The Elephantine Papyri

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John2
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The Elephantine Papyri

Post by John2 »

While I knew about the existence of the Elephantine Papyri (and Temple), I didn't read them or give them much thought until the recent discussion here about Gmirkin, whose work I'm very slowly becoming more acquainted with, since it's hard for me to access beyond what I can see on Google books and excerpts in the reviews of others and in the debates here. I'm also a bit hampered by not being very familiar with Plato and other Greek writings used by Gmirkin.

So at this point all I have are questions, since I'm in no position to be debate anything. And while bearing in mind the idea that there are no references to the written Torah in the Papyri, when I read the relevant papyri (pp. 437-441 here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3155527.pdf), I don't understand why the references to a priesthood, meal offerings, incense, burnt offerings, wearing sackcloth and fasting don't count when these things are mentioned in the written Torah. Do the writers have to say, "So we wore sackcloth, like Jacob in Gen. 37:34"?

In any event, a pre-Hellenistic "Yahwism" supposedly without a written Torah looks a lot like what I see in the written Torah, so what does it matter if it wasn't written down until Hellenistic times?

And what does it matter if there's polytheism and multiple altars mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri when these things are also in the written Torah/OT (e.g., Jer. 11:13: "Your gods are indeed as numerous as your cities, O Judah; the altars of shame you have set up—the altars to burn incense to Baal—are as many as the streets of Jerusalem’)?

In other words, there appears to have been a kind of Judaism in Persian times (both in and outside of Judea) and when it was written down in the Torah-as-we-know-it seems immaterial.

For example, I gather from the above link that the Elephantine Papryri mention people who are also mentioned in Nehemiah, so if Nehemiah has accurate information about the time it is set in, what does it matter if it was written in Greek times? And the same goes for the Torah.

I look at it this way. The Mishnah wasn't written down until c. 200 CE, but it contains information about kinds of Judaism that existed before then, in some instances arguably two centuries or more earlier (Pharisees, Sadducees, minim). Similarly, even if the Torah/OT was written after Alexander, it appears to contain a lot of information about a kind of Judaism that goes back to earlier times.

The big question is whether or not Gmirkin makes a convincing case that the written Torah/OT is also largely modeled on Greek writings and thought, and that is something I can't say one way or the other right now.

But if he's right, again, what does it matter? The Judaism in the Elephantine Papyri reflects Persian times (people who existed then, Aramaic language, etc.), and the Judaism in the Torah/OT would then reflect Greek times (along with earlier times). Judaism always gets impacted by contact with other cultures, and if contact with Greeks resulted in the written Torah/OT, it would still be a product of Jews doing Jewish things, and some of these things (like sacrifices and priesthood, which is what the written Torah is largely all about) appear to go back to Persian times.

I guess the most it would affect me is that I would have to think that Moses was invented in Greek times instead of the earlier time I imagine he was invented.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by neilgodfrey »

John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pm So at this point all I have are questions, since I'm in no position to be debate anything. And while bearing in mind the idea that there are no references to the written Torah in the Papyri, when I read the relevant papyri (pp. 437-441 here: https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/3155527.pdf), I don't understand why the references to a priesthood, meal offerings, incense, burnt offerings, wearing sackcloth and fasting don't count when these things are mentioned in the written Torah. Do the writers have to say, "So we wore sackcloth, like Jacob did in Gen. 37:34"?
Good question. One of the main reasons I am so slow to keep up timely blogging about Gmirkin's work is that each point he makes is linked to citations that I find myself following up, and those follow ups lead to more cited works that I also have to follow up, and often they are in languages I need to translate. I understand that it takes a bit of serious reading to get to the nitty gritty of a new idea when an existing model is so firmly entrenched in our minds and almost everywhere else we look.

The burnt offerings in the 1917 article you linked to need to be seen in the context of the whole of the correspondence from Elephantine. The later correspondence apparently deliberately excludes any mention of burnt offerings and there has to be a reason. The reason suggested by scholars like Kratz and Granerød and others is that the Persians condemned animal sacrifices. The authorities at Elephantine quickly learned that their Persian overlords forbade burnt offerings of animals. In other words, they were not following biblical instructions but Persian religious obligations.

Another detail in the correspondence that is easily missed in translations is that the letter is unclear about who, exactly, was to offer the sacrifices. If read literally it appears to indicate that though there was a priesthood at Elephantine, it was the lay people themselves who appear to have been offering the sacrifices.

This should also be evident from the fact that the question was in relation to the temple in Elephantine -- another clear sign that they were not following Pentateuchal laws. And the correspondence addressed to the Jerusalem and Gerizim priests informs us that neither of those two centres had any worry or concern about temples in other sites. That is, there was no single central place that was exclusively the place of worship.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pm In any event, a pre-Hellenistic "Yahwism" without a written Torah looks a lot like what I see in the written Torah, so what does it matter if it wasn't written down until Hellenistic times?
Except that the pre-Hellenistic Yahwism would equate Yahweh with the Persian supreme deity and accepted the worship of other gods alongside Yahweh. Sabbath was market day. Passover had no mythical exodus associations but was a harvest season commemoration feast.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmAnd what does it matter if there's polytheism and multiple altars mentioned in the Elephantine Papyri when these things are also in the written Torah/OT (e.g., Jer. 11:13: "Your gods are indeed as numerous as your cities, O Judah; the altars of shame you have set up—the altars to burn incense to Baal—are as many as the streets of Jerusalem’)?
The letters from Elephantine inform us that the priests at Jerusalem were on the same page as those worshiping various gods at Elephantine. We can think that other priests who disapproved of this practice were hiding somewhere, keeping their mouths shut, but all the evidence we have indicates that those Yahweh-alone priests only made their presence known in Hellenistic times. Something happened to bring about a change of religious practices and it did not happen in Persian times.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmIn other words, there appears to have been a kind of Judaism in Persian times (both in and outside of Judea) and when it was written down in the Torah-as-we-know-it seems immaterial.
The evidence we have is such that the "biblical religion" was unknown in Persian times. The Judaism that was practised in Persian times did not know about a sabbath rest, did not know about dietary ethnic markers, did not know about monotheism, did not know about a central cult.

We can say "biblical Judaism" was extant then and left no evidence, but the evidence that does exist tells us it was not part of the culture or consciousness of the Judeans.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmI look at it this way. The Mishnah wasn't written down until c. 200 CE, but it contains information about kinds of Judaism that existed before then, in some instances arguably two centuries or more earlier (Pharisees, Sadducees, minim). Similarly, even if the Torah/OT was written after Alexander, it appears to contain a lot of information about a kind of Judaism that goes back to earlier times.
The difference is that we have evidence to support certain claims that Mishnah assertions originated two centuries earlier. We know there was a "biblical Judaism" two centuries before the Mishnah from the evidence. Further, the most economical explanation for some Mishnah claims is that they originated in the first century bce/ce rather than the unlikely alternative that they were borrowed from Christianity.

With the Elephantine evidence, the simplest, most economical explanation, is that the "biblical Judaism" was unknown until the Hellenistic times. Both archaeological finds and textual analyses are consistent with the view that "biblical Judaism" only made its appearance in the Hellenistic era.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmThe big question is whether or not Gmirkin makes a convincing case that the written Torah/OT is also largely modeled on Greek writings and thought, and that is something I can't say one way or the other right now.
Gmirkin offers a very thorough and detailed comparative textual analysis. (As I said at the beginning, checking out the details is a lot of work.) But even if Gmirkin's thesis is found to be in need of significant revision, we still have the archaeological evidence that has to be listened to first and foremost.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmBut if he's right, again, what does it matter? The Judaism in the Elephantine Papyri reflects Persian times (people who existed then, Aramaic language, etc.), and the Judaism in the Torah/OT would then reflect Greek times (along with earlier stuff). Judaism always gets impacted by contact with other cultures, and if contact with Greeks resulted in the written Torah/OT, it would still be a product of Jews doing Jewish things, and some of these things (like sacrifices and priesthood, which is what the written Torah is largely all about) appear to go back to Persian times.
Except that the Judaism of the Elephantine site and the Persian era is not "Judaism" in any meaningful sense of the word. At best it might be described as Yahwism because Yahweh was the main, but not exclusive, god. Without religious dietary customs, without sabbath observance, without a single god, without a sole temple, without annual celebrations of the exodus, without any evidence of knowledge of Moses, .... how can we call that "Judaism"?
John2
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by John2 »

neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 5:32 pm
The burnt offerings in the 1917 article you linked to need to be seen in the context of the whole of the correspondence from Elephantine. The later correspondence apparently deliberately excludes any mention of burnt offerings and there has to be a reason. The reason suggested by scholars like Kratz and Granerød and others is that the Persians condemned animal sacrifices. The authorities at Elephantine quickly learned that their Persian overlords forbade burnt offerings of animals. In other words, they were not following biblical instructions but Persian religious obligations.



Alright, but isn't it enough that a letter mentions burnt offerings (like in the written Torah) to know that the rite had existed at least somewhere among Jews during Persian times and that priests in Jerusalem were aware of it?

Another detail in the correspondence that is easily missed in translations is that the letter is unclear about who, exactly, was to offer the sacrifices. If read literally it appears to indicate that though there was a priesthood at Elephantine, it was the lay people themselves who appear to have been offering the sacrifices.

Some lay people offer burnt offerings in the Torah/OT, but since the letter says it was written by "the priests who are in Yeb the fortress," my guess is that they had something to do with the "meal-offering and incense and burnt-offering" they say were offered in the Elephantine Temple prior to "the 14th year of Darius the king."

And the correspondence addressed to the Jerusalem and Gerizim priests informs us that neither of those two centres had any worry or concern about temples in other sites. That is, there was no single central place that was exclusively the place of worship.

But there are many altars and places of worship in the Torah/OT before and during the existence of the Jerusalem Temple in the OT. And while the author of the Deuteronomist History may not have been happy about it, another Temple in Egypt (Leontopolis) existed alongside the Jerusalem Temple with the reluctant approval of mainstream Judaism until its destruction in 73 CE. In other words, there had more or less never been a "single central place" of worship in Judaism, only the ideal of one.



John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmIn other words, there appears to have been a kind of Judaism in Persian times (both in and outside of Judea) and when it was written down in the Torah-as-we-know-it seems immaterial.
The evidence we have is such that the "biblical religion" was unknown in Persian times. The Judaism that was practised in Persian times did not know about a sabbath rest, did not know about dietary ethnic markers, did not know about monotheism, did not know about a central cult.

We can say "biblical Judaism" was extant then and left no evidence, but the evidence that does exist tells us it was not part of the culture or consciousness of the Judeans.



I think we can say that what the Torah is largely about (priesthood and sacrifices) existed in Persian times, whether it was written down by then or not.

John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 4:06 pmBut if he's right, again, what does it matter? The Judaism in the Elephantine Papyri reflects Persian times (people who existed then, Aramaic language, etc.), and the Judaism in the Torah/OT would then reflect Greek times (along with earlier stuff). Judaism always gets impacted by contact with other cultures, and if contact with Greeks resulted in the written Torah/OT, it would still be a product of Jews doing Jewish things, and some of these things (like sacrifices and priesthood, which is what the written Torah is largely all about) appear to go back to Persian times.
Except that the Judaism of the Elephantine site and the Persian era is not "Judaism" in any meaningful sense of the word. At best it might be described as Yahwism because Yahweh was the main, but not exclusive, god. Without religious dietary customs, without sabbath observance, without a single god, without a sole temple, without annual celebrations of the exodus, without any knowledge of Moses, without an exclusive role for priests in sacrifices, .... how can we call that "Judaism"?

Because the religion in the Papyri is that of people who call themselves Jews and they offered sacrifices to YHWH and practiced other customs that are in the written Torah/OT (anointing with oil, wearing sackcloth, fasting) and communicated with fellow Jews in Judea. How can we not call that a kind of Judaism? Was it like Judaism-as-we-know-it since Hellenistic times? Maybe not entirely, but it's surely a kind of Judaism.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 8:07 pm
Alright, but isn't it enough that a letter mentions burnt offerings (like in the written Torah) to know that the rite had existed at least somewhere among Jews during Persian times and that priests in Jerusalem were aware of it?
That article only discusses one letter. The conspicuous absence of burnt offerings in all the subsequent letters is seen as significant.

I think you said you don't have a background in reading ancient literature, but as one who has been immersed in Greek and Roman literature, as well as Mesopotamian and Egyptian writings over many years, I can assure you what others can also affirm: burnt offerings, prayers, fasting, -- these are the standard fare of all religions of that ancient world. The stories are full of such references. A good place to start would be an easy to read translation of Homer. Mentions of prayers and offerings are thoroughly pagan and associated with the worship of a host of deities. Ditto fasting. There is nothing distinctly "Jewish" about them.

John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 8:07 pm
And the correspondence addressed to the Jerusalem and Gerizim priests informs us that neither of those two centres had any worry or concern about temples in other sites. That is, there was no single central place that was exclusively the place of worship.
But there are many altars and places of worship in the Torah/OT before and during the existence of the Jerusalem Temple in the OT. And while the author of the Deuteronomist History may not have been happy about it, another Temple in Egypt (Leontopolis) existed alongside the Jerusalem Temple with the reluctant approval of mainstream Judaism until its destruction in 73 CE. In other words, there had more or less never been a "single central place" of worship in Judaism, only the ideal of one.
We are talking about the Persian period, are we not? The time of Ezra and Nehemiah, supposedly. The correspondence tells us that the religious authorities in Jerusalem and Gerizim were not conscious of any requirement that there was a Pentateuchal command to worship in one place only. If the authorities had no problem with multiple temples we have to grant they had no problem with the worship of other gods, either. And no sabbath regulations.

Okay -- all of that is what the biblical authors condemn. But if there is no evidence for any reform along the way, or any struggle between paganism and "biblical" Judaism, then we don't have any evidence for "biblical Judaism" at all. The evidence is consistent. Nothing at all to support any pockets of "biblical" Judaism. The letters indicate that polytheism and no holy rest days were the norm.

John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 8:07 pmI think we can say that what the Torah is largely about (priesthood and sacrifices) existed in Persian times, whether it was written down by then or not.
Yes, we can say that. But we have no evidence for its existence until Hellenistic times. That's pretty hard to swallow at first. It's been that way ever since scholars started to take notice of the archaeological evidence that denied the historicity of the patriarchs, Exodus and conquest of the land.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 8:07 pmBecause the religion in the Papyri is that of people who call themselves Jews and they offered sacrifices to YHWH and practiced other customs that are in the written Torah/OT (anointing with oil, wearing sackcloth, fasting) and communicated with fellow Jews in Judea. How can we not call that a kind of Judaism? Was it like Judaism-as-we-know-it since Hellenistic times? Maybe not entirely, but it's surely a kind of Judaism.
Anointing with oil, wearing sackcloth, fasting -- these were ubiquitous practices in all ancient religions of these regions. There is nothing "Jewish" about them any more than they are distinctly "Greek" or "Egyptian". They all had practices involving anointing with oil and wearing sackcloth and fasting.

If they are busy attending market on sabbath days and worshiping other gods and eating the same foods as their neighbours and submitting to the same Persian rules re sacrifices and carving images of gods and other objects then how do they look any different from any other people?

The only "evidence" we have that the "Bible" was around before the Hellenistic era is in the Bible itself. The Bible says so. That's it.
Last edited by neilgodfrey on Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:30 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Russell Gmirkin
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by Russell Gmirkin »

John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 8:07 pm
Isn't it enough that a letter mentions burnt offerings (like in the written Torah) to know that the rite had existed at least somewhere among Jews during Persian times and that priests in Jerusalem were aware of it?
Another detail in the correspondence that is easily missed in translations is that the letter is unclear about who, exactly, was to offer the sacrifices. If read literally it appears to indicate that though there was a priesthood at Elephantine, it was the lay people themselves who appear to have been offering the sacrifices.
Some lay people offer burnt offerings in the Torah/OT, but since the letter says it was written by "the priests who are in Yeb the fortress," my guess is that they had something to do with the "meal-offering and incense and burnt-offering" they say were offered in the Elephantine Temple prior to "the 14th year of Darius the king."
And the correspondence addressed to the Jerusalem and Gerizim priests informs us that neither of those two centres had any worry or concern about temples in other sites. That is, there was no single central place that was exclusively the place of worship.
But there are many altars and places of worship in the Torah/OT before and during the existence of the Jerusalem Temple in the OT. And while the author of the Deuteronomist History may not have been happy about it, another Temple in Egypt (Leontopolis) existed alongside the Jerusalem Temple with the reluctant approval of mainstream Judaism until its destruction in 73 CE. In other words, there had more or less never been a "single central place" of worship in Judaism, only the ideal of one.

I think we can say that what the Torah is largely about (priesthood and sacrifices) existed in Persian times, whether it was written down by then or not.
Except that the Judaism of the Elephantine site and the Persian era is not "Judaism" in any meaningful sense of the word. At best it might be described as Yahwism because Yahweh was the main, but not exclusive, god. Without religious dietary customs, without sabbath observance, without a single god, without a sole temple, without annual celebrations of the exodus, without any knowledge of Moses, without an exclusive role for priests in sacrifices, .... how can we call that "Judaism"?
Because the religion in the Papyri is that of people who call themselves Jews and they offered sacrifices to YHWH and practiced other customs that are in the written Torah/OT (anointing with oil, wearing sackcloth, fasting) and communicated with fellow Jews in Judea. How can we not call that a kind of Judaism? Was it like Judaism-as-we-know-it since Hellenistic times? Maybe not entirely, but it's surely a kind of Judaism.
My research has to do with when the Torah originated as a written text, which the evidence (including that at Elephantine) indicates took place in the Hellenistic Era, after the Persian Era came to an end by the conquests of Alexander the Great. I do not say that Judah (and diaspora such as the military colonists at Elephantine who called themselves as ethnically Judahite) was not Yahwistic in earlier eras. Yahweh was worshipped in temples in Judah, Samaria, and Elephantine, this is clear. And in both Iron II Judah and Samaria and at Elephantine it was polytheistic, that is, accepting that other gods could also be worshipped. As such it was different from the Torah-based Judaism of the Hellenistic and Roman Eras.

Religious customs such as sacrifices and holidays were often perpetuated by priesthoods and temples, commonly through oral traditions. In the Greek world religious traditions were categorized as "unwritten law" (until they were finally recorded in inscriptions in 404 BCE). Many Jewish and Samaritan sacrificial practices (one cannot yet say laws) were evidently preserved in this fashion. For instance, the animal bones found in the 400s BCE and later at Mount Gerizim correspond to "clean" animals approved for sacrifice in Leviticus. So there is a likelihood that the sacrificial cult had a lot of continuity in the centuries before the Torah took written form.

So the comments about whether this polytheistic, non-sabbath observant Yah worship at multiple temples was a form of Judaism misses the point of my research. I personally prefer to call this pre-Hellenistic religious worship Yahwism (which is accurate) rather than Judaism (which in common usage means Yahwism that is compliant with the written Torah).

Clearly Elephantine was non-compliant with a written Torah.

* Sure the Elephantine community had priests, designated as kahen in the papyri, they were not Aaronic as required by the Torah.
* Sure they had burnt offerings and meal offerings, but this was probably the case since Iron II times and is not an indicator of observance of a written Torah.
* Sure they had a Days of Unleavened Bread, but as a pre-biblical agricultural festival, not a celebration of Moses and the Exodus.
* Sure they had a seven day week (originated by the Babylonians) but worked and wrote business contracts on the seventh day as a regular work day.

They said they were Judahites and worshipped Yah as their principal god (alongside other gods), but otherwise all available evidence shows they (and those they were in communication with in Jerusalem and Samaria) lacked a Torah, which is never invoked, and which their practices were in gross violation of, but never condemned by the priests in Jerusalem they were in communication with.

So Judahites (and in that sense Jews) and Yah-worshippers, but pre-biblical.

Hope this clarifies my stance. Back to other projects.
John2
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by John2 »

neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:22 pm
The conspicuous absence of burnt offerings in all the subsequent letters is seen as significant.
But the letter says that burnt offerings were made until the 14th year of Darius. That they ended due to Persian influence is another matter.

I think you said you don't have a background in reading ancient literature, but as one who has been immersed in Greek and Roman literature, as well as Mesopotamian and Egyptian writings over many years, I can assure you what others can also affirm: burnt offerings, prayers, fasting, -- these are the standard fare of all religions of that ancient world. The stories are full of such references. A good place to start would be an easy to read translation of Homer. Mentions of prayers and offerings are thoroughly pagan and associated with the worship of a host of deities. Ditto fasting. There is nothing distinctly "Jewish" about them.

I'm much more familiar with Roman writings (in translation) than pre-Roman Greek writings, and I understand that Judaism is in many ways like paganism, but I think what makes the religion in the Elephantine Papyri Jewish is that the authors were Jewish and in communication with Jews in Judea. Judaism may be more pagan the further back you go, but if Jews were involved in it, then to me it's a kind of Judaism.

We are talking about the Persian period, are we not? The time of Ezra and Nehemiah, supposedly. The correspondence tells us that the religious authorities in Jerusalem and Gerizim were not conscious of any requirement that there was a Pentateuchal command to worship in one place only. If the authorities had no problem with multiple temples we have to grant they had no problem with the worship of other gods, either. And no sabbath regulations.

But in the OT Jews were still getting their act together during the Persian era as far as Torah observance goes. If they needed Ezra's Torah explained to them and had forgotten about Sukkot (as per Neh. 8), I wouldn't expect that the way things "ought to be" regarding a central place of worship (as per the Deuteronomistic History) was the way of Jews everywhere in the 400's BCE.

That's all I have time for right now, but I will take all that you (and now Russell) have said into consideration.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:47 pm
neilgodfrey wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:22 pm
The conspicuous absence of burnt offerings in all the subsequent letters is seen as significant.
But the letter says that burnt offerings were made until the 14th year of Darius. That they ended due to Persian influence is another matter.
I don't follow. What is the problem you see here?

John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:47 pm I'm much more familiar with Roman writings (in translation) than pre-Roman Greek writings, and I understand that Judaism is in many ways like paganism, but I think what makes the religion in the Elephantine Papyri Jewish is that the authors were Jewish and in communication with Jews in Judea. Judaism may be more pagan the further back you go, but if Jews were involved in it, then to me it's a kind of Judaism.
They certainly identified themselves as Judeans. That was an ethnic designation. I don't believe it had any of the associations we attack to the term "Judaism" today -- or in any of the time of "biblical Jewish" culture. Judaism to me refers to a particular type of religious set of practices that we don't find anywhere in evidence in the Persian era.

We are talking about the Persian period, are we not? The time of Ezra and Nehemiah, supposedly. The correspondence tells us that the religious authorities in Jerusalem and Gerizim were not conscious of any requirement that there was a Pentateuchal command to worship in one place only. If the authorities had no problem with multiple temples we have to grant they had no problem with the worship of other gods, either. And no sabbath regulations.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:47 pm But in the OT Jews were still getting their act together during the Persian era as far as Torah observance goes.
The point of the archaeological data is that there is no evidence for Judaism of any kind in the Persian era. What you describe here is the biblical narrative, but there is no evidence for its historicity.
John2 wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:47 pm If they needed Ezra's Torah explained to them and had forgotten about Sukkot (as per Neh. 8), I wouldn't expect that the way things "ought to be" regarding a central place of worship (as per the Deuteronomistic History) was the way of Jews everywhere in the 400's BCE.
But it's more than that, isn't it? It's graven images, polytheism, no sabbath rest, no knowledge of exodus or Moses in context we expect to see some hint of it, no dietary restrictions of a religious nature to distinguish them from others, no burnt offerings in practice (in one letter they promised them but then apparently withdrew that offer).

But more to the point: there is simply no evidence for any sort of religious conflict, that there was any hint of anyone who opposed their "pagan" Yhwh practices. The story of conflict and reform and a need for "returning to the original faith" is a late story, not evidenced before the Hellenistic era.

Once we hit the Hellenistic era we find a radically different religious consciousness suddenly appearing: the Qumran texts.

To my way of thinking, Gmirkin's thesis of the Pentateuch being composed around 280 BCE fits nicely with a timeline that allows for the gradual spread of the new teachings, debates and factions to arise along the way, and a final declaration of outright "the time is fulfilled: no more dissidents" declaration with the Hasmoneans.

But there are some Persian allusions even in the Hellenistic narratives. One is the promise to Abraham of the land from the Euphrates to the Nile, which I seem to recall relates to a Persian satrapy. There are certainly Mesopotamian and Persian tropes within the biblical writings, but the Greek influence does dominate. I think back on pre-Gmirkin ideas in the scholarly arena comparing the Pentateuch to Greek historical works. The genre/style is unlike anything in the Levant-Mesopotamian region but very similar to Greek writings.
andrewcriddle
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by andrewcriddle »

A/ If one takes the accounts in the Hebrew Bible as having a historical basis, then Elephantine Judaism represents a form of Judaism arising before the reforms attributed to Ezra and Nehemiah. I don't think they provide evidence one way or the other as to whether this alleged reform occurred or what post-reform Judaism was like.
B/ It is prima-facie unlikely that there were no significant differences between the practice of Judaism in the Elephantine area and in Persian Judea. If there were such differences, then it is likely that some important differences between Elephantine Judaism and Hellenistic Judaism in Judea go back to differences between Elephantine Judaism and early Persian Judaism in Judea. This is particularly likely if the the religion of the Elephantine area had its roots in Northern Israel/Samaria as much as in Judea.

Andrew Criddle
StephenGoranson
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by StephenGoranson »

What Andrew said.

Plus:
The Date of the Arrival of the Judeans at Elephantine and the Foundation of Their Colony
By: Kahn, Danʼel. Source: Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 81 no 1 Apr 2022, p 139-164.
Kahn argues in detail that these people arrived at Elephantine during "640–609 bc."
If he is right, then they had been there for a long time, and they may reflect early thought and practice.
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by andrewcriddle »

There is an interesting discussion of the Elephantine Community here

Andrew Criddle
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