Petition to Authorize
Elephantine Temple Reconstruction

DESCRIPTION
Language: Aramaic
Medium: papyrus
(written on both sides)
Size: 24 centimeters high
32 centimeters wide
Length: 30 lines of writing
Genre: Letter of Official Petition
Senders: Yedaniah bar-Gemariah
& his associates
(priests at Elephantine)
Addressee: Bagohi
(governor of Judah)
Date: November 25, 407 BCE
Place of Discovery: Elephantine, Egypt
Date of Discovery: 1 January 1907
Current Location: Staatliche Museen
(Berlin, Germany)
Inventory number P13495
Other Designations: Cowley 30 or
TAD A4.7 or
Porten B19 or
Sachau plates 1 & 2


TRANSLITERATION
by K. C. Hanson
(Adapted from Cowley 1923:111-13)
TRANSLATION
by K. C. Hanson
(adapted from Cowley 1923:113-19;
Ginsberg 1969:491-92;
Porten & Yardeni 1987;
Porten et al. 1996:139-44)
Recto
(1st side)

1. 'L MR'N BGWHY PHT YHWD cBDYK YDNYH WKNWTH KHNY' ZY BYB BYRT' LM
2. MR'N 'LH MY' Y'L NY' BKL cDN WLRHMN YYMNK QDM DRYWHW MLK'
3. WBNY BYT' 'TYR MN ZY KcN HD 'LP WHYN 'RYKN YNTN LK WHDH WRYR HWY BKL cDN
4. KcN cBDK YDNYH WKNWTH KN 'MRN BYRH TMWZ NT ///|— DRYWHW MLK' KZY 'RM
5. NPQ W'ZL cL MLK' KMRY' ZY 'HL' HNWB ZY BYB BYRT' HMWNYT cM WYDRNG ZY PRTRK TNH
6. HWH LM 'GWR' ZY YHW 'LH' ZY BYB BYRT' YHcDW MN TMH 'HR WYDRNG ZK
7. LHY' 'GRT LH cL NPYN BRH ZY RBHYL HWH BSWN BYRT' L'MR 'GWR' ZY BYB
8. BYRT' YNDW 'HR NPYN DBR MSRY' cM HYL' 'HRNN 'TW LBYRT YB cM TLYHM
9. cLW B'GWR' ZK NDWHY cD 'Rc' WcMWDY' ZY 'BN' ZY HWW TMH TBRW 'P HWH TRcN
10. ZY 'BN \//// BNYN PSYLH ZY 'BN ZY HWW B'GWR' ZK NDW WDYHM QYMW WSYRYHM
11. ZY DY' 'LK NH WMTLL cQHN ZY 'RZ KL' ZY cM YRYT 'RN' W'HRN ZY TMH
12. HWH KL' B'H RPW WMZRQY' ZY ZHB' WKSP WMNDcMT' ZY HWH B'GWR' ZK KL' LQHW
13. WLNPHWM cBDW WMN YWMY MLK MSRYN 'BHYN BNW 'GWR' ZK BYB BYRT' WKZY KNBWZY cL MSRYN
14. 'GWR' ZK BNH HKH W'GWRY 'LHY MSRYN KL MGRW W'Y MNDcM B'GWR' ZK L' HBL
15. WKZY KZNH cBYD 'NHNH cM NYN WBNYN QQN LBN HWYN WSYMYN WMSLYN LYHW MR' MY'
16. ZY HHWYN BWYDRNG ZK KLBY' HNPQW KBL' MN RGLWHY WKL NKSYN ZY QNH 'BDW WKL GBRYN
17. ZY BcW B'Y L'GWR' ZK KL QTYLW WHZYN BHWM 'P QDMT ZNH BcDN ZY Z' B'YT'
Recto
(1st side)

To our lord, Bagohi, governor of Yehud, (from) your servants: Yedaniah and his associates, the priests who are in the fortress of Yeb.
May the God of the Heavens perpetually pursue the welfare of our lord greatly and grant you favors before Darius the king and the "sons of the palace" a thousand times more than now. May you be joyful and healthy at all times.
Now your servant Yedaniah and his associates testify as follows:
In the month of Tammuz, in the fourteenth year of Darius the king, when Arsames departed and went to the king, the priests of the god Khnub, who is in the fortress of Yeb, conspired with Vidranga, who was administrator here, to destroy the temple of Yahu in the fortress of Yeb. So that villian Vidranga sent this order to his son Nefayan, who was in command of the garrison of the fortress at Sawn: "The temple of the god Yahu in the fortress of Yeb shall be destroyed." Nefayan consequently led the Egyptians with other troops. Arriving with their weapons at the fortress of Yeb, they entered the temple and burned it to the ground. They smashed the stone pillars that were there. They demolished five great gateways constructed of hewn blocks of stone which were in the temple; but their doors (are still standing), and the hinges of those doors are made of bronze. And the roof of cedar in its entirety, with the . . . and whatever else was there, were all burned with fire. As for the basins of gold and silver and other articles that were in the temple, they carried all of them off and took them as personal possessions.
Now, our ancestors built this temple in the fortress of Yeb in the days of the kingdom of Egypt; and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it (already) constructed. They (the Persians) knocked down all the temples of the Egyptian gods; but no one damaged this temple. But when this happened, we and our wives and our children wore sackcloth, and fasted, and prayed to Yahu, the Lord of Heaven, who has let us "see to" Vidranga. The axes removed the anklet from his feet (?) and any property he had acquired was lost. And all those who have sought to do evil to this temple—all of them—have all been killed, and we have "seen to" them.
We have (previously) sent letters to our lord when this catastrophe happened to us;
Verso
(2nd side)

18. cBYD LN 'GRH LHN MR'N WcL YHWHNN KHN' RB' WKNWTH KHNY' ZY BYRWLM WcL 'WSTN 'HWHY
19. ZY cNNY WHRY YHWDY' 'GRH HDH L' LHW cLYN 'P MN YRH TMWZ NT \///— DRYHW MLK'
20. WcDZNH YWM' 'NHNH QQN LBN YSYMYN NY' ZYLN K'RMLH cBYDYN MH L' MHYN
21. WHMR L' TYN 'P MN ZKY WcD YWM NT \/// ///– DRYHW MLK' MNHH WLBWNH WcLWH
22. L' cBDW B'GWR' ZK KcN cBDYK YDNYH WKNWTH WYHWDY' KL BcLY YB KN 'MRYN
23. HN cL MR'N TB 'TcT cL 'NWR' ZK LMBNH BZYL' BQN LN LMBNYH HZY BcLY
24. TBTK WRHMYK ZY TNH BMSRYN 'GRH MNK YTLH cLYHWM cL 'GWR' ZY YHW 'LH'
25. LMBNYH BYB BYRT' LQBL ZY BNH HWH QDMYN WMHT' WLBWNT' WcLWT' YQRBWN
26. cL MDBH' ZY YHW 'LH' BMK WNSLH cLYK BKL cDN 'NHNH WNYN WBNYN WYHWDY'
27. KL ZY TNH HN KN cBDW cD ZY 'GWR' ZK YTBNH WSDQH YHWH LK QDM YHW 'LH
28. MY' MN GBR ZY YQRBLH cLWH WDBHN DMN KDMY KSP KNKRYN LP WcL ZHB cL ZNH
29. LHN HWDcN 'P KL' MLY' B'GRH HDH LHN KMN cL DLYH WLMYH BNY SN'BLT PHT MRYN
30. 'P BZNH ZY cBYD LN KL' 'RM L' YDc Bx LMRHWN NT \/// ///— DRYHW MLK'






Transliteration of special characters
  • ' = 'Aleph
  • H = Heth
  • T = Teth
  • c = cAyin
  • S = Sad

  • = in
Verso
(2nd side)

and to the high priest Yehochannan and his associates, the priests in Jerusalem; and to Ostan, the kinsman of Anani; and the Judahite elites. They have never sent us a letter. Furthermore, from the month of Tammuz, the fourteenth year of Darius the king, until today, we have been wearing sackcloth and fasting, making our wives as widows, not anointing ourselves with oil or drinking wine. Furthermore, from then until now, in the seventeenth year of Darius the king, no grain-offering, incense, or burnt-offering has been sacrificed in this temple.
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.
On the twentieth of Marheshwan, the seventeenth year of Darius the King.
NOTES


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 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; Neh 1:4-5; Jonah 1:9).

Darius II was the Persian emperor 425/4—405/4 BCE.

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" [1 Sam 14:1] and "Hodiyah" [1 Chron 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.

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 Neh 2:10; 3:33-4:7; 6:1-14; 13:28.



DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
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 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Phil 1:1; 1 Thess 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)



SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
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: Oxford Univ. Press, 1923.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. "Aramaic Epistolography." In A Wandering Aramean, 219-30. SBL Monograph Series 25. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1979.

Ginsberg, H. L. "Aramaic Letters." In Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 491-92. 3d ed. Ed. J. B. Pritchard. Princeton: Princeton Univ. 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: Univ. 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." In Irano-Judaica, 11-24. Ed. S. Shaked. Jerusalem, 1982.

Porten, Bezalel. "The Elephantine Papyri." In The Anchor Bible Dictionary 2:445-55. Ed. D. N. Freedman. 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, 230-42. M. Lubetski, et al., eds. 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 [distributor], 1986.

Sachau, Eduard. Aramäische Papyrus und Ostraka aus einer jüdischen Militär-Kolonie zu Elephantine: Altorientalische Sprachdenkmler des 5. Jahrhunderts vor Chr. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911.



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Last Modified: 25 December 1999