Synagogues in antiquity

International Conference on Jewish Places of Assembly and the Methods of their Exploration

© Gamla Synagogue, ca. 1st c. BCE – 1st c. CE, Dr. Anders Runesson; Vince Musi/The White House, wikipedia

An interdisciplinary conference of the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” of Münster University focuses on Jewish synagogues in the Hellenistic-Roman period and on the methods of their exploration. Archaeologists, theologians, Judaic scholars and ancient historians discuss the recent archaeological finds as well as new theories and research approaches on these religious meeting places “In the past 25 years, the number of synagogues excavated in Israel has greatly increased, in particular the early synagogues from Roman times,” Protestant theologian and Judaic scholar Prof. Dr. Lutz Doering explains. Together with the Protestant theologian Prof. Dr. Hermut Löhr and Dr. Andrew Krause from the Cluster of Excellence, he organised this conference. Resulting from the new finds, new questions arise in terms of the definition as well as function of synagogues. “The increase of data makes it necessary to look at the new finds in a critical way, whether they should be included into the typology of early synagogues and whether the definition could be refined on this basis. Another question is thought to be related to the transformations of the synagogue as institution, for example beyond the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 AD. The conference is also to reassess earlier reconstructions of the development of synagogues.

The event “Synagogues in the Hellenistic-Roman Period” takes place from 13 until 15 June in Münster. Speakers from Europe, Israel and North-America will take a look on some of the newer finds and new theories and methods in particular. “As archaeologists have continuously provided new data in form of material finds and their contexts, historians and philologists have moved on to using new and complex theoretical and methodological tools with which they examine historical data and literary sources,” Prof. Doering explains. Ancient texts are analysed and newly assessed by using comprehensive new methods from social science and literary studies what is thought to lead to a refined understanding of their significance. The scholars also want to examine the legal and political context as well as the functions of the synagogues during the conference.


“Research includes a wide range of subjects such as archaeology, ancient history, bible and religious research and is dedicated to the material and textual evidence up to the social history and the analysis of legal and political structures,” says Prof. Doering. This requires a regular exchange with various scholars in order to keep the knowledge in this field up-to-date and to understand the progress and the insights of the complementary disciplines.
In a public evening lecture on Tuesday, 13 June, archaeologist Prof. Dr. Zeev Weiss from the Archaeological Institute of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will speak on “The Synagogue in an Age of Transition, from the Second Temple Period to Roman Times: Recent Developments in Research”. The lecture will be held in English and takes place in the lecture hall building of the Cluster of Excellence, lecture hall JO 1, Johannisstraße 1 in Münster at 8 pm.

At the Cluster of Excellence, Prof. Dr. Lutz Doering heads the project C2-24 Integration and Diversification in the Judaism of Palestine during the Hellenistic-Early Roman Period (300 BCE–135 CE) in which Dr. Andrew Krause supports as a research assistant. Prof. Dr. Hermut Löhr has co-organised the conference within the scope of the project A2-10 “The Jewish Nomos between Normativity and Identity using the Example of Alexandria in the 1st-3rd Centuries A.D.” Since the summer semester, he is professor for the New Testament at the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Bonn. (ill/maz)


Tuesday, 13.06.2017
New Finds
09:30–10:15 The Debate over the Dating of the ‘Galilean’- type Synagogues: Khirbet Wadi Hamam as a Case-study
Uzi Leibner, Jerusalem
10:15–11:00 A 1st–2nd Century ‘Private’ Synagogue on the Top of Tel Rekhesh, Lower Galilee
Motti Aviam, Kinneret College
11:00–11:15 Coffee break
11:15–12:00 A Roman Era Synagogue at Khirbet Majdouliyah
Mechael Osband, Haifa
12:30–14:30 Lunch
Cultural Interactions and Influences in Diaspora Synagogues
14:30–15:15 The Rhetoric of Synagogue Space: Theoretical Considerations in the Study of Jewish Institutions in Literary Sources
Andrew Krause, Münster
15:15–16:00 Philo and the προσευχή: What Were They Doing in Second Temple Synagogues?
Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, Aberdeen
16:00–16:15 Coffee Break
16:15–17:00 In Search of the Peticha: The Torah, the Prophets, and the Scriptures in the Synagogue and Beyond
Hermut Löhr, Bonn
18:00–19:30 Dinner
Keynote Lecture
20:00–21:00 The Synagogue in an Age of Transition, from the Second Temple Period to Roman Times: Recent Developments in Research
Zeev Weiss, Jerusalem
Wednesday, 14.06.2017
New Interpretations of Synagogue Art and Architecture
09:15–10:00 The Synagogue at Migdal: Between Localised Practice and Reference to the Temple
Lutz Doering, Münster
10:00–10:45 Thinking of the Temple: Allusions to the Temple in the Decoration of Synagogues and Tombs of the Early Roman Period
Orit Peleg-Barkat, Jerusalem
10:50–11:35 ‘Dress Codes’ in the Murals of the Dura Europos Synagogue
Katrin Kogman-Appel, Münster
12:00–13:45 Lunch (Seminarraum IJD)
New Methods, New Theories
13:45–14:30 Rabbis, Non-rabbis and Synagogues: Theory and Reality
Ruth Langer, Boston
14:30–15:15 Prayer and the Second Temple Synagogue: Insights from the Dead Sea Scrolls
Daniel Falk, Penn State
15:30–15:45 Coffee Break
15:45–16:30 Meals in/and the Synagogue
Clemens Leonhard, Münster
16:30–17:15 Contextualizing the Magdala Stone: An Exercise in Liturgical Imagination
Judith Newman, Toronto
17:15–18:00 The Synagogue in Delos Revisited
Monika Trümper, Berlin
18:30–21:00 Social Programme and Dinner
Thursday, 15.06.2017
Legal and Political Contexts of the Early Synagogues
09:30–10:15 Jewish Organization in Roman Egypt
Kim Czajkowski, Edinburgh
10:15–11:00 Συναγωγή and προσευχή in Jewish and Non-Jewish Inscriptions
Markus Öhler, Wien
11:00–11:15 Coffee break
11:15–12:00 Synagogues as Associations: What Would it Mean?
Benedikt Eckhardt, Bremen
12:30–13:15 Concluding Discussion: Future Perspectives of the Study of Early Synagogues
13:15–14:30 Lunch