The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings
by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
It was the same regarding every act of life, every rule and law of Moses. The slavery of life under the Rabbis was appalling in the time of our Lord. The pagan conquerors of the Hebrews tried to destroy the national religion; the Scribes, Pharisees and Rabbis tried to keep the people in the faith. It was chiefly after the victories of the Machabees that they began this puritanism.
They went to every extreme customary with all human organisms which attempt to teach religion without a Divine Guide, and they also demanded the most abject deference to their persons and teachings. " The honor," says the Talmud, 1 " due to a Teacher, borders on that due to God." " To dispute with a Rabbi, or to murmur against him was a crime as great as against the Almighty," and they quoted texts of Scripture to prove this.
These Scribes, or, as they were then and are now called, Rabbis, were the religious and secular teachers and guides of the people in every city and town of Judea, and in the nations into which they had been scattered since the Babylonian Captivity. The Temple was the great place of sacrifice. But it was necessary to have a place where they could teach their people, and in Babylonia they founded the synagogue, modelling the building after the general pattern of the tabernacle in the desert, and the Temple in Jerusalem.
Let us now see the synagogue and its services.
When carried away into Babylonia, they spoke the pure Hebrew, and called their meeting places " Hacceneseth," " the house of meeting," Tephillah, " the house of prayer," but later, when their language changed to Aramean or Syro-Chaldaic, they called them Beth-Cenishta, " the house of gathering." After the Greek conquest they were known as synagogues, " Gathered " or " driven together," by which these meeting-places are known to this day.
Jewish writers claim a high antiquity for their synagogues, holding that every place in Scripture where the phrase, to " appear before the Lord," occurs, was a sanctuary, a fixed place of meeting, and therefore a synagogue. 2 The Targum of Onkelos finds in Jacob's " dwelling in tents " 3 synagogues. They likewise find the institution in the schools of the prophets and in the meetings of Israel all down their history. But this is an exaggeration of the history of the institution. We cannot trace it farther back than the Captivity. When deprived of the Temple worship, they founded these places of meeting to take the place of the grand ceremonial established by David and Solomon after the temple took the place of the tabernacle.
The size of the synagogue varied with the wealth and numbers of the congregation. It was built, if possible, on high ground, with its Kibleh, or sanctuary, towards Jerusalem and the holy temple, and the worshipers, as they entered and as they prayed, always turned towards it. The Moslems to-day carry out that idea, for they always turn towards Mecca in prayer. The building was always erected by popular contributions, by rich families, or even by pious converts, when finished the building was dedicated with great ceremony and was never used for any other purpose.
The internal divisions were the same as the tabernacle and temple, but on a lower scale, not so elaborate. The synagogue was divided into a porch, a nave, where the people worshipped, and a sanctuary, in which stood the ark, called Aaron. The door of the ark was named the Copereth. " the Mercy Seat," 4 and was covered with a veil like the door of the Holy of Holies in the temple. The sanctuary was the place of honor, which the Scribes and Pharisees always sought. 5 Before the ark was an ever-burning lamp, hanging from the ceiling, which was a type of the Law illuminating the mind. A seven-branched candlestick was lighted on the great feasts of Israel, and candles, made of pure bees-wax, were brought by the pious, and lighted during the services.
The men and women were divided by a low partition running between them, but in modern times a more complete separation has been made, the women occupying galleries, although among the reformed Jews this is not carried out. The sanctuary called the Bema, was raised up a step or more, there was a pulpit from which the Rabbi preached, and seats for the officers, elders, etc., with in the ark were the Rolls of the Torah, " the Law," the Five Books of Moses. Near by was another chest for the Haphtaroth, " The Rolls of the Prophets," and the other Books of the Old Testament, although the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses were the most honored.
In small towns there was only one Scribe or Rabbi, but when the congregation was large, there was a college of Elders, called the Presbyters, presided over by the archissynogos or " chief elder." These were the Parnasim: " rulers." forming with their head a quasi-chapter governing the congregation, and having the power to ex communicate. The most prominent man was the Sheliach, " Rabbi," or " Minister," who was the delegate of the congregation. He was the preacher who instructed them in their religion. The rules laid down for his election to this office remind us of St. Paul's rules for the choice of a bishop. 6 Next came the Chazzan, whose duties were like those of a deacon or subdeacon, to look after the building, open and close the doors, call out the men to assist the Rabbi, etc. The rules for his election were the same as for the Rabbi, and like him, he was ordained by the imposition of the hands of the " elders " or presbyters.
Besides these, there were seven men in every synagogue known as the Batlanim, " men of leisure," because they were able to attend the Monday, Thursday and Sabbath services. They collected the offerings, looked after the poor, the widows and orphans, and aided the Rabbi in conducting the services. In large towns each Rabbi had twelve men to help him in the service. In Judea learned Rabbis had disciples usually to the number of twelve.
The worship of the synagogue and its liturgy was the same as that of the Temple, but not so elaborate. We w r ill not give the prayers here, as we will reserve them for the Temple service. When the candles had been lighted, with the prescribed prayers all stood with their faces to wards the Temple. The prayers varied according to the feast. The Five Books of Moses were read every Sabbath, at first a part of them being marked so that the whole would be read in three years, but it was later changed so they would be all read in one year or in fifty-two Sab baths. The writings of the Prophets were read as second Lessons in corresponding order, and they were followed by the Derash or sermon. As the reader read the text of Scripture, one stood by and translated it from the original Hebrew into the Aramean or Syro-Chaldaic, the vernacular of the people, in Christ's day.
Then followed a prayer like the preface of the Mass, ending with the " sanctus " or the triune " holy " of Isaias. They then said prayers for all the dead, for their departed friends, and asked God to give them everlasting rest. 7 The custom of praying for the dead comes down from the very origin of the human race, and has spread through all ancient religions. Even Mohammed in his last sickness went out into the cemetery, and remained there most of the night praying for the dead and the exposure hastened his death. The Khedive of Egypt goes every Friday to the Mosque to the left lead ing up to the citadel in Cairo, and spends some hours-praying for the repose of the souls of his two daughters. This question of praying for the dead has roused many disputes, but deep study shows how universal it was in ancient times.
1. Quoted in Sehurer, p. 442
2. Vitringa, De Synag., pp. 270, 271.
3 Gen. xxv. 27 ; Judges vi. 5. Isaias iv. 6.
4. Vitringa, p. 181.
5. Matt, xxiii. 6.
6. 1 Tim. iii 1-7.
7. See Smith s Dictionary of the Bible, Art, Synagogue ; Mach. xxii. 44 ; the
Jewish Prayer Book, Kaddish for the Dead, etc.