Just finished Between the Testaments: From Malachi to Matthew (Deseret, 2002), by S. Kent Brown and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel. I put the book on the front panel at the DMI Bookstore (which you really ought to visit if you haven't). This isn't what you'd call a heavy doctrinal or historical book, but it's quite useful for bridging the disconnect between the end of the Old Testament and the dawn of the New Testament some 500 years later. In an earlier post I noted a couple of interesting items from Section I of the book, which reviewed the history of Judea during this period. Here I'll pick a theme from each of the other three sections, which cover sacred writings; parties or sects that emerged among the Jews in Judea; and doctrinal developments that arose during the period.
The Apocrypha date from this period. They were generally written in Greek and reflected, in places, Greek influence, which seems to be the primary reason they did not get incorporated into the Hebrew Bible. But that canonization process did not occur until the first century AD. Many such writings were included in the earlier Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament that was widely used by early Christians (another reason such writings were disfavored by Jewish canonizers). The Apocrypha are not generally familiar to Protestants anymore, although they were once routinely included in Protestant bibles. Catholic bibles include several of these books, which are termed "deutero-canonical" in the Catholic tradition. Mormons probably ought to be more familiar with the Apocrypha, given the direction of D&C 91 that "There are many things contained therein that are true, and it is mostly translated correctly." And a Mormon wading through the Apocrphya does, in fact, come across some rather interesting items. But that's for another post.
In the next section, the background material on the Pharisees was helpful. They were one of Josephus' four Jewish sects, the other three being the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the Zealots. The Pharisees emerged in the second century BC under the Hasmoneans. The Pharisees
believed in a life after death, complete with judgment and resurrection. Further, in their view, angels and spirits inhabit the heavens. They also believed in a divinely guided fate that steered the world toward God's planned destiny and thereby limited a person's free will. Further, they held that Moses received two laws on Mount Sinai, one that he wrote down and one that he passed on orally.
(p. 179-80.) In other words, the Pharisees might be considered proto-Christians, although I've never heard them described that way. Christians are never very comfortable with their Jewish roots. Just for comparison, the Sadducees accepted only the Pentateuch (rejecting the historical and prophetic books); taught that the soul was extinguished at death and therefore rejected heaven, hell, and the resurrection as well; rejected angels and spirits; and embraced free will (p. 182). It's amazing such divergent sets of views could both be thought of as falling under the general umbrella of Judaism. And it is also noteworthy that there seemed to be principled disagreement over free will versus determinism among Jewish intellectuals, the sort of discussion one normally associates, during this period, with Greek philosophy, not Jewish theology.
In the last section, the messiah material is useful stuff. When the Jews returned to Judea in the early 6th century, royalist hopes ran high and Zerubbabel was the focus of hopes for restoring the Davidic monarchy. But nothing came of that and Judea remained a Persian dependent, governed by a Persian appointee and answering to a Persian satrap (essentially a regional governor). Theorizing about a Davidic messiah and a priestly messiah arose as Jews tried to make sense of their religious aspirations in light of this new political reality.
Let me conclude with a paragraph from the book that nicely brings together a few themes.
No chapter in this book better highlights the absence of the prophetic voice during this period of Jewish history than this one dealing with various messianic hopes that surfaced in the intertestamental period. Most Jews and Christians accept what the author of the book of First Maccabees implied in his own narrative — that prophecy had ceased after Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. And while some Jews believed that prophecy would return shortly before God's ultimate victory over evil, there is no evidence that a prophet raised his voice again among the Jews until the coming of John the Baptist.
(p. 218-19.) Thus prophecy appears to be strangely linked to monarchy. When the kingship withered, prophecy ceased. Just another interesting point that emerges from this helpful and instructive book.