Sabbath and Synagogue

The Question of Sabbath Worship in Ancient Judaism


Sabbath worship as a communal event does not feature in the Hebrew Bible. In the context of the first century CE, according to Philo and Josephus, the sabbath gatherings took place only for the purpose of studying the law, and not for the liturgical recital of psalms or prayer. Classical authors depict Jews spending the sabbath at home. Jewish inscriptions provide no evidence of sabbath-worship in prayer-houses (proseuchai), while the Mishnah prescribes no special communal sabbath activities.
The usual picture of Jews going on the sabbath to the synagogue to worship thus appears to be without foundation. It is even doubtful that there were synagogue buildings, for 'synagogue' normally meant 'community'.
The conclusion of this study, that there is no evidence that the sabbath was a day of communal Jewish worship before 200 CE, has far-reaching consequences for our understanding of early Jewish-Christian relationships.

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Heather McKay, MSc, BD, Ph.D. (1992, Glasgow), Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at Edge Hill College, Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK, teaches Contemporary Religions and Beliefs. She researches on Jewish and Christian use of the Old Testament and on feminist biblical criticism.
' succeeds immensely in its clear, concise and penetrating exegesis of specific texts.'
SAH, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, 1995.
'...this is a useful volume to disabuse both students and scholars of fondly held certainties.'
J. Lieu, Society for Old Testament Study, 1995.
' important is a most helpful analysis of the sources and is essential reading for students of Jewish and Christian liturgical origins.'
Stefan C. Reif, Journal of Theological Studies, 1995.
Biblical and classical scholars, specialists in Judaism and Christianity in the Mediterranean world from the earliest times to 200 CE.
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