Tag Archives: second-temple judaism

Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism (1998)

Erich S. Gruen’s Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998) makes a bold argument, namely that Hellenistic Jewish literature was not written as a pro-Jewish polemic (whether directed at Gentiles or Jews), but rather were written for as entertainment for an audience of Jews who felt totally at home in a Hellenistic environment.

For a favorable synopsis, see Allen Kerkeslager’s review (Shofar 19 (2000): 172-174).

For an extensive, critical review, see Daniel R. Schwartz, “Review Article: How at Home Were the Jews of the Hellenistic Diaspora?,” Classical Philology 95 (2000): 349-357.


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Collins and Harlow, eds., Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (2012)

Charlotte Hempel has a thorough synopsis and review of the introductory chapters from John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow’s Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism in Dead Sea Discoveries 21 (2014). The chapters reviewed are also published in Collins and Harlow’s Early Judaism: A Comprehensive Overview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012).

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Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination (2nd ed., 1998)

John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (2nd ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998)

Chapter 1, “The Apocalyptic Genre”: Collins begins by setting forth his definition of “apocalyptic”; he adopts the Semeia definition without much revision (unsurprisingly, since he edited Semeia 14), then briefly surveys other scholars’ views on the subject.1 Ne notes that, while apocalyptic has affinities with some Babylonian prophetic material, and it developed after contact with Persian thought, it flourished and became a cohesive genre during the Hellenistic period, after contact with otherworldly journeys and eschatological prophecies in Greek literature. Apocalypses were written by élite scribes, but were meant to be disseminated; many (though not all) were meant to console a group facing a crisis.

Chapter 2, “The Early Enoch Literature”: Collins argues that the Enochic apocalypses mythologize their message, making it applicable outside their own contexts. They also represent “the ideology of a movement” (70), rather than that of an individual. The group behind 1 Enoch identified themselves as “the righteous,” who were struggling against “the wicked.” The movement had its roots in the third century and was fully formed by the Maccabean revolt in the second. The Qumran community was an offshoot of the Enoch group. Collins also notes that Jubilees inherited 1 Enoch and reworked it within the Mosaic tradition—Moses, for example, receives the revelations in Jubilees, not Enoch—portraying history as a series of Jubilees, leading up to the eschatological vindication of the righteous, which it predicts rather than portrays.

Ch. 3, “Daniel”: Collins begins by reminding the reader that the apocalypses in Daniel (chs. 7–12) were written during the persecutions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, continuing the traditions of the tales (chs. 1–6). He then discusses the different revelations in Daniel. The four kingdoms (Dan 2) is a Persian image that the author adapted to express his own point that God would set up an eschatological kingdom and rule the whole world. The visions in Daniel 7 adapt the traditions from Daniel 2 and the Canaanite myths of El, Ba’al, and Yamm to the situation under Antiochus IV. Daniel 9 is concerned with offering “an assurance that the predetermined period of Gentile sovereignty is coming to an end” (109). Daniel 10–12 is an apocalyptic review of the history of Hellenistic Palestine up through Antiochus IV, predicting Antiochus’ defeat—though it disparages the Maccabees—and the resurrection of the people who died fighting Antiochus.

Ch. 4, “Related Genres: Oracles and Testaments”: This chapter consists of two parts: oracles and testaments, as the title suggests. In the first part, Collins only treats Sibylline Oracle 3, which was a Jewish compilation of two centuries’ worth of oracles; it went on to “[inaugurate] a tradition of sibylline prophecy in Egyptian Judaism” (126). In the second part, he covers the Testament of Moses, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and, briefly, the Psalms of Solomon. The Testament of Moses was composed in two parts; it was first written in the second century BCE, in response to the crisis of Antiochus IV, and it was redacted in the early first century CE. As an apocalypse, it is most closely related to Daniel. It is not certain whether the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs were written by Jews or Christians, but they make extensive use of Jewish traditions nonetheless. They are not apocalypses per se, but they do contain eschatological sections; they also expect two messiahs: one kingly and one priestly. The Psalms of Solomon also expect two messiahs.

Ch. 5, “Qumran”: This chapter does not examine texts from Qumran directly; instead, it synthesizes them to give an overview of the apocalyptic strains of the Qumran community’s thought. They believed that nothing happened outside of God’s mandate, that there was a cosmic war between the forces of good and evil in which they were participants, that two messiahs (one priestly and one kingly) would come to restore Israel at the “end of days.” and that the community enjoyed the fellowship of angels on earth.

Ch. 6, “The Similitudes of Enoch”: The Similitudes were composed for a (perhaps persecuted) community that called themselves the “community of the righteous,” to assure them “that their destiny is secure in the hands of ‘that Son of Man’” (191), their heavenly representative, and that God will rescue them from the wicked.

Ch. 7, “After the Fall: 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham”: These apocalypses date after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Fourth Ezra is a cathartic book; the Ezra here is “a reluctant apocalyptist” (211) and questions God’s justice, “bring[ing] to expression the fears and frustrations of a sensitive and perceptive Jew in the wake of the catastrophe of 70 CE” (210). Second Baruch, written between the two Jewish revolts, argues that Jerusalem fell because the Jews did not study the Torah; not surprisingly, the book is linked to the nascent rabbinic Judaism of its day. The Apocalypse of Abraham deals with the origin of evil and the role of God’s people in the world; like 4 Ezra, it does not provide any definite answers to its questions

Ch. 8, “Apocalyptic Literature from the Diaspora in the Roman Period”: This chapter surveys the Sibyllines (except for Sib. Or. 3, which was covered in ch. 4), 2 Enoch, 3 Baruch, and the Testament of Abraham. Sibylline Oracle 5 was composed in Egypt and is anti-Rome. Sibylline Oracles 1–2 and 4 were originally Jewish compositions, possibly from Phrygia; both divide history into 10 periods. 2 Enoch is hortatory literature, but it is also concerned with eschatology; the righteous become angels after death, and the cosmos is sharply divided “between the present world of normal human experience and the ‘other’ transcendent world revealed to Enoch” (247). 3 Baruch was written in Egypt after 70 CE; it describes a realized eschatology with individual judgment. The Testament of Abraham is intended to console people in the face of death.

Ch. 9, “Apocalypticism in Early Christianity”: Jesus’ message was (at least partially) apocalyptic, and the earliest Christians “had an eschatological orientation” (260), though they were not an apocalyptic group. Paul expected an imminent eschaton, because he believed that the Messiah had already come. Revelation is different from other contemporaneous apocalypses in that it takes the form of a circular letter, it is not pseudonymous, and it does not review the history of the world up through the eschaton, but it does employ traditional apocalyptic images, like the Son of Man and Ancient of Days from Daniel 7.

1 The Semeia definition: apocalyptic is “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.” See John J. Collins, ed., Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre (Semeia 14; Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1979).

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Stroumsa, The End of Sacrifice (2009)

Guy G. Stroumsa, The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity (trans. Susan Emanuel; 2009).

Thesis: The religious landscape of Late Antiquity represented a radical change from the eras prior to it.

Chapter 1, “A New Care of the Self,” argues that the anthropological shifts in Late Antiquity had their basis in religious practices. The main religious change of Late Antiquity, of course, was the high status that Christianity attained. However, “it is with Jewish weapons”—like communal asceticism, conversion as repentance (metanoia) rather than a returning (epistrophe), and the prophet as the ideal person—“that Christianity conquered the Roman Empire” (11). Late Antique Judaism adapted the prophetic ideal into the figure of the sage, who occupies him/herself with studying Torah, while Christianity turned the prophet into the saint, the holy man who confronts the bishop from the margins of society, the same way that the biblical prophets confronted the priests. Moreover, Christianity made holiness, achieved through ascesis, available to everyone (unlike in pagan culture, where spiritual greatness was reserved for philosophers and other “intellectual elites” [25]).

Chapter 2, “The Rise of the Religions of the Book,” tracks how Late Antique religions developed their understandings of sacred texts. Stroumsa begins with Judaism, which developed a rich textual tradition during the Second-Temple period, but by Late Antiquity held the Torah as the only truly sacred book (supplemented by oral traditions). Next, he discusses the Quranic category of “people of the book” (ahl al-kitāb), noting that, in Quranic usage, the “Book” (kitāb) is an oral text related to heavenly revelation, independent of the codex (musḥaf). This concept was also already present in Manichaeism, which contained a strong theology of the book. Early Christians also were deeply devoted to sacred texts, almost all of which were codices (rather than scrolls, the dominant form of the book when Christianity developed). Codices were inexpensive and portable—qualities which allowed Christians to disseminate information quickly. The early Christians used Jewish sacred texts (i.e., the Septuagint), and they readily acknowledged the Jewishness of those scriptures (to the point of sparing Jewish books whenever they razed synagogues). Christians, of course, also developed their own canon (the New Testament), the core of which was finalized in the 180s, around the same time that the Mishnah was completed. Early Christianity, like Second-Temple Judaism, saw a proliferation of sacred texts. By Late Antiquity, however, Christianity—again like its contemporary Judaism—devoted itself to the study of a small selection of sacred literature (canonized, by that point, as the Bible).

Chapter 3, “Transformations of Ritual,” shows how Late Antiquity marked a turning point in religious practices. Before the second century (where Stroumsa idiosyncratically places the beginning of Late Antiquity), Mediterranean religious practice centered on blood sacrifice. With the destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 CE, Jewish worship became spiritualized and democratized, focusing on prayer and Torah study—which could be done anywhere, not just Jerusalem. By the rabbinic period, (elite) Jewish practice revolved around halakha, much in the same way contemporaneous elite Christian practice focused on askēsis. In contrast to post-70 Judaism, early Christianity defined itself as a sacrificial religion; however, it emphasized that only one sacrifice (Jesus’) was necessary to appease God, and that sacrifice was re-enacted in the Eucharist and in martyrdom. At the end of the chapter, Stroumsa includes two interesting asides: 1) the Docetic crucifixion story, where Christ laughs from Heaven while his stand-in is crucified, can be seen as a Christian reworking of the Akedah, and 2) Philo—a contemporary of Paul’s—argues that Isaac (the Jewish sacrificial hero par excellence, like Jesus was for the Christians) was the son of God, who miraculously made Sarah a virgin before she conceived Isaac.

Chapter 4, “From Civic Religion to Community Religion”: Before Late Antiquity, religion resided in the public domain; it required correct performance of rituals but did not require adherence to a certain set of beliefs, and the rituals were performed in public by all the residents of a city, or at least their representatives. After the Christianization of the Roman Empire, however, and the subsequent interiorization of religion, it moved out of the public sphere and into the realm of individual groups. At the same time, religious groups began to require orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy. Stroumsa also treats inter-religious violence in this chapter, focusing on Christian anti-paganism and anti-Semitism (which developed out of a purely theological anti-Judaism in the fourth century), showing that the end of religious (pagan) pluralism led to these polemics.

Chapter 5, “From Wisdom Teacher to Spiritual Master,” compares pagan philosophy with Christian spirituality (which Stroumsa himself acknowledges as an artificial distinction). Stroumsa argues that Greek and Roman priests were not spiritual leaders, whereas Christian priests, like their Jewish predecessors, played such a role. Christian spiritual formation thus represents a “rupture with the past” (116). Pagan philosophical instruction took place among elites, who had the leisure to contemplate the good life, which Christian spiritual leaders evangelized members of all levels of society. By Late Antiquity, “the spiritual director is less a sage than a saint” (125)—that is, the spiritual master’s teachings do not bring wisdom, but abolish independent thought, thereby saving the disciple.

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Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah, 2nd ed. (2005)

George W. E. Nickelsburg, Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah: A Historical and Literary Introduction (2nd ed.)

This book is a textbook on (mostly) non-canonical Jewish writings from the Hellenistic and Roman periods (i.e., the apocrypha, pseudepigrapha, and the DSS). The Introduction sets forth his interpretive paradigm (he wants to explicate the texts’ internal stories and logic) and contains a brief overview of the problems with the terms apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. The Prologue is a brief overview of Israelite and Judahite history from the sack of Samaria under Shalmaneser V in 722 BCE and the sack of Jerusalem in 586, through Cyrus’ decree in 538, the return from exile, and the establishment of the Jewish diaspora.

Chapter 1, “Tales of the Dispersion,” covers texts written by Jews in the Babylonian and Assyrian diaspora. It includes Daniel 1-6, the additions to Daniel (Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, and the Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men), 1 Esdras 3-4 (the Story of Darius’ Bodyguards), Tobit, and the Epistle of Jeremiah.

Chapter 2, “Palestine in the Wake of Alexander the Great,” gives a summary of the foreign powers who ruled over Palestine from the Persian period through the Hellenistic period. The chapter then examines the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries (1 Enoch 72-82), the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1-36), and Sirach. This chapter also discusses apocalypticism in 1 Enoch.

Chapter 3, “Reform—Repression—Revolt,” summarizes the events in Palestine from 198 BCE (when Antiochus III defeated the Ptolemies) through the end of the Hasmonean revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164. In his survey of texts from the period, Nickelsburg discusses the apocalyptic responses to Antiochus IV and the war in Palestine: Jubilees, the Testament of Moses, Daniel 7-12, and 1 Enoch 83-90 (the Animal Vision).

Chapter 4, “The Hasmoneans and Their Opponents,” covers the rulership of the Hasmonean period and the Hasmoneans’ relations with the Seleucids and Romans. The texts from this period are Baruch, Judith, 1-2 Maccabees, and the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 92-105). Nickelsburg also outlines the literary development of 1 Enoch as it stands today.

Chapter 5, “The People at Qumran and Their Predecessors,” covers the major works among the Dead Sea Scrolls, including the Damascus Document; the pesharim to Habakkuk, Psalms, Nahum, and Isaiah; “three thematic exegetical texts” (132), viz. 1QFlorilegium, 11QMelchizedek, and 4QTestimonia; the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QHab and 4QH); the Community Rule; the War Scroll; 4QMMT; the Rule of the Congregation (1QSa); the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice; the Temple Scroll; Aramaic Levi; the non-canonical psalms in 11QPsa; 4QInstruction; the Genesis Apocryphon; and The New Jerusalem. This chapter is by far the longest in the book.

Chapter 6, “Israel in Egypt,” starts with a brief discussion of the Jewish Diaspora in Egypt, then covers the major Jewish texts from Hellenistic Egypt: the LXX, book 3 of the Sibylline Oracles, the Letter of Aristeas, 3 Maccabees, the Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Philo’s writings, and 2 Enoch.

Chapter 7, “The Romans and the House of Herod,” gives a significant amount of space to the leadership of Judea under Roman rule, namely Herod the Great and his heirs. The texts from this period are the Psalms of Solomon, the revisions of the Testament of Moses, 1 Enoch 37-71 (the Similitudes of Enoch), and 4 Maccabees.

Chapter 8, “Revolt—Destruction—Reconstruction,” deals with the period between the death of Herod Agrippa I (44 CE) and the end of the Jewish War in 70 CE. Reactions to the events of 70 are the Book of Biblical Antiquities (Pseudo-Philo) and the apocalypses 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham. The chapter also covers the life and writings of Josephus.

Chapter 9, “Texts of Disputed Provenance,” examines the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job, the Testament of Abraham, the Greek and Latin Lives of Adam and Eve, Joseph and Aseneth, and the Prayer of Manasseh. Each of these text have only been preserved in Christian editions, and so it is difficult to date them and to determine which parts of the texts are Christian in origin and which are Jewish.

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The Intermediate State in the New Testament: Jewish Setting

Before exploring the NT itself, it is fitting to situate the writings within their Second-Temple Jewish context. While the Hebrew Bible is largely silent on the topic of a future resurrection (and, thus, an intermediate state), during the Second-Temple period, the resurrection became, more or less, the standard Jewish teaching, and along with it came speculation on the nature of the intermediate state.[1]

For example, 1 Enoch clearly teaches that the souls of the righteous are kept in peace and the souls of the wicked are kept in torment until the eschatological judgment (1 En. 1:8; 22:1-4; 102:4-5; 104:1-4; 108:11-15.). Likewise, in 2 Maccabees, the dead face a two-stage afterlife (an intermediate state, then the eschaton). In Wisdom of Solomon, the righteous (that is, the martyrs) are safe in God’s hands after they die, as they await their vindication at the eschaton (Wis. 3:1-10). In Ps.-Philo, like in 2 Maccabees, the dead face a two-stage post-mortem process; first, they enjoy a temporary, blissful rest, asleep in heaven with the fathers, then they are resurrected to live in the new heaven and new earth (LAB 3:10; 19:12-13; 23:13; 25:7; 28:10; 51:5). For Josephus, the righteous dead are currently in a blissful state, awaiting the resurrection (War 3.374). Thus, it is clear that the mainstream Jewish teaching was that, after death, the soul is kept in an intermediate state until the resurrection at the end of time; moreover, in light of the prevalence of this teaching, we should assume, unless proven otherwise, that the NT authors followed the general contours of this teaching.


1. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003), 129.

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