The Worship Of The Synagogue
It was customary to have service in the synagogues on Sabbaths, feast-days, on Monday and Thursday of every week when the country people came to market, and also when the local Sanhedrim sat for the adjudication of minor causes.
At the week-day services only three people were called up to read in the law; there were four called up on new moon’s day and on the intermediate days of a festive week; there were five called up on festive days, and a section from the prophets was also read; on the Day of Atonement there were six readers.
Even minors were allowed to read. The section that described the sin of Reuben, and the one that gave a second account of the sin of the golden calf, were read, but not interpreted. The sections that recounted the priestly blessing and the sin of David and Amnon, were neither read nor interpreted.
The reading of the law was followed by a lesson from the prophets. In the present time, the lessons are selected so as to suit the sections from the law appointed for the day. This arrangement has been traced to the time of the Syrian persecutions, when all copies of the law were sought for and destroyed. It was at this time that the Jewish authorities were supposed to have selected portions from the prophets to replace those from the law which might not be produced in public.
It is evident, though, that if these persecuting measures had been rigidly enforced, the sacred rolls of the prophets would not have escaped destruction any more than those of the law. Besides, it is quite certain that a lectionary of the prophets that we have presently in use did not exist at the time of Jesus, or even when the Mishnah writings were collected.
There was considerable liberty that seems to have been left to individuals. According to the Megillah, when one read from the prophets, it was lawful to pass over one or more verses provided that there was not a pause between the reading and translation. The translator was called a “meturgeman”, and was employed to translate after every three verses.
The reading of the prophets was often followed by a sermon, or address, and then the service was concluded. The preacher was called “darshan”, and his address a “derashah” (sermon).
When the address was a learned theological discussion, such as in academies, it was not delivered to the people directly. It was whispered into the ear of an “amora”, or speaker, who explained to the multitude in popular language the weighty sayings which the Rabbi had briefly communicated to him.
A more popular sermon was called a “meamar”, which was literally a speech or talk. These addresses would be either Rabbinical expositions of Scripture, or just doctrinal discussions, where an appeal would be made to the authority of certain great teachers to see what they thought about the matter.
It was laid down as a principle that “every one is bound to teach in the very language of his teacher.”
Because of this, we can understand in some measure the deep impression which the words of Jesus produced even on the people who were uninfluenced by them. The things that He addressed were far deeper than they had ever heard of, or even conceived possible.
The things that Jesus said must have opened a whole new world of thought and hope for the people that heard them. It is no wonder that even in the terrible city of Capernaum that “all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth;”
The very Temple Guards who had been sent to take Him prisoner just stood in awe because they had never heard an ordinary man speak as Jesus did.
The form of Jesus’ teaching was also extremely different from the constant appeal of the Rabbis to be sure to obey every law or suffer condemnation. This teaching was so fresh and wonderful that it seemed like a breath of fresh air compared to all the terrible traditions and laws that the people had been weighted down with.
The people stood in awe of His teaching, “for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7: 28-29)
The people must have flocked to hear Jesus in the synagogue, and it is no wonder that the scribes and Pharisees of the day felt that the tremendous power they had achieved over the years might be totally undermined. It is easy to understand that their fear of losing power demanded that they come up with a plan to get rid of Jesus once and for all. Then they would once again have the power that they so craved and enjoyed.