SOAS University of London

Department of Religions & Philosophies, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Second Temple and Rabbinic Judaism

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

The purpose of this course is to provide an overview of classical Judaism from the time after the Babylonian Exile until early Islamic times. 

In the first semester the course will focus on the Second Temple period (until 70 C.E.). We shall start with the return from Babylonian Exile under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemia. It has been argued that in post-exilic times Israelites became Jews, that is, a tribal cult was transformed into a religion in which intermarriage was criticized and conversion became possible. After the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great Hellenism exerted a huge impact on Judaism and continued to do so in Roman times. Many areas of Jewish life such as language, literature, education, ethics, religious thought, and material culture were affected by the surrounding Hellenistic culture. The course will examine the ways in which Judaism changed in the context of Graeco-Roman culture and it will analyse expressions of assimilation, acculturation, and Jewish identity.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of this course, a student should be able to:

  • identify the differences and continuities between Judaism before and after the destruction of the Second Temple
  • explain the significance of Hellenism for ancient Judaism
  • assess the rabbinic contribution to the reorganisation of Judaism after 70 C.E.
  • understand the role and function of rabbis in ancient Jewish society
  • discuss the nature and development of rabbinic halakhah
  • use rabbinic literary sources in a historical-critical way
  • write essays which are based on a critical assessment of literary, epigraphic and archeological source material

Method of assessment

2 essays (3,000 words each) (20% each), 3-hour exam (60%).

Suggested reading

  • Ackroyd, Peter (1969) Exile and Restoration. A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C. Philadelphia.
  • Boyarin, Daniel (1990) Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
  • Cohen, Shaye (1999) The Beginnings of Jewishness: Boundaries, Varieties, Uncertainties, Berkeley.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules