(written on both sides)
|Size:||24 centimeters high
32 centimeters wide
|Length:||30 lines of writing|
|Genre:||Letter of Official Petition|
& his associates
(priests at Elephantine)
(governor of Judah)
|Date:||November 25, 407BCE|
|Place of Discovery:||Elephantine, Egypt|
|Date of Discovery:||1 January 1907
|Current Location:||Staatliche Museen
|Other Designations:||Cowley 30 or
TAD A4.7 or
Porten B19 or
Sachau plates 1 & 2
photo from Price, 396
by K. C. Hanson
Adapted from Cowley 1923 :111-13
by K. C. Hanson
Cowley 1923 :113-19;
Porten et al. 1996:139-44
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Transliteration of special characters
Now your servants Yedaniah, and his associates, and the Judahites, all inhabitants of Yeb, state: If it seems good to our lord, remember this temple to reconstruct it, since they do not let us reconstruct it. Look to your clients and friends here in Egypt. Let a letter be sent from you to them concerning the temple of the god Yahu to construct it in the fortress of Yeb as it was before. And the grain-offering, incense, and burnt-offering will be offered in your name, and we will pray for you continuously—we, our wives, and our children, and the Judahites who are here, all of them—if you do this so that this temple is reconstructed. And you shall have honor before Yahu, the God of the Heavens, more than a man who offers him burnt-offerings and sacrifices worth a thousand talents of silver and gold. Because of this, we have written to inform you. We have also set forth the whole matter in a letter in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah, the sons of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria. Furthermore, Arsames (the Persian satrap) knew nothing of all that was perpetrated on us.
Bagohi is one of the names in the lists of Judahites who returned from Babylon (see, e.g., Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7). In the Bible the name is spelled "Bigvai," or in Greek "Bagoas" (e.g., Judith 12:11).
The name Yehud was used for Judah while it was a Persian province.
Yeb was the ancient name of the island (modern Elephantine, Egypt) in the Nile River.
The God of the Heavens is an expression used particularly during the Persian period (see Ezra 1:2; 5:11; Nehemiah 1:4-5; Jonah 1:9).
Darius II was the Persian emperor 425/4—405/4 BCE.
The month of Tammuz was in June/July. The word "Tammuz" appears in the Bible (Ezekiel 8:14), but it is the name of the Semitic goddess, not the name of the month.
The 14th year of Darius II was 410 BCE.
The Egyptian god Khnum (spelled "Khnub" in these papyri) was the ram-headed god of creation.
Yahu is one form of the divine name of Yahweh, the Israelite god (also: Yo and Yah, as in the names "Yonatan" (Jonathan) [1 Samuel 14:1] and "Hodiyah" (Hodiah) [1 Chronicles 4:19]).
"Sawn" (or "Syene"; modern Aswan, Egypt) is the ancient town located on the mainland across from the island of Yeb. Yeb and Syene are just north of the Nile's first cataract.
Cambyses was the Persian emperor 529—522 BCE.
The use of sackcloth, fasting, and prayer appear often in the Bible and ancient Near Eastern literatures as signs of mourning, grief, emotional distress, regret, contrition, or a combination of these. See, for example, 2 Samuel 3:31; 1 Kings 21:27; Psalm 69:11; Isaiah 3:24; 37:1-2.
Cambyses invaded Egypt in 525 BCE.
The 17th year of Darius II was 407 BCE.
Sanballat was the governor of Samaria under the Persians. He is mentioned in Nehemiah 2:10; 3:33-4:7; 6:1-14; 13:28.
The month of Marcheshvan was in October/November. The word does not appear in the Bible, and the month name in 1 Kings 6:38 is "Bul."
|1. What are the implications of the
fact that the Judahites living in Yeb/Elephantine, Egypt, had a temple dedicated
to Yahu/Yahweh? How would you interpret the silence of the Jerusalemite
priests in response to the Elephantine priests' request? Is there more than
one possibility for their silence? (Read 2 Kings 22–23)
2. What does this letter indicate about the role of the state in the building of temples? What kings or governors were involved in building or remodeling the Jerusalem temple in 950 BCE? 520 BCE? 19 BCE? (Read 1 Kings 7:13–8:66; Haggai 1:1–2:23; Ezra 1:1-4; 3:1-9; Josephus, War 1.401-2)
3. What do Yedaniah and the other priests promise Bagohi in return for his intervention on their behalf? Is it an open-ended or closed arrangement they are looking for? How does this relate to the roles and functions of patrons and clients? What did the Jerusalemite priests do on behalf on the Roman emperor? (Read Josephus, War 2.197; 2.408-410)
4. Why do you think Yedaniah did not write this letter "by himself"? That is, why would it be important for the Elephantine priests to send this jointly? (Compare in the New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; and Philemon 1)
5. What is the role of the priests of Khnum in this series of events? What would have motivated them to take the role they did?
6. How does the situation of the Judahite community in Yeb compare with the situation of the Jerusalemites in 520 BCE? (Read Ezra 4:1– 6:22)
7. Given Sanballat's hostility to the building of the Jerusalem temple, is there any irony in the priests of Elephantine appealing to his sons for help in their project? (Read Nehemiah 2:17-20)
|Alexander, Philip S. "Remarks on
Aramaic Epistolography in the Persian Period." Journal of Semitic Studies
23 (1978) 155-70.
Cowley, A., editor and translator. Aramaic Papyri of the Fifth Century B.C. Oxford: Clarendon, 1923. Reprint, Ancient Texts and Translations. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2005.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. "Aramaic Epistolography." In A Wandering Aramean: Collected Aramaic Essays, 219-30. SBL Monograph Series 25. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1979.
Ginsberg, H. L. "Aramaic Letters." In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, edited by James B. Pritchard, 491-92. 3rd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969.
Haran, Menahem. Temples and Temple-Service in Ancient Israel: An Inquiry into Biblical Cult Phenomena and the Historical Setting of the Priestly School. Oxford: Clarendon, 1978. Reprinted with corrections, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1985.
Porten, Bezalel. The Archives from Elephantine: The Life of an Ancient Jewish Colony. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968, pp. 284-93.
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." Irano-Judaica 1 (1982) 11-24
Porten, Bezalel. "The Elephantine Papyri." In The Anchor Bible Dictionary, edited by David Noel Freedman, 2:445-55. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Porten, Bezalel. "The Revised Draft of the Letter of Jedaniah to Bagavahya (TAD A4.8= Cowley 31)." In Boundaries of the Ancient Near Eastern World: A Tribute to Cyrus H. Gordon. Edited by M. Lubetski, et al., 230-42. JSOT Supplement Series 273. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1998.
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, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1986.
Price, Ira Maurice. The Monuments and the Old Testament. Rev. ed. Philadelphia: Judson, 1925.
Sachau, Eduard. Aramäische Papyrus und Ostraka aus einer jüdischen Militär-Kolonie zu Elephantine: Altorientalische Sprachdenkmäler des 5. Jahrhunderts vor Chr. Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1911.
|kchanson [at] wipfandstock [dot] com