that a reader might omit one or more verses, provided there was no
break. As the Hebrew was not generally understood, the Methurgeman, or
Interpreter, stood by the side of the reader,88
and translated into the Aram�an verse by verse, and in the section from the
Prophets, or Haphtarah, after every three verses.89
But the Methurgeman was not allowed to read his translation, lest it
might popularly be regarded as authoritative. This may help us in some measure
to understand the popular mode of Old Testament quotations in the New
Testament. So long as the substance of the text was given correctly, the Methurgeman
might paraphrase for better popular understanding. Again, it is but natural to
suppose, that the Methurgeman would prepare himself for his work by such
materials as he would find to hand, among which, of course, the translation of
the LXX. would hold a prominent place. This may in part account alike for the
employment of the LXX., and for its Targumic modifications, in the New
85. The reasons commonly assigned for it are unhistorical. Comp. 'Sketches of Jewish Life,' p. 278. The term Haphtarah, or rather Aphtarah and Aphtarta
is derived from patar, to dismiss - either, like the Latin Missa, because it ended the general service, or else because the valedictory discourse, called Aphtarah, was connected with it.
86. In a few places in Babylon (Shabb. 116 b), lessons from the Hagiographa were read at afternoon services. Besides, on Purim the whole Book of Esther was read.
87. Megill iv. 4.
88. Comp. 1 Cor. xiv. 27, 28.
89. Megill. 24 a.
The reading of the section from the Prophets (the Haphtarah)
was in olden times immediately followed by an address, discourse, or sermon (Derashah),
that is, where a Rabbi capable of giving such instruction, or a distinguished
stranger, was present. Neither the leader of the devotions ('the delegate of
the congregation' in this matter, or Sheliach Tsibbur), nor the Methurgeman,
nor yet the preacher, required ordination.90
That was reserved for the rule of the congregation, whether in
legislation or administration, doctrine or discipline.
90. At a later period, however, ordination seems to have been required for preaching. By a curious Rabbinic exegesis, the first clause of Prov. vii. 26 was applied to those who preached without ordination, and the second clause to those who were ordained and did not preach (Sot. 22 a).
The only points required in the preacher were the necessary
qualifications, both mental and moral.91
When a great Rabbi employed a Methurgeman to explain to the people his
sermon, he would, of course, select him for the purpose. Such an interpreter
was also called Amora, or speaker. Perhaps the Rabbi would whisper to
him his remarks, while he would repeat them aloud; or else he would only
condescend to give hints, which the Amora would amplify; or he would
speak in Hebrew, and the Amora translate it into Aram�an, Greek, Latin, or
whatever the language of the people might be, for the sermon must reach the
people in the vulgar tongue. The Amora would also, at the close of the
sermon, answer questions or meet objections. If the preacher was a very
great man, he would, perhaps, not condescend to communicate with the Amora
directly, but employ one of his students as a middleman. This was also the
practice when the preacher was in mourning for a very near relative - for so
important was his office that it must not be interrupted, even by the sorrows
or the religious obligations of 'mourning.'92
91. Thus, we have a saying of the first century 'You preach beautifully, but you do not practice beautifully' (Chag. 14 b; Yebam. 63 b.)
92. Moed K 21 a.
Indeed, Jewish tradition uses the most extravagant terms to
extol the institution of preaching. To say that it glorified God, and brought
men back, or at least nearer to Him, or that it quenched the soul's thirst, was
as nothing. The little city, weak and besieged, but delivered by the wise man
in it,93 served as
symbol of the benefit which the preacher conferred on his hearers. The Divine
Spirit rested on him, and his office conferred as much merit on him as if he
had offered both the blood and the fat upon the altar of burnt offering.94
No wonder that tradition traced the institution back to Moses, who had directed
that, previous to, and on the various festivals, addresses, explanatory of
their rites, and enforcing them, should be delivered to the people.95
The Targum Jonathan assumes the practice in the time of the Judges;96
the men of the Great Synagogue are, of course, credited with it, and Shemayah
and Abhtalyon are expressly designated as 'preachers.'97
How general the practice was in the time of Jesus and His Apostles, the reader
of the New Testament need not be told, and its witness is fully borne out by Josephus98
Both the Jerusalem and the Babylon Talmud assume it as so common, that in
several passages 'Sabbath-observance' and the 'Sabbath-sermon' are identified.
Long before Hillel we read of Rabbis preaching - in Greek or Latin - in the
Jewish Synagogues of Rome,100
just as the Apostles preached in Greek in the Synagogues of the dispersed. That
this practice, and the absolute liberty of teaching, subject to the authority
of the 'chief ruler of the Synagogue,' formed important links in the
Christianisation of the world, is another evidence of that wonder-working Rule
of God, which brings about marvellous results through the orderly and natural
succession of events - nay, orders these means with the view to their ultimate
93. Eccl. ix. 15.
94. Ab. de R. Nath. 4.
95. Meg. 4 a.
96. Targum on Judg. v. 2, 9.
97. Darshanin, Pes. 70 b.
98. Ag. Ap. ii. 18.
99. In Flacc., ed. Frcf., p. 972; de Vita Mos. p. 688; Leg. ad Caj. pp. 1014, 1035.
100. For ex. Pes. 53 b.
But this is not all. We have materials for drawing an accurate
picture of the preacher, the congregation, and the sermon, as in those days. We
are, of course, only speaking of the public addresses in the Synagogues on
Sabbaths - not of those delivered at other times or in other places. Some great
Rabbi, or famed preacher, or else a distinguished stranger, is known to be in
the town. He would, of course, be asked by the ruler of the Synagogue to
deliver a discourse. But who is a great preacher? We know that such a
reputation was much coveted, and conferred on its possessor great distinction.
The popular preacher was a power, and quite as much an object of popular homage
and flattery as in our days. Many a learned Rabbi bitterly complained on
finding his ponderous expositions neglected, while the multitude pushed and
crowded into the neighbouring Synagogue to hear the declamations of some
shallow popular Haggadist.101
And so it came, that many cultivated this branch of theology. When a popular
preacher was expected, men crowded the area of the Synagogue, while women
filled the gallery.102
On such occasions, there was the additional satisfaction of feeling that they
had done something specially meritorious in running with quick steps, and
crowding into the Synagogue.103
For, was it not to carry out the spirit of Hos. vi. 3; xi. 10 - at least, as
Rabbinically understood? Even grave Rabbis joined in this 'pursuit to know the
Lord,' and one of them comes to the somewhat caustic conclusion, that 'the
reward of a discourse is the haste.'104
However, more unworthy motives sometimes influenced some of the audience, and a
Talmudic passage105 traces the cause of many fasts to the
meetings of the two sexes on such occasions.
101. In Sot. 40 a we have an account of how a popular preacher comforted his
deserted brother theologian by the following parable: 'Two men met in a city, the one to sell jewels and precious things, the other toys, tinsel, and trifles. Then all the people ran to the latter shop, because they did not understand the wares of the former.' A curious instance of popular wit is the following: It was expected that a person lately ordained should deliver a discourse before the people. The time came, but the Methurgeman in vain
bent his ear closer and closer. It was evident that the new preacher had
nothing to say. On which the Methurgeman quoted Habak. ii. 19: 'Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach!' (Sanh. 7 b). It was probably on account of such scenes, that the Nasi
was not allowed afterwards to ordain without the consent of the Sanhedrin.
102. Succ. 51 b.
103. Ber. 6 b.
104. Ber. 6 b.
105. Kidd. 81 a.
The type of a popular preacher was not very different from what
in our days would form his chief requisites. He ought to have a good figure,106
a pleasant expression, and melodious voice (his words ought to be 'like those
of the bride to the bridegroom'), fluency, speech 'sweet as honey,' 'pleasant
as milk and honey' - 'finely sifted like fine flour,' a diction richly adorned,
'like a bride on her wedding day;' and sufficient confidence in his own
knowledge and self-assurance never to be disconcerted. Above all he must be
conciliatory, and avoid being too personal. Moses had addressed Israel as
rebellious and hard-hearted, and he was not allowed to bring them into the land
of promise. Elijah had upbraided them with having broken the covenant, and
Elisha was immediately appointed his successor. Even Isaiah had his lips
touched with burning coals, because he spoke of dwelling among a people of
As for the mental qualifications of the preacher, he must know his Bible well.
As a bride knows properly to make use of her twenty-four ornaments, so must the
preacher of the twenty-four books of the Bible. He must carefully prepare his
subject - he is 'to hear himself' before the people hear him. But whatever else
he may be or do, he must be attractive.109
In earlier times the sermon might have consisted of a simple exposition of some
passages from Scripture, or the Book of Sirach, which latter was treated and
quoted by some of the Rabbis almost as if it had been canonical.110
But this, or the full discussion of a single text111
(xrq, to bore), would probably not be so attractive as the adaptation of a
text to present circumstances, or even its modification and alteration for such
purposes. There were scarcely bounds to the liberties taken by the preacher. He
would divide a sentence, cut off one or two syllables from a word and join them
to the next, so producing a different meaning, or giving a new interpretation
to a text. Perhaps the strangest method was that of introducing Greek words and
expressions into the Hebrew, and this not only to give a witty repartee,112
but in illustration of Scripture.113
Nay, many instances occur, in which a Hebrew word is, from the similarity of
its sound with the Greek, rendered as if it were actually Greek, and thus a new
meaning is given to a passage.114
106. Taan. 16 a. See Duschak, u. s. p. 285.
107. Yalkut ii. p. 43 a, beginning.
108. In connection with this the proverb quoted in the New Testament is thus used by Rabbi Tarphon: 'I wonder whether anyone at present would accept reproof. If you
said, Remove the mote from thine eye, he would immediately reply, First remove the beam out of thine own eye' (Arach. 16 b). May this not indicate how very widely the sayings of Christ had spread among the people?
109. Even the celebrated R. Eliezer had the misfortune that, at a festival, his hearers
one by one stole out during the sermon (Bez. 15 b). On the other hand, it is said of R. Akiba, although his success as a preacher was very varied, that his application to Israel of the sufferings of Job and of his final deliverance moved his hearers to tears (Ber. R. 33).
110. Comp. Zunz, Gottesd. Vortr. pp. 101-106, 351.
111. See Zunz, Gottesd. Vortr. p. 352, Note b.
112. As in Ber. R. 14.
113. Shem. R. 15.
114. Thus, in Tanch. on Ex. xxii. 24 (ed. Warsh. p. 105 a and b, sect. 15,
towards the end), the expression in Deut. xv. 7, 'Meachikha,' from thy brother, is rendered 'mh achikha,' not
thy brother. Similarly, in the Pesiqta, the statement in Gen. xxii. 7, 8, 'God will provide Himself a lamb for a burnt-offering,' is paraphrased. 'And if not a Seh (lamb) for a burnt-offering, my son, se (thee) for a burnt offering.' It is added, 'se leolah is Greek, meaning, thou art the burnt-offering.' But the Greek in the former passage is also explained by rendering the 'achikha' as an Aramaic form of eoika, in which case it would
targumically mean 'Withhold not thy hand from the poor, who is like to thee.' Comp. the interesting tractate of Br�ll (Fremdspr. Redens. p. 21). A play upon Greek words is also supposed to occur in the Midrash on Cant. ii. 9, where the word 'dodi,' by omitting the second d, and transposing the yod
and the vav, is made into the Greek dioV, divine. But I confess I do not feel quite sure about this, although it has the countenance of Levy. In the Midrash on Cant. ii. 15, a whole Greek sentence is inserted, only Aramaically written. See also Sachs, Beitr.
pp. 19 &c.
If such licence was taken, it seems a comparatively small thing
that a doctrine was derived from a word, a particle, or even a letter. But, as
already stated, the great point was to attract the hearers. Parables, stories,
allegories, witticisms, strange and foreign words, absurd legends, in short,
anything that might startle an audience, was introduced.115
Sometimes a discourse was entirely Haggadic; at others, the Haggadah served to
introduce the Halakhah. Sometimes the object of the preacher was purely
homiletical; at others, he dealt chiefly with the explanation of Scripture, or
of the rites and meaning of festivals. A favourite method was that which
derived its name from the stringing together of pearls (Charaz), when a
preacher, having quoted a passage or section from the Pentateuch, strung on to
it another and like-sounding, or really similar, from the Prophets and the
Hagiographa. Or else he would divide a sentence, generally under three heads,
and connect with each of the clauses a separate doctrine, and then try to
support it by Scripture. It is easy to imagine to what lengths such preachers
might go in their misinterpretation and misrepresentations of the plain text of
Holy Scripture. And yet a collection of short expositions (the Pesiqta),
which, though not dating from that period, may yet fairly be taken as giving a
good idea of this method of exposition, contains not a little that is fresh, earnest,
useful, and devotional. It is interesting to know that, at the close of his
address, the preacher very generally referred to the great Messianic hope of
Israel. The service closed with a short prayer, or what we would term an
115. Thus, when on one occasion the hearers of Akiba were going to sleep during his sermon, he called out: 'Why was Esther Queen in Persia over 127 provinces? Answer: She was a descendant of Sarah, who lived 127 years' (Ber. R. 58). On a
similar occasion R. Jehudah startled the sleepers by the question: 'One woman in Egypt bore 600,000 men in one birth.' One of his hearers immediately replied
to the question, who she was: 'It was Jochebed, who bore Moses, who is reckoned equal to all the 600,000 of Israel' (Midr. Shir haSh. R., ed. Warsh., p. 11 b,
towards the end, on Cant. i. 15).
We can now picture to ourselves the Synagogue, its worship, and
teaching. We can see the leader of the people's devotions as (according to
Talmudic direction) he first refuses, with mock-modesty, the honour conferred
on him by the chief ruler; then, when urged, prepares to go; and when pressed a
third time, goes up with slow and measured steps to the lectern, and then
before the Ark. We can imagine how one after another, standing and facing the
people, unrolls and holds in his hand a copy of the Law or of the Prophets, and
reads from the Sacred Word, the Methurgeman interpreting. Finally, we
can picture it, how the preacher would sit down and begin his discourse, none
interrupting him with questions till he had finished, when a succession of
objections, answers, or inquiries might await the Amora, if the preacher
had employed such help. And help it certainly was not in many cases, to judge
by the depreciatory and caustic remarks, which not unfrequently occur, as to
the manners, tone, vanity, self-conceit, and silliness of the Amora116117
who, as he stood beside the Rabbi, thought far more of attracting attention and
applause to himself, then of benefitting his hearers. Hence some Rabbis would
only employ special and trusted interpreters of their own, who were above fifty
years of age.118
In short, so far as the sermon was concerned, the impression it produced must
have been very similar to what we know the addresses of the monks in the Middle
Ages to have wrought. All the better can we understand, even from the human
aspect, how the teaching of Jesus, alike in its substance and form, in its
manner and matter, differed from that of the scribes; how multitudes would hang
entranced on His word; and how, everywhere and by all, its impression was felt
to be overpowering.
116. Midr. on Eccl. vii. 5; ix. 17 b.
117. In both these passages 'the fools' are explained to refer to the Methurgeman.
118. Chag. 14 a.
But it is certainly not the human aspect alone which here
claims our attention. The perplexed inquiry: 'Whence hath this man this wisdom
and this knowledge?' must find another answer than the men of Nazareth could
suggest, although to those in our days also who deny His Divine character, this
must ever seem an unanswered and unanswerable question.
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