A Passover Letter

Language: Aramaic
Medium: papyrus
Size: 10.5 cm long
28 cm wide
Length: 11 lines of writing
Genre: Letter of instruction
Sender: Hananiah
Addressee: Yedaniah and the
Judahite garrison at Yeb
Date: 419 BCE
Place of Discovery: Elephantine, Egypt
Date of Discovery: January 1907
Chief excavator: Otto Rubensohn
Current Location: Staatliche Museen
(Berlin, Germany)
Designations: Sachau plate 6
Ungnad 6
Cowley 21
TAD A4.1
Porten B13

Adapted from Cowley 1923 [2005]:44-45

Adapted from Cowley 1923 [2005]:44-45;
Porten et al. 1996:125-26
'L 'HY 1 To my brothers,
YDNYH WKNWTH HYL' YHWDY' 'HWKM HNNYH ŠLM 'HY 'LHY' YŠ'LW 2 Yedaniah and his colleagues of the Judahite garrison, (from) your brother Hananiah. May the gods seek the welfare of my brothers.
WKcT ŠNT' Z' ŠNT \\/\/ DRYWHWŠ MLK' MN MLK' ŠLYH cL 'RŠM L'MR 3 Now this year, the 5th year of King Darius, word was sent from the king to Arsames, saying:
BYRH NYSN YHWY PSH LHYL' YHWDY' KcT 'NTM KN MNW 'RBcT c ŠR 4 In the month of Nisan, let there be a Passover for the Judahite garrison. Now accordingly count fourteen
YWMN LYRH NYSN WPSH' c BDW WMN YWM —||\|\ cD YWM ¶\ LNYSN 5 days of the month Nisan and keep the Passover, and from the 15th day to the 21st day of Nisan

ŠBcT YWMN ZY PTYRN 'NTM DKYN HWW W'ZDHRW cBYRH 'LTcBDW 6 are seven days of Unleavend Bread. Be clean and take heed. Do not work
BYWM —\\\ \/ WBYWM ¶ / 'P ŠKR 'L TŠTW WKL MNDcM ZY HMYR 'YTY BH 7 on the 15th day and on the 21st day. Also, drink no intoxicants; and anything in which there is leaven,
'LT'KLW MN YWM —\\\ \/ MN Mc RB ŠMŠ' cD YWM ¶/ LNYSN ŠBcT 8 do not eat, from the 15th day from sunset until the 21st day of Nisan, seven
YWMN 'L YTHZY BKM 'L THNcLW BTWNYKM WHTMW BYN YWMY' 'LH 9 days, let it not be seen among you; do not bring it into your houses, but seal it up during those days.
KN YTcBD KZY 'MR DRYWHWŠ MLK' 10 Let this be done as King Darius commanded.

Transliteration of special characters
  • ' = 'Aleph
  • H = Heth
  • T = Teth
  • c = cAyin
  • S = Sadê

  • Š = Šin
11 To my brethren, Yedaniah and his colleagues of the Judahite garrison, (from) your brother Hananiah.

Yedaniah was the leader of the Judean community in Elephantine.

Yehud was used for Judah while it was a Persian province.

The name Hananiah is also found in the books of Jeremiah, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, 1 Esdras, and 4 Maccabees.

Yeb was the name of the island (modern Elephantine, Egypt) in the Nile River.

5th year of Darius was 419 BCE.

Darius II was the Persian emperor 425/4—405/4 BCE.

Arsames was the Persian satrap over Egypt.

Nisan was the first month of the year.

Passover was one of the great sacrifices of the Israelite/Judahite year sacrificed on the 14th of Nisan (springtime). It commemorated the Exodus from Egypt (see Exodus 12–13; 23; and 34; Deuteronomy 16).

Unleavened Bread was a 7-day festival that began on the 15th of Nisan (see Leviticus 23). Originally it was a distinct festival, but was eventually combined with Passover.


1. What are the possible explanations for the plural "gods" in line 2?

2. Why would Darius and Arsames be involved in the Passover in Elephantine.
3. Compare and contrast this letter with Esther 9:20-23.
4. Why would the letter be addressed to multiple recipients?

Alexander, Philip S. "Remarks on Aramaic Epistolography in the Persian Period." Journal of Semitic Studies 23 (1978) 155-70.
Bokser, Baruch M. "Unleavened Bread and Passover, Feasts of." In Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by D. N. Freedman, 6.755-65. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Cowley, A., editor and translator. Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1923. Reprinted with new Foreword and Bibliiography by K. C. Hanson. Ancient Texts and Translations. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. "Aramaic Epistolography." In A Wandering Aramean, 219-30. SBL Monograph Series 25. Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1979.
Ginsberg , H. L. "Aramaic Letters." In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by J. B. Pritchard, 491-92. 3d ed. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969.
Porten, Bezalel. The Archives from Elephantine: The Life of an Ancient Jewish Colony. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1968.
Porten, Bezalel. "The Archive of Jedaniah son of Gemariah of Elephantine: The Structure and Style of the Letters." Eretz Israel 14 (1978) 165-77.
Porten, Bezalel. "The Archive of Yedaniah b. Gemariah of Elephantine." In Irano-Judaica: Studies Relating to Jewish Contacts with Persian Culture Throughout the Ages. Edited by S. Shaked, 11-24. Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 1982.
Porten, Bezalel. "The Elephantine Papyri." In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Edited by D. N. Freedman, 2:445-55. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Porten, Bezalel. "The Structure and Orientation of the Jewish Temple at Elephantine—A Revised Plan of the Jewish District." Journal of the American Oriental Society 81 (1961) 38-42.
Porten, Bezalel, et al. The Elephantine Papyri in English: Three Millennia of Cross-Cultural Continuity and Change. Leiden: Brill, 1996.
Porten , Bezalel and Ada Yardeni. Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt. Vol. 1: Letters. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1986.
Rowley, H. H. "Papyri from Elephantine." In Documents from Old Testament Times, edited by D. W. Thomas, 258-69. London: Nelson, 1958. Reprinted with a New Foreword and Bibliography by K. C. Hanson. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005.
Sachau , Eduard. Aramäische Papyrus und Ostraka aus einer jüdischen Militär-Kolonie zu Elephantine: Altorientalische Sprachdenkmäler des 5. Jahrhunderts vor Chr. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1911.

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Last Modified: 2 April 2007