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

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  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
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Jewish Studies Second Temple Archaeology
Steven H. Werlin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0014


The Second Temple period stretched from the end of the Babylonian Exile in 539 BCE to the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 CE. The designation refers to the Jewish temple in Jerusalem dedicated to Yahweh, the God of Israel, constructed on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem, an area known today as the Temple Mount, or Haram esh-Sharif. As an area of study, “Second Temple” typically refers to the Jewish people, along with all their religious, social, political, economic, and cultural aspects, during this six-century period. While archaeology is more often categorized in terms of place or time, “Second Temple archaeology” focuses instead on a people, and, therefore, it includes sites and remains not only from ancient Palestine (modern Israel, Palestine, and Jordan), but also from areas throughout the Mediterranean and Near East. Because the topic examines the physical remains of a people and their culture, Second Temple archaeology overlaps substantially with textual, literary, and historical studies of Judaism and early Christianity. The archaeology of the Second Temple period has scholarly roots in studies both of early Judaism and Christianity, a fact reflected in the journals and edited volumes in which many studies appear. That said, direct archaeological evidence for the earliest Christians (i.e., Jesus of Nazareth and his followers) is essentially nonexistent, and so most archaeologists of early Christianity tend to focus on the context of Jesus’ world, particularly in Galilee. In addition to overlapping with studies of early Judaism and Christianity, Second Temple archaeology is occasionally considered a subset of either classical archaeology, ancient Near Eastern archaeology, or both. This is largely due to the geographic and temporal overlapping of the topic. Geographically, ancient Palestine sits at the crossroads of the classical world (i.e., the Mediterranean basin) and the ancient Near Eastern world (i.e., the modern Middle East, including ancient Mesopotamia, Anatolia, and Arabia). Temporally, the Second Temple period overlaps the late Iron Age or Persian period (typically considered the limit of ancient Near Eastern studies) and the classical, Hellenistic, and Early Roman periods (usually considered the beginning of classical studies). The multiple influences evident in the physical remains of the Second Temple period—in areas such as art, architecture, and epigraphy—are reflected in the multiple fields of research represented by the scholarship produced.

General Overviews

Second Temple archaeology suffers from a distinct lack of comprehensive, English-language textbooks, or general overviews. This regrettable dearth is largely due to the nature of the field and its position within academic institutes, especially in North America, where the field’s researchers and instructors are distributed among religion, archaeology, classics, biblical studies, Judaic studies, and other departments. The result is that very few North American and European institutions offer introductory courses on Second Temple archaeology specifically, thereby limiting a general need for textbooks. That said, several overviews can help introduce novices, students, or researchers from other fields to archaeology of the Second Temple period. Avi-Yonah 2002 provides an important treatment of the geography from the perspective of history. Schürer 1973–1987 is a revision of a 19th-century classic. It is a bit out of date but is a good reference for historical information. Hachlili 1988 provides an overview of the art and archaeology of Jewish Palestine. Broshi 1999 offers an overview of the most important sites of the Second Temple period. Meyers 2002 is an overview and discussion of the impact of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds on Jewish culture during this period. Levine 1998 and Fine 2005 address issues pertaining to the use of archaeology and material culture in Jewish studies. Richard 2003 is a collection of essays on Near Eastern archaeology in general, but it includes some important overviews of Second Temple archaeology. The Virtual World Project is an online resource that provides images and virtual tours of excavations and sites in Israel and Jordan.

  • Avi-Yonah, Michael. The Holy Land: An Historical Geography from the Persian to the Arab Conquest, 536 B.C. to A.D. 640. Text revisions and toponymic index by Anson F. Rainey. Jerusalem: Carta, 2002.

    A text that examines the geography of Palestine during the Second Temple, Roman, and Byzantine periods, through the lens of historical and archaeological evidence. The work is based on a Hebrew-language edition by one of the most influential 20th-century scholars of the archaeology of Palestine. Part 1 gives an overview of the history of the country, with a focus on political developments.

  • Broshi, Magen. “The Archaeology of Palestine, 63 BCE–CE 70.” In The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol. 3, The Early Roman Period. Edited by William Horbury, W. D. Davies, and John Sturdy, 1–37. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521243773

    A good, general overview of major sites and topics of interest in Second Temple archaeology. Although it is already more than a decade out of date, it is still a good introduction for novices.

  • Fine, Steven. Art and Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward a New Jewish Archaeology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

    Although this work also covers the centuries following the Second Temple period, pp. 60–81 and 140–163 include thoughtful discussions concerning the role of art in Judaism in the pre-70 period.

  • Hachlili, Rachel. Ancient Jewish Art and Archaeology in the Land of Israel. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1988.

    An overview of Second Temple archaeology that comes as close as any monograph to a textbook. The work is not comprehensive (despite its presumed intent); however, it is a good starting point. Part 1 (pp. 9–132) covers the art and archaeology of the Second Temple period.

  • Levine, Lee Israel. Judaism and Hellenism in Antiquity: Conflict or Confluence? Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998.

    A short monograph on the relationship between the development of Judaism and the impact of Hellenism (i.e., Greek-influenced culture). The introduction gives a good background to the history of the field pertaining specifically to the issue. Levine is primarily a historian but is also well versed in material culture and field archaeology. See pp. 33–95, which deals specifically with the Second Temple period.

  • Meyers, Eric M. “Jewish Culture in Greco-Roman Palestine.” In Cultures of the Jews. Edited by David Biale, 135–179. New York: Schocken, 2002.

    A well-written and engaging overview of topics relating to Jewish cultural development over the course of the Second Temple period. Although the essay is not limited to archaeology, it is written by an influential and well-respected field archaeologist in the archaeology of Palestine.

  • Richard, Suzanne, ed. Near Eastern Archaeology: A Reader. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003.

    An edited volume containing dozens of essays on archaeology in the Near East, from the earliest periods through Late Antiquity. Part 1 includes discussions on archaeological method and theory, which might be very helpful to those coming to Second Temple archaeology from the perspective of literary or historical studies. Part 2 includes short essays on select topics by period, all with bibliography for further reading.

  • Schürer, Emil. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. 3 vols. Revised and edited by Fergus Millar, Géza Vermès, Matthew Black, and Martin Goodman. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1973–1987.

    A three-volume set that is standard reading for Second Temple studies. It is a complete reworking of a 19th-century German work, though it bears little resemblance to the original, beyond the overall structure. None of the revisers are field archaeologists, though all are familiar with the archaeological evidence. The work makes frequent references to major sites, finds, and epigraphic evidence.

  • Virtual World Project.

    A website for viewing archaeological sites in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan in virtual reality. The website includes sites from all periods and is an excellent introduction both for novices and students, providing a nearly hands-on experience for those who are unfamiliar with archaeological excavations or who cannot physically be at the sites. The website also has information for introductory texts and teaching resources.

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