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

  • Primary Sources in Translation
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Biblical Studies Second Temple Judaism
Annette Yoshiko Reed
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 June 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0087


“Second Temple Judaism” is a common designation for the Jewish traditions that flourished between the return of exiles from Babylon and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple under Persian patronage from 538 to 515 BCE, and the destruction of the Temple by Roman forces in 70 CE. In practice, research on the period often focuses on the 4th century BCE and following, and stretches into the 2nd century CE. Sometimes referred to erroneously as “intertestamental,” Second Temple Judaism has attracted sustained attention since the late 19th century as a transitional age between the ancient Israelite religion reflected in the early strata of the Hebrew Bible and the emergence of Christianity and classical rabbinic Judaism in their characteristically postsacrificial forms in late Antiquity. In relation to the former, it has been called “postexilic,” “post-biblical,” or “late Judaism,” and, in relation to the latter, “prerabbinic” or “early Judaism.” Particularly since the discovery and publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls, it has been studied increasingly for its own sake and on its own terms. By the 1970s, a nascent subfield was taking form, energized by a new emphasis on the diversity of the Judaism from within which Christianity arose. In the late 20th century, studies of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed new insights into the significance of this period for the development of Judaism as well. Long deemed critical for Jewish engagement with Greek language and literature and for the spread of Jewish communities throughout the Mediterranean world, the Second Temple period has also become a new locus for research on halacha, purity, and biblical interpretation. In addition, its study continues to create a space for discussion and collaboration among specialists in the Hebrew Bible, Classics, New Testament, Jewish studies, and rabbinics. This entry focuses on the literary evidence for Second Temple Judaism, selectively treating themes and issues that cross the large span of periods and places encompassed by this scholarly designation; for material and documentary evidence for Jews in the Second Temple period, the reader is referred to the Oxford Bibliographies articles on specific locales and time periods. Please see also Inscriptions, Papyri, Coins, and Seals in the Oxford Bibliographies article Hellenistic Judaism.

Primary Sources in Translation

Evidence for Second Temple Judaism includes Jewish literature in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, as well as material and documentary data from the Land of Israel and the Diaspora (especially Egypt). Scholarship has tended to focus on the literature, and collections of primary sources in translation have been a major engine for the development of the subfield. Still hotly debated is the degree to which the Hebrew Bible itself is a product of the Second Temple period, but there is broad-based consensus that the translation, interpretation, and reception of the Torah/Pentateuch and other now-canonical writings were central for the development of Judaism in this period (see Major Themes). For the textual and other issues raised by our evidence for Greek translations (e.g., Old Greek, Septuagint), the commentaries in La Bible d’Alexandrie provide useful introductions. At the heart of modern research on Second Temple Judaism, however, are parabiblical and other writings outside of the Hebrew Bible. Foremost are those Jewish texts and traditions preserved primarily by Christians, as collected in modern times under rubrics like “Old Testament Apocrypha” and “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.” Translations of a core set of these texts can be found in Charles 1913, which remains useful for research and reference; since then, the corpus has been further analyzed and extended, for instance, in the book series Jüdische Schriften aus Hellenistisch-Römischer Zeit, and in the collections Charlesworth 1983 and Sparks 1984. For the Dead Sea Scrolls, García Martinez and Tigchelaar 1997–1998 is the most accessible and comprehensive guide, with full text and English translations of the nonbiblical fragments. Excerpts from the writings of Jewish historians, chronographers, and poets preserved by Alexander Polyhistor and others are collected and translated in Holladay 1983–1996. Philo of Alexandria 1981 is a useful entry point into the works of Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BCE–50 CE), which constitute our most extensive source for ancient Jewish philosophical writings in Greek. For the work of Flavius Josephus (c. 37–100 CE)—our main source for the history of the period—the Brill Josephus Project (Mason 2000–) provides the most up-to-date translation and commentary.

  • La Bible d’Alexandrie series. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1986–.

    Series of French translations and commentaries on Greek biblical translations, featuring volumes by Marguerite Harl, Gilles Dorival, and others. Useful guide and supplement to critical editions such as the “Larger Cambridge Septuagint” (The Old Testament in Greek, according to the text of Codex Vaticanus, edited by Alan England Brooke, Norman McLean, and H. St. J. Thackeray [Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1906–1940]) and the Göttingen Septuagint (Septuaginta: Vetus Testamentum Graecum Auctoritate Academiae Scientiarum Gottingensis [Göttingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1931–]).

  • Charles, R. H., ed. The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon, 1913.

    English translations of (1) Jewish writings in Catholic and other bibles not included in Protestant bibles (i.e., “Old Testament Apocrypha,” or deuterocanonical literature) and (2) other anonymous or pseudonymous works transmitted by Christian tradents and possibly preserving Jewish material; Charles’s choices for the latter helped to delineate the “Old Testament Pseudepigrapha.”

  • Charlesworth, James H., ed. The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. 2 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983.

    Newer English translations of materials called “pseudepigrapha” in Charles 1913 and contemporaneous collections (e.g., E. Kautzsch, ed., Die Apocryphen und Pseudepigraphen des Alten Testaments [Tübingen, Germany: Mohr, 1900]), expanded with the addition of other related works, and further parabiblical writings posited to preserve Jewish traditions significant for the study of Christian origins.

  • García Martinez, F., and E. J. C. Tigchelaar, eds. The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1997–1998.

    Comprehensive collection of texts and English translations of nonbiblical Dead Sea Scrolls, with bibliographical references to the relevant editions and facsimiles in the Discoveries in the Judaean Desert series and elsewhere. Includes a useful index of text designations.

  • Holladay, Carl R., comp. and trans. Fragments from Hellenistic Jewish Authors. 4 vols. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1983–1996.

    Greek text and English translations of excerpts of Jewish (and possibly Jewish) historians, chronographers, and poets writings in Greek in the late Second Temple period, as preserved in the writings of Alexander Polyhistor via Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius, and others. Includes materials attributed to Artapanus, Ezekiel the Tragedian, and Aristobulus.

  • Jüdische Schriften aus Hellenistisch-Römischer Zeit series. Gütersloh, Germany: G. Mohn, 1973–.

    Series of German annotated translations and analyses of Second Temple Jewish and related literature, as well as tools for their scholarly study.

  • Mason, Steve, ed. Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary. 12 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2000–.

    Known as the Brill Josephus Project. Major translation project of Josephus’s writings. Overseen by Steve Mason, it includes translations by Mason, John Barclay, Christopher Begg, Louis Feldman, and Paul Spilsbury. Commentary, maps, and essays make the volumes especially useful for the study of the history, politics, literature, and biblical interpretation of Second Temple times. Earlier translations, printed with facing Greek, can be found in H. Thackeray’s, Feldman’s, and others’ volumes for the Loeb Classical Library.

  • Philo of Alexandria. The Contemplative Life, The Giants, and Selections. Translated by David Winston. Classics of Western Spirituality. New York: Paulist Press, 1981.

    Accessible selection in English translation of Philo’s writings, ideal as an entry point into this complex corpus. Comprehensive translations, printed with facing Greek, can be found in F. H. Colson and G. H. Whitaker’s volumes for the Loeb Classical Library (Volumes 226–227, 247, 261, 275, 289, 320, 341, 363); note also the Cerf book series Philon d’Alexandrie.

  • Sparks, H. F. D., ed. The Apocryphal Old Testament. Oxford: Clarendon, 1984.

    Compact collection of English translations of twenty-five core “pseudepigrapha,” printed with no commentary but each prefaced by a handy introduction. Although six translations are merely revisions from Charles 1913, the nineteen fresh translations include expert contributions like Michael Knibb’s 1 Enoch, Marinus de Jonge’s Testaments of the 12 Patriarchs, and Sebastian Brock’s Psalms of Solomon.

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