Second Temple Judaism

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Second Temple Judaism (Judaism between the construction of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem c. 515 BCE, and its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE) witnessed major historical upheavals and significant religious changes that would affect not only Judaism but also Christianity (which calls it the Deuterocanonical period or Intertestamental period). The origins of the authority of scripture, of the centrality of law and morality in religion, of the synagogue and of apocalyptic expectations for the future all developed in the Judaism of this period.



(Note: dates and periods are in many cases approximate and/or conventional)

  • Babylonian exile, 586-539 BCE
  • Persian, 539-333 BCE
  • Hellenistic, 333-164 BCE
- Ptolemaic, 301-200 BCE
- Seleucid, 200-164 BCE
  • Hasmonean, 164-63 BCE
  • Roman, 63 BCE-70 CE

Jerusalem and Yehud[edit]

In 586 BCE the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple of Solomon, and deported the elite of the population to Babylon (the "Babylonian exile").[1] In 539 BCE Babylon itself fell to the Persian conqueror Cyrus, and in 538 BCE the exiles were permitted to return to Yehud medinata, as the Persian province of Judah was known.[2] The Temple is commonly said to have been rebuilt in the period 520-515 BCE, but it seems probable that this is an artificial date chosen so that 70 years could be said to have passed between the destruction and the rebuilding, fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah.[3][2][4]

The end of the Persian period is conventionally dated from Alexander the Great's conquest of the Mediterranean coast in 333/332 BCE. His empire disintegrated after his death, and Palestine, including Jerusalem, fell to the Ptolemies, the descendants of one of Alexander's generals who ruled Egypt. In 200 BCE Palestine and Yehud were captured by the Seleucids, the descendants of another Greek general ruling Syria. Around 167 BCE, for reasons that remain obscure, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes later attempted to suppress Jewish worship, provoking a revolt that led to the effective end of foreign control over Jerusalem. The conventional date for the beginning of the Maccabean or Hasmonean era is 164 BCE, when Jewish ritual was restored in the Temple, but it was not until 143 BCE that the Seleucids granted de facto autonomy to the Hasmonean kings (in the words of 1 Maccabees, "the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel").[5]

Despite their origins in an anti-Greek revolt, the Maccabean Revolt, the Hasmoneans were also enthusiastic Hellenisers (adopters of Greek culture). They ruled, however, in the growing shadow of the expanding Roman Empire, and in the 63 BCE sack of Jerusalem, the Romans intervened to vastly reduce the size of their domains and made what remained a client kingdom.[6] In 37 BCE they replaced the Hasmoneans with their protege Herod the Great, who, among other achievements, rebuilt the Temple, known as Herod's Temple. On Herod's death the kingdom disintegrated, and in 6 CE Judea, Samaria and Idumea (the historical Edom) were amalgamated under direct Roman rule as the province of Judea.[7] Heavy taxes and insensitivity towards the Jewish religion lead to revolt (the First Jewish-Roman War, 66-73 CE), and in 70 CE the Roman general (and later emperor) Titus captured Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple, bringing an end to the Second Temple period.[8]

The diaspora[edit]

The Babylonian exiles were not slaves or prisoners, nor were they badly treated;[9] accordingly, when the Persians gave permission for them to return to Jerusalem, the majority elected to remain where they were.[10] They and their descendants in the Babylonian diaspora formed a large community of Jews living outside Palestine, and the 1st century CE historian Josephus reported that there were more Jews in Syria (meaning the Seleucid empire) than in any other land.[11][12] There was also significant Egyptian diaspora, although the Jews of Egypt were immigrants, not deportees, "...attracted by Hellenistic culture, eager to win the respect of the Greeks and to adapt to their ways" (John J. Collins, "Between Athens and Jerusalem).[13] The Egyptian diaspora was slow to develop, but in the Hellenistic period it came to outstrip the Babylonian community in importance.[14] In addition to these major centres there were Jewish communities throughout the Hellenistic and subsequently the Roman world, from North Africa to Asia Minor and Greece and in Rome itself.

The Samaritans[edit]

The separation between Jews of Jerusalem and those of Samaria was a long and protracted process.[15] For most of the Second Temple period Samaria was larger, richer, and more populous than Judea - down to about 164 BCE there were probably more Samaritans than Judeans living in Palestine.[16] The origins of the Samaritans remains unresolved, but they had their own temple on Mount Gerizim near Shechem and regarded themselves as the only true Israel, the remnant left behind when Israel was deceived by the wicked priest Eli to leave Gerizim and worship at Jerusalem.[17] Second Temple Judeans regarded them as foreign converts and the offspring of mixed marriages, and therefore of impure blood.[16] Relations between the two communities were often strained, but the definitive break dates from the destruction of the Gerizim temple and of Shechem by a Hasmonean king in the late 2nd century BCE; before that the Samaritans seem to have regarded themselves as part of the wider Jewish community, but afterwards they denounced the Jerusalem temple as completely unacceptable to God.[18]


In recent decades it has become increasingly common among scholars to assume that much of the Hebrew bible was assembled, revised and edited in the 5th century BCE to reflect the realities and challenges of the Persian era.[19][10] The returnees had a particular interest in the history of Israel: the written Torah (the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus book of Numbers and Deuteronomy), for example, may have existed in various forms during the Monarchy (the period of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah), but it was in the Second Temple that it was edited and revised into something like its current form, and the Chronicles, a new history written at this time, reflects the concerns of the Persian Yehud in its almost-exclusive focus on Judah and the Temple.[19]

Prophetic works were also of particular interest to the Persian-era authors, with some works being composed at this time (the last ten chapters of Isaiah and the books of Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi and perhaps Joel) and the older prophets edited and reinterpreted.The corpus of Wisdom books saw the composition of Job, parts of Proverbs, and possibly Ecclesiastes, while the book of Psalms was possibly given its modern shape and division into five parts at this time (although the collection continued to be revised and expanded well into Hellenistic and even Roman times).[19]

In the Hellenistic period the scriptures were translated into Greek by the Jews of the Egyptian diaspora, who also produced a rich literature of their own covering epic poetry, philosophy, tragedy and other forms. Less is known of the Babylonian diaspora, but the Seleucid period produced works such as the court tales of the Book of Daniel (chapters 1-6 of Daniel - chapters 7-12 were a later addition), and the books of Tobit and Esther.[20] The eastern Jews were also responsible for the adoption and transmission of the Babylonian and Persian apocalyptic tradition seen in Daniel.[21]

Worship and the Jewish community[edit]

Israel as a holy community[edit]

The Hebrew bible represents the beliefs of only a small portion of the Israelite community, the members of a tradition that insisted on the exclusive worship of Yahweh, who collected, edited and transmitted the biblical texts, and who saw their mission in a return to Jerusalem where they could impose their vision of genealogical purity, orthodox worship, and codified law on the local population.[22][23] In the earliest stages of the Persian period the returnees insisted on strict separation between themselves ("Israel") and the Judeans who had never gone in to exile ("Canaanites"), to the extent of prohibiting intermarriage; this was presented in terms of religious purity, but there may have been a practical concern for land ownership.[24] The concept of the Jewish people as a people chosen by God gave rise to innumerable break-away movements, each declaring that it alone represented Jewish holiness; the most extreme example was the Qumran sect (the Essenes), but Christianity too began as a Jewish sect that saw itself as the "true Israel".[25]

Textual Judaism: priests and scribes[edit]

Second Temple Judaism was centred not on synagogues, which began to appear only in the 3rd century BCE, and the reading and study of scripture, but on the Temple itself, and on a cycle of continual blood sacrifice (meaning the sacrifice of live animals). Sacrifice had deep religious symbolism, and this was taken up later in Christianity: the sacrificee of Christ is meaningless without a background in Second Temple religious ritual. Synagogues, in the diaspora, where Jews did not have access to the Temple. Torah, or ritual law, was also important, and the Temple priests were responsible for teaching it, but the concept of scripture developed only slowly, but but while the written Torah (the Pentateuch) and the Prophets were accepted as authoritative by the 1st century CE, beyond this core the different Jewish groups continued to accept different groups of books as authoritative.[26]

The priesthood and the autonomy of Yehud[edit]

The priesthood underwent profound changes with the Second Temple.[27] Under the monarchy the priesthood had been subordinate to the kings, but with the monarchy and even the state no longer available, they became independent.[28] The priesthood under the High Priest (a position largely unknown in earlier times) became the governing authority, making Yehud in a sense a theocracy, although it seems unlikely that the province had any more autonomy than was typical of the empire as a whole.[27]

Intellectual currents[edit]


There was a sharp break between ancient Israelite religion and the Judaism of the Second Temple.[29] Pre-exilic Israel was polytheistic;[30] Asherah was probably worshiped as Yahweh's consort, with in his temples in Jerusalem, Bethel, and Samaria, and goddess called the Queen of Heaven, probably a fusion of Astarte and the Mesopotamian goddess Ishtar, was also worshiped.[31] Baal and Yahweh coexisted in the early period, but were considered irreconcilable after the 9th century.[32] The worship of Yahweh alone, the concern of a small party in the monarchic period, only gained ascendancy in the exilic and early post-exilic period,[30] and it was only then that the very existence of other gods was denied.[33]

Messianism and the end times[edit]

The Persian period saw the development of expectation in a future human king who would rule purified Israel as God's representative at the end of time–that is, a messiah. The first to mention this were Haggai and Zechariah, both prophets of the early Persian period. They saw the messiah in Zerubbabel, a descendant of the House of David who seemed, briefly, to be about to re-establish the ancient royal line, or in Zerubbabel and the first High Priest, Joshua (Zechariah writes of two messiahs, one royal and the other priestly). These early hopes were dashed (Zerubabbel disappeared from the historical record, although the High Priests continued to be descended from Joshua), and thereafter there are merely general references to a Messiah of (meaning descended from) David.[34][28]

Wisdom and the Word[edit]

The emergence of Christianity[edit]

Judaism is known to allow for multiple messiahs, the two most relevant are Messiah ben Joseph and the Messiah ben David. The idea of two messiahs, one suffering and the second fulfilling the traditional messianic role, was normative to ancient Judaism, and in fact predated Jesus.[35][36][37][38] Alan Segal has written that "one can speak of a 'twin birth' of two new Judaisms, both markedly different from the religious systems that preceded them. Not only were rabbinic Judaism and Christianity religious twins, but, like Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, they fought in the womb, setting the stage for life after the womb."[39]

The first Christians (the disciples or students of Jesus) were essentially all ethnically Jewish or Jewish proselytes. In other words, Jesus was Jewish, preached to the Jewish people and called from them his first disciples. Jewish Christians regarded "Christianity" as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah.[40] The doctrines of the apostles of Jesus brought the Early Church into conflict with some Jewish religious authorities (Acts records dispute over resurrection of the dead which was rejected by the Sadducees, see also Persecution of Christians in the New Testament), and possibly later led to Christians' expulsion from synagogues (see Council of Jamnia for other theories). While Marcionism rejected all Jewish influence on Christianity, Proto-orthodox Christianity instead retained some of the doctrines and practices of 1st-century Judaism while rejecting others, see the Historical background to the issue of Biblical law in Christianity and Early Christianity. They held the Jewish scriptures to be authoritative and sacred, employing mostly the Septuagint or Targum translations, and adding other texts as the New Testament canon developed. Christian baptism was another continuation of a Judaic practice.[41]

According to many historians, most of Jesus' teachings were intelligible and acceptable in terms of Second Temple Judaism; what set Christians apart from Jews was their faith in Christ as the resurrected messiah.[42] Recent work by historians paints a more complex portrait of late Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity. Some historians have suggested that, before his death, Jesus created amongst his believers such certainty that the Kingdom of God and the resurrection of the dead was at hand, that with few exceptions (John 20: 24-29) when they saw him shortly after his execution, they had no doubt that he had been resurrected, and that the restoration of the Kingdom and resurrecton of the dead was at hand. These specific beliefs were compatible with Second Temple Judaism.[43] In the following years the restoration of the Kingdom, as Jews expected it, failed to occur. Some Christians began to believe instead that Christ, rather than simply being the Jewish messiah, was God made flesh, who died for the sins of humanity, marking the beginning of Christology.[44]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Grabbe 2010, p. 2.
  2. ^ a b Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxii.
  3. ^ Grabbe 2010, p. 2-3.
  4. ^ Davies 2005, p. 89.
  5. ^ Grabbe 2010, p. 5-17.
  6. ^ Nelson 2010, p. 256-257.
  7. ^ Malamat & Ben-Sasson 2010, p. 245-246.
  8. ^ Malamat & Ben-Sasson 2010, p. 299-303.
  9. ^ Albertz 2003, p. 101.
  10. ^ a b Berquist 2007, p. 3-4.
  11. ^ Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxv.
  12. ^ Hegermann 1990, p. 146.
  13. ^ Collins 2000, p. 5.
  14. ^ Hegermann 1990, p. 131.
  15. ^ Cohen 2014, p. 169.
  16. ^ a b Knoppers 2013, p. 1-3.
  17. ^ Cohen 2014, p. 168.
  18. ^ Cohen 2014, p. 168-169.
  19. ^ a b c Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxiii.
  20. ^ Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxvi.
  21. ^ Coogan, Brettler & Newsom 2007, p. xxvxxvi.
  22. ^ Wright 1999, p. 52.
  23. ^ Nelson 2014, p. 185.
  24. ^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 443-447.
  25. ^ Flusser 2009, p. 8.
  26. ^ Grabbe 2010, p. 40-42.
  27. ^ a b Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 448.
  28. ^ a b Albertz 2003, p. 130.
  29. ^ Moore & Kelle 2011, p. 449.
  30. ^ a b Albertz 1994a, p. 61.
  31. ^ Ackerman 2003, p. 395.
  32. ^ Smith 2002, p. 47.
  33. ^ Betz 2000, p. 917.
  34. ^ Wanke 1984, p. 182-183.
  35. ^ Daniel Boyarin (2012). The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ. New Press. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  36. ^ Israel Knohl (2000). The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls. University of California Press. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  37. ^ Alan J. Avery-Peck, ed. (2005). The Review of Rabbinic Judaism: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 91–112. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  38. ^ Peter Schäfer (2012). The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other. Princeton University Press. pp. 235–238. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  39. ^ Alan F. Segal, Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
  40. ^ McGrath, Alister E., Christianity: An Introduction. Blackwell Publishing (2006). ISBN 1-4051-0899-1. Page 174: "In effect, they Jewish Christians seemed to regard Christianity as an affirmation of every aspect of contemporary Judaism, with the addition of one extra belief — that Jesus was the Messiah. Unless males were circumcised, they could not be saved (Acts 15:1)."
  41. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Baptism: "According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. viii. 8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b, 47b; Ker. 9a; 'Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d). Circumcision, however, was much more important, and, like baptism, was called a "seal" (Schlatter, "Die Kirche Jerusalems," 1898, p. 70).
  42. ^ Cohen 2014, p. 165-167.
  43. ^ Fredricksen 2000, p. 133-134.
  44. ^ Fredricksen 2000, p. 136-142.