A Survey of the Second Temple Period:

From the Persian Period to AD 70.

Submitted to Dr. Monte Shanks, in partial fulfillment

of the requirements for the completion of the course

NBST 510-B02

New Testament Introduction


Joyce Gerald

March 6th, 2016



Introduction. 1

Chronological History. 1

The Persian period (539-331) 1

The Greek period 331 to 320 BC.. 2

The Ptolemaic period (320 to 198 BC) 3

The Seleucid or Syrian period (198 to 167 BC) 4

Jewish period of Self Rule (167 to 63 BC) 5

The Maccabean period (167 to 63 BC) 5

The Hasmonean period (135 to 63 BC) 6

The Roman period (63 BC to AD 70) 7

Hellenism and the Jewish Culture. 9

Conclusion. 13







The Second Temple period crossed all lines of, theological and political historicity.  Part one of this study of the Second Temple period begins with the Persian period and the influences of Hellenism on the Second Temple period, it ends with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.[1]  Part two presents a discussion on Hellenism and its impact on the Jewish culture.  Included in the argument are the various positive or negative factors of Hellenism that impacted Judaism and the Holy Land leading up to the dissemination of Scripture throughout the Roman Empire; did these negative and or positive factors impact the spread of Scripture?[2]   Scholars dated the Second Temple period from 515 BC with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem and concluded with the destruction of the temple by the Roman Empire in AD 70.[3]  The Second Temple period extended through five specified periods of history.  The following chronological survey presents the periods is historical order.

Chronological History

The Persian period (539-331)

The Persian period began in 539 BC and lasted until 331 BC.[4]  J. Julius Scott chronicled the Old Testament books of as source references for the existence of the temple.[5]  Numerous books of the Bible and prophetic events, including 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Malachi and the prediction of John the Baptist are hallmarks of this period.[6]  Contrary to the previous captors of the southern tribes of Israel, under Persian rule, Judah continued its theological, social, and cultural activities.[7]  Ezra petitioned Cyrus to grant the diaspora permission to return home to rebuild the destroyed temple, the king agreed.[8]  The rebuilding of the temple did not conclude under the reign of Cyrus.[9]  Scott proposed that The Persian period afforded Judah the opportunity to reestablish its identity as the people of God; reinstitute religious observance, foster a sense of national pride, and cultural awareness.[10]  The weakness of the political structure of the Persian Empire led to the demise of the kingdom, and an invasion by the Greeks in 331 BC ended Persian control over the

Alexander the Great began his quest for world rule with his defeat of the Persian generals and Darius III.[13]  Historical and biblical references to Alexander, his tough and brutal Grecian rule as predicted by Daniel concerning the prophecy of the “great he-goat” chronicled the military strategist’s prowess.[15]  The Greek period unified all nations, religions, and cultures through the assimilation process of Hellenism and the Greek language; it was under Grecian rule that Greek became the dominant language in Judah.[16]  However, Scott stipulated the instigation of assimilation of Hellenism in Judah did not during this period.[17]

Alexander died at the age of 33; neither his infant son Alexander IV nor his brother Phillip were able to maintain the veracity of the kingdom.[18]   The death of Alexander the Great left his empire divided among four of his top generals: [19] Ptolemy, Seleucus, Cassander, and Lysimachus.[20]  Consequently, Ptolemy began the Ptolemaic period as Pharaoh of Egypt ruling Northern Africa and Palestine from about 320 BC.[21]

The Ptolemaic period (320 to 198 BC)

According to Lester Grabbe, the Ptolemaic dynasty provided numerous opportunities for Jews. [22]   Scott recorded a settlement of Jews in Alexandria as an example of the possibilities afforded to Jews during this dynasty.[23]   Freedom of religious expression offered by the Ptolemaic period differed from the Alexander the Great’s leadership; however, Scott documented that the “widespread” intrusion of Hellenism existed in areas outside of Jerusalem.[24]  Under Ptolemy II, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek was the greatest contribution of Hellenism, which left a mark on the Jewish culture.[25]   Ongoing skirmishes with the Seleucids concluded in 198 BC when Antiochus III of Syria defeated Ptolemy V to gain control of Palestine; thus, beginning the Seleucid or Syrian period.[26]

The Seleucid or Syrian period (198 to 167 BC)

Grabbe posited the Jews welcomed Seleucid rule, and amicable relationships were established and maintained.[27]  Antiochus III experienced a defeat by the Roman army at Magnesia; Antiochus was forced to send his son, Antiochus IV, to Rome as a hostage; a high tribute was required from the Seleucids while Antiochus IV was in Rome.[28]   The line of ascension to the throne passed from Antiochus III to his son Seleucus IV, who was replaced by Antiochus IV.  Scott posited that with the passing of the Ptolemaic period came the gradual infusion of the Hellenism into every facet of Jewish life by Antiochus IV Epiphanes.[29]  Antiochus desired to spread Hellenism throughout his empire. [30]  At the same time, the need for finances to pay the tribute exacted by the Romans for his brother fostered bribery among the Jews for the position of Jewish high priest such as the corruption of Jason and Menelaus in their acquisition of the role of high priest.[31]

In addition to the perversion of the high priesthood through bribery, Antiochus IV called himself “Antiochus Epiphanies” which means “Glorious One.”[32]  Antiochus attempted to limit Judaic religious practices and fulfilled Daniel’s prophecy of the “abomination that causes desolation,” by erecting a statue of Zeus in the temple and sacrificed a pig on the altar.  Jewish families refused to submit to Antiochus and his pagan practices.[34]  Scott referenced the rise of the “Hasidim-Pious Ones” due to the disregard for Jewish religious observances during and the rapid infusion of Hellenism this period.[35]  Antiochus’ brutality, irreverence for Judaism, and the defilement of the temple precipitated the revolt at the village of Mode led by the Hasmonean Mattathias and initiated the Maccabean revolt in 167 BC ending the Seleucid period and brought into being Jewish Self-Rule for the first time in centuries.[36]

Jewish period of Self-Rule (167 to 63 BC)

Jewish Self-rule in Judea began after centuries of exile and dominance by foreign rulers. [39]

The Maccabean period (167 to 63 BC)

The Maccabean period, named after Judas, “the third son of Mattathias”; nickname, “Maccabeus,” which means “the hammer.”[40]  Maccabeus led an attack that resulted in the cleansing of the temple, and the annual celebration of is known today as “Hanukah, or the Feast of Lights” in 166 BC. [41]  Furthermore, this attack and previous battles were supported by an alliance with the Syrians.[42]  After the death of Judas, his brother, Jonathan utilized his diplomatic and military skills to win many battles and appointed himself as high priest.[43]   Scholars believed that the appointment of Jonathan as high priest prompted the beginnings of the Qumran Community.[44]  Scot reported the existence of the Essenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees was well-established entities during Jonathan’s reign; the existence of Essenes, Pharisees, and Sadducees implied that the infusion of Hellenism created the religious subgroups within the Jewish culture.[45]  Simon, Jonathan’s brother, ruled after Simon’ death and fostered the status of independent rule for Israel; however scholars reported that “the Maccabees declined into a selfish group of Hellenizing despots” [46]; thus, ushering the ”Hasmonean” period.[47]

The Hasmonean period (135 to 63 BC)

Simon’s son, John Hyrcanus became the first of the Hasmonean ruler.[48]  Aristobulus I, the Hellenistic king, reigned for only one year.  Salome, Aristobulus I’s wife married his brother Alexander Jannaeus, whom scholars determined was Hellenistic due to his name; Jannaeus demonstrated the essence of the Hellenistic culture, but not the biblical lifestyle a High Priest.[49]  Scott described Jannaeus as a, “hellenized Asian despot.”[50]  Salome the only woman to occupy the Hasmonean throne, appointed Hyrcanus II, as high priest, and Aristobulus II the military leader of the kingdom.[51] 

Aristobulus II, who acquired the throne after Salome’s death, had a tenuous reign; news of the tension between Aristobulus II and Hyrcanus II reached the Roman General Pompey.[52]  During an attempted coup by Hyrcanus, Aristobulus considered the temple a place of refuge; Pompey entered the temple area, defeated Aristobulus and entered the holy of holies as a conqueror and declared Hyrcanus the high priest not king or ruler of the province.[53]  General Pompey’s occupation of Palestine ended Jewish Self-Rule and started the Roman period.[54]

The Roman period (63 BC to AD 70)

Pompey governed for 14 years until a civil war with Julius Caesar erupted; during the civil unrest, many Judeans contended for power; among them were, “Antigonus (heir of Aristobulus II), Hyrcanus II, Antipater (the Idumean), and Antipater’s sons, Phasael, and Herod.”[55]  During the civil war, the men above backed Antipater and Caesar; [56] as a result of championing Caesar Antipater received for his the position of Procurator “Herod the Great”, his son, was made King of Judea as ratified the Roman Senate election.[57]  Herod consolidated his power and ruled his territory, for Caesar, with the assistance of the Roman army at the beginning of 39 BC.[58]  

The Sanhedrin supported Herod and his sons to continue the Herodian rule of Judea until the destruction the Second Temple. Herod the Great’s greatest accomplishment was the rebuilding of the Second Temple [59] while the main atrocity committed by Herod was the death of the male children in Bethlehem.  Grabbe considered the story of the death of the children a fantasy; no other scholars appeared to agree with him.  Scott described Herod during his final days as a “diseased”, emotionally imbalanced, and harrowing person.[62]

The lineage of the Herodian kings began with Herod the Great followed by his sons Herod Antipas; who entered into an incestuous marriage with the wife of his brother; Philip the Tetrarch, his grandson Herod Agrippa I, and great grandson Herod Agrippa II.[63]  After the death of Pilate, a Roman procurator, Palestine was governed by Roman procurators whose disrespect for the Jews resulted in revolts one that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; the second revolt, the “Bar Kokhba revolt” resulted in the Jewish state’s demise.[64]  The Roman period provided the peace, infrastructure and unity needed for the furtherance of the gospel.[65] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles described Roman stability as “’just the right time’ for Jesus’ appearing.”Supported by the permanence of the Roman infrastructure, transportation systems, and economic stability, Christianity spread throughout the known world.[67]

The common language of Greek made the reproduction and transmission of the canon efficient.[68]  Citizens and non-citizens of the Roman Empire were familiar with Greek; therefore, the oral traditions of Christianity transmitted through this language during the Roman period supported the development of Scripture as Christianity moved from Palestine to the rest of the empire.[69]

The Second Temple period closed with the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD.[70]  Hellenism brought to bear by the Greeks spread throughout the Second Temple period. Hellenism and its influence on the culture of the Jewish people in Palestine have been addressed in this paper; however,

proffer varying opinions on its impact on Hellenism on the Jewish culture. Grabbe contended that the perceived impact was minimal and posited that the infusion of Hellenism was a “centuries-long process of synthesis and diversification.” [71]  John Collins iterated that scholars did not consider “Judaism” and “Hellenism” as systems operating in “competition” or “opposition” with each other, but were, in fact, systems that complimented each other culturally and were parallel theologically.[72]  Collins posited that the diaspora completed assimilation of hellenization, due to its separation from the culture of the temple.[73]  On the other hand, the cult of “Judaism” in Judea still looked to the temple for spiritual and cultural guidance.[74]

Collins purported that “Judaism or ioudaismos” just like “hellenismos/Hellenism” represented not just an ethnic group but a way of life.[75]  Furthermore, Collins proposed that Antiochus IV’s action in the temple, which initiated the Maccabean revolt, had a possible plural interpretation: was he making a change in the theological culture of the day or was he simply equating “Zeus” with the same status “Yahweh”?[76]  Joann Scurlock appeared to agree with Collins in that Scurlock presented a case for plurality in the temple concerning “Zeus” and “Yahweh” as equal in deity.[77]  However, Scurlock’s theological frame of reference is in direct opposition of Daniel 12:11, and defied the monotheist nature of Judaism and Christianity.[78]

Scott presented a compelling case for the sanctity of the temple and the impact of Hellenism on culture by defining the nature of culture as a “way of thinking and lifestyle” of a people group; it included every facet of life including “philosophical systems” and religious norms that govern behavior.[79]  More importantly, Scott declared that any minute change by Hellenism “may” have a significant impact on the culture.[80]  Scott presented a strong case for the non-existence of a pluralism between Hellenism and Judaism by iterating the theological differences between Judaism and Hellenism.[81]  In addition, Scot declared Judaism was “monotheistic, ethical, and practical” whereas Hellenists/Hellenism was “polytheistic or pantheistic, metaphysical, and speculative.”[82]

The discourse concerning Hellenism and its impact on Judaism as a theological construct must occur within the framework of the theological “way of life” referenced by Scott. Therefore, Collins and Scurlock’s contention that Hellenism and Judaism could coexist within a parallel “lifestyle” is false and misleading.  Questions about the impact of Hellenism on Judaism that still required answers were:  was the impact of  Hellenism on the Jewish culture solely a negative influence on Jews in Palestine, and was the impact isolated to specific areas or did it permeated the region?

Scot declared that the introduction of Hellenism was not a threat to the Jewish way of life; many Jews accepted the construct of Hellenism; that number included Palestinian Jews.[83] Scott further posited that Hellenism offered one language among all Jews, regardless of their location. [84]  Through the publication of the Septuagint; the message of the Old and New Testament canons presented itself as a positive addition to Judaism.According to Scott, the negative impact of Hellenism was “pseudepigrapha”; pseudepigrapha presented Jewish works as “Hellenistic (or Greek-oriented) Judaism”; this included literary works of that proffered an understanding of “history” or expanded Jewish “scripture, stories, and legends.”[86]  In addition, Scott purported that pseudepigrapha infused syncretism “the eclectic mix of religious beliefs and practices“ into the literary culture of Judaism thus negatively impacting the literature and theological culture of Judaism; affirming that Hellenism impacted the way of life of Jews because Jewish theology and the Jewish way of life are one and the same.[87]

Additionally, Scott documented that Jews who embraced syncretism welcomed pagan religious rites into Jewish worship while others discarded Judaism and adopted Hellenistic gods or became “secular agnostics”.[88]  Douglas Boin documented the meaning of the term “Hellenism” from the point of view an orthodox separatist Jew to mean “Jews . . . acting too Greek. . . impious . . . [or living a] lifestyle of the Greeks.”[89]

Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles evaluated the content of the Second Temple period literature; the scholars concluded that the impact of pseudepigrapha and syncretism on period’s literature was both positive and negative. [90]  Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles noted that 1 Maccabees revealed the literature as an invaluable resource for that particular period in Jewish history even though it was not “inspired” or “authoritative”. [91] Furthermore, the scholars posited that the writings reflected theological constructs of the Jewish people.[92]  On the other hand, Kostenberger, Kellum and Quarles also noted the negative aspects of the literature revealed teachings that were heretical, or out of step with the “doctrines” in the “canonical books”.[93]  Examples mentioned by the scholars included “praying for the dead”, and exposure to magic; according to Jewish theology those activities were heretical.[94]  The preponderance of evidence presented in this discussion chronicled the plural impact of the positive and negative influences of Hellenism on the Jewish culture.



The dual purpose of this discussion was to provide a brief history of the Second Temple period, beginning with the Persian period and concluding with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, as well as document the influence of Hellenism on the Jewish culture.  The historicity of the periods presented in the paper demonstrated the influence of the numerous governing bodies of the Jewish culture.  The Persian period proffered a return to Palestine and the rebuilding of the temple; thus reestablishing the dispersed people back to Palestine and provided a spiritual frame of reference for the nation once again.  Hellenism, initiated by Alexander the Great, presented both a positive and negative influence on the religious activities and culture of the Jews.  The demonstrated influence of Hellenism during each period of history reinforced the religious convictions of some Jews and led to the Maccabean revolt and the establishment of the reclusive Qumran community.  Hellenism as a cultural construct, representing polytheism, permeated the monotheistic culture of Judaism.  Hellenism did not erase the reading of the Torah; however it introduced .


[1] Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: an Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 59.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 81; 49; 52-1.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 81.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ezra 3:8.

[10] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 86.

[11] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 65.

[12] Daniel 8:8; 10:20.

[13] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 88.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Daniel 8:8; 10:20.

[16] Lester L. Grabbe, An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel and Jesus (London: T & T Clark, 2010), 11.

[17] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 88.

[18] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 66.

[19] As prophesied by Daniel “The ram which you saw with the two horns represents the kings of Media and Persia.              And the shaggy goat represents the kingdom of Greece, and the large horn that is between his eyes is the first king. And the broken horn and the four horns that arose in its place represent four kingdoms which will arise from his nation, although not with his power.” Daniel 8:20-22, (ESV).

[20] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 66.  64-1

[21]  Ibid.

[22] Grabbe, An Introduction,132;

[23] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 88.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 68; (285-246 BC).

[26] Ibid., 68.

[27] Grabbe, An Introduction, 9.

[28] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 68.

[29] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 90.

[30] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 68.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 68; Daniel 11:21-35.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 91.

[36] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 70.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid., 70-71.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 70.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 91.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 95.

[46] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 70.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Grabbe, An Introduction, 18.

[49] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 99.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 78.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid., 101-102.

[56] Grabbe, An Introduction, 18.

[57] Ibid., 22.

[58] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 89.

[59] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 181.

[60] Mathew 2:16-18.  Again, nice job of including the relevant biblical text for historical verification.

[61] Grabbe, An Introduction, 24.

[62] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 96.

[63] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 74-75; (see Mark 6:14-29 and other canonical gospels).

[64] Ibid., 901.

[65] Ibid., 77.

[66] Ibid., 79.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 77.

[69] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 163.

[70] Ibid., 78.

[71] John J. Collins, Jewish Cult and Hellenistic Culture: Essays on the Jewish Encounter with Hellenism and Roman Rule (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 21.

[72] Ibid.  37

[73] Ibid., 22.

[74] Collins, Jewish Cult, 22.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Ibid., 23.

[77] Joann Scurlock, “167 Bce: Hellenism or Reform? ” Journal for the Study of Judaism 31, no. 1-4 (2000): 135, doi:10.1163/157006300×00071.  49

[78] And from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be 1,290 days.” This scripture clearly defined the action as sacrilegious.

[79] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 141

[80] Ibid.

[81] Ibid., 133.

[82] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds, 133.

[83] Ibid., 135.

[84] Ibid., 25.

[85] Ibid.

[86] Ibid.

[87] Scott, Jewish Backgrounds,126.

[88] Ibid.

[89] Douglas Boin, “Hellenistic “Judaism” and the Social Origins of the “Pagan-Christian” Debate,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 22, no. 2 (2014): para. 15, doi:10.1353/earl.2014.0017.  49

[90] Köstenberger, Kellum, and Quarles, The Cradle, 83.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Ibid.

[94] Ibid.



Boin, Douglas. “Hellenistic Judaism and the Social Origins of the Pagan-Christian Debate.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 22, no. 2 (2014): 167-96. doi:10.1353/earl.2014.0017.


Collins, John J. Jewish Cult and Hellenistic Culture: Essays on the Jewish Encounter with Hellenism and Roman Rule. Leiden: Brill, 2005.


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. London: T & T Clark, 2010.


Köstenberger, Andreas J., L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles. The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament. Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009.


Scott, J. Julius. Jewish Backgrounds of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000.


Scurlock, Joann. “167 Bce: Hellenism or Reform?” Journal for the Study of Judaism 31, no. 1-4 (2000): 125-61.



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