The Ancient Synagogue

The First Thousand Years

Lee I. Levine

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The synagogue was one of the most central and revolutionary institutions of ancient Judaism, leaving an indelible mark on Christianity and Islam as well. This commanding book provides an in-depth and comprehensive history of the synagogue from the Hellenistic period to the end of late antiquity.

Drawing exhaustively on archeological evidence and on such literary sources as rabbinic material, the New Testament, Jewish writings of the Second Temple period, and Christian and pagan works, Lee Levine traces the development of the synagogue from what was essentially a communal institution to one which came to embody a distinctively religious profile. Exploring its history in the Greco-Roman and Byzantine periods in both Palestine and the Diaspora, he describes the synagogue’s basic features: its physical remains; its role in the community; its leadership; the roles of rabbis, Patriarchs, women, and priests in its operation; its liturgy; and its art. What emerges is a fascinating mosaic of a dynamic institution that succeeded in integrating patterns of social and religious behavior from the contemporary non-Jewish society while maintaining a distinctively Jewish character.

Lee I. Levine is professor of Jewish history and classical archaeology at the Hebrew University.

"This handsome volume will be the standard work on the ancient synagogue for a long time to come. Lee Levine. . . has provided us with the single best survey of all relevant historical, archaeological, architectural, and institutional issues related to one of the oldest surviving institutions of the world. His declared aim of integrating the data of all relevant fields—literary and epigraphical methodological advances, study of Jewish liturgy, new finds, history of research—'into a comprehensive account of this pivotal Jewish institution as a whole over a thousand-year period’ [p. 16] has been achieved. . . . We owe the author a debt of gratitude for the wealth of detailed information and for the masterful integration of diverse details and developments."—Eckhard J. Schnabel, Trinity Journal

"This comprehensive and often compelling book should be put in the hands of everyone with an interest in Jewish or Christian history. It will be the standard reference work on the story of the synagogue’s first millennium."—A. Thomas Kraabel, Luther College

"Top-rung scholarship that is at the same time easily readable. No other scholar controls both the extensive archaeological materials and the vast rabbinic and other ancient literature as Lee Levine does. This book could only have been written by him"—Hershel Shanks, Editor, Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review and author of Judaism in Stone: The Archaeology of Ancient Synagogues

“Top-rung scholarship that is at the same time easily readable. No other scholar controls both the extensive archaeological materials and the vast rabbinic and other ancient literature as Lee Levine does. This book could only have been written by him.”—Hershel Shanks, editor, Biblical Archaeology Review and Bible Review

“Levine has produced a massive and scholarly study of the evolving role of the synagogue, from the Hellenistic period to late antiquity. . . . A true feast of learning. An informed lay reader with interest in archaeology and religion will appreciate this tome and will, at the very least, dip into certain chapters and topics.”—Library Journal

“This book is a must for every university, synagogue library, Jewish scholar—and lay person. Its reading requires a deep investment of time and energy but the rewards are commensurately great.”—Arnold Ages, Indiana Jewish Post and Opinion

“[This] comprehensive study of encyclopedic proportions integrates the latest research in the fields of archeology, architecture, liturgy, and even Jewish magic.”—Francie Schwartz, New Jewish Books

“Few scholars are better qualified or better placed than Lee I. Levine of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to undertake the mammoth task of providing a comprehensive synthesis of the first millennium of the synagogue. . . . A brief review can hardly begin to convey the vast erudition that Levine has marshaled. . . . [A] magnificent achievement.”—Hagith Sivan, History: Reviews of New Books

“[This] is not a book for the casual reader, but it belongs on your pastor’s or rabbi’s bookshelf (why not give it as a gift of encouragement) and on your nightstand, if as a Christian or a Jew you want to understand more about the roots of your faith.”—John Wilson,

“Levine’s book will long be used as an introduction to the early synagogue. General readers and upper-division undergraduates through faculty.”—Choice

The Ancient Synagogue is a splendid and imposing achievement that crowns the career of an outstanding scholar.”—Morton I. Techer, Jerusalem Post

“The present monumental volume synthesizes and updates Levine’s diverse research, bringing into a single, convenient place his overall contribution to the discussion of this crucial Judaic institution. . . . Both students and scholars will routinely consult it for guidance on all the major problems of the history and social function of the synagogue in the diverse Judaisms of Late Antiquity.”—Martin S. Jaffee, Religious Studies Review

“The volume will undoubtedly remain for a long time the leading work of reference in the field.”—Stefan C. Reif, Times Literary Supplement

“[A] splendid book.”—Stephen Gabriel Rosenberg, School of Oriental and African Studies

“It’s not hard to predict that Levine’s work will become the standard work on the ancient synagogue.”—Shabbat Shalom

“His book will be a standard work for many years.”—Hannelore Kunzl, Classical World

The Ancient Synagogue is a masterpiece of erudition and will no doubt become a standard reference tool on this unique and complex religious and social institution.”—John S. Kloppenborg Verbin, Toronto Journal of Theology

“Levine’s book is a necessary read for any serious student of Judaism or Christianity in Late Antiquity. It does not provide the last word on ancient synagogues, but it will certainly act as the foundation for all future work in the area.”—Christopher Beall, Journal of Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780300074758
Publication Date: February 9, 2000
768 pages, 7 x 10
98 b/w illus.
Visual Judaism in Late Antiquity

Historical Contexts of Jewish Art

Lee I. Levine

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