Brant A. Gardner discusses the use of "synagogue" in 2 Nephi 26:26; argues that Joseph used "synagogue" to translate a word close to "gathering place" in meaning on the plates.

Brant A. Gardner

Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 2:370

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Brant A. Gardner
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The Greek word in the New Testament, sunagoge, which is transliterated to “synagogue” means, literally, “a place of assembly.” The term is also used in Psalm 74:8 to translate the Hebrew moed, “appointed place of meeting.” Ekkehard W. Stegemann, professor of New Testament at the University of Basel, Switzerland, and Wolfgang Stegemann, professor of New Testament at the Augustana Hochschule in Neuendettelsau, Germany, give a more detailed description of the range of meanings attached to the word “synagogue”:

In the New Testament itself synagogue frequently means the synagogue building. Private houses or certain rooms in private houses, as well as special buildings, could serve as places of assembly; more rarely, communities probably also gathered in the open. One of the most important synagogue buildings was the great synagogue in Alexandria (a five-naved basilica). Synagogues served cultic purposes (prayer, reading of the Torah, singing of hymns) and above all teaching. Yet they were also available for secular purposes, such as lodging; in fact, in a certain sense they served—as Hengel maintains regarding the Alexandrian synagogue—as “the agora of Judaism,” that is, also for commercial purposes.

Probably, the small plates used a word close to “gathering place” in meaning, which Joseph Smith translated as “synagogue,” while “or out of the houses of worship” should be read as Joseph’s explanation, based on his understanding of the word he used to represent the concept. Even though the Nephites included a large component of local people, they would still be unlikely to be so numerous that they needed building used exclusively for worship, with the possible exception of the temple. Worship would have been communal and typically in the open air. In any ancient culture, the political/economic community would be the same as the religious community. Therefore, exclusion from a “place of worship” would be expulsion from the community. Nephi is telling us that Yahweh’s community is open to all who are willing to have fellowship in that community.

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