Andrew R. Krause, Synagogues in the Works of Flavius Josephus: Rhetoric, Spatiality, and First-Century Jewish Institutions (Brill, 2017).
Andrew Krause’s volume is the result of a doctoral dissertation, completed under the supervision of Anders Runesson and awarded by McMaster University. This welcome volume addresses a small but crucial question; “how does the synagogue function in the works of Josephus?” This question is of great importance as Josephus is a key source on how the synagogue operated in the 1st century CE. Scholars have sought to use Josephus as a source on these early synagogues, but Krause admonishes researchers to move beyond simply “data-mining” Josephus for facts about the synagogues and attempts to understand how the synagogue functioned as an ideological institution in Judaism post-70 CE. The work is divided into an introduction, four chapters and a conclusion, followed by a brief appendix.
In his introduction, Krause defines his question carefully, stating that he will consider all of Josephus’ possible allusions to synagogues, which he understands as a “fixed, institutional place of popular assembly for a given Jewish community” (p. 9). Krause does not distinguish between the different terms used by Josephus (such as proseuchē προσευχη “prayer-house,” ekklēsia εκκλησια “assembly,” synodos συνοδος “assembly,” topos τοπος “place,” or sabbateion σαββατειον “Sabbath-house”), and identifies them all as synagogues. Krause then provides a short overview on research of the early synagogue, following Runesson’s reconstruction of “polygenetic” synagogue origins (p. 15). This is followed by a short introduction to the scholarly literature on Josephus, assessing the historian as a reasonable guide to the ancient world but with his flaws. Krause finally introduces the reader to some spatial terminology which will be employed later in the book, drawing from Henri Lefebvre, Edward Soja and Michel Foucault. His analysis examines the role of the synagogue as a central, emerging institution following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple (p. 33).
The main body of the book is divided into four chapters, each devoted to one of Josephus’ known works. Chapter one covers Jewish Antiquities (Antiquitates judaicae) and is by far the largest of the chapters. Krause identifies the role of the synagogue in this work as an ideal institution which plays a role in the preservation of ancestral customs. This idealized form of what a synagogue should be is understood as a “Secondspace,” using the language of Soja (p. 36). In books 12 to 16 of Antiquities, “the synagogue constitutes a key locus of the Jewish practice of the ancestral customs” (p. 47). Its role is guaranteed in the list of Roman acta which Krause discusses in detail (Ant. 14.185–267, 305–322; 16.160–178). A test case for the synagogue functioning in Antiquities as an idealized institution can be found in the incident in the Dora synagogue (Ant. 19.300–311). Through this historical event, Josephus “illustrates the validity of his ideal portrait through recourse to the lived experience of the Jews of Dora” (p. 123).
The second chapter follows Krause’s rejoinder to examine Antiquities in combination with The Life (Vita) (pp. 42–43). In Life, Josephus discusses his own experiences in an idealized synagogue. Krause details the episode in the “prayer-house” of Tiberias, which shows a mixture of “actual” synagogue practice, and Josephus’ more pious actions therein. The details of the “civic governance aspect to the synagogue” suggest that Josephus’ account is likely a historically accurate representation of how synagogues in the first-century CE functioned. Josephus heightens the nature of the synagogue as a “sacred space” where people meet “on a sacred day” (p. 134). This portrayal serves two functions: firstly, Josephus is able to continue his representation of the synagogue as an idealized space, and secondly, Josephus presents himself as one who safeguards the space of the synagogue (p. 143) against the impiety of his opponents (p. 142).
Chapter three explores the role of the synagogue in Against Apion (Contra Apionem), where the primary purpose of the institution is to propagate the Law of Moses. Krause explores Apion’s presentation of the synagogue as a type of Egyptian prayer-house (Ag. Ap. 2.10–11). Josephus counters Apion’s account and upholds the ideal that the synagogue was a place of instruction (p. 158). The second passage discussed in detail is the praise of the synagogue in Apion 2.170–175. This passage further shows that a key, ideal function of the synagogue was to learn the law. Throughout this work, Josephus drew upon Roman concepts of moral virtuousness and the law as a proper constitution for citizens in order to present the synagogue as a worthy institution (p. 164).
The fourth chapter examines how the synagogue is presented in Jewish War (Bellum judaicum). Krause understands Josephus as using Roman conceptions to show to his audience the negative events of the war. Thus, in War, Josephus uses the term hiera (‘ιερά, “temple”) to rhetorically show the sanctity of the institution and the impiety of the rebels who attack the synagogues (p. 177, see War 4.407–408; 6.122; 7.143–144). Josephus had a rhetorical reason for calling the synagogue “holy places” or “temples” although “at no point does he actually describe or explain any holy characteristics” (p.180). Josephus names these synagogues “holy places” to incite his readers against his opponents. His use of the term “holy place” does not mean that synagogues were called “holy places” by Jews amongst themselves (p. 188).
Krause concludes his work by suggesting that some of the multiplicity of terms for the synagogue may be understood as rhetorical labels ascribed to the institution in order to support Josephus’ depiction of the synagogue in various situations (p. 194). However, some common features emerge from Josephus’ presentation: the reading of the law/other Jewish works; prayer; sacrifice; common meals; the collection of money (pp. 195–197). Returning to a spatial analysis, Krause points out that Josephus’ combination of both physical, historical synagogues and his idealized rhetoric about them form a synagogal Thirdspace (p. 202). Framing the literary presentation of the institution as a Thirdspace helps unpack some of the meaning that the synagogue held for both the ancient sources, and the communities that had synagogues.
Krause ends the work with a short appendix on Josephus’ references to the Essenes. This covers the hypothesis that identifies the Essenes with the Qumran community, and how Josephus presents the Essenes themselves. While the Essenes represent idealized Jewish virtue, “the later works of Josephus use many of the same traits of valor, legal knowledge, and unity for all Jews as they meet in synagogues” (p. 219).
This book is a valuable addition to scholarship on Josephus and 1st century synagogues, incorporating work on Josephus as a Greco-Roman-Jewish author, considerations for his writing intentions and how his thought developed over his career, while also addressing some of the scholarship on the early synagogue. Josephus is often used as a direct source for synagogue practices in its early developmental stage, and this work counters some of the oversimplifications that have been drawn from cursory readings of Josephus. Krause’s careful discussion of the relevant passages further shows the importance of the emerging synagogue in Judaism of the late 1st century CE.
Krause’s argument could have incorporated a spatial analysis more fully. Limiting the discussion to Soja’s reading of Lefebvre does not make full use of Lefebvre’s own work on how to engage with the production of space. Lefebvre provides many insights about how social space is constructed, analysing the forms, structures and functions of social spaces (Lefebvre 1991: 147). Analysing the synagogue as a “representational space” in Josephus’ work might help one think about how the institution connects with ideas of identity, community and religious practice. Soja further understands the “trialectics of spatiality” as the process of each of these spaces re-informing one another (Soja, 1996: 65). While Krause notes that Josephus’ presentation of the synagogue changes between his works and over time, this could be analysed from the perspective of the interaction between the three levels of space described by Soja, rather than solely a development in Josephus’ rhetorical aims. I would further disagree with Krause’s interpretation of Foucault’s heterotopia. Heterotopias are described by Foucault as spaces of crisis or deviation. The first of these can be used by an individual facing a crisis, while the second are liminal, borderline places. Heterotopias reflect the concerns of society but expose the illusory nature of that society, or else create a space of order against the messiness of culture (Foucault 1986: 24–27). I am unsure if the institution of the synagogue as described by Josephus qualifies as one of these liminal spaces. Krause frames the synagogue in Antiquities 1–11 as a heterotopia “which is meant to counter Roman control and dispersion, and to allow the practice of the Law and customs to take place in the local setting of a synagogue as the continuation of this earlier ideal congregation” (p. 90). The synagogue seems to function as a heterotopia only when framed against a wider Roman culture which is construed as primarily antagonistic to Judaism and Jewish practice. Krause draws upon Vitruvius’ criteria for the placement of a sacred site (such as being in the middle of the town or on high ground) and notes that the Caesarea Maritima synagogue did not fit these. Thus this building was “marginalized” (p. 185). The placement of the synagogue could have more to do with the availability of space, or the desire to be proximate to a particular area of the city, than with a symbolic and political isolation. Furthermore, Josephus already noted the rights of the Jews to assemble were given by the Romans themselves in the acta. The synagogue then is not a counter to Roman control, but is permitted by the Roman authorities themselves. The Romans generally further respected or ignored the synagogue, and it was principally Flaccus and Gaius who contravened this norm (See Philo, Against Flaccus 43, 53–56; On the Embassy to Gaius 148, 152–153, 311–316).
Aside from these concerns, Krause’s study provides a good insight into how the synagogue functions for Josephus. The strength of the work is in the attention to detail and the placement of the short “synagogue passages” within the context of Josephus’ writings. Krause analyses these passages as extensions of Josephus’ arguments. This nuance does not help scholars reconstruct detailed synagogue practices, but helps us understand an idea of what synagogues could mean for Jews of the first-century CE. The instances where Josephus mentions synagogues have often been used as direct evidence for actual practice, so Krause’s work serves as a reminder to read ancient sources on their own terms.
Foucault, Michel. 1986. “Of Other Spaces.” Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics 16.1: 22–27.
Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The Production of Space. Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Soja, Edward W. 1996. Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Cambridge, MA; Oxford: Blackwell.