Second Temple Judaism: Pillars, Rituals and Festivals

1. Four Pillars of Second Temple Judaism: What convictions held them up?



is the One True God Deut 6:4 (the Shema); 1 Kings 8:60 (Solomon)
is holy and transcendent Isa 40-55; Dt 4:39
created the world Jer 27:5; Isa 40:12, 28; Psm 95:3-5; 96:5; Psm 136:4-9
controls history Psm 136:10-22; Dan 2:20-21

Josephus on the God of the Jews:
"[Moses] represented [God] as One, uncreated and immutable to all eternity; in beauty surpassing all mortal thought, made known to us by His power, although thenature of His real being passes knowledge. ... He is the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things. By His works and bounties He is plainly seen, indeed more manifest than ought else; but his form and magnitude surpass our powers of description. No materials, however costly, are fit to make an image of Him; no art has skill to conceive and represent it. The like of Him we have never seen, we do not imagine, and it is impious to conjecture." (Against Apion 2.167, 190-191)

Judith 8:18 (after the crisis under Antiochus)
"For never in our generation, nor in these present days, has there been any tribe or family or people or town of ours that worships gods made with hands, as was done in days gone by."

Israel is God's covenant people, chosen before creation.

God selected Abrham, promised to bless his descendants, rescued them, revealed to them God's law, and brought them into the land.
God's promises to the patriarchs (Genesis 12, 15, 17, 22, etc.) are confirmed to later generations (Exod 6, 32, etc.).

Jubilees 15:31-32 (2nd century BCE)
...over all of [the nations] he caused spirits to rule so that they might lead them astray from following him. But over Israel he did not cause any angel or spirit to rule because he alone is their ruler and he will protect them...

Psalms of Solomon 9:8-9 (1st century BCE)
And now, you are God and we are the people whom you have loved; look and be compassionate, O God of Israel, for we are yours, and do not take away your mercy from us, lest they set upon us. For you chose the descendants of Abraham above all the nations, and you put your name upon us, Lord, and it will not cease forever. You made a covenant with our ancestors concerning us, and we hope in you when we turn our souls toward you. May the mercy of the Lord be upon the house of Israel forevermore.

Torah = the Pentateuch = the Law = Genesis through Deuteronomy

 The Law  God's good gift
 Israel's privileged possession (Psm 19:7-14)
 Israel's national constitution & foundational story
 the very words of God

Torah's laws set the Jews apart (e.g. Sabbath, circumcision, food laws). Israel’s appropriate response was obedience

Baruch 3:36-4:4 (2nd century BC)
He found the whole way to knowledge, and gave her to his servant Jacob and to Israel, whom he loved. Afterward she appeared on earth and lived with humankind. She is the book of the commandments of God, the law that endures forever. All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die. Turn, O Jacob, and take her; walk toward the shining of her light. Do not give your glory to another, or your advantages to an alien people. Happy are we, O Israel, for we know what is pleasing to God.

 The Temple God's holy space
the focal point of Jewish life
the place where God's glory was revealed (1 Chron 7:1-16)
the best place to be (Psm 84:1-4, 10)

586 BCE: Solomon's Temple destroyed by the Babylonians
539 BCE: foundations of the Second Temple laid
516 BCE: Second Temple dedicated
168 BCE: Antiochus IV defiled sanctuary
164 BCE: Judas Maccabeus purified it; sacrifices resume on 25th of Chislev
19 BCE: Herod the Great began Temple reconstruction
63 CE: Herod's Temple completed
70 CE: Temple destroyed by Titus

1.4.1. Religious center

Sirach 36:18-19: Have pity on the city of your sanctuary, Jerusalem, the place of your dwelling. Fill Zion with your majesty and your temple with your glory.

4 Ezra 10:21-22: For you see that our sanctuary has been laid waste, our altar thrown down, our temple destroyed; our harp has been laid low, our song has been silenced, and our rejoicing has been ended; the light of our lampstand has been put out, the ark of our covenant has been plundered, our holy things have been polluted, and the name by which we are called has been profaned...

1.4.2. Political center

1.4.3. Economic center

Did the earliest Christians adopt, adapt or reject these pillars? How?

Monotheism: can you still embrace monotheism and worship Jesus?
Election: why has most of Israel rejected Messiah if they are God's elect people? Has God abandoned his people?
Torah: what role does the Law have now that Gentiles are enjoying salvation?
Temple and Sacrifice: what role does the Temple have if God now dwells among his people, and if Christ’s death was a sacrifice?

2. Rituals and Festivals: What cultural practices set Jewish life apart?

2.1. Sabbath (Gen 2; Exod 20, 31)

2.2. Circumcision (Gen 17, 34; Lev 12)

2.3. Food and Purity (Lev 11; Deut 14)

the laws of kashrut  
ritual impurity
  • from touching a corpse (Num 19) or carcass (Lev 11)
  • childbirth or menstruation
  • leprosy (various skin conditions)
purification required water (Lev 11, 15)
  • bathing in immersion pools
  • washing clothes/objects

2.4. Synagogue

2.5. Annual Festivals

Passover / Unleavened Bread Nisan 14th  = March/April
Weeks / Pentecost 50 days after Passover  = May/June
Yom Kippur / Day of Atonement Tishri 10th  = Sept/Oct
Booths / Tabernacles
7-8 day fall festival, 5 days after Yom Kippur  

Did the early Christians adopt these aspects of Jewish culture?

3. Parties and Groups: Who ran what?

3.1. Priests/Aristocracy

High Priest

Sanhedrin: supreme Jewish council in Jerusalem

3.2. Sadducees

3.3. Pharisees

3.4. Essenes and Qumran

 Qumran ideas  We alone are God’s true people, and follow the ‘Teacher of Righteousness’.
 We reject the current religious system and Temple as corrupt.
 We must live separated lives of ritual purity.
We await God’s intervention to defeat our enemies and restore his people.

3.5. Zealots (cf. Sicarii = urban terrorists)

3.6. People of the Land

How would these various groups respond to Jesus?
Which groups would be most receptive? Most hostile? Why?
Would the early Christians have looked like another Jewish sect?