Category:Second Temple Studies

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Second Temple Studies (STS) -- Home Page
Second Temple Studies (STS) -- Home Page

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Second Temple Studies is a field of research that specialized on the social and intellectual history of Second Temple Judaism, from the Babylonian Exile to the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

< Timeline  : (1) Babylonian Exile -- (2) Persian Period -- (3) Greek Period -- (4) Maccabean Period -- (5) Roman Period -- see also Historical Jesus Studies, and Christian Origins Studies >

4 Enoch focuses on this period, providing a comprehensive introduction to the history of research, biographies of scholars and authors, as well as articles on the most relevant topics. The Encyclopedia includes scholarly works by international specialists, as well as selected fictional and non-fictional works by authors who have influenced the development of scholarship in the field.


STS -- History of research -- Overview
STS -- History of research -- Overview

The Second Temple Period is a crucial stage in the history of the Jewish people, as well as in the foundation of both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, but only in contemporary times it has emerged as an autonomous field of research.

(a) The Forgotten Era

The Second Temple period was for centuries equally neglected by both Christians and Jews. If Christianity was the fulfillment and replacement of the “old” covenant, and Rabbinic Judaism the continuation of the “old” Mosaic covenant, then Second Temple Judaism was a theologically insignificant period. There were exceptions. The continuous fortune of Josephus (and of his Christian and Jewish doubles, Hegesippus and Josippon), and the works of Epiphanius and Philastrius, Ibn Daud and Maimonides, kept alive the memory of ancient Jewish diversity up to the Middle Ages. But the Second Temple period caught no theological and scholarly attention. Not accidentally, the most comprehensive and original treatment of Second Temple Judaism would be offered in the Middle Ages outside both the Christian and the Rabbinic tradition by the Karaite leader Yusuf Yaqub al-Qirqisani at the beginning of the tenth century CE.

(b) The Rediscovery of Second Temple Judaism (15th-17th centuries)

The revival of interest in Second Temple Judaism during the Renaissance was prepared by the movement of the Christian Cabbalists, notably, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494), Johann Reuchlin (1455-1522), and Guillaume Postel (1510-1581). Their philosophical search for universal wisdom gave theological meaning and dignity to post-biblical Jewish literature, effectively defending it from the charge of “heresy.” But it was the “rediscovery” of Flavius Josephus, that made post-biblical Judaism historically significant, after centuries of oblivion, in the broader context of a renewed interest in Classical Studies. In particular, scholarly work inspired by Josephus added new dramatic details to the characters (also known from the Bible) of the Maccabees, Herod the Great (and Mariamne), and Herod Antipas (Herodias, Salome, and John the Baptist). In 1548, Paul Eber (1511-1569), Professor of Old Testament at Wittenberg, was the first to write a history of the Second Temple period in modern times, following the model of Josephus. In the 1580s, Corneille Bonaventure Bertram (1531-1594) and Carlo Sigonio (1524-1584) offered a first reconstruction of Jewish political and religious institutions in post-biblical times.

The interest in Classical Studies also penetrated Jewish culture. Azariah de' Rossi was the first modern Jewish scholar to focus on Second Temple Judaism, its history, archaeology and literature (especially Aristeas, Philo and Josephus), and to use non-Jewish sources (secular and Christian) to supplement or check the data in Talmudic literature.

Among Christian Hebraists, post-biblical Jewish sources began more and more frequently to be studied for apologetic reasons in order to illustrate the New Testament and confirm its "credibility." In the 17th century, John Lightfoot (1602-1675) wrote the first comprehensive commentary of New Testament based on Jewish, mostly halakhic, literature.

(c) The "Intertestamental" Age (18th century)

The rise of critical scholarship produced a first, important turn. As a result of the new critical interest in history and philology, Christian theology began to admit that, to a certain extent, post-biblical Judaism served to prepare for the coming of Jesus. At the beginning of the 18th century, Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724), clergymen and scholar, dean of Norwich, reinvented "Second Temple Judaism" as the “intertestamental” period. His work (The Old and New Testament Connected in the History of the Jews, and Neighbouring Nations; from the Declension of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the Time of Christ, 2 vols., London 1716-1718) dominated the field for more than a century with numerous editions and translations in French, Italian, and Germany. It also prompted interest in the literature of the period. The Codes Pseudepigraphus Veteris Testamenti (Hamburg 1713-33) by Johann Albert Fabricius (1668-1736) was the first published collection of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. The age "from Malachi to Jesus" emerged in Christian scholarship as a distinct historical period--it was the necessary "connection" between the Old and the New Testament, the time in which God's providence acted to create the right conditions for the spreading of the Christian message.

(d) From "Intertestamental" to "Late" Judaism (19th century to 1945)

The interest of Christian scholarship in the religious life of the Jews at the time when Jesus was born, strengthened in the nineteenth century; the neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte became an established field of research. The new climate created by the French revolution and the Emancipation encouraged Christian scholars, such as Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827) and Aurelio Bianchi-Giovini (1779-1862), to approach the period in conversation with Jewish scholars. For the first time, Jewish scholars, notably, Isaak Markus Jost (1793-1860), Joseph Salvador (1796-1873), and Morris Jacob Raphall (1798-1868), entered the scholarly arena as scholars, greatly contributing to the development of the field.

The scholarly interest did not result, however, in a more appreciative approach to Judaism. On the contrary, the spread of anti-Semitic attitudes, which came to dominate European culture particularly since the second half of the nineteenth century, added to the legacy of medieval religious anti-Judaism to make most Christian scholars even harsher in their contempt of Second Temple Judaism. What was previously seen as a time of stagnation and insignificance, marked by the production of 'non-canonical" literature, came more and more to be labeled as a time of religious decadence. After the Babylonian exile and the end of the prophecy Judaism regressed from its biblical premises to become "in the age of Jesus" the legalistic and sanctimonious religion against which the Christ had to fight and his followers in the present were still committed to claim superiority. The term Spa"tjudentum (Late Judaism) appeared the most appropriate--chronologically and morally--to denote this period. The masterpiece of Second Temple Studies in the 19th century, Die Geschichte des jüdischen Volks im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ) by Emil Schürer was not unaffected by this climate.

Even in the face of such derogatory attacks, the reaction of Jewish scholars, or actively pro-Jewish scholars like George F. Moore, was significantly ambiguous; while defending the validity of the one Judaism, they showed little interest in defending the religious value of the Second Temple period. Against the neutestamentliche Zeitgeschichte, the jüdische Wissenschaft concentrated on the cultural importance of the period in the long, glorious and not yet concluded history of the Jewish people. The rise and influence of Zionism added a political touch to this otherwise theologically meaningless age: after all, the Second Temple period was the last glorious time of Jewish independence and self-government in the land of Israel--the time of the second Jewish Commonwealth.

(e) From "Late" to "Early" Judaism (1945-1980)

The Second World War and the Holocaust shook even the most insulated consciences. In France, Jules Isaac denounced the responsibilities of the Christian teaching of contempt, which preached the religious "end" of Judaism. His appeal was heard by the conference of Seelisburg in 1947 and by the Vatican Council in 1965; the two events mark the formal debut of the contemporary Jewish-Christian dialogue on the grassroots and the official level respectively. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls came timely to open wide, unhoped-for horizons of research and fostered a renewed interest in ancient Jewish literature other than rabbinic. This did not mean immediately the collapse of the single-Judaism model. Post-war scholarship retreated to the less controversial notions of intertestamental or New Testament history; the "new Schurer" revised critically the work of the past generations. The most derogatory traits having now being removed, time was ripe for a reappraisal of Second Temple Judaism as a dynamic age of Jewish diversity and creativity and the common cradle of both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. The Jewish monolith began showing its first cracks.

The term Frujudentum ("early Judaism") established itself in the 1970s and early 1980s as an attempt to voice this new understanding of Second Temple Judaism not as a time of stagnation or regression but as a creative and dynamic age of new beginning. James H. Charlesworth went straight to the point: "as early Christianity signifies the origins of Christianity, so early Judaism denoted the beginning of synagogal (modern) Judaism." The breakdown with the polemical concerns that originated the single Judaism model could not be expressed more effectively: what once was "late" was now labeled "early".

(f) From "Early" to "Middle" Judaism (1980-2000)

The last twenty years of the 20th century have wiped out any residual confidence about the immutability of Rabbinic Judaism and its normativeness in the Second Temple period. The unbroken normative tradition from Moses to the Mishnah has been unveiled for what it is--nothing more than an ideological construct without any historical foundation, not less artificial than the Christian historia sacra.

Far from being the trustees of the accepted tradition of Israel, the sages were the leaders of a bold reform movement that developed in the aftermath of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple and took its shape in the first centuries of the Common Era. "Through their distinctive literature and patterns of religion [the sages] gave Judaism a new form of expression... The destruction of the Temple thus marked not only an end but also a beginning" (Shaye J.D. Cohen).

At its inception, the rabbinic movement, with its theology and halakhah, was just one of several varieties of Judaism of the time, competing with, and being influenced by, other theological and halakhic systems. With their major competitors (namely, Christians and Hellenistic Jews) the sages engaged a life-or-death fight for supremacy and survival that would shape their own identity and ultimately decide the destiny of Israel. "Many of the Judaic worlds of Second Temple Judea and the Hellenistic Diaspora persisted for quite some time into the post-70 CE period and influenced rabbinic Judaism dramatically... Rabbinic Judaism did not even begin to dominate the religious imagination and life patterns of large groups of Jews until the third century CE at the earliest. And it did not finally succeed until well after 650 CE" (Martin S. Jaffee). In fact, only during Islamic times was Rabbinic Judaism able to claim a clear victory within the entire Jewish people and become the norm, although neither totally exclusive nor unchallenged, of Jewish life.

The rise of Rabbinic Judaism as a reform movement out of the diverse world of Second Temple Judaism strikingly parallels that of its christian sibling. The centuries from the Maccabean revolt to the Jewish War were neither the end point of an already established monolithic Judaism before Jesus ("late Judaism"), nor the starting point of a linear process of evolution naturally leading to the rabbinic stage ("early Judaism"). Those centuries were the transitional and diverse age ("middle Judaism") of many competing Judaisms, in which both Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism had their "origins" in common "roots" in post-exilic Jewish thought (Gabriele Boccaccini). After the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, their ways gradually parted; "formative" Judaism and "formative" Christianity shared a destiny of struggle and competition before "the Judaism of the rabbis and the Christianity of the church fathers... emerged as... primary Western religions" (Lawrence H. Schiffman)

(g) The Diversity of Second Temple Judaism (the 21th century)

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Pages in category "Second Temple Studies"

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