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Book: The Use and Dissemination of Religious Knowledge in Antiquity

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

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.37996


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.

Chapter Contributors

  • Anders Runesson ( - arunesson) 'University of Oslo'