Discovering Second Temple Literature The Scriptures and Stories That Shaped Early Judaism

About the Book

Exploring the world of the Second Temple period (539 BCE–70 CE), in particular the vastly diverse stories, commentaries, and other documents written by Jews during the last three centuries of this period, Malka Z. Simkovich takes us to Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, to the Jewish sectarians and the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus, to the genizah in Cairo and the ancient caves that for centuries kept the secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls. As she recounts the history of Judaism during this vibrant time, she presents samplings of some of the period’s most important works and analyzes them for both known and possible meanings—illuminating the perspectives of Jewish writers, leaders, and readers in this formative era.

This book interweaves past and present in four parts. Part One tells modern stories of discovery of Second Temple literature: caches of ancient Jewish manuscripts in unearthed in synagogues, churches, even caves in isolated regions of the Judaean desert – regions that lay almost entirely unexplored for thousands of years. Part Two describes the Jewish communities that flourished both in the Land of Israel and in the Diaspora. Part Three explores the lives, worldviews, and significant writings of Second Temple authors. Part Four examines how authors of the time introduced novel, rewritten and/or expanded versions of Bible stories in hopes of imparting messages to the people.

Simkovich’s “popular archaeology” style will engage readers in understanding the remarkably creative ways Jews at this time chose to practice their religion and interpret its scriptures in light of a cultural setting so unlike that of their Israelite forefathers. Like many modern Jews today, they made an ancient religion meaningful in an ever-changing world.

“A thorough and very readable introduction to the literature of Second Temple Judaism, Simkovich’s book will fascinate anyone interested in the world of Hillel, Shammai, Josephus and Jesus.”

– Steven Fine, Churgin Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University

“An amazing picture of Second Temple Judaism comes to light in this excellent synthesis.  Simkovich’s is eminently readable and well-balanced account will help readers to understand the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and Dead Sea Scrolls’s  contributions to Judaism and Christianity, as well as period literature in Outside the Bible.”

Lawrence H. Schiffman, Judge Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, New York University and Editor, Outside the Bible 

“In this impressively erudite and popular volume, Simkovich reveals how audiences in the ancient world would have understood the writings of Second Temple authors that are often elusive to us. Moreover, she amply demonstrates why we should care about these,works, both for the light they shine on an explosively creative historical period and for what they say about being Jewish even in our own time.”

– Leonard Greenspoon, Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization, Creighton University.

Honorable Mention by Association of Jewish Libraries, 2019

Malka Z. Simkovich

Visit Malka Z. Simkovich's website

Malka Z. Simkovich (PhD, Brandeis, 2015) ) is the Crown-Ryan Chair of Jewish Studies and director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. Her articles have been published in such journals as the Harvard Theological Review and the Journal for the Study of Judaism, as well on online forums such as, The Lehrhaus, and The Times of Israel. Her first book, The Making of Jewish Universalism: From Exile to Alexandria was published in 2016.

Book Reviews


Excerpt: 'Rewriting the Bible'

Press Release

Study Guide: 'Discovering Second Temple Literature"

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