By the Rivers of Babylon: New Perspectives on Second Temple Judaism from Cuneiform Texts

By Dr. Caroline Waerzeggers

Aim and team

This project, financed by the European Research Council, draws on recent advances in the study of cuneiform texts to illuminate the Babylonian environment of the Judean exile, the socio-historical context that gave rise to a transformative era in the history of Judaism known as the Second Temple period. Since September 2012, the project is hosted at Leiden University. The team consists of dr. Caroline Waerzeggers (PI), dr. Jonathan Stökl (post-doc), dr. Jason Silverman (post-doc), Tero Alstola (PhD student), Rieneke Sonnevelt (PhD student), Bastian Still (PhD student), Marlon van Wijk (student assistant).


In the history of Judaism, the Babylonian exile constitutes a major watershed. The social, institutional and cultic organization of the Second Temple differed markedly from the forms that had existed in the kingdom of Judah before the diaspora. These divergences are seen in almost every facet of religious life: in the composition of the temple community, the organization of the sacrificial cult, the social structure of the priesthood and its attendant role in the greater society at large, the system of governance, and the ideational world affecting its adherents’ theological and literary output. These areas of change can be more generally considered as functions of three forms of community organization: temple, society, and intellectual universe. At all three levels, the central position was occupied by the Jerusalem priests who returned from the Babylonian exile. Yet despite the exilic origins of the Judean priesthood, the extensive scholarship on the subject largely ignores recent advances in the study of Neo-Babylonian cultic and social forms, based on the rapid disclosure of the period’s extensive cuneiform record. This data offers a remarkably fertile ground for comparative research into the changed outlook of the post-exilic temple community of Jerusalem, and an opportunity to situate the Judean priesthood more firmly in their socio-historical context.

Website and contact

The project website is currently being transferred to the Leiden University webpage and given a revamp. It will be finished by mid-February 2013. For information, please contact Caroline Waerzeggers (