Meditations from the Classics
Apuleius (124-170 AD)
Golden Ass 11
The custom of going into a temple or house of worship, standing at the pulpit and speaking sacred words, was an established practice in Biblical times. Paul often took the podium in synagogues where he traveled.
Jesus stood in the bema (a raised platform with a lectern), at the synagogue of Nazareth. He read from the Scriptures and then delivered his message. The people listened attentively but grew restless and eventually angry at His words. Then,
“… they rose up and cast Him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff” (Luke 4:29).
A similar custom was practiced in temples of the ancient world. Apuleius gave us this description of a day at a temple in Corinth:
“On arrival at the temple, the high priest, those who bore the divine figures, and those who had been admitted into the inner light of the cult, collected in the sanctuary of the goddess. First, they put back the breathing images into their right places: then a man (whom all entitled the scribe) took his stand in a high pulpit before the doors, and the Society of the Pastophori (such is the name of the sacred college) was convoked. The scribe thereupon read out of a book a set of patriotic prayers for the great Prince, the Senate, the Equestrian Order, the Roman people, and all sailors and ships which come under the jurisdiction of Rome. After that, he pronounced in the Greek tongue and manner the ‘Laois aphesis’. The people were then dismissed” (Golden Ass, 11).
I can’t help but notice the way the people left their service in contrast to the Lukan dismissal. When Jesus finished, the people escorted Him out to a cliff to dispose of Him. In other words, angry to excess.
But in the pagan temple service it was quite different:
“The shout that followed showed the popular approval of the day’s proceedings a; and the congregation began to file out, beaming with joy, carrying boughs of olives and other votive wreaths, and garlanded with flowers. As they left the precincts, they one and all stopped to kiss the feet of a silver image of the goddess that stood on the steps.”
Two readings from different pulpits.
Jesus preached the truth, and the congregation lynched Him. The other priest preached patriotism and the listeners responded with frenzied applause.
David R. Denny Ph.D.
1. Ancient synagogue: http://dsbiblecentre.org/index.py?lang=en&page=Showbible&index=00176
2. Temple in ancient Corinth: http://www.pics-about-space.com/temple-of-apollo?p=3#