“In Their Sanctuaries and Also in Their Synagogues”

Alan C. Miner

According to Cleon Skousen, the mention of "synagogue" (Alma 16:13) in the Book of Mormon is significant. The Nephite scriptures mention this word twenty-six times. For many years Bible scholars have quarreled over the antiquity of the synagogue. Some claimed it went back at least as far as Moses, but the majority felt it had its origin with Ezra (who compiled the Old Testament) around 450 B.C. (see Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, under "synagogue"). The Book of Mormon clearly demonstrates that the synagogue was an established institution among the Jews when Lehi departed from their midst in 600 B.C. This would antedate Ezra by 150 years. The word, "synagogue" has its origin in a Hebrew term meaning "place of assembly," "place of prayer," or "place of worship." It was here that the people came on the Sabbath day to pray, hear the scriptures read, and worship the Lord. The synagogue was used as a day-school during the week to teach the youth the commandments of God and the history of the people. It was a place for adult study as well and contained the local library of scriptural texts. It was the place where the leaders met the people in general assembly to instruct them. It was a town hall type of meeting place as well, and even political meetings or community planning meetings were held there. Such was the synagogue "built after the manner of the Jews." [W. Cleon Skousen, Treasures from the Book of Mormon, Vol. 2, pp. 2325-2326]

Note* What part did the Holy Ghost play in Mulekite synagogue worship? The receiving of the Gift of the Holy Ghost is a duty of the Melchizedek priesthood. Although the Israelites after Moses practiced baptism, the apostasy of the Israelites caused the Melchizedek priesthood to be taken away from all the people except for the prophets. If the Jews rejected the prophets, did the Holy Ghost play a big part in their synagogue worship? It is interesting to note that the mention of the word "synagogue" in the Book of Mormon is primarily found in a dissident "Jewish" (either Mulekite controlled or Zoramite controlled) setting. Does this imply a manner of worship lacking in the Holy Ghost? If inspiration and instruction can not be received and confirmed by the Gift of the Holy Ghost, is emphasis placed more heavily on oral tradition and written text? [Richard K. Miner, personal communication] [See the commentary on Mosiah 6:3]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary