Margaret Williams on Jewish Inscriptions

I started The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume Three: The Early Roman Period.  I have three items from Margaret Williams’ essay in the book, “The contribution of Jewish inscriptions to the study of Judaism”.

1.  On page 82, Williams argues that a third century C.E. synagogal donor list establishes the existence of Godfearers, Gentiles who were associated with Judaism yet were not proselytes.  They are even given an official title, Theosebeis.  Williams appeals to this to respond to those who deny the existence of Godfearers.  I had a New Testament professor, for instance, who argued that they were invented by the author of Acts.

2.  On pages 84-85, Williams discusses the Theodotus inscription, which pertains to a first century C.E. synagogue in Jerusalem.  (Some, however, date the inscription a few centuries later.)  Williams states that the synagogues in Jerusalem before 70 C.E. were different from the houses of prayer in the Diaspora, for the synagogues in Jerusalem were houses of study, not prayer.  The Temple was the place of prayer.  After the Temple was destroyed, however, the Jerusalem synagogues became places of prayer as well.  Williams notes that there is no epigraphic evidence for Palestinian synagogues outside of Jerusalem before the third century C.E.  That is true, but I vaguely recall from the research I did for a paper on synagogues that there is a view that such Palestinian synagogues existed before the third century, on the basis of Josephus and also the format of the buildings (i.e., looking like meeting places, being orientated towards Jerusalem, etc.).  And, on pages 77-78, Williams says that the earliest evidence for Diaspora synagogues is third century B.C.E. Egyptian inscriptions, and that they were places of prayer, instruction, and business transaction.  This information is relevant to a post I wrote a few months ago (see here).

3.  On pages 90-91, Williams talks about how epigraphy illuminates different ancient Jewish beliefs regarding the afterlife.  For example, a first century ossuary inscription from Mount Scopus says that “No man can go up (from the grave), nor (can) El’azar and Sappirah.”  But even more inscriptions from Beth Shearim support a belief in the afterlife, for they say “May your lot be good”, or they refer to the resurrection or the immortality of the soul.

On page 84, Williams states that “In the third century [C.E.] in particular, burial in the ‘Holy Land’ became, largely for eschatological reasons, a desideratum of Diasporan Jews.”  For her, that accounts for the epitaphs in Beth Shearim (in Galilee) from “rich and pious Jews from Palmyra, Arabia, Antioch and the principle cities of the Phoenician coast…”

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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