Prayer and Study of Torah

Daily Prayers were accompanied by the reciting of the Shema. While the Qumran community prayed three times a day, most Jews appear to have prayed twice a day.  These prayers were either at the time of the morning and evening sacrifice or at dawn and sundown at whatever location the person happened to be at (they did not have to go to the synagogue to pray.) Home was the primary place of worship for the Jew.  In addition to memorized prayers, individuals presented petitions to God for their own health and happiness.

The Synagogue at Gamla

The Synagogue at Gamla

The Eighteen Benedictions represent prayers used in public worship, although it is impossible to know for sure if they date to the pre-70 period. These prayers emphasize the attributes of God (his justice and mercy), his uniqueness, his willingness to forgive and to heal the sick as well as his control of the harvest. Sanders is doubtful first century Jews did any prayers (or hymns) in unison, but this cannot be certain since there is no evidence either way.

How often the average Jew studied the scripture is unclear.  This may refer to simply going to the synagogue and heard the scripture read (especially for the non-educated who would not be able to read.)  In addition, scrolls were expensive, only the incredibly wealthy would be able to own a scroll to study.

The Synagogue is of critical importance to the Jews of the first century.  While we do not know when the synagogue was first used, we do know of synagogues dating to the first century (in the town of Gamla and one in Masada and the Herodian, likely built by Zealots long after Herod’s time.) Often synagogues were built over the site of an older building, accounting for the lack of first century archaeological remains. The synagogue at Tiberias was large enough to hold a crowd gathered to discuss the impending war (Life 277, 280, 290-303). We know from the Bible that both Jesus and Paul taught in synagogues regularly.

Philo describes the synagogue meeting which took place on Sabbath: a priest or elder would read from the scripture and comment on the text while people listened, then anyone who was moved to comment would do so.  Usually they simply sat in silence and listened. Essenes were taught in the law every day, but more often on the Sabbath. The synagogue as designed with benches around the perimeter to encourage participation by all in attendance, as demonstrated in Mark 1:14-15, 6:1-5.

I am not sure Jesus challenges this institution of Second Temple Judaism. He is often described as participating in Synagogue discussions may have been asked on occasion to address the group as a teacher.  But it is possible Jesus does subvert the normal practice of gathering to study Scripture at a Synagogue in other ways, but teaching on hillsides or other locations.

7 thoughts on “Prayer and Study of Torah

  1. Perhaps Jesus wanted to encourage believers and unbelievers that learning does not just take place in the Synagogue, a type of being Christian on Sundays and living like humanity the rest of the week. That being said, Jesus did not discount the worship in the Synagogue, with He, Himself, teaching there on occasion. So I find it important to note that church, today, although different in form is still crucial to our growing in the faith. Like in the synagogue it is important to have church leaders to guide and teach those in the church (Strauss, 130). Teaching from God, can come in many forms and places though, think for a second of God speaking to us at camps, in the outdoors, in class, at work, etc. Jesus spoke to the multitudes of people, yet also took time to speak to His disciples, a smaller group of people. I want to hit on the importance of that small group teaching as I have found it to be in my own personal experience. Much can be missed in a large group session because of the lack of discussion, perhaps this is why Jesus emphasized discussions in the Synagogue teaching and small group teaching itself. An example of this smaller group teaching was in Matthew 24, where Jesus teaches his disciples privately on the Mount of Olives. When I consider learning from Jesus Christ, I think of a learning that takes place at any and all times through the power of the Holy Spirit. Any time can be a learning experience and as such we should see all of life’s circumstances as an opportunity to have God teach us more about Himself as a result more about ourselves.

  2. Scriptures speak of Jesus ministering in the synagogues. In Mark 6:1-5 it talks about in the town of Nazareth, Jesus’ own town and how the town people ran him away because they thought he was being arrogant. I think that scripture was studied in the synagogues for the non educated and the less wealthy since the scrolls were so expensive. I also agree that Jesus spoke to the multitudes and the small groups. The origin of the synagogue is uncertain but whenever ten Jewish males were present a synagogue could be formed (Strauss pg:129). There were fixed order of agreements including the Shema, prayer, reading from the law and the prophets, oral Targum, sermon and a benediction (Strauss pg: 129-130).
    I also agree that any time and any place the Holy Spirit is present there can be a learning experience.

  3. Jesus ministered in synagogues throughout is life on many different occasions. In Matthew 4:23 it says that Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. I think that the synagogue was a very important place or worship back in those times, but I also think that Jesus knew that the synagogues were not the only place where teaching, praying and worship should and could happen. This is applicable today, we need to know that worship, prayer, thanks and teaching can happen anywhere and anytime, not just Sundays, not just at church, it can be anywhere.

  4. Just as it is today, it was important for followers of God in the first century to spend time in prayer and studying Scripture. Those in the first century, however, did not have the same kind of 24/7 access to the Word that we do today, which made the construction of local synagogues necessary. While the temple was still certainly the center of Jewish religious activity for the sake of the sacrificial system, it was the synagogues that connected the average Jew to the study of Torah. The services performed at the synagogue do not sound unlike our contemporary church services, with a prescribed order for prayer, reading the Scriptures, a sermon, and a benediction. While scribes typically taught at the synagogue, Jesus also felt it valuable to teach there. “In the Gospels, Jesus’ dynamic teaching and personal authority are set in contrast to the scribes, who merely recited the traditions of the past” (Strauss, 130). I appreciated some of the comments illustrating parallels between the synagogue and the local church, bf we want to compare our local churches to the synagogues of first-century Judaism, we can’t limit the comparison to the order of service or the similarity in societal function. We should be wary that we don’t become guilty of teaching without authority or passion (Mark 1:22), but rather we should aspire to inspire believers and nonbelievers alike who hear our message. The same Spirit who empowered Jesus to preach and perform miracles lives in us, and we don’t have a message of a coming Messiah but a risen Savior! Our churches should therefore be all the more vibrant, passionate, and effective at reaching the world for Christ.

  5. Not only did Jesus teach on hillsides but he also taught not mattering where you worshiped. The women at the well asked him what mount was the true place to worship and Jesus basically tells her it doesn’t matter. Jesus knew it was more about the heart than where you do things. When he heals people he says your faith has made you well, not that you worshiped in the temple. Jesus was just threatening because he spoke the truth. It threatened the other teachers it also didn’t help that he flipped tables in the temple courts. Jesus was not about ruining the temple but rather about building the relationships with people on the outskirts of the temple.

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