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The ‘Hellenists’

July 2013 | by Andrew Rowell

‘The Hellenists’

Theodotus, son of Vettanos, a priest and
ruler of the synagogue son of a ruler of the synagogue
grandson of a ruler of the synagogue, built
the synagogue for the reading of
Torah and for teaching the commandments;
furthermore, the hostel, and the rooms, and the water
installation for lodging
needy strangers. Its foundation stone was laid
by his ancestors, the
elders, and Simonides



In 1913 the French archaeologist Raymond Weill discovered a large limestone tablet while excavating in the area known as the ‘City of David’ to the south of temple mount. This tablet is dated to around the time of the birth of Christ.

The tablet is now known as the ‘Theodotus Inscription’ because of the text found on it.

It is a tablet that commemorates the man, Theodotus, who was responsible for building the synagogue in which the tablet was found and who was a priest and the ruler of this particular synagogue.

The fact that the inscription is written in the Greek language rather than in Hebrew and that it refers to arrangements made for those coming from abroad has led some scholars to suggest that this tablet was from the ‘synagogue of the freedmen’ mentioned in Acts 6:9.

Several writers have suggested that it is this synagogue from which the group described in the book of Acts as ‘the Hellenists’ come.

This group were Greek speaking Jews, some of whom had become followers of Jesus Christ and resented what they saw of the neglect of the Greek speaking widows in the daily provision for widows.

It is perhaps a legitimate reading between the lines to understand Luke’s account as indicating that Stephen and Saul were both leading men who attended this influential synagogue. This group of Greek speaking Jews was split by the gospel with Saul of Tarsus leading the opposition against the gospel. 

It is tempting to include Saul of Tarsus within the group who according to Acts 6:10 were not able to resist the wisdom and Spirit by which he spoke. Perhaps this was the first time the brilliant young Saul could not win an important argument from the Scriptures. Perhaps this is also relevant to his description of the change in his attitude to the law which he describes in Rom 7:7: ‘I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said “You shall not covet!”’ Was Stephen’s God given ability what Saul found himself especially coveting?

It is significant that when Saul returns to Jerusalem after his experiences in Damascus he is found disputing with ‘the Hellenists’. Has he returned to his old synagogue to preach the same message as Stephen, at whose stoning he had been the supervisor?


Useful Web sites:

Donald D. Binder, “Jerusalem.”

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