The term used of the religion and culture of the Jewish people from the time of the Return from Exile to the present day, but especially from the Maccabean age. ‘Early Judaism’ is often dated from 167 BCE when the Temple was desecrated (2 Macc. 6: 4). In the three centuries BCE/CE Judaism was pluralist, embracing nationalists like the Hasmoneans, apocalyptists who wrote the book of Daniel, quietists like the Essenes, as well as the Pharisees and Sadducees. There were also Herodians (Mark 3: 6) who entered into friendship with the royal family, and Zealots who ‘came out’ during the Jewish Revolt of 66–73 CE and fought the Romans, and the heterodox Samaritans. There were many disputes, even within the Pharisee group, about how the Law was to be applied, but later rabbinic literature tended to generalize disputes into the rival schools of Hillel and Shammai. Jesus had many disputes with Pharisees though he was also on visiting terms with some of them (Luke 7: 36; 14: 1). But the bitterness between Church and Synagogue at the time of the composition of the gospels may be responsible for the harsh condemnations of Matt. 23 etc. and the portrayal of Jews as murderers whose children will suffer the consequences of their sins (Matt. 27: 25).

At Jamnia the foundations of later Judaism were laid. Amid all the diversity of Judaism, the common elements were the rite of circumcision, observance of the Sabbath, veneration of the Torah, an obligation to the Temple while it remained, and worship of the one God and rejection of all images; and thus a determination to maintain Jewish distinctiveness.