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Second Temple Judaism

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Second Temple Judaism

Second Temple Judaism refers to the religion of Judaism during the Second Temple period, between the construction of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 515 BCE, and its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. This period witnessed major historical upheavals and significant religious changes that would affect not only Judaism but also Christianity (which calls it the 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.


The primary literary sources for information about Second Temple Judaism are Ezra-Nehemiah, the Books of the Maccabees and other Biblical Apocrypha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Old Testament pseudepigrapha, the works of Josephus and Philo, the Mishnah, and the New Testament and New Testament Apocrypha.


Babylonian captivity

The deportation and exile of Jews of the ancient Kingdom of Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar II, starting with the first deportation in 597 BCE[1] and continuing after the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 587 BCE,[2] resulted in dramatic changes to Jewish culture and religion. During the 70-year exile in Babylon, Jewish houses of assembly (known in Hebrew as a "beit knesset" or in Greek as a "synagogue") and houses of prayer (Greek: προσευχαί, proseuchai; Hebrew Beit Tefilah), were the primary meeting places for prayer, and the house of study ("beit midrash") was the counterpart for the synagogue.

During the period of captivity, Jews continued to practice and develop their religious traditions, many of which became distinct from their origins, due to the influences of the local culture, and religion.

The Babylonian captivity had a number of consequences for Judaism and the Jewish culture, including changes to the Hebrew alphabet and changes in the fundamental practices and customs of the Jewish religion. Many suggest the people of Israel were henotheists during the First Temple period, believing each nation had its own god but that theirs was superior.[3][4] Others suggest the people of Israel and Judah were polytheists,[5] citing for example the presence of an asherah in the Temple.[6] Some suggest that strict monotheism developed during the Babylonian Exile, perhaps in reaction to Zoroastrian dualism.[7]

Return from Babylonian captivity

After the overthrow of Babylonia by the [9][10][11] and more than 40,000 are said to have returned according to the Biblical accounts of Jehoiakim, Ezra, and Nehemiah.[12]

Cyrus did not, however, allow the restoration of the Judean monarchy, which left the Judean priests as the dominant authority. Without the constraining power of the monarchy, the authority of the Temple in civic life was amplified. It was around this time that the Sadducee party emerged as the party of priests and allied elites. However, the Second Temple (completed 515 BCE) had been constructed under the auspices of a foreign power, and there were lingering questions about its legitimacy. This provided the condition for the development of various sects or "schools of thought", each of which claimed exclusive authority to represent "Judaism", and which typically shunned social intercourse, especially marriage, with members of other sects. According to one theory, in the same period, the council of sages known as the Sanhedrin codified and canonized the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh), and, following the return from Babylon, the Torah was read publicly on market-days. Modern literary analysis suggests that it was at this time that older oral and written sources were revised to account for the exile as God's punishment for the sin of worshipping other gods.[13]

The Temple was no longer the only institution for Jewish religious life. After the building of the Second Temple in the time of Ezra the Scribe, the houses of study and worship remained important secondary institutions in Jewish life. Outside of Judea, the synagogue was often called a house of prayer. While most Jews could not regularly attend the Temple service, they could meet at the synagogue for morning, afternoon and evening prayers. On Mondays, Thursdays and the Sabbath, a weekly Torah portion was read publicly in the synagogues, following the tradition of public Torah readings instituted by Ezra.[14]

Although priests controlled the rituals of the Temple, the scribes and sages, later called rabbis (Heb.: "my master") dominated the study of the Torah. These sages identified with the Prophets and developed and maintained an oral tradition that they believed had originated at Mount Sinai alongside the Holy Writ. The Pharisees had its origins in this new group of authorities.

According to the Hebrew Bible, the first significant return of exiles commenced with Ezra, who assembled at the river Ahava all those who wanted to return. These consisted of about 1,800 men, or 5,500 to 6,000 people (Ezra 8), besides 38 Levites and 220 slaves of the Temple from Casiphia. With this body, which was invested with royal powers, Ezra and Nehemiah succeeded, after great difficulties, in establishing the post-exilic Jewish community. From the list given in Nehemiah 7:6-72 (which parallels Ezra 2), which the chronicler supposed to be an enumeration of those who had returned under Cyrus, it appears that the whole Jewish community at this time comprised 42,360 men, or 125,000 to 130,000 people.[15]

This period saw the last high-point of Biblical prophecy in the person of Ezekiel, followed by the emergence of the central role of the Torah in Jewish life.[16] This process coincided with the emergence of scribes and sages as Jewish leaders (see Ezra and the Pharisees).

Hellenistic Judaism

The Hellenistic period of Jewish history began with the conquests of Alexander the Great who died in 323 BCE. The rift between the priests and the sages developed at this time, when Jews faced new political and cultural struggles. After Alexander’s death his empire was divided among his generals. Henceforth, until the coming of the Romans (Pompey) in 63 BCE, the Land of Israel was to be ruled by the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) and Seleucid (Syrian) kings in alternating succession. It was during this period that Judaism suffered strife and war to determine its ultimate relation to Hellenism. A small minority had sought to gain control of the nation and to impose extreme Hellenism on the people. This would have meant the abandonment of the Torah as the national constitution and the norm of Jewish life. In its stead would have been the Hellenic cosmopolitan ideal and the Greek city-state, the polis. When intermittent civil war over this issue began, Antiochus Epiphanes, the Seleucid ruler, reacted by supporting the Hellenists. His tactic was to outlaw Jewish practice and then mandate extreme Hellenization. It was against this policy that the Maccabees rose in revolt (167–164 BCE).

Late Second Temple Period

The Late Second Temple Period (c. 200 BCE to 70 CE) was a period of intense social changes for the Jewish people.


First led by Mattathias of the priestly Hasmonean family and then by his son Judah the Maccabee, the Jews subsequently entered Jerusalem and purified the Temple (164 BCE), events commemorated each year by the festival of Hanukkah.

Following further Hasmonean victories (147 BCE), the Seleucids restored autonomy to Judea, as the Land of Israel was now called, and, with the collapse of the Seleucid kingdom (129 BCE), Jewish independence was achieved. Under the Hasmonean Dynasty, which lasted about 80 years, the kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon’s realm, political consolidation under Jewish rule was attained, and Jewish life flourished.

Pompey's siege of Jerusalem in 63 BCE

The Siege of Jerusalem in 63 BCE occurred during Pompey the Great's campaigns in the east, shortly after his successful conclusion of the Third Mithridatic War. Pompey had been asked to intervene in an internecine war between Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II for the throne of the Hasmonean Kingdom. His conquest of Jerusalem, however, spelled the end of Jewish independence and the incorporation of Judea into the Roman Republic as a client kingdom.

Roman Province of Judea

In 6 CE, Rome formed Judea proper, Samaria, and Idumea into one province governed by prefects and later procurators which historians refer to as Iudaea province.

Jewish sects

In Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus describes four major sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots (of which the Sicarii are considered a subgroup). Josephus divides those sects into three groups: Philosophical (religious), nationalist, and criminal.[17] Of the five sects described by Josephus, the first three are more religious than political:

  • The Sadducees were priestly and aristocratic families who interpreted the law more literally than the Pharisees. They dominated the Temple worship and its rites, including the sacrificial cult.
  • Unlike the Sadducees, the Pharisees believed in the divinity and validity of the oral as well as the written law. They were flexible in their interpretations and willing to adapt the law to changing circumstances. By the first century CE, the Pharisees came to represent the beliefs and practices of the majority of Judean Jewry.
  • The Essenes were a separatist group, some of whom formed an ascetic monastic community and retreated to the wilderness of Judea. They shared material possessions and occupied themselves with disciplined study, worship, and work. They practiced ritual immersion and ate their meals communally.

The Sicarii and the Zealots were groups of extreme nationalists that Josephus characterized as political or criminal factions:

  • The Sicarii, were what Josephus characterized as a "Fourth Philosophy" [18]
  • The Zealots were a "fourth sect", founded by Judas of Galilee and Zadok the Pharisee in the year 6 against Quirinius' tax reform, shortly after the Roman state declared (what had most recently been the territory of Herod Archelaus) a Roman Province, and that they "agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord." [19]

Hillel and Shammai

Hillel the Elder[20] in Jerusalem was one of the most important figures in Jewish history. He is associated with the development of the Talmud. Renowned within Judaism as a sage and scholar, he was the founder of the House of Hillel school for Tannaïm (Sages of the Mishnah) and the founder of a dynasty of Sages who stood at the head of the Jews living in the land of Israel until roughly the fifth century of the Christian Era.

Shammai was the most eminent contemporary and the halakhic opponent of Hillel, and is almost invariably mentioned along with him. Shammai founded a school of his own, known as the House of Shammai, which differed fundamentally from that of Hillel, though both were Pharisees.

Messianic movements

Jewish messianism has its root in the apocalyptic literature of the 2nd century BC to 1st century BC, promising a future "anointed" leader or Messiah to resurrect the Israelite "Kingdom of God", in place of the foreign rulers of the time. This corresponded with the Maccabean Revolt directed against the Seleucids. Following the fall of the Hasmonean kingdom, it was directed against the Roman administration of Iudaea Province, which, according to Josephus, began with the formation of the Zealots during the Census of Quirinius of 6 AD, though full scale open revolt did not occur until the First Jewish–Roman War in 66 AD. Historian H. H. Ben-Sasson has proposed that the "Crisis under Caligula" (37-41) was the "first open break between Rome and the Jews", even though problems were already evident during the Census of Quirinius in 6 and under Sejanus (before 31).[21]

Judaism is known to allow for multiple messiahs, the two most relevant are Messiah ben Joseph and the traditional Messiah ben David. Some scholars have argued to varying degrees that Christianity and Judaism did not separate as suddenly or as dramatically as sometimes thought and that 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.[22][23][24][25] 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."[26]

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.[27] 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.[28]

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.[29] 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.[30] 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.[31]

Jewish-Roman wars

The Jewish-Roman wars were a series of revolts by the Jews of Iudaea Province against the Roman Empire. Some sources use the term to refer only to the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73) and Bar Kokhba revolt (132-135). Other sources include the Kitos War (115–117) as one of the Jewish-Roman wars; however this revolt started in Cyrenaica, and merely its final stages were actually fought in Iudaea Province.

  • First Jewish-Roman War (66–73) — also called the First Jewish Revolt or the Great Jewish Revolt.
  • Kitos War (115–117) — sometimes called the Second Jewish-Roman War.
  • Bar Kokhba revolt (132–135) — also called the Second Jewish-Roman War (when Kitos War is not counted), or the Third (when the Kitos War is counted).

After the destruction of the Temple, Jews were deprived of a central place of worship and religious activity, were unable to fulfill the temple-related practices mandated in the Torah, and were scattered around the world. More specifically, just before the first war broke out, the Sanhedrin was relocated to Jamnia, after 70 they were required to pay the Fiscus Judaicus if they wanted to practice their religion in the Roman Empire, and after 135 they were excluded from Jerusalem, except for the day of Tisha B'av, see Anti-Judaism in the pre-Christian Roman Empire for details.

Attempt to rebuild the Temple

In 363, not long before the Emperor Julian left Antioch to launch his campaign against Persia, in keeping with his effort to foster religions other than Christianity, he ordered the Temple rebuilt.[32] A personal friend of his, Ammianus Marcellinus, wrote this about the effort:

Julian thought to rebuild at an extravagant expense the proud Temple once at Jerusalem, and committed this task to Alypius of Antioch. Alypius set vigorously to work, and was seconded by the governor of the province; when fearful balls of fire, breaking out near the foundations, continued their attacks, till the workmen, after repeated scorchings, could approach no more: and he gave up the attempt.
—Ammianus Marcellinus

The failure to rebuild the Temple has been ascribed to the Galilee earthquake of 363, and to the Jews' ambivalence about the project. Sabotage is a possibility, as is an accidental fire. Divine intervention was the common view among Christian historians of the time.[33] Julian's support of Jews, coming after the hostility of many earlier Emperors, meant that Jews called him Julian the Hellene.[34]

See also


  1. ^ The Oxford History of the Biblical World, ed. by Michael D Coogan. Pub. by Oxford University Press, 1999. pg 350
  2. ^ Jeremiah 52:28-30
  3. ^ John Bright A History of Israel
  4. ^ Martin Noth The History of Israel
  5. ^ A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews - Avner Falk - Google Books. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  6. ^ Reinstating the Divine Woman in Judaism - Jenny Kien - Google Books. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  7. ^ Ephraim Urbach The Sages
  8. ^ "Alternative Tourism Group - Palestine". 23 May 2012. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "Timeline of Judaism after the Babylonian Exile (538 BCE-70 CE)". Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Nehemiah 7:6-66 and Ezra 2:64
  13. ^ Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East - Facts On File, Incorporated - Google Books. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  14. ^ See Nehemiah 8:1-18.
  15. ^ Gottheil et al., "Babylonian Captivity". Retrieved 2007-11-08.
  16. ^ According to historical-critical scholars, it was edited and redacted during this time, and saw the beginning of the canonization of the Bible, which provided a central text for Jews.
  17. ^ Flavius Josephus. Jewish Antiquities book 18
  18. ^ Flavius Josephus. Jewish Antiquities (18.12-25)
  19. ^ Flavius Josephus. Jewish Antiquities (18.1.6)
  20. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia: Hillel: "His activity of forty years is perhaps historical; and since it began, according to a trustworthy tradition (Shab. 15a), one hundred years before the destruction of Jerusalem, it must have covered the period 30 B.C.E. -10 C.E."
  21. ^ H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, The Crisis Under Gaius Caligula, pages 254-256: "The reign of Gaius Caligula (37-41) witnessed the first open break between the Jews and the Julio-Claudian empire. Until then — if one accepts Sejanus' heyday and the trouble caused by the census after Archelaus's banishment — there was usually an atmosphere of understanding between the Jews and the empire ... These relations deteriorated seriously during Caligula's reign, and, though after his death the peace was outwardly re-established, considerable bitterness remained on both sides. ... Caligula ordered that a golden statue of himself be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. ... Only Caligula's death, at the hands of Roman conspirators (41), prevented the outbreak of a Jewish-Roman war that might well have spread to the entire East."
  22. ^ Daniel Boyarin (2012). The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ. New Press. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  23. ^ Israel Knohl (2000). The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls. University of California Press. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  24. ^ 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. 
  25. ^ Peter Schäfer (2012). The Jewish Jesus: How Judaism and Christianity Shaped Each Other. Princeton University Press. pp. 235–238. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  26. ^ Alan F. Segal, Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986.
  27. ^ 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)."
  28. ^ 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).
  29. ^ Shaye J.D. Cohen 1987 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah Library of Early Christianity, Wayne Meeks, editor. The Westminster Press. 167-168
  30. ^ Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ Yale university Press. pp. 133-134
  31. ^ Paula Fredricksen, From Jesus to Christ Yale university Press. pp. 136-142
  32. ^ Ammianus Marcellinus, Res Gestae, 23.1.2–3.
  33. ^ See "Julian and the Jews 361–363 CE" and "Julian the Apostate and the Holy Temple".
  34. ^ A Psychoanalytic History of the Jews, Avner Falk
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