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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Commentaries and Bibliographies
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
  • Journals

Jewish Studies The Second Temple Period
Steven P. Weitzman, R. Timothy DeBold
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 August 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0005


Although it has its roots before the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE—that is, in the earlier pre-exilic period that is described in the Hebrew Bible—Jewish culture emerged in the so-called Second Temple period. This period begins when Jews in Judaea, Mesopotamia, and Egypt found themselves under Persian rule, and Jews were able to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. The Second Temple period continues for six centuries, with Jews living under Persian, Greek, and Roman empires until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. It is during the intervening centuries that Jewish culture developed a number of characteristics that define Jewish religious experience to this day—engagement with the Bible, institutions such as the synagogue, the notion of Judaism itself as a voluntary religious identity—but Jewish culture in this period was also quite diverse and different in many ways from the Judaism that would develop in Late Antiquity in the wake of the Talmud and rabbinic interpretive activity. Because of its importance for the later development of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, this period has received a lot of attention from scholars, but knowledge is limited by the relative paucity of the sources and the religious biases of scholarship that sometimes anachronistically projects later conceptions of Judaism or Christianity onto this earlier period. The sections of this bibliography have been arranged so as to contain sources that examine the Second Temple period both chronologically and thematically. The chronological sections are valuable for research into what conditions were like for Jews living under the different empires, while the thematic sections contain works that trace their topics throughout the Second Temple period. Because this bibliography addresses a very broad topic, it has not always been possible to include specialized works such as critical editions of primary sources, monographs on very specific topics, or essays published in journals. Because its intended audience is English speaking, the bibliography also does not attempt to represent the extensive and foundational scholarship that exists in languages such as German, French, and Hebrew, except where a major work has been translated into English. For such scholarship, readers are directed to related bibliographies on more-specialized topics such as Josephus and Second Temple archaeology.

General Overviews

Although not well documented in comparison with later periods of Jewish history, the Second Temple period is known to us through a number of literary sources—anonymous works that imitate or seek to interpret the Bible and were preserved by later Christian (the so-called Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha) works by known authors writing in Greek, such as the 1st-century Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria and the historian Flavius Josephus; the assemblage of texts discovered in the caves of the Judaean Desert, known as the Dead Sea Scrolls; and other sources. From this literary evidence, augmented by archaeological evidence from Jerusalem, Masada, and other sites, scholars have been able to reconstruct a picture of how Jewish culture emerged out of the remnants of ancient Israelite culture and developed into what would later be known as Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Schürer 1973 is a revision of a classic survey of the history of the Second Temple period, still not displaced by more-recent surveys such as Davies, et al. 1984–2006 or Grabbe 2008, although the latter are extremely valuable for much additional information on specific topics, along with more up-to-date bibliography. For overviews of primary sources, Stone 1984 and Nickelsburg 2005 are especially valuable as guides for making sense of the literature from this period. Kraft and Nickelsburg 1986 introduces various methodological issues and approaches. Weitzman 2005 is not a survey but a broadly cast study that covers the period between Persian and Roman rule, focusing on the means by which Jews sustained their culture under such rulers.

  • Davies, W. D., Louis Finkelstein, William Horbury, John Sturdy, and Steven T. Katz, eds. The Cambridge History of Judaism. 4 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984–2006.

    This four-volume work spans from the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century BCE, through the development of rabbinic culture, to the 7th century CE, covering historical, literary, social and intercultural, and political issues throughout this millennium.

  • Grabbe, Lester. A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period. 2 vols. New York: T&T Clark, 2008.

    A two-volume work that surveys historical methodologies for studying this period and examines history, daily life, religion, and politics of the Second Temple period, drawing on a variety of Jewish and non-Jewish sources.

  • Kraft, Robert, and George W. E. Nickelsburg, eds. Early Judaism and Its Modern Interpreters. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986.

    A multiauthor volume focusing on the sociohistorical contexts and literature of early Judaism in its Greco-Roman milieu, including a section on relevant archaeological finds.

  • Nickelsburg, George. Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005.

    A survey covering Jewish literature from the Babylonian Exile through the early rabbinic period, this straightforward volume includes sections on late biblical books composed in the Second Temple period, the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, the Dead Sea scrolls, and other works.

  • Schürer, Emile. A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.–A.D. 135). 3 vols. Rev. ed. Edited by Géza Vermès and Fergus Millar. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1973.

    An updated version of Schürer’s classic but dated survey, these volumes cover in great detail the literature, history, and social, political, and religious issues for the late Hellenistic and Roman periods.

  • Stone, Michael, ed. The Literature of the Jewish People in the Period of the Second Temple and the Talmud. 2 vols. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984.

    A kind of companion for reading primary sources, not only providing relevant historical background information but also helping the reader to understand the sources themselves. Almost all the most important documents from this period are covered here.

  • Weitzman, Steven. Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005.

    An exploration of the tactics developed in early Jewish culture to sustain its religious traditions under foreign rule, covering the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman periods.

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.