Synagogue of the Freedmen

FREEDMEN, SYNAGOGUE OF THE (συναγωγή τω̂ν Λιβερτίνων). The term occurs in the NT in Acts 6:9. It refers to those who together with Cyrenians and Alexandrians and others opposed Stephen. They apparently opposed him on theological grounds, but were not able to withstand the wisdom by which he spoke.

To oppose Stephen they hired false witnesses who accused Stephen of speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.

As a result, a mob gathered and he was arrested and accused before the council. Their only accusation was that he said Jesus would destroy the Temple and change the customs of Moses.

It has never been fully established just who these men of the Libertines were and just where their synagogue was. It has been identified with Raymond Weill’s discovery of an inscr. of a synagogue in Jerusalem. This discovery in 1920 mentions the building of a synagogue by Theodatus, son of Vettenus, priest and chief of the synagogue. The name Vettenus obviously refers to the Rom. family of which he or his father was a slave. When the Jews were freed from their Rom. masters and returned to Jerusalem they became known as “freedmen.”

The above mentioned synagogue is the oldest archeological evidence of a synagogue in Pal. In Tacitus’ Annals II. 85, he recalls that Jews were expelled from Rome about a.d. 19.

Some believe the term should read not “Libertines” but “Libyans” and that they were Africans, but this is highly speculative and unnecessary.

Bibliography

W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of Palestine (1949), 172.