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Notes on Revelation

'...to the angel of the church...
He that hath an ear...'


Of the Synagogues.

I. A synagogue was not formed anywhere but where there were ten learned men professedly students of the law. 1. Let that of the Talmud, be observed. "What is a great city? That in which were ten men of leisure. If there be less than this number, behold, it is a village." 2. Observe that of Maimonides; "Wheresoever there be ten of Israel, there a house must needs be built, to which they may resort to prayers in the time of prayer, and this house is called a synagogue." Not that any ten of Israel made a synagogue; but wheresoever were ten learned men, and studious of the law, these were called Batlanin, men of leisure; "who were not to be esteemed for lazy and idle persons, but such who," not being encumbered with worldly things, "were at leisure only to take care of the affairs of the synagogues, and to give themselves to the study of the law."

The reason of the number of ten, though lean and empty enough, is given in the Talmud: and it is this; A congregation consists of ten: which they prove hence, because it is said, "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation, &c. (Num 14:27). Take away Joshua and Caleb, and there remain only ten"; namely, of the spies of the land.

II. Of these ten men:

1. Three bear the magistracy, and were called The bench of three: whose office it was to decide the differences arising between the members of the synagogue, and to take care about other matters of the synagogue. These judged concerning money-matters, thefts, losses, restitutions, ravishing a virgin, of a man enticing a virgin, of the admission of proselytes, laying on of hands, and divers other things, of which see the tract Sanhedrim. These were properly, and with good reason, called rulers of the synagogue, because on them laid the chief care of things, and the chief power.

2. Besides these there was 'the public minister of the synagogue,' who prayed publicly, and took care about the reading of the law, and sometimes preached, if there were not some other to discharge this office. This person was called the angel of the church, and the Chazan or bishop of the congregation. The Aruch gives the reason of the name: "The Chazan (saith he) is the angel of the church (or the public minister), and the Targum renders...one that oversees; for it is incumbent on him to oversee how the reader reads, and whom he may call out to read in the law." The public minister of the synagogue himself read not the law publicly; but, every sabbath, he called out seven of the synagogue (on other days, fewer) whom he judged fit to read. He stood by him that read, with great care observing that he read nothing either falsely or improperly; and calling him back and correcting him if he had failed in any thing. And hence he was called..overseer. Certainly the signification of the word bishop, and angel of the church, had been determined with less noise, if recourse had been made to the proper fountains, and men had not vainly disputed about the signification of words, taken I know not whence. The service and worship of the Temple being abolished, as being ceremonial, God transplanted the worship and public adoration of God used in the synagogues, which was moral, into the Christian church; to wit, the public ministry, public prayers, reading God's word, and preaching, &c. Hence the names of the ministers of the Gospel were the very same, the angel of the church, and the bishop; which belonged to the ministers in the synagogues.

3. There were also three deacons, or almoners, on whom was the care of the poor; and these were called Parnasin, or Pastors. And these seven perhaps were reputed the seven good men of the city; of whom there is frequent remembrance in the Talmudists...

4. We may reckon the eighth man of these ten to be the...the interpreter in the synagogue; who, being skilled in the tongues, and standing by him that read in the law, rendered in the mother-tongue, verse by verse, those things that were read out of the Hebrew text. The duty of this interpreter, and the rules of his duty, you may read at large in the Talmud...

5. We do not readily know whom to name for the ninth and tenth of this last three. Let us suppose them to be the master of the divinity-school, and his interpreter: of whom we shall have a fuller occasion of inquiry. And thus much concerning the head of the synagogue, that learned Decemivirate, which was also the representative body of the synagogue...

VI. When they were met together in the synagogue on the sabbath-day (for this being observed, there is no need to speak any thing of the other days), the service being begun, the minister of the church calls out seven, whomsoever he pleases to call out, to read the law in their order. First, a priest, then a Levite, if they were present; and after these five Israelites. Hence it is, O young student in Hebrew learning, that in some editions of the Hebrew Bible you see marked in the margin of the Pentateuch, 1. The priest. 2. The Levite. 3. The third. 4. The fourth. 5. The fifth. 6. The sixth. 7. The seventh:--denoting by these words the order of the readers, and measuring out hereby the portion read by each one. Thus, I suppose, Christ was called out by the angel of the church of Nazareth, Luke 4:16, and reading according to the custom as a member of that synagogue.

There is no need to mention that prayers were made publicly by the angel of the church for the whole congregation, and that the congregation answered Amen to every prayer: and it would be too much particularly to enumerate what those prayers were, and to recite them. It is known enough to all that prayers, and reading of the law and the prophets, was the chief business in the synagogue, and that both were under the care of the angel of the synagogue...

Service being done in the synagogue, they went to dinner. And after dinner to the school, or the church, or a lecture of divinity; call it by what name you will. It is called also not seldom by the Talmudists and The synagogue. In this sense, it may be, is the upper synagogue to be taken, mentioned in the Talmud; if it be not to be taken of the Sanhedrim. In this place a doctor read to his auditors some traditional matter, and expounded it. In the Beth Midrash they taught traditions, and their exposition.

There are three things to be taken notice of concerning the rites used in this place.

I. He that read to the auditors speak not out with an audible voice, but muttered it with a small whisper in somebody's ear; and he pronounced it aloud to all the people. So that here the doctor had his interpreter in this sense, as well as the reader of the law his in the synagogue. "Rabh went to the place of R. Shilla, and there was no interpreter to stand by R. Shilla; Rabh therefore stood by him." Where the Gloss hath these words, "He had no speaker, that is, he had no interpreter present, who stood before the doctor when he was reading the lecture. And the doctor whispered him in the ear in Hebrew, and he rendered it in the mother-tongue to the people." Hither that of our Saviour hath respect, Matthew 10:27; "What ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the house-tops." Consult the same place...

(Exercitations upon St. Matthew, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, John Lightfoot, 1658)


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