Jewish Literature in New Testament Times

The Period of Independence


What Happened to the Jews During the Maccabean Revolt?

Jerusalem Temple Coin

The Period of Independence also called the Maccabean, or Asmonean, or Hasmonaean, period. Mattathias, a priest, of intense patriotism and unbounded courage, infuriated at the attempt of Antiochus Epiphanes to destroy the Jews and their religion, gathered a band of loyal Jews and raised the standard of revolt. He had five strong sons who were ready for battle; Judas, Jonathan, Simon, John and Eleazar. When Mattathias died (166 B.C.) his mantle fell on his son Judas, a warrior of amazing military genius. He won battle after battle against unbelievable and impossible odds. He re-conquered Jerusalem (165 B.C.); and purified and re-dedicated the Temple. This was the origin of the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah). Judas united the priestly and civil authority by making himself priest and king, and thus established the line of Hasmonaean priest-kings who for the following 100 years governed an independent Judea. They were: Mattathias (167-166 B.C.). Judas (166-161) . Jonathan (161-144) . Simon (144-135) . John Hyrcanus (135-106) , son of Jonathan. Aristobulus and sons (160-63) , unworthy of the Maccabean name.

Maccabean Coinage

The Pharisees

During this period of independence there arose some very significant and important Jewish sects. The Pharisees were a group that devoted themselves to the upholding of the law, they were a religious party who devoted themselves to the commentaries by the rabbis known as the oral law, which later became known as the Mishnah, an early form of the Talmud. They had a strong core belief that the oral law was the key to the Torah and could answer every need and problem in Israel. They were so fanatic about their devotion that they made themselves the upholders of the law and put themselves above the people. They consider the oral commentary and tradition of the rabbis as equal authority with the written law of Moses. The newest rabbis were springing up out of the sect of the Pharisees. Later when Jesus came to Israel he denounced the Pharisees for using their traditions and making the word of God of no effect.

The Sadducees

The Sadducees were actually rivals of the Pharisees, they were smaller in number but they were wealthy, aristocratic, and very influential. The Pharisees considered the Sadducees to be heretics because they put their materialism and secularism above the law of Moses. They were in opposition to the oral laws and had a different interpretation of the law. The Sadducees denied the existence of angels, they denied the resurrection, they denied immortality of the soul, and they did not believe in an afterlife. The Sadducees were priests who had a strong interest in the Temple activities and the sacrifices. They were also very influenced by Hellenism.

The Essenes

The Essenes were a group of mystics who had created a sort of monastery or community separated from society. They were not large in number and the initiation to become part of their group was very severe. They wore white robes as a symbol of purity with a leather girdle around the waist to defend them from any impurity. They had frequent ceremonial washings and would have nothing to do with anything that promoted violence. They strove for moral integrity, obeyed the law of Moses, observed the Sabbath, served one another, and usually did not marry.

Map of the Israel During the Maccabean Period
Israel at the time of the Maccabean Revolt

Also see The Roman Period


Jewish Literature

Esther Scroll

John 10:34 "Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your law.."

Rabbinical Literature and Second Temple Judaism

Jerusalem Temple CoinThe Rabbinic Writings, The Mishnah, and the Talmud. During the first century A.D. the Pharisaic rabbis created many commentaries on the Torah. When Jesus began his ministry He attacked the Pharisees for putting their traditions above the word of God. All the writings and commentaries of the first two centuries A.D. were compiled and organized into a collection by a man named Judah Hanasi around 200 A.D. forming a collection called the Mishnah. The Pharisaic rabbis were known as the "Tannaim" which in Hebrew is translated teachers, and these men were the teachers who regulated the law. There was another collection of their commentary which was much smaller, it was known as the Tosefta which in Hebrew means "enlargement". The later commentaries on the Mishnah were made by "expositors".

Brief Historical Background

The Jews and Torah
The Holy Scriptures
The Apocrypha
The Apocryphal Literature
The Oral Law
The Mishnah
The Gemara
The Halakah
The Haggadah
The Midrash
The Zugoth
The Tannaim
The Amoraim
The Tosefta
The Baraitha
The Talmud
The Tractates of the Mishnah
The Palestinian Talmud
The Babylonian Talmud

The Purpose and Heart of the Law - A Heart Message
Rabbinical Writings Chart

Historical Timeline

The Persian Period 430-332 B.C.
The Greek Period 331-167 B.C.
The Period of Independence 167-63 B.C.
The Roman Period 63 B.C. to the time of Christ
The Old Testament Canon
The Apocrypha
Other Writings
The Septuagint
The Text of the Old Testament
The Aramaic Language
The Targums
The Talmud
The Great Synagogue
The Sanhedrin
The Dispersion
Preparation for Christ




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