The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos And The Epistle Of James -- By: Gordon Franz

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 18:3 (Summer 2005)
Article: The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos And The Epistle Of James
Author: Gordon Franz

The Synagogue On The Island Of Delos
And The Epistle Of James

Gordon Franz


Sefar Ya’akov (book of James), written by Ya’akov Ben-Zavdai (James son of Zebedee), was addressed to Messianic Jews residing in the Diaspora, outside of Eretz Yis-rael (Land of Israel). This small epistle, only five chapters long, has a distinct Jewish flavor based on the teachings of Yeshua ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah).

I believe that James, the son of Zebedee, wrote this epistle soon after AD 30 as a follow-up letter to encourage Jewish believers in the Lord Jesus who had come to faith during the annual pilgrimage of Shavuot (Pentecost) in Jerusalem (Acts 2).

In the first century AD, there was a Jewish community living on the island of Delos in the Aegean Sea. This island, situated at the center of the Cyclades Islands, was famous in Greek mythology as the birthplace of the god Apollo and his sister, the goddess Artemis.

This article will give a brief overview of the history of the island, and will discuss the Jewish and Samaritan communities that resided on the island, as well as the synagogue that was discovered during archaeological excavations in 1912–1913. The recipients of the epistle of James would have been in such a synagogue in the Diaspora. I will use the Delos synagogue to illustrate several passages in the epistle. Using our “sanctified imagination,” we will try to comprehend how a Jewish believer in the Lord Jesus on the island of Delos would understand the word-pictures in the epistle in light of the first century AD history, geography, and material culture. The archaeology of the islands of Delos and Rheneia, an island near Delos, will help to illustrate the word-pictures.1

Map of Cyclades.

A Brief Geography and History of the Island of Delos

Delos is a small island in the center of the Cyclades. Pliny the Elder described the Cyclades as “lying round Delos in a circle which has given them their name.” He went on to state, “By far the most famous of the Cyclades and lying in the middle of them, Delos, celebrated for its temple of Apollo and for its commerce” (Natural History 2, 4.12: 65; LCL (= Loeb Classical Library) 165, 167).

The island is 3 mi (5 km) long in a north-south direction. At its widest, it is 0.8 mi (1.3 km) in an east-west direction. The highest mountain is Mt. Cynthus which rises 367 ft (112 m) above sea level. If one climbs to the top of Mt. Cynthus on a clear day, the islands of Syros can be viewed t...

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