13637RE: [ANE-2] Elephantine
- Oct 6, 2011Dear Niels Peter,
I wonder if their correspondence with the governor of Yehud would suggest
that the Yehud community also saw these people as Judeans.
At the very least, it seems to imply that the Judeans of Elephantine
expected and assumed that the governor of Yehud and its officials and high
priest would perceive them as fellow Judeans.
Lisbeth S. Fried, Ph.D.
Department of Near Eastern Studies
and the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies
University of Michigan
202 S. Thayer -- Room 4111
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
I sent (too much) rain on one city, and sent no rain on another city;
and still you did not return to me, says YHWH. (Amos 4:7-8 )
From: ANEemail@example.com [mailto:ANEfirstname.lastname@example.org] On Behalf Of
Niels Peter Lemche
Sent: Thursday, October 06, 2011 7:21 AM
Subject: SV: [ANE-2] Elephantine
It is a sad fact that the moment biblical matters are involved, everything
breaks down into a discussion between those who takes the information of the
Bible literarily or are able to see what we have in the Bible as texts
reflecting the viewpoint of their authors, whether or not building on a real
or an imagined world.
Thus no doubt Liz, Aren and I will have different opinions about almost
everything. But none of us would use this kind of translating biblical
information into real world information.
1) "Jew" is not a proper term, except if you measure everything according to
the biblical standards for being a Jew. The moment you use this term, you
have already said too much. Liz' Judeans, i.e., people who are tracing their
origins to the landscape of Judah in central Palestine (real or imagined
origins), is a proper and neutral term for the people at Elephantine who
definitely considered themselves to be Judean. We don't know if people
living in the Jehud in the Persian period did also reckon them as Judeans.
So the ethnicity of these Judeans is not an established fact as we only have
the emic and not the etic idea of their ethnicity. In this way, they can
easily understand themselves as Judeans although living in Egypt for 200
years. It is no more astonishing than the modern acceptance of the
Falashians as Jews in modern Israel. It is a matter--as defined by Fredrik
Barth and his many successors--of ascription and description.
2) It is relevant to ask for the evidence we have from the Iron Age. As a
matter of fact, this evidence is quite confusing and does not allow us to
paint an image of "Israelites" and "Judeans" living in Palestine in that
period. Thus we may doubt the existence in this period of law-abiding
Israelites bound by the ten commandments and worshipping Yahweh alone. It is
simply not the impression we get from the findings in the ground, and
interesting enough, the Old Testament is in total agreement with this. The
fathers were not law-abiding "Jews" following the demands of the law. Au
contraire, mon ami, as Poirot would have said: the OT tells us a story about
a sinful race unfaithful whenever it was possible to their God. So the
parameter to measure the people from Elephantine with might be the Jews of
the Old Testament, in which case they were not Jews. But they need not have
been essentially different in their ideological world from people living in
3) We really do not know if the cult in Jerusalem was monotheistic. And
again, this is not the impression you get from the Old Testament itself.
(read about Josiah's reform). Name material, inscriptions etc has a
different story to tell. I always remmeber Dever at a conference in Bern
1993 speaking about figurines which abound in Iron Age excavations but were
supposed to be absent in stratas from the Persian Period: Dever: But now we
have found them! Aren can definitely bring light to this statement Anno
Domine 2011! So your pagan Yahwism was simply the current religion in the
Iron Age in the landscape which I here calls Palestine (without any
political connotation, if possible). This is not a matter of official
religion bound on Jerusalem and a popular religion found elsewhere. The cult
in Jerusalem was in te Iron Age as "pagan" as it was everywhere else. As to
the prophets I can recommend Bernhard Lang's the Uahweh-Alone-Movement: not
that I agree, but his thesis is interesting to see the prophets as the real
revolutionaries preaching a new religion.
4) It is clear that the Ten Commandments are central to Judaism, but
probably more to protestant Christianity. Besides, are you sure that they
knew these commandments at Yeb? Even Abraham in the patriarchal stories
seems not quite well versed in them as he marries his half sister, although
is definitely not allowed according to the Torah. That you find Akkadian
terms and Egyptian legal practices is hardly surprising: You have a plethora
of these not least in the Book of Covenant, Exodus 21-23.
5) The literature you mention is immaterial and has no bearing on the modern
discussion about the history of the southern Levant ("Israel"). The idea of
the Judeans at Yab as deriving from Israelites left behind by the Exodus is
simply ridiculous. It has never been discussed for serious in serious
scholarship. Of course you reckon the Exodus as historical, as well as Moses
and the Patriarchs. These are subject not gladly discussed here (many other
6) Sorry to say, your approach is "amateurish". You are moving back and to
biblical texts as now historical, now mythical. There are so many things you
need to study. I should, say, begin with the modern ethnicity discussion.
Then some literary theory, especially modern literature's talk about
construction and deconstruction, and put some study of cultural memory on
top of that (you should like it, as Jan Assmann also believes in a
historical Moses). But you simply have to get to what is today said among
specialists about these subjects. Only the most evangelical part would
subscribe to your ideas of the information of the biblical texts.
Niels Peter Lemche
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Sendt: den 6 oktober 2011 12:16
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Emne: [ANE-2] Elephantine
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
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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