August 29, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 11

After all our considerations thus far, we can start to put some things together.

The Synagogue community in Nazareth may have met in a home or a specially built meeting house, but they met every Sabbath for teaching and learning the Law and the Prophets and held gatherings for various other purposes during the week. Whether by paid tutor or volunteer Rabbis, they most likely held some morning sessions for instructing their children, which Jesus may not always have been able to attend because of his family responsibilities.

The Synagogue definitely had a set of scrolls, probably amounting to most if not all of the "Old Testament" and other "apocryphal" writings as well. Whatever scrolls Nazareth may have lacked, it is possible Jesus heard, saw or handled those when traveling Pharisees came through town, or perhaps in Sepphoris or Jerusalem. However, we should realize that when Jesus summed up "all the law and the prophets" he had mystical ways of being certain about such a statement, at that point in his life. So we do not need to presume Jesus had personally read every word in the complete cannon of scripture for his day. (Such a presumption should also be unnecessary for christian faith, in my humble opinion. But if you need to believe it, it's possible.)

It was Jesus' custom to attend Sabbath meetings where he heard readings from both Law and Prophets. At some point, whether on Sabbaths or week days, Jesus was trained in literacy and learned how to handle the scrolls, but hearing the words of God read aloud probably remained his most frequent interaction with them.

That last point deserves examination. Since we're pretty sure Jesus didn't have his own copy of the scriptures, and we have no grounds for concluding he was active in weekday education, is there any chance Jesus ever got significant "alone time" with the scriptures? At first glance, it does seem unlikely. The Nazarenes' shock at seeing him teach in 30 AD may not mean they had never seen him pursue learning, but it strongly suggests they had not known him as someone who pursued a deep knowledge of the scriptures with passion and vigor. So if Jesus had done so, we should most likely conclude his neighbors - somehow - never knew about it.

To be clear, I am not arguing that Jesus must have spent much alone time with the scriptures. I think we should be very satisfied to find that the Son of God spent time hearing the word, reflecting on it and discussing it privately with his Father. But just to cover all of our bases here... for all we know, it is very possible Jesus might have snuck into the Synagogue late at night, some nights, stealing nothing and doing no damage, but reading the scrolls. Would it really have been trespassing if the scrolls belonged to the entire community? Hmm. That sounds just like Him, actually, doesn't it?

Once again, we are really NOT trying to speculate on the specifics. We are merely considering the possibilities and - at the moment - strengthening the case that he had lots of chances to look at and handle the scriptures whether that happened in supervised group sessions or whether it took place in personal sessions, by some circumstances the rest of the Synagogue somehow knew nothing about. I honestly don't think we need to see Jesus pursuing the scrolls by himself, but we have to consider the facts. It is a fact that the scrolls were definitely somewhere in Nazareth, 24/7. They may or may not have been locked up, but it is a fact that they were on the premises at absolutely any moment he might have been able to access them.

In the final analysis, we have to say Jesus was familiar with the content of Nazareth's sacred scrolls and he was skilled in handling them. Somehow or another, that must have come from experience. I've run through the options. Decide for yourself which is most likely.

This series is getting very, very close to a conclusion.

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

2 comments:

Peter Kirk said...

I can't help being a little suspicious that you have reinvented the Nazareth synagogue to resemble a 21st century house church! ;-) But perhaps that is a good balance to people in past generations (including myself) who have assumed that it resembled a traditional denominational church.

Bill said...

Ha! :-)

Peter, I'm glad you said that. I wasn't really going for that. But maybe it did. I'll have to think about that some more.

In all honesty, up to now I've suspected it would be a lot closer to a small town country baptist church. A community can always express itself more personally in smaller congregations, no matter how they're organized.

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