7. The Role of the Synagogue in the Dissemination of Religious Knowledge: Jews and Christians in the Ancient Mediterranean World

The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity - Diana V. Edelman

Anders Runesson [+-]
University of Oslo
Anders Runesson, Ph.D. (Lund; 2001), Docent (approx. Dr Habil; 2002). Since 2015 Professor of New Testament University of Oslo. Previously Professor of Early Judaism and Early Christianity, McMaster University, Canada (2003–2015). Author and editor of nine books and over 50 articles in academic journals and edited volumes. Latest monograph: Anders Runesson, Divine Wrath and Salvation in Matthew: The Narrative World of the First Gospel, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2016 (2017 winner of the Frank W. Beare Award for an “outstanding book in the areas of Christian Origins, Post-Biblical Judaism and/or Graeco-Roman Religions.”). Other relevant books: The Origins of the Synagogue: A Socio-Historical Study, ConBNT 37. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 2001 (winner of the Biörnstjärnska Award, The Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities, Stockholm, Sweden, 2003; and the Westrupska Award, The Royal Academy of Humanities, Lund, Sweden, 2004); The Ancient Synagogue From its Origins to 200 c.e.: A Source Book. Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, Series 72. Leiden: Brill, 2008 (with Donald D. Binder and Birger Olsson).


The origin and nature of the institutions we call synagogues today provide us with important insights into how Jewish religious knowledge—as intertwined with the political—was disseminated in antiquity, and why. This paper argues that the two types of institution concealed behind English translations of the primary sources (the ancient material applies seventeen Greek, five Hebrew and three Latin words for what is translated into English as ‘Synagogue’) were key instruments for forming and maintaining Jewish religious, social, and political identities far beyond elite groups. Each type of institution did so, however, in different ways and with different aims and results. In both cases, though, the presence of diverse social strata, as well as of women, in such institutional contexts problematizes common understandings of the ancient world of who were involved in knowledge production. The results of the investigation have implications not only for the study of Judaism and Christianity, but also for how we understand the degree to which these traditions were integrated in Graeco-Roman society, and how they spread in non-Jewish settings.

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Runesson, Anders. 7. The Role of the Synagogue in the Dissemination of Religious Knowledge: Jews and Christians in the Ancient Mediterranean World. The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Nov 2021. ISBN 9781781798768. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=37996. Date accessed: 23 Jan 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.37996. Nov 2021

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