A verse in the Gospel of Matthew has caused lots of problems. I don’t think Matthew gave it a second thought when he added it.
35 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. (Matthew 9:35 NASV)
But those opposed to Christianity have used this verse and other similar ones to discredit and even question Jesus’ ministry.
Because Matthew said Jesus had preached in the synagogues in the villages of Galilee and since no synagogues had been found in rural Galilee, it is argued they did not exist and the verse was a complete fabrication.
And since it also talked about Jesus healing every type of sickness and disease, this called into question Christ’s ministry.
But on August 9, 2016, the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology discovered a small rural synagogue dated to the second temple period confirming they did exist. This is the temple, built by King Herod, that Jesus visited and the one the Romans destroyed in 70 AD.
The archaeologists were excavating a Jewish agricultural estate in Tel Recheš in Galilee when they discovered a small building 29 feet long and 24 feet wide.
They know it was Jewish community because of the tell-tale lack of pig bones, commonly found in gentile villages.
Other indicators included the discovery of ritual baths and stone bowls. Under Jewish custom, a stone pot would not become impure when it came in contact with unclean things such as rodents. In contrast, vessels made of metal or wood would be affected.
The Old Testament stated that when items became unclean, the Jews had to ceremonially wash them to cleanse them of this impurity. The Bible does not give an exemption for stone vessels, but it was one added later by Jewish teachers in the Talmud., which was an ancient commentary interpreting the Old Testament Law.
The small building had carefully carved stone benches along the outer wall. This was a signature feature of ancient synagogues. It also had two large basalt altar stones that archaeologists suspect came from an abandoned pagan temple in the area built 1,500 years earlier.
When Jesus spoke at a synagogue (Luke 4:14-23), I always thought similar to a church He stood at the front and addressed the congregation. In fact, Jesus stood in the middle of the room and Jews sat around Him. The scrolls Jesus read from would have been on a table in the center of the room as well.
Speaking on behalf of the archeological team, Dr Motti Aviam said:
“This is the first synagogue of its kind in the Galilee villages. In Migdal, for example, there is a synagogue but that is a big city. Here we are talking about a magnificent agricultural area about four Dunam in size where buildings are decorated with frescoes and stucco articles.” [A dunam is an ancient Jewish measurement equal to 900 square meters in size.]
He added, “it confirms historical information we have about the New Testament, which says that Jesus preached at synagogues in Galilean villages.”
Aviam explained that since the nearest Synagogue was four kilometers away, according to the Talmud it was too far for Jews to visit on the Sabbath. As a result, the owner had built a synagogue to serve the dozens of Jewish people working on his large farm.
The Sabbath walking limitation would impact access to urban synagogues throughout rural Galilee. There are undoubtedly several other village synagogues yet undiscovered.
They are not easy to find. Archaeologists have been working off and on at the Tel Recheš site since the early 1900s and it took them over a century to discover this synagogue located just a few centimeters beneath the surface.
Archaeologists have discovered seven urban synagogues dated to the second temple period, which is the temple Jesus prophesied would be destroyed (Luke 21:5-6).
Evidence shows that synagogues were not used for worship but rather places to read and teach the Torah. As we look at the New Testament, Jesus regularly used synagogues during the early days of His ministry as a platform to teach about the Kingdom of God.
Several times throughout the Gospels, the Jews called Jesus a Rabbi or Teacher:
38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and *said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” (John 1:38 NASV see also Luke 7:40, Matthew 23:36, Luke 12:13, Matthew 19:16)
Because of this, the Lord had an open door to teach in the synagogues. It may suggest Jesus also had some type of recognized training.
- Ancient synagogue discovered in Galilee: Ynet.com
- Second Temple-era synagogue unearthed in northern Israel: Jerusalem Post
- Archaeologists in Israel Find Ancient Synagogue Predating Second Temple Ruin: Haaretz
- Archaeology discovery: First century synagogue confirms New Testament accounts of Jesus: Christian Post
- First Century synagogue remains prove Jesus walked the earth: Charisma News