Grabbe, Lester L., An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel and Jesus (New York: T&T Clark, 2010).
Lester L. Grabbe’s introduction to Second Temple Judaism is a text that packs a lot of information into a smaller space. It is not too large to use as a textbook for a semester long course and it is not too short to deprive the reader of the broad overview needed for studying this subject. The best thing about this book is that it dispels the simplistic language sometimes used of Judaism in the Second Temple Period. It presents what some have come to call “Judaisms,” plural.
In Chapter 1: Introduction Grabbe provides the “big picture” outlining various events and worldviews that created the second temple context. These include early Israelite religion, the monarchies, the exile, and the subjugation of the people to the Persians, Greeks, Romans and other groups. Grabbe explains the context of the Maccabean revolt and the subsequent Hasmonian dynasty as a precursor to Roman rule.
Also, in this chapter Grabbe lists his sources. These include what have come to be known as canonical Scripture, writings from people like Josephus and Philo, collections of books like the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Once the introductory sections are complete the reader moves into Grabbe’s organization of the Second Temple Period. He frames his discussion by investigating “textual Judaism,” “revolutionary Judaism,” “eschatological Judaism, ” and “inverted Judaism.” These lines aren’t clean though. Grabbe writes concerning Judaism around the time of 70 CE: “Judaism at the turn of the era was a pluralistic, multi-faceted entity with great diversity and complexity (p. 129).”
In Chapter 2: Textual Judaism: The Priestly and Scribal Current Grabbe reminds readers that Torah was not the central part of Judaism. The temple maintained that role for most Jews (pp. 40-41). He presents the priesthood as vastly important to the people arguing that the importance of the synagogue may not have arisen until “the last decades while the Second Temple stood (p. 41).
The priesthood receives a lot of attention in this chapter. They are depicted as those with the best opportunity for learning and literacy. He says, “…it was likely to be the priests who had the education, the leisure, the intellectual stimulus, and the interest to do such things (p. 44).”
This is not to say that Torah was not important. While there was no formal “canon” of Scripture (p. 131), “…most Jews seem to have accepted the Torah and most of the prophetic books by the first century CE. Therefore, the written Word and its interpretation were very important to Judaism even while the temple stood (p. 42).”
This chapter contains discussion on the priestly rule of Judah, the Hasmonaean kingdom, the evolving wisdom traditions, the scribes, the Pharisees (as viewed in the New Testament, later rabbinic literature, and the writings of Josephus), the Sadducees, ans the Essenes (along with their debated relationship to the Qumran community). Each one of these “sectional” chapters provides a list of recommended reading at the end.
In Chapter 3: Revolutionary Judaism: The Political and ‘Messianic’ Current the table is set by surveying the Maccabean revolt, the conquest of the Romans, and various revolts. Grabbe introduces readers to the ‘Fourth Philosophy’ of the Sicarri with their dreams of a violent revolutions, the nuanced group known as “the Zealots,” and the Bar Kokhba Revolt. This provides a context for “messianic expectations.”
Grabbe is quite careful with this subject since there was not a uniform expectation of messiah at this time. Some anticipated a king-priest. Some anticipated a warrior-judge. At Qumran there appears to have been some who saw a messiah of David and a messiah of Aaron (kingly-priestly). It is too easy for Christian readers who find in the Gospels the anticipation of a singular son of David to project that on other groups ithin Judaism. Grabbe shows it is not that easy.
In Chapter 4: Eschatological Judaism: The Apocalyptic Current Grabbe aims to investigate the origin of apocalyptic and eschatological thinking (two genres he know scholars make distinct, but two genres he emphasizes are closely paralleled to one another). He lists various traits of these genres, works that may be classified as apocalyptic/eschatological, and some of the common themes they address such as the afterlife, resurrection, the soul, the future of the physical world, the expected “end of time,” and more.
Chapter 5: Inverted Judaism: The Gnostic Current is the most speculative. Grabbe is persuaded that gnosticism (or proto-gnosticism) has it roots in speculative Jewish interpretations of Scripture, especially the Book of Genesis (p. 123). He investigates various “Gnostic Sources” such as the Nag Hammadi Codices and patristic polemics. Then he provides an overview of gnostic mythology and various gnostic groups showing how he connects their worldview with some Jewish literature.
Everything is tied together in Chapter 6: Summary and Conclusions. Overall it is a useful, short read. Most of the information is fairly standard with various unique insights from Grabbe, but the chapter on gnosticism is something I don’t recall seeing in other books on this topic.