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  • Robert Feather
    Oct 6, 2011
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      Dear Elizabeth, and Aren,

      Of course you can have different definitions of who is or was a Jew. It is the relativity of the beliefs and practices of the 'Jews' in Israel to what was going on at Elephantine Island, that I am referring to. We don't need an agreed definition, only to acknowledge that there were highly significant differences in the forms of religion. This can only be assessed from the evidence we have and for the periods we know something about. You cannot possibly use the same 'Jewish' label for both varieties.

      In the background of Israel was the central monotheistic cult practiced in the Jerusalem Temple by its priests and preached by the Biblical prophets. There is an interesting article in the BAS library by Stephen Pfann on Pagan Yahwisn: the Folk Religion of Ancient Israel which spells out the many strands of Yahwism and a blanket name for all the different versions is quite misleading.

      You can of course define Judaism as you wish, but central to its values is the Ten Commandments. The people at Yeb broke at least two of the basic laws. They worshipped more than one god, and allowed work on the Sabbath. In addition they charged interest, married out, used Akkadian terms, followed the Egyptian legal, fiscal and social precedents - some dating back to 1700 BCE, as well as numerous other anomalous markers.

      You should read E.C.B Maclaurin, Date of the Foundation of the Jewish Colony at Elephantine, Journal of Near Eastern Studies Vol 27, 1968

      You say: They are Judeans, even though they may not have lived in Judah for some 200 years.

      This appears to be saying the Pseudo-Yahwists came to the Island around 600 BCE, although all the evidence says much earlier. Even if that was the case, settlers from Israel prior to 525 BCE would have written in early Hebrew, whereas the Elephantine Community wrote and communicated in Aramaic. You need to quantify when they arrived and why. The gods they worshipped, and their complete lack of any knowledge of Baal is also significant.

      If you want to respect the texts, as I'm sure you do, then you have to take these people at their word.

      So, are they YHWHists or Pseudo-Yahwists, as you style them? They have built and maintained a temple to YHWH from the time of their arrival at the time of Cambyses, according to their own words.

      Fine to respect the texts, but you need to interpret them and not always take them literally. We do not know exactly when they arrived and they themselves, in their texts, say their Temple was built before Cambyses entered Egypt (TAD A4-7). In fact they did not refer to the Temple as that of YHWH but that of YHH. Maclaurin is clear in concluding 'they worshipped (not just took oaths on them) other gods - Yahu, Bethel, and Anath. He says: "the evidence of these names points to the separation of the Yeb community from the rest of the Hebrews and from Canaan at a very early date." The period he assigns, as I do, is at least that of the Patriarchs. (I suppose I shoud amend my appelation to Pseudo-YHHists).

      His final conclusion is : "The evidence is not conclusive, but it seems more compatible with a suggestion that the Yeb colony was descended from a body of Hebrews left behind at the time of the Exodus than any other."

      When I visited Elephantine Island excavations were closing in on the location of the Temple, and I understand this has now been verified.

      Regardless of 'Jewish' definitions the real questions that need to be addressed are how did they get there and when and why did they go there in the first place? There do not seem to be any plausible consensus explanations. Nor do you begin to address the significance of the Temple's design and the layout of the Settlement.

      Robert Feather, Institute of Materials, London

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