The Sabbath as a Day of Worship: The Evidence Prior to 200 CE

McKay, Heather Ann (1992) The Sabbath as a Day of Worship: The Evidence Prior to 200 CE. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis reports what may be known about the sabbath activities of Jews prior to 200 CE, using as sources the Hebrew Bible, Apocryphal and Deutero-canonical works, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the works of Philo and Josephus, the New Testament, the Mishnah and also Graeco-Roman texts from both secular and Christian backgrounds. Evidence from archaeological data, inscriptions and pap3nn is also presented. A crucial point made is that sabbath observance and sabbath worship are not synonymous, one denoting sabbath rest and inaction, and the other indicating a purposive, communal activity in which Jewish people address God, and do so particularly because it is the sabbath. The Hebrew Bible supplies no evidence of sabbath worship for ordinary worshippers, insisting only on sabbath rest. The texts do, however, indicate priestly activities in the Temple on the sabbath. Among the Apocryphal and Deutero-canonical works from the last two centuries BCE, Judith, Maccabees and Jubilees display more interest in the holiness of the sabbath, the writers viewing the sabbath as a holy entity that conditioned the behaviour of Jews. But they give no details of religious events on the sabbath, and other works from the same period, namely Tobit and Ben Sira, do not mention the sabbath at all. The Dead Sea Scrolls, from a similar date, come from a community that concentrated its life on the religious sphere and therefore contain more rigorous prescriptions for conduct on the sabbath. That community kept a religious year of numbered sabbaths on which particular songs were sung. The works of Philo and Josephus yield a picture of Jewish activities on sabbath and of Jewish worship assemblies on other days. The mood of the sabbath gatherings has less religious fervour than that revealed in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Instead, civil unrest and in-group disputations characterise the sabbath activities of the Jews in their prayer-houses. Study of the Law, political and philosophical discussions took place there on the sabbath, and the prayer-houses were also the locus for religious veneration of the Roman imperial house. As far as worship is concerned, Philo and Josephus refer to prayers on weekdays, but they describe neither sabbath worship services nor prayers on the sabbath. The only Jews described by Philo who did carry out communal worship activities were the Therapeutae (daily) and the Essenes (on sabbaths), particularly religious-minded groups of Jews in Alexandria. Josephus refers to sabbath worship only by reference to pre-70 CE sacrifice in the Temple. He refers to no current sabbath worship. Of crucial importance is the fact that the word synagogue has two meanings, the group of Jews who met together and organised the religious life of the community, and the building in which these groups met. Philo uses the term S3niagogue only once, when he refers to the Essenes' name for their sacred place. Josephus uses the word synagogue in similar contexts to prayer-house, but never uses both words of any one particular building. In the New Testament, synagogues are described as administering community justice, as well as initiating teaching, and on the sabbath providing the locus for the reading and expounding of the Law and, in the case of Luke's Jesus, also the prophet Isaiah. But no worship services are described. Jesus and Paul are likely to have attended sabbath gatherings, like those Philo and Josephus describe. But since gatherings that were liable to beat and expel Christians, such as are described or threatened in the gospels, cannot have happened in the lifetime of Jesus, awareness of the time gap between events and records and the resulting alteration of perspective, leads to a tempered interpretation of the New Testament data. The synagogues, whether groups or buildings, described in the Gospels and Acts are later than Philo, Jesus and Paul. The writings of Latin and Greek authors prior to 200 CE provide a useful background against which to read the religious texts. They know of sabbath as a day that is celebrated in the Jewish home, beginning with the Friday lamp-lighting and evening meal and they describe Jewish prayer-houses in Rome as buildings with courtyards, from the beginning of the second century CE. A comparison of that with Philo's description of many prayer-houses in Rome suggests a development in the number and size of the prayer-houses between about 40 CE and 130 CE. This gives an indication of change in the visibility of Jewish prayer-houses during the time range of the New Testament writings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Robert P Carroll
Keywords: Religious history, Judaic studies
Date of Award: 1992
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1992-76328
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 15:45
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 15:45

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