In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hellenistic Judaism

  • Introduction
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
  • Journals
  • Archaeology

Biblical Studies Hellenistic Judaism
Lester L. Grabbe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 September 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 13 September 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0052


The term “Hellenistic Judaism” is a conventional one, long used, but a misnomer according to many contemporary scholars. Traditionally, “Hellenistic Judaism” was a designation for Judaism in the Greek-speaking world, including those Jews who spoke Greek and adopted (to some extent) a Greek way of life. It has been argued, however, that all Judaism after the conquests of Alexander was Hellenistic Judaism. The Hellenistic period begins with the conquests of Alexander, but when did it end? In one sense, it continued under the Romans and even encompassed the Byzantine period, ending only with the Islamic conquest. For practical purposes, however, the bibliography given here covers primarily the period from Alexander to the Roman conquest under Pompey, circa 335 to 65 BCE, a period of almost three centuries. From the point of view of the region or province of Judah, it takes in first Ptolemaic, then Seleucid, and finally Hasmonean rule. The last is very important as almost a century of rule by a native Jewish dynasty of priest-kings. Although many have seen the Maccabean revolt as opposing Hellenistic culture, this is to be very much doubted. Hellenistic Judaism is part of a wider historical period and phenomenon known as “Second Temple Judaism,” which refers to Judaism from Cyrus’s conquest of Babylon to the fall of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE, or the Persian, Greek, and early Roman periods. Many of the major developments of Judaism during this time actually began in the Persian period, but they sometimes accelerated under Greek rule, and Greek rule brought its own influences and contributions to the Jewish people. This has been most discussed with regard to Hellenization and the so-called Hellenistic reform preceding the Maccabean revolt. See Hellenism and Hellenization and Maccabean Revolt and Hasmonean Rule.

Encyclopedias and Dictionaries

Although there is no encyclopedia or dictionary specifically on Hellenistic Judaism, a number of reference works include Hellenistic Judaism among their entries. The standard classics references (Goldberg 2016, Cancik and Schneider 1996–2003) often have references relating to Hellenistic Judaism or its background. The Encyclopaedia Judaica (Skolnik 2007) has entries on various aspects of the history, literature, and major figures of Hellenistic Judaism. The Anchor Bible Dictionary (Freedman 1992) and New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (Sakenfield 2006–2009) include information on Second Temple Judaism (including Hellenistic Judaism), along with their primary biblical data. Neusner and Green 1996 and Neusner, et al. 1999–2004 give a great deal of information on Hellenistic Judaism, as well as other phases and periods of Judaism. See also Archaeology for other encyclopedic works.

  • Cancik, Hubert, and Helmuth Schneider, eds. Der Neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike. 16 vols. Stuttgart, Germany: J. B. Metzler, 1996–2003.

    Recent classics encyclopedia, with many entries on the eastern Mediterranean and some on Hellenistic Judaism. Many entries do not cover the Hellenistic period as well as one would like.

  • Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 6 vols. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

    A major reference work including entries on the wider Mediterranean world, among which are some on the Jews, Judaism, and Jewish literature. Many of the entries are no more recent than the 1980s but often have good bibliographies.

  • The Oxford Classical Dictonary. Digital edition. Edited by S. Goldberg.New York: Oxford University Press.

    Standard quick reference on the Greek and Roman period, with some entries on Hellenistic Judaism. Bibliographies tend to be brief. Originally published in 1996, Hornblower Simon, and Anthony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

  • Neusner, Jacob, and William Scott Green, eds. Dictionary of Judaism in the Biblical Period: 450 BCE to 600 CE. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan Library Reference, 1996.

    This covers the Second Temple and rabbinic periods, with short entries on a variety of topics. Meant as a quick reference, it does not give bibliographies.

  • Neusner, Jacob, Alan J. Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green, eds. The Encyclopedia of Judaism. 5 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1999–2004.

    Longer entries on a variety of topics from the biblical period to the present. Very good on the rabbinic period but also some good entries on the prerabbinic period, including Hellenistic Judaism. Many entries give a historical survey from antiquity to more recent times. Some bibliographies for further reading.

  • Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob, ed. The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. 5 vols. Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2006–2009.

    Similar to Freedman 1992; more up to date but slightly shorter. Includes articles on some Jewish literature other than the Bible, Jewish history, Jewish religion, and aspects of the Greek and Roman world. Some bibliographies.

  • Skolnik, Fred, ed. Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2d ed. 22 vols. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

    Attempts to cover all aspects of Judaism and its history, including the history and major figures of Hellenistic Judaism. Unfortunately, some of its entries on the prerabbinic period can best be characterized as eccentric, yet there are some very good individual entries.

  • Werblowsky, R. J. Zwi, and Geoffrey Wigoder, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

    Note that an updated edition is now in production. Very useful general, one-volume encyclopedia of Judaism with pertinent entries on the Hellenistic period.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.