Widow's Petition Ostracon

Language: Hebrew
Medium: ostracon (pottery)
Size: 11.14 centimeters high
10.55 centimeters wide
Length: 8 lines of writing
Genre: Legal Petition
Approximate Date: 9th—7th centuries BCE
Place of Discovery: unknown
Date of Discovery: unknown
Current Location: private collection of
Shlomo Moussaieff
(London, England)

(adapted from Shanks [1997])
YB[R]KK . YHWH B[L]M . WT . YM 1 May Yahweh bless you with peace. And now,
' . 'DNY . H[R] 'T 'MT[K] MT 2 let my lord, the prince, hear your servant: My
'YY . L' BNM . WHYH . YDK . 3 husband is dead, (having left) no children. And may your hand be
'MY . WNTTH . BYD . 'MTK . 'T . H 4 with me; and may you place in your servant's hand the
NHLH 'R . DBRTH . L'MS 5 property/inheritance which you promised to 'Amasyahu.
YHW . W'T . DH . HHTM . ' 6 But regarding the wheatfield which
R BN'MH . NTTH . L'H 7 is in Na'amah: you have granted it to his
YW 8 brother.
Transliteration of special characters
  • ' = 'Aleph
  • H = Heth
  • T = Teth
  • c = cAyin
  • S = Sad

  • = in

1. What was the social position of widows in the ancient Mediterranean? Why did they have such a difficult time with legal issues?
2. Why was a childless widow in a particularly precarious position? Compare Gen 30:1-8.
3. What would have motivated this widow to put her petition in written form?
4. What does this petition imply about the widow's situation that she would have to petition an official to arbitrate a family matter?
5. Compare and contrast the situation of the widow in this document with the situation of the widow in Jesus' parable (Luke 18:1-8). With the widow from Shunem helped by Elisha (2 Kgs 8:1-6). With the widow Babatha and her son Jesus in the "Babatha Archives."
6. How might the issue of so-called "levirate" marriage come into play in this situation (see Deut 25:5-6)? What circumstances might have discouraged a relative from fulfilling a levirate obligation?
7. Is it clear whether the "property/inheritance" (Hebrew: nachalah) is the same as the wheatfield? In other words, is the widow requesting the wheatfield? Or is she clarifying that the brother-in-law was already granted the field, and she is due other property?
8. What were the lines of inheritance articulated in the Bible? Compare the discussion in Hanson (1990).
9. Click here to see a later Roman document of a widow's legal complaint (3rd century).

Bordreuil, Pierre; Felice Israel; Dennis Pardee. "Deux Ostraca Paleo-Hebrew de la Collection sh. Moussaieff." Semitica 46 (1997):49-76 + Plates 7-8.
Fensham, F. C. "Widow, Orphan, and the Poor." Journal of Near Eastern Studies 21 (1962):129-39.
Gottwald, Norman K. "The Plot Structure of Marvel or Problem Resolution Stories in the Elijah-Elisha Narratives and Some Musings on Sitz im Leben." In The Hebrew Bible in Its Social World and in Ours, 119-30. Semeia Studies. Atlanta, Ga.: Scholars, 1993.
Hiebert, Paula S. "Whence Shall Help Come to Me?": The Biblical Widow." In Gender and Difference in Ancient Israel, 125-41. Ed. P. L. Day. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.
Hoffner, Harry A. "Almanah." In Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament 1:287-91. Ed. G. J. Botterweck and H. Ringgren. Trans. J. T. Willis, trans. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
Hanson, K. C. "The Herodians and Mediterranean Kinship. Part 3: Economics." Biblical Theology Bulletin 20 (1990):10-21.
Kalmin, Richard. "Levirate Law." In Anchor Bible Dictionary 4:296-97. Ed. D. N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.
Shanks, Hershel. "Three Shekels for the Lord. Ancient Inscription Records Gift to Solomon's Temple." Biblical Archaeology Review 23.6 (1997):28-32. [30, 32]

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Last Modified: 30 April 2002