Friends, I have tried & failed to find really firm documented evidence of 2nd temple period Liturgy used either in Temple services or among the Judean or extra-Judean synagogues. What I find instead, even within seminary works, is repetition of assumptions mixed with pre-2nd Temple scriptures or extra-canonical writings.

Can someone point me to any hard evidence of form or substance of the Liturgies in use from the time of Ezra to the destructions of 70ad and 130ad? I do understand that the very notion of any widely accepted synagogue “Liturgy” is controversial but surely Temple proceedings were orderly.

Links and bibliographical references are so welcome!


At this point [February 1 2018] it appears we won't answer this, which is about the same stopover that scholarship has take on the topic up to this point, in my observation.

Since posting this I have read a number of Margaret Barker's works and listened to her lectures/presentations for hours - some of them 3 or 4 times to make sure I captured what she is saying. Why Barker? Because she at least acknowledges the importance of trying to connect Temple Liturgical practices to the early/primitive Christian movement's own practices. Though the outtakes or bullet points of some of her work seem to point in that direction, real source/evidence of linkage or Christian "borrowing" of such practices, to be incorporated into Eucharistic Liturgy, is lacking. I still have a couple of questions outstanding to her and I am hopeful she will respond when she can. I will update this if so. Virtually all of her works except for videos/audios are referenced, and some articles available, can be found at her site: http://www.margaretbarker.com/ https://www.amazon.com/Margaret-Barker/e/B001IQWG34

I have also consulted the works of Paul F. Bradshaw https://www.amazon.com/Paul-F.-Bradshaw/e/B001IQW9E0/ and will be spending a lot of hours reading more of his. But directly pertinent to my question posted here, Dr. Bradshaw guardedly [my word] indicates that evidence is not found of early Christian borrowing from Judaic practices for purposes of codifying a set Eucharistic Liturgy. Dr. Bradshaw suggests what we have in primitive days is the Didache, possibly the early forms of East Syrian Eucharistic prayers, prayers referenced in Book 7 of Apostolic Constitutions, possible primitive form of the Sanctus, and nothing else. If any of you have sourced reference to ANY other primary, primitive evidence pre-dating c.3rd Century AD, pls post.

Here is an example of the maddening nature of the void, found in the Wiki for the East Syrian Rite, which supposedly incorporates early East Syrian Eucharistic prayers of antiquity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Syrian_Rite#History Quote from the section "History", first sentence: "The Chaldean rite originally grew out of the Jerusalem–Antioch liturgy". There is no footnote, no reference. The other date references in the paragraph leap to the 4th century and later. There is no sourced evidence of borrowing from Jewish sources [Temple or synagogal].

The partial response re tefillin given below is good guidance on the topic of the Daily Hours/Canonical Hours/Opus Dei/ observances but has nothing to do with Eucharistic Liturgy so far as any extant study might show. "The Hours" is an important topic and in that study there is good linkage, it seems, quite directly to the Jewish Daily Prayers. Good topic for another post another time. Dr. Bradshaw, btw, has done awesome work on that topic which I am pursuing. For those interested, Dr. Bradshaw also recommends Stefan C. Reif’s book, Judaism and Hebrew Prayer, Cambridge University Press 1993 for a scholarly look at the origins of synagogue prayer and essays by Reif and by Richard Sarason in Liturgical Perspectives: Prayer and Poetry in Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. Esther G. Chazon (Leiden: Brill, 2003)

There is no evidence that I can find that there even WAS a common worship form to Sabbath Synagogue meetings. There does seem to be an order/protocol. We have some great study done on the Synagogue emergence, very much of the scholarly work being fairly recent history, thanks to archaeological findings that ignited the area of interest. But no one has shown that the Sabbath meetings [which were not specified in the Law, BTW] had a commonly-accepted Liturgical [cap L] form. Little l, maybe so; cap L, no. Remember that the term 'liturgy' is derived from Athenian community service work usually taken on as noblesse oblige by those of higher social status. Religious adaptation of the term includes all the gods, not just one or two.

Dr. Bradshaw's Liturgy work points out what other scholarly work triangulates, that Liturgy is largely a product of the Nicene era, not owing its form to Judaic practices. To me, that truth needs to form into a Conclusion to be written about PLAINLY. Instead we still have the echo-chamber effect of "liturgical forms copied over from Jewish practices". Having said that, Margaret Barker would seem to have the most keen interest in hammering out an evidence-based case for Christian Liturgy indebted to TEMPLE forms, specifically 1st/Solomon's Temple praxis. She may do so yet, but the case she set forth to this point is speculative and rather controversial. Jesus's inner-circle had no "Liturgy" to pass along to the downstream Christian movement. The highly-ritualized regimented forms of the old "liturgical faiths" is largely found rooted not in 1st century CE Apostolic or Jewish praxis but was a 'professional clerical' effort solidifying in the era of Emperor-supported Christianity.

  • Richard7, welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing this intriguing question here! I hope you get useful answers.
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 15:10
  • @Richard7 Would you consider accepting my answer to close this question? Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 9:19
  • I prefer not, until I post a response based on my own study since posting here. It is an important topic on which casual consensus appears to be simply wrong
    – Richard7
    Commented Jan 12, 2018 at 12:33
  • 1
    It's just a small piece. but one of the most ancient parts of the liturgy was the first line of Psalms 118/136, usually translated along the lines of "Give thanks to HaShem, for He is good, for His mercy/lovingkindness endures forever". It is directly stated as being said in I Chronicles 16:34, as part of David's prayer, and also in II Chronicles 7:3, when the people saw the fire and cloud and prostrated themselves after Solomon's prayer. Jeremiah even quotes it in 33:11 as part of the promise of the Restoration, so it must have been a common part of the First Temple liturgy.
    – Gary
    Commented Feb 9, 2018 at 23:08

3 Answers 3


I assume that you don't refer to the description of sacrificies, because it is written in detail in the Oral Law at many places. However, there is an interesting paper, What Did They Bless? A Study of Mishnah Tamid 5.1 by Reuven Hammer that can give you a good starting point. It gives you an overview about the prayers they said during the services in the Temple. After this you should read the commentary of that mishna.

  • Correct, I do not. If I can, let me use Kavi's answer as a chance to re-state and refine the question: Can I be pointed to any hard evidence of Liturgy [or liturgy] in use either at Temple or in Assembly in Synagogues [throughout the Jewish territory not just Judea] prior to the destructions of 70 CE and 130's CE? By "hard" I mean sources-uncovered - "sourced" to put another way.
    – Richard7
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 22:18
  • I am working on the issue and have collected a few worthy articles and book suggestions, though, again, finding scholars admitting that evidence of identifiable "Liturgy" is sparse at this point. Lots of hints however.
    – Richard7
    Commented Nov 28, 2017 at 22:31
  • @Richard7 It's hard to find archeological evidence that can help us to reconstruct the liturgy. There's one nice example of the Dura Europos synagogue, but we still don't really know what did they precisely do there. Usually fragments of inscriptions are unearthed, which are really small pieces of the puzzle. I would give a try also to Josephus Flavius, he might have written about this. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dura-Europos_synagogue Commented Nov 29, 2017 at 9:21
  • This may be mission creep but if one of you knows: is there an accepted “oldest documented” orthodox Jewish liturgy? Would at least be useful as a touchpoint. Concerning my original question I’ve written to one of the top scholars in the field. Hoping for direction
    – Richard7
    Commented Dec 1, 2017 at 15:06
  • @Richard7 Amram and Saadia gaon's siddurim are the first known manuscripts, but they are from a much later period, and in the copies it's quite hard to identify the original parts. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 17:33

There are several parts of the modern liturgy (in the commonly used siddur) that are attributed to the Men of the Great Assembly (אנשי כנסת הגדולה), at the beginning of the Second Sanctuary era. Many of these are referenced in the Mishna and the Gemara (Talmud), often in passing or by mere reference, implying that the actual text was well known. Most passages have been emended through the years, so the exact original form is difficult (or impossible) to ascertain.

  • Baruch She'amar (ברוך שאמר) is attributed to a "note that fell from Heaven" (possibly a reference to a minor form of prophesy) during this time period. The number of words is significant (87), so it is likely to have changed very little.
  • The recitation of Hodu (הודו, from Chronicles, and similar to Psalms 105 and 96) is a custom that goes back to King David's time, when he was hoping to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. The custom continued afterwards, as well.
  • Nishmas (נשמת, also known as Hallel Hagadol) is (according to some) attributed to Shimon ben Shatach, from the late Hasmonean period. It is mentioned as also being recited as part of the Passover seder.
  • Yishtabach (ישתבח) is attributed to Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon), whose name is in acrostic form in the four following words.
  • The ברכות קריאת שמע (Blessings for the Shema) are mentioned in the Mishna Brachos 1:4, and only their number and form are given. The essential form of the blessings would be the same as today, and even the wording would be largely similar (though even today, there are variations among different communities). The beginning is based on Isaiah 45:7; I believe the change from "ובורא רע" to "ובורא את הכל" ("... and creates evil" to "... creates everything") is mentioned in the Gemara, but I could be wrong. The ending of גאל ישראל ("Who has redeemed Israel") is cited as being immediately before the Amidah prayer (Shemonah Esray), with nothing intervening.
  • The form of the Amidah prayer is attributed to the Great Assembly, in Megilla: The number of blessings, their content and order. (The rationale for the order is attributed to later sages, having been forgotten. An extra blessing was also authored in Yavneh.)
  • Aleinu Leshabeach (עלנו לשבח) is attributed to Joshua upon the conquest of Jericho, and (V')Al Kein Nekaveh (על כן נקוה) is attributed to Achan after being discovered; both contain acrostics to their respective authors. However, I don't know when it became part of the liturgy.
  • Grace after Meals (ברכת המזון) is attributed to Moses, Joshua, and Solomon, but the text has obviously changed since. The gist of the blessings is the same, though, and some of the original wording may survive as part of the modern variants. (The last blessing was composed some 15 years after the Bar Kochba revolt.)
  • I've seen the claim that most blessings commonly recited today are also attributable to the Great Assembly, specifically those mentioned in the Talmud.
  • The triweekly public reading of the Torah goes back in part to Moses, and in part to Ezra. The specific portions read each week were not formalized until later.

I don't have direct sources which parts of the above were used in the liturgy during the Second Sanctuary era. The most I can point to is the Mishna Tamid that mentions the Shema with (and without) its blessings being recited at a certain point in the daily sacrifice routine. Those blessings would essentially be the same ones recited today (as above).

I don't know anything about the various Christian liturgies, but I think it is unlikely that there exists any similarities between the Christian liturgies and the Jewish siddur. Except for the recitation of Psalms, and even these, the connection between particular Psalm and specific occasions is likely to be tenuous.

(I have not cited exact sources. I'd appreciate the community's help in improving the answer.)

  • Bradshaw subtitles Origins of Christian Worship: "Sources and Methods for Study...". In the Preface he states "it became clear to me that those engaged in the study of Christian liturgical origins were in general unaware of recent developments in Jewish liturgical study which had profound consequences...". His work is masterful in the disciplined approach to nailing down real sources, in their real context [not downstream summaries]. The 1st Chapter is an Intense drill on Jewish Background of Christian Worship, surgically separating conjecture from Sources. You would benefit from it.
    – Richard7
    Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 12:22

A year or more ago, I had said here and concluded that no answers were suggested in this forum but I had a number of directives elsewhere and would study the matter more. So, answering my own question: 1. The question is ill-informed and better rephrased: "Can someone point me to hard evidence?" - the answer is yes and no: YES, Dr Paul F. Bradshaw and others can point to "evidence" 2. The evidence suggests that there is NO LINKAGE to be proven, only circumstantially inferred.

It cannot be concluded on hard evidence that 2nd Temple Jewish "Liturgical forms" such as they may have been, directly informed any of the nascent Christian Church's liturgical forms.

I highly recommend these two books by Bradshaw to anyone serious about getting the facts on this subject: 1 The Search of The Origins Of Christian Worship https://www.amazon.com/Search-Origins-Christian-Worship-Sources/dp/0195217322 2 Daily Prayer https://www.amazon.com/Daily-Prayer-Early-Church-Development/dp/1606081055

Bradshaw's Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_F._Bradshaw These two books are written very efficiently, and one cannot afford to get lazy and skip through paragraphs as we might in lesser works. I have few books in my collection that I so heavily "defaced" as these! My yellow highlighting is everywhere visible. Secondly, these are worth buying just for the bibliographical material: I doubt we would find anywhere a better collection of primary sources and milestone scholarship on these topics.

A number of presumptions are deposed in these works as lacking evidence that demands the presumption as a valid conclusion. As forum member Kazi bacsi pointed out, above, some apparent sources that might have been helpful are just too late.

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