SOAS University of London

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

Judaism in the Hellenistic and Roman Period

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2017/2018
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. The course will examine the impact of Graeco-Roman culture on Judaism and analyse the significance of the destruction of the Second Temple and the rabbinic reorganization of Judaism after 70 C.E. Special emphasis will be given to the social structure and leadership of the Jewish community and to the relationship between social structure, literature, and religious practice.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

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

  • identify the differences and continualities between Judaism before and after the destruction of the Second Temple;
  • explain the significance of Hellenism for ancient Judaism;
  • asses the rabbinic contribution to the reorganization of Judaism ater 70 C.E.;
  • understand the role and functions of rabbis in ancient Jewish society;
  • discuss the nature and development of rabbinic halakhah;
  • use rabbinic literary sources in a historical0-critical way;
  • write essays which are based on critical assessment of literary, epigraphic and archaeological source material.

Scope and syllabus

The course will first look at the return from Babylonian Exile under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemia. It has been argued that in post-exile times the 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 analyze expressions of assimilation, acculturation, and Jewish identity.

The so-called rabbinic period after 70 C.E. is considered the foundation of Judaism: the rebbis transformed Judaism from a temple-centered into a Torah-centered religion. The course will examine the internal organization of the rabbinic movement and its impact on the development of halakhah, 

It will analyze how rabbis fit into the provincial culture of Roman Palestine and how they compared with other types of "holy men". In addition, the relationship of rabbis to the Patriarch, to their students, and to the Jewish community will be analyzed.


2 hour lecture and 1 hour seminar each week.

Method of assessment

Coursework: two 4,500 word essays (100%) worth 50% each. 


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules