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Religion at Elephantine (was Judaism vs YHWHism)

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  • RUSSELLGMIRKIN@aol.com
    Dear Liz, Please see my comments interlaced with yours below. Additionally, I recently ran across some references to an ostracon from Syene, published by
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 30, 2009
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      Dear Liz,

      Please see my comments interlaced with yours below.

      Additionally, I recently ran across some references to an ostracon from
      Syene, published by Dupont-Sommer in “‘Bēl et Nabû, Šamaš et Nergal’ sur
      un ostracon araméen inédit d’Eléphantine,” RHR 128 (1944): 28-39, in which
      one party greets the other by the gods "Bel and Nabu, Shamash and Nergal."
      All secondary literature agrees that the recipient was Jewish, but the
      sender is identified as Jewish by Karel van der Toorn and Aramean by others,
      none giving arguments. I haven't acquired Dupont-Sommer's article yet and
      I'm champing at the bit. Can anyone on the list shed light on this text and
      the evidence regarding the ethnicity of the first party?

      Best regards,
      Russell Gmirkin
      Portland, OR

      LF: I agree with you, Russell, that the Elephantine papyri testify to a
      Jewish
      group stranded in Elephantine for probably 200 years, and that there is
      certainly no torah in evidence. Nor is there any literature besides Ahikar
      and the Behistun inscription.

      RGm:
      Certainly they arrived before the time of Cambyses (525 BCE), per C 30.14
      // 31.13 (C = Cayley's edition of the Elephantine papyri). And their
      practices likely represent a blurred snapshot from this earlier period. Their
      connections to Samaria appear stronger than to Jerusalem.

      LF: Worship is organized around the temple of YHWH, and it seems that the
      leader of the community was the priest of that temple. There is also
      evidence of a collection for temples to Anat-Bethel and Eshem-Bethel, but I
      don't know if those other temples are on Elephantine itself, or if the
      collection was to assist their Aramean degel-fellows in Syene, on the
      mainland, as these are primarily Aramaic gods. In all the documents, the
      priest Jedaniah is the priest of YHW alone and there are no other priests
      mentioned except his brothers the priests of YHW. It should be remembered
      that they had very close relations with the Arameans, serving in the same
      degels with them, borrowing money from them, etc., and if something had
      happened to their temples in Syene it is not improbable that the Jew of
      Elephantine would raise a collection for them.

      RGm:
      The Hermopolis papyri appear to support the existence of a distinct temple
      of Bethel in Syene. (It opens with the salutation, "Greetings to the
      temple of Bethel and to the temple of the 'Queen of Heaven.'" But it is hard to
      discount the implications of C 22, which begins, "This is (the list of)
      names of the Jewish garrison who gave silver to YHW the God, each one 2 shekels
      of silver"; the 318 shekels so collected were divided up among YHW (126
      shekels), Eshembethel (70 shekels) and Anathbethel (120 shekels) (C
      22.122-125, where 1 karsh = 10 shekels). Eshembethel and Anathbethel appear to be
      worshipped alongside YHW and/or manifestations of YHW. The latter thesis
      is supported by the god Anat-Yahu that also appears in the papyri.

      LF: As for people being called Jews in one document and Arameans in
      another,
      that is not a difficult to understand. It is very clear that those with
      YHWHistic names are called Jews and are only called Jews in their own
      letters to each other. They are sometimes called Aramean and sometimes
      called Jews by Aramaic scribes in the legal contracts, so that they were
      evidently perceived as Aramean by Arameans and probably by Egyptians also
      (tho I don't recall Egyptian scribes). This is presumably because they
      spoke
      Aramean. Among themselves, however, in their private letters, they are only
      Jews.

      RGm:
      We know of two individuals, Mahseiah b. Yedoniah and Koniya b. Zadok,
      identified as Jews in C 6.3,8, who are designated Arameans of Syene at C 5.2.
      C 5 is a grant of building rights by Koniah to Mahseiah which Koniah
      dictated to a scribe Petaliah ("Yah Mediated") b. Ahio, a member of a Jewish
      family of scribes whose names recur in the papyri (other members also have Yah
      as a theophoric element in their names). In a legal document between two
      Jews, dictated by one Jew to a Jewish scribe, the designation of both parties
      as Arameans must have a different explanation than you suggest.

      LF: I agree with NP however in that while the members of this Persian
      garrison
      did self-identify as Jews and feel a strong connection to the Jerusalem
      temple and the high priest there, it may be that their customs are more
      illustrative of the late 7th century Judean YHWHism which existed when they
      presumably arrived on the island than of the late 5th century YHWism as it
      was practiced in Judah, but we don't really know. We know they had Passover
      and Shabbat, but we don't know how these were observed, or what else they
      had. Nor do we know if the story of the Exodus from Egypt was part of their
      understanding of the Passover. So mostly we don't know. We probably know
      more about them tho than we do about the Jews of Yehud in the 5th century,
      having contemporary documents about them rather than 4th century literary
      texts.

      RGm:
      While we cannot take the practices at Elephantine as representative of
      Judaism in the Persian period--that is not my position--we both seemingly agree
      that the Elephantine Papyri are the best, most securely (i.e., only) dated
      sources available. It therefore seems methodologically preferable to
      make limited inferences from these contemporary documents than from later
      literary sources (how much later is a separate discussion). While the
      Elephantine garrison arguably preserved older practices from the time of their
      temple's foundation, the correspondence shows that they maintained friendly
      contact with Jerusalem's priests down to c. 400 BCE and anticipated their
      support for the rebuilding of their temple. And that despite this continued
      contact, their knowledge of a written Torah was nil. Surely this tells us
      something regarding Judaism in Jerusalem as well as in Elephantine.

      LF: Whatever differences might have existed in the practices between the
      Jews of
      Elephantine and those of Yehud in the 5th century, it should be emphasized
      that the similarities are paramount. They both self-identified as Yehudi,
      Judeans, Jews; they both worshipped YHWH/YHW; and they both viewed a bloody
      sacrificial cult in a temple led by a priest as normative expressions of
      how that god expected and deserved to be worshipped.

      RGm:
      True enough, to which I would add: we have no certain other independent
      contemporary evidence of 5th century Judean practices and cannot assume the
      differences were substantial.

      All the best,

      Liz

      Lisbeth S. Fried

      University of Michigan




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