Jewish group, the Pharisees.22 These activities required no special architecture. A member of the group who owned a home hosted the gathering in the public rooms of the house, either the reception room or dining room or both (cf. Rom 16:5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col 4:15; and Philem 2).23 As the community grew, the house could be renovated or even built over to accommodate a larger gathering or a more formal meeting. The church built into Peter's house at Capernaum is such a place. In the beginning, however, Paul and other apostles also taught in the synagogue and, when that became more and more difficult, they found other accommodating spaces, such as a local lecture hall (cf. Acts 9:20, 13:5, 14-43; 19:8-9). Examination ofthe churches of San Clemente or Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Rome indicates that other functional and available structures may have been used and renovated, such as rooms in apartment blocks (insulae), former shops or warehouses.24 While these spaces lacked distinguishing characteristics that would identify them as Christian gathering spaces, they were not hiding places. By the end of the third century, some may even have been impressive in size and design, and well known to the Roman authorities who were able to seize or destroy them.25
Synagogues, like those mentioned in the New Testament, were places where members of the community would gather for communal scripture reading and study (probably not prayer). Synagogues seem to have emerged in the diaspora, as an alternative to the temple, but after the temple's destruction (70 ce) they began to be central to Jewish religious and social life. Yet, even second-century synagogues were probably still rather modest and, like early Christian spaces, often started as renovated houses. Thus, the development of synagogue architecture parallels Christian church building rather than serving as a model for it.26 By the middle of the third century, however, synagogues could be found throughout the Roman empire, and some of them were relatively large and imposing. The synagogue at Dura Europos, converted from a domestic structure in the mid-third century, had a main hall that was approximately 14 x 9 metres in size, elaborately decorated with wall paintings and furnished with a Torah shrine on its western wall. Its counterpart, the Christian house church (fig. 6, above, p. 144), was comparable in size, and probably was decorated by the same artisans.27
22 White, Social origins of Christian architecture, vol. 1, 103.
23 Osiek and Balch, Families in the New Testament world, 193-212; Snyder, Ante pacem, 128-36.
24 Krautheimer, Early Christian and Byzantine architecture, 28-30.
26 Rutgers, 'Diaspora synagogues', 92-5. See alsopt 1, ch. 2, above; Levine, Ancient synagogues revealed.
27 Jensen, 'Dura Europos synagogue',184-7.
Was this article helpful?