Tag Archives: second temple judaism

The Crucible of Faith, by Philip Jenkins. A Review.

The so-called “inter-testamental” period, that 400-year period between completion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament, is nothing but a black-box to the majority of evangelical Christians. As the story goes, Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, was the last of the great Jewish prophets, before John the Baptist appears at the dawn of the New Testament period. Israel was without an inspired prophetic voice during this 400-year void.

The problem with this narrative is that it suggests that nothing of any substantive theological value was happening during that time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was during the era of Second-Temple Judaism, after the Temple was rebuilt following the Babylonian exile, when the subsequent invasions by the Greeks, the Seleucids, and the Romans, completely reshaped the world inhabited by the people of the Hebrew Scriptures. Respected Baylor historian, Philip Jenkins, has written a popular-level, sweeping history of the time, Crucible of Faith: The Ancient Revolution That Made Our Modern Religious World, that necessarily fills in the gap. Crucible of Faith makes for a fascinating read, but it can be unsettling at certain points. Jenkins’ work both strikingly illuminates the radical, Judeo-centric and often neglected developments of thought that created the theological culture that Jesus of Nazareth lived in, while inadvertently at times casting a shadow of doubt over the inner workings of progressive revelation in the Bible (if one is not careful).

Jenkins has written widely on topics related to Christian history, including a book that I highly recommend and that I read a few years ago, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died. Lost History is a fascinating survey of the much ignored churches of the Christian East, extending from the Middle East to Africa and Asia, during the first millennium of Christianity, that once dominated the Christian world, only to be crushed underneath the rise of Islam, and other Christian-opposing elements in Asia.

Jenkins’ more recent book from 2017, on the era just prior to the birth of Jesus, Crucible of Faith, was one of the last books I finished reading in 2020, and it has left me thinking more and more about it. Aside from my review of Tom Holland’s Dominion, this is my most in-depth book review of the year, … and the most challenging to write.


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Who Was Lilith? Did Adam Have a First Wife Prior to Eve?

Readers of the Book of Genesis will know that Adam’s first wife was Eve. But some have suggested that the story of Genesis was deliberately changed by the Christian church to hide the fact that Adam had a wife prior to Eve, and her name was Lilith. Is there any truth to this conspiracy claim?

It is true that according to medieval Jewish folklore, that there is a story about a Lilith, who was Adam’s first wife. The most obvious problem with the conspiracy claim is that one of the first Jewish writings to definitively tie Lilith to Adam was a mystical text, the Alphabet of Sirach, composed somewhere between the years 700 C.E. to 1000 C.E.  This is several hundred of years after the New Testament was already completed, and well over a thousand years after the story of Adam and Eve made its way into the Bible.

Lilith (1887) by John Collier in Atkinson Art Gallery, Merseyside, England (credit: Wikipedia)

What gives a little bit of life to the conspiracy claim is that a legend about a female demon, Lilith, did originate in Sumerian and Babylonian writings, centuries before Christ. Tales about Lilith crept into later Jewish writings. But the Alphabet of Sirach was one of the first written works to have made any serious connection between Adam and Lilith, and the Christian church had already been in existence for several centuries.

Dr. Michael Heiser has a 13-minute video explaining the full story about Lilith, including why medieval Jewish scribes invested in the Lilith story, and why the conspiracy theory about her existence as Adam’s first wife being suppressed can be easily dismissed.

Second Temple Judaism Timeline

Second Temple in Jerusalem, from the Holyland Model in Jerusalem. I saw this on my trip to Jerusalem years ago, but this photo from Wikipedia is better.

Second Temple in Jerusalem, from the Holyland Model in Jerusalem. Based on the writings of Josephus. I saw this on my trip to Jerusalem years ago, but this photo from Wikipedia is better.

When the Jews returned from the Exile in Babylon, in the late sixth century B.C., Jerusalem and its original temple lay in ruins.  Leaders like Nehemiah and Ezra helped to lead the people to rebuild the city and the temple. This “Second Temple” survived until being destroyed in 70 A.D., by the Romans. During that 600 year period, the Jews were dominated by a range of empires, including the Persians, the Greeks, the Syrians, and finally the Romans, though they were able to manage a brief period of self-rule during the Maccabean Revolt. Much of the later part of the Second Temple period is unfamiliar to many students of the Bible, as the last prophet we have in the Old Testament is Malachi, leaving about a four hundred year gap in the biblical chronology unaccounted for until the birth of Jesus. But modern scholarship today indicates that knowing this period of Israel’s history is critical to understanding the cultural context for the New Testament.

Recently, I discovering this interactive timeline for the Second Temple Judaism period at the BibleOdyssey.org, sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature.  I have been looking to something like this for awhile, so I am glad that BibleOdyssey.org put it together fairly recently. This is a great reference tool for your study of the Bible.

Just a word of caution: the Society of Biblical Literature includes a very wide spectrum of scholarship, conservative evangelical as well as liberal critical, so some of the dates given for a few of the biblical books might raise a few eyebrows.  For a comparable list of dates for the writing of Old Testament books from a conservative evangelical perspective, you might want to look as well at Matt Slick’s listing at CARM.org.

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