Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian, by Lester L. Grabbe. Vol. One: The Persian and Greek Periods; Vol. Two: The Roman Period. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992. 722 pp. $29.95 each vol.; $56.95 for set. ISBN 0-8006-2619-2.
The Second-Temple Period of Jewish history (539/38 B.C.-A.D. 70) has become something of a growth industry in recent years. It is difficult to imagine a more important and formative time in Western culture: The epoch includes not only the latter parts of the Old Testament and the so-called intertestamental periods but much of the New Testament age as well. During those centuries Judaism developed in sundry ways and coped with various calamities, not least of which was the devastation wrought by the Romans when they sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. The final years saw one small Jewish group, the followers of Jesus, begin to define themselves in relation to and over against the nation and religion in which they were born.
It is strange that in our age of endless publications, no one has written a full, academically respectable survey of the second-temple age and the innumerable problems it poses for those who study it. Histories of ancient Israel tend to peter out right after the return from exile, while New Testament histories generally take a quick run through the last 500 years B.C. or so as part of the de rigueur background material. The many specialized studies naturally treat only parts of it. Grabbe, who is Senior Lecturer in Old Testament and Early Judaism at the University of Hull in England, has now written a book that is intended to fill the need for comprehensive coverage between two (actually four in this case) covers. He tells us that he has written "...a handbook for students studying the history and religion of the Judean state during the Second Temple period" and "a two-volume reference work for scholars, especially those who work in the period but are specialists in only one aspect of it or those who do research in a neighboring discipline" (p. xxv). Grabbe should be commended for taking on tasks so formidable and for succeeding so well in completing them. Judaism from Cyrus to Hadrian should establish itself as one of those reference works that are kept ready to hand for easy access to a wide assortment of information about second-temple studies.
As the title and subtitles indicate, Grabbe has chosen a chronological arrangement for presenting the fruits of his study. The introductory chapter surveys the major ancient sources of information (written and unwritten) for the period (e.g., Josephus's writings) and offers what he calls a "Socioeconomic Overview." The remainder of the work is divided into nine chapters. The most substantial chapters, which also happen to be the more strictly historical ones, follow a set outline. Grabbe begins with a "Bibliographical Guide," that is, he lists the major secondary works about the period and offers brief comments on their value. The second element is "Sources,' a survey of the primary ancient sources from which we derive our knowledge about each period. The "Sources" sections are subdivided as needed, and the subsections are supplied with bibliographies and discussions. Third, Grabbe examines the more important historical issues that have arisen in study of the particular age and the views that experts have expressed on them. The last part is his synthesis of the data. This is the format for Chapters 2 (the Persian Period), 4 (Alexander, the Diadochi, and the Ptolemies), 5 (Seleucid Rule, the Maccabean Revolt, and the Hasmonean Priest-Kings), 6 (The Roman Conquest and Herod the Great), 7 (Province, Kingdom, Province--and the War with Rome), and 9 (Epilogue: To Bar Kokhba). The remaining chapters center about topics and are therefore organized somewhat differently. This is the case, of course, for the introductory chapter, but also for Chapters 3 (The Jews and Hellenization), 8 (Sects and Violence: Religious Pluralism from the Maccabees to Yavneh), and 10 (a survey of the Jewish Theocracy from Cyrus to Hadrian). …