Harvard Theological Review

Research Article

The Delos Synagogue Revisited Recent Fieldwork in the Graeco-Roman Diaspora*

L. Michael Whitea1

a1 Oberlin College

Recent studies and archaeological work have focused attention once again on an old problem—the origins and development of the synagogue—by bringing two sides of the issue to light. On the one hand, some studies have reconsidered theories of synagogue origins in the Babylonian, Persian, or Hellenistic periods. The result is that several traditional assumptions typified in the works of Julian Morgenstern, Solomon Zeitlin, George Foot Moore, and Louis Finkelstein have been questioned. The question of origins has come to rest on the Palestinian setting and on the nature of the “synagogue” not as institution in the later Talmudic sense, but as “assembly.” There is no clear archaeological evidence for synagogue buildings from Second Temple Palestine. Only after 70 CE and the destruction of the Temple, did it emerge as the central institution of Pharisaic-Rabbinic Judaism.


* This study was first presented as a paper for the ASOR section of the Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Association meeting, Cleveland, 13 April 1985. The findings are based on fieldwork done on Delos during the summer of 1983, while I was in residence as a Visiting Senior Associate at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens under the auspices of an H. H. Powers Travel Grant from Oberlin College. The research and writing were completed under an Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship. I wish to express appreciation to Dr. Stephen G. Miller, Director of the American School, and M. Olivier Picard, Director of the École Française d'Archéologie d'Athènes, who helped to make the field research possible. A double debt of gratitude is owed to A. T. Kraabel, first for the contributions of his scholarship (as the notes will amply attest), and second for reading this study in an earlier draft. I have found his perspectives to be invaluable.