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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collections of and Introductions to the Literature
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
  • Commentary Series
  • Journals
  • Inscriptions and Papyri
  • Fragmentary Jewish Writers in Greek
  • Greek in the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Greek and Rabbinic Judaism
  • Language Usage among the Jews

Jewish Studies Hellenistic Jewish Literature
Lester L. Grabbe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 August 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0048


Surveying Hellenistic literature is not an easy task. Although the term normally applies to literature in Greek (or possibly in Latin), there is evidence that a great deal of literature originating in Hebrew and Aramaic was translated into Greek at some point; and other literature presently preserved in Syriac, Latin, and other languages was probably written originally in Greek. This survey is mainly limited to the works that originated in Greek (2 Maccabees) or that circulated widely in Greek in the Jewish community (e.g., 1 Maccabees). There is also the question of general Hellenistic influence on the Jews and Judaism, because the Jews (whether in the Greek diaspora or in Palestine) were living in the wider Hellenistic world that followed the conquests of Alexander the Great. Although this entry focuses on the literature, for a detailed wider study of Hellenism and the Jews, see Grabbe 2004– (Volume 2, chapter 6; cited under General Overviews). In addition to Second Temple Jewish literature, sections consider Inscriptions and Papyri (some of which relate directly or indirectly to the Jews and their historical context), Greek in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Greek and Rabbinic Judaism, and the question of Language Usage among the Jews of the general Hellenistic period up to the fall of the Second Temple.

General Overviews

The Cambridge History of Judaism (Davies and Finkelstein 1989; Horbury, et al. 1999) includes literature among its essays. Schürer 1973–1987 has a thorough literature survey in Volume 3 (Parts 1 and 2). For the historical and religious context (which makes use of the literature among its sources), see Grabbe 1992, Grabbe 2000, and Grabbe 2004–. Hengel 1974 includes literature in examining the relationship of Judaism and Hellenism.

  • Davies, W. D., and Louis Finkelstein, eds. The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol. 2, The Hellenistic Age. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

    Essays on a variety of topics, including the archaeology, languages, diaspora, literature, and aspects of the history of the Jews in the Hellenistic period. Some unevenness in the quality of the essays, but the main weakness is lack of an overview.

  • Grabbe, Lester L. Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian. 2 vols. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992.

    A medium-length history of Second Temple Judaism, with several chapters covering Hellenism/Hellenization, Ptolemaic and Seleucid rule, the Hasmonean kingdom, and the Roman conquest. Vol. 1, Persian and Greek Periods; Vol. 2, Roman Period.

  • Grabbe, Lester L. Judaic Religion in the Second Temple Period: Belief and Practice from the Exile to Yavneh. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203461013

    Written to supplement Grabbe 1992, this volume focuses on religion rather than history. There is an update of bibliography and discussion on most writings.

  • Grabbe, Lester L. A History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period. Library of Second Temple Studies. London and New York: T&T Clark, 2004–.

    Projected four-volume work to cover both Jewish history and Jewish religion: Volume 1 covers the Persian period (2004) and Volume 2 the early Greek period to 175 BCE (2008). Volume 3 will be on Seleucid and Hasmonean rule, and Volume 4 will cover the Roman period to 132–135 CE.

  • Hengel, Martin. Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period. 2 vols. London: SCM, 1974.

    A detailed examination of the Jewish interaction with Hellenistic culture and rule from the early Greek period to the Maccabean revolt. A seminal work, but Hengel’s espousal of Bickerman’s theory (see Bickerman 1976, cited under Fourth Maccabees) about the cause of the Seleucid persecution of Judaism is not widely accepted today.

  • Horbury, William, W. D. Davies, and John Sturdy, eds. The Cambridge History of Judaism. Vol. 3, The Early Roman Period. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521243773

    Similar approach to the previous volume, but covers the period from about the conquest of Judaea by Rome (63 BCE) to the reign of Vespasian (69–79 CE), though these chronological limits are exceeded by a number of articles.

  • Schürer, Emil. The Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. Revised and edited by Geza Vermes, Fergus Millar, and Mathew Black. 3 vols. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1973–1987.

    Major 19th-century study of the Jews and Judaism in the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Hasmonean, and Roman periods, revised some decades ago. Volume 1, the history, was not thoroughly revised and is strongly in need of updating. Volume 2, on the Hellenistic world and the Jews in the diaspora, and Volume 3, on the literature, are solid and reliable studies.

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