The nature of Jewish liturgical expression in the period immediately preceding the destruction of the Second Temple and the loss of any semblance of Jewish political independence in 70 ce is clearly of interest to a wide body of scholarship. Historians of Jewish religious practice, analysts of Christian origins and students of the cultic forms in existence in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds all have sound reasons for seeking to reconstruct for themselves what may for the moment, pending the more accurate assessment and definition that I hope to offer, be referred to as ‘the early liturgy of the synagogue’.
In pursuit of this reconstruction, liturgists have sometimes turned for guidance to the authoritative Jewish prayer-books of almost a thousand years later, or even of the more modern period, and sought to extrapolate backwards, making assumptions that defy the vast chasms of history, geography and ideology that separate one millennium from another. Those who have adopted such a position have transplanted some or all of the rabbinic rites and customs of tenth-century Babylon or early mediaeval Europe to first-century Judaea and the surrounding Jewish Diaspora and declined to distinguish the continuity of some liturgical traditions from the patent novelty of others. However methodologically untenable the theory underlying such an approach, the picture painted of proto-rabbinism and its liturgical practice was a clear one, unobfuscated by doubts and complications.
Recent, more reliable research in the field tends, on the other hand, to stress the lack of concrete evidence, the questionable admissibility of sources even one or two centuries after the destruction of the temple, and the complex nature of Judaism in the time of Jesus and Hillel, thus shying away from a commitment to simple description and taking refuge in a welter of doubt and hesitancy.