The ‘Unsilent’ Years

When I was in a school of biblical studies (that is, aeons ago in the late 1970s), I was taught that the period between the writing of the last Old Testament book and the first New Testament book was a period of about 400 years, which my instructors referred to as “The Silent Years” — that is, four centuries in which God did not speak to or through God’s people. However, an aeon or two after my graduation, through personal study and academic instruction, I came to understand that the last book of the OT (Daniel, not Malachi) was written in the mid-second century BCE and that the so-called “Silent Years” were anything but silent. In my Bible school, it was like we didn’t have to know anything about these centuries because nothing of any importance happened relative to Jesus, the early Jesus movement, and the rise of rabbinic Judaism. Nothing…and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth.

The Second Temple period (ca. 516 BCE to 70 CE) was a time of incredible creativity in terms of Jewish writings which many Jews perceived as great activity and engagement with their God. It was a time when the books that would eventually comprise the Hebrew Bible came into their final form. But it was also a time when so many of the so-called “non-canonical” books were written; books that not only expressed the theologies of the day but that helped shape the religious culture out of which came the Jesus movement and the writings of the earliest Jesus followers (canonical and non-canonical). As well, after the Roman destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, came the development of rabbinic Judaism and the production its great writings — the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the Jerusalem Talmud, and a few centuries later, the Babylonian Talmud.

So often I hear Christian preachers and read Christian authors who obviously know nothing or very little of the context which gave rise to their Jesus-following ancestors. They often portray first century Judaism as Jewish religion was during the monarchal period—or as they think it was. Or they portray Judaism of the Second Temple period as it later came to be under rabbinic influence. Rabbinic Judaism didn’t begin to evolve until after 70 CE and wasn’t more fully evolved and standard until the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries CE. I have heard and I have read so many anachronistic examples, illustrations, references, and comparisons. The Second Temple period was vital and formative to what both Judaism and Christianity became. Ignorance of the history and literature of this period leads to all kinds of misunderstandings of scripture and misrepresentations of Jews and Christians alike.

As a long standing and continuing student of the Second Temple period,[1] I have found the following books/resources to be incredibly helpful in my attempts to understand the first century CE context and to minimize the number and seriousness of my anachronistic mistakes:[2]

  • Matthias Henze: Mind the Gap – How the Jewish Writings between the Old and New Testament Helps Us Understand Jesus
  • Daniel Boyarin: Border Lines – The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity
  • Seth Schwartz: Imperialism and Jewish Society, 200 BCE to 640 CE
  • John J. Collins & Craig A. Evans: Christian Beginnings and the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • James L. Kugel: How to Read the Bible – A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now
  • Karel van der Toorn: Scribal Culture and the Making of the Hebrew Bible
  • Eugene Ulrich: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Origins of the Bible
  • James VanderKam & Peter Flint: The Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls
  • Karen H. Jobes & Moises Silva: Invitation to the Septuagint
  • George W. E. Nickesburg: Jewish Literature between the Bible and the Mishnah (2nd ed.)
  • Shaye J. D. Cohen: From the Maccabees to the Mishnah (2nd ed.)
  • Timothy Michael Law: When God Spoke Greek
  • John J. Collins & Daniel C. Harlow: Early Judaism – A Comprehensive Overview
  • Adele Berlin & Marc Zvi Brettler: The Jewish Study Bible
  • Amy-Jill Levine & Marc Zvi Brettler: The Jewish Annotated New Testament
  • Jonathan Klawans & Lawrence M. Wills: The Jewish Annotated Apocrypha
  • Website: Access to articles written by dozens of renowned scholars
  • Podcast:

[1] My educational qualifications include a B.A. in Classics (2011, UBC) followed by an M.A. in Hebrew Bible and Ancient Judaism (2018, UBC). I am currently engaged in a doctoral program in Theology and Ministry.

[2] This list is in no particular order since I have no idea what each individual reader knows or has a specific interest in. Some of the resources are reasonably scholarly in writing style and content, while some are accessible to newly interested students. If the titles or subject matter interests anyone, then one can check them out online and decide for oneself which, if any, to buy and read. Also, I can recommend others if interested.  

3 thoughts on “The ‘Unsilent’ Years

    1. Thanks. Do you have any specific topics related to the Second Temple period that you are interested in pursuing (e.g., scripture formation, apocalyptic literature, Dead Sea Scrolls, the relationship of Judaism and Christianity, early Christian non-canonical writings, etc.)?

      Liked by 1 person

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