||Seder Olam is mentioned in the Talmud (Shab. 88a; Yev. 82b; et al.) and is ascribed by the Palestinian amora R. Johanan (third century) to the second-century tanna Yose b. Halafta (Yev. 82b; Nid. 46b). The work is divided into three parts, each consisting of ten chapters. Part one enumerates the dates of major events from the creation of the world until the death of Moses and the crossing of the Jordan by the Israelites under Joshua; part two, from the crossing of the Jordan to the murder of Zechariah, king of Israel; part three, chapters 21–27, from the murder of Zechariah to the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar; and chapter 28, from the destruction of the Temple to the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus. Chapter 29 and the first part of chapter 30 cover the Persian period, which is stated to be only 34 years. The larger part of chapter 30 contains a summary of events from the conquest of Persia by Alexander until the Bar Kokhba Revolt. This summary may be an epitome of a large section shortened by some later editor uninterested in post-biblical history. The book is written in a dry but clear Hebrew style. It is embellished with midrashic interpretations of biblical passages which are used as sources for the chronological calculations.
R. Yose b. Halafta, the presumed author of Seder Olam Rabbah, probably had access to old traditions that also underlay the chronological computations of the Jewish Hellenistic chronographer Demetrius (third century B.C.E.). The most significant confusion in Yose's calculation is the compression of the Persian period, from the rebuilding of the Temple by Zerubbabel in 516 B.C.E. to the conquest of Persia by Alexander, to no more than 34 years. Like other rabbinic scholars, he believed that Zerubbabel (sixth century B.C.E.), Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah (all fifth century B.C.E.), and Simeon the Just (third century) were all contemporaries.
The book has gone through many editions and was commented upon by many scholars, among them R. Jacob Emden, R. Elijah b. Solomon Zalman Gaon of Vilna, and B. Ratner who devoted to the book a separate large introduction (mavo) containing valuable critical references.