The Elephantine Papyri

Discussion about the Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, pseudepigrapha, Philo, Josephus, Talmud, Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeology, etc.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by neilgodfrey »

It was in anticipation of objections that the Elephantine settlement represented a pre-exilic form of "Judaism" that I posted excerpts from Kratz and Granerød at viewtopic.php?f=6&t=10085&p=145969&hili ... ic#p145969 (The reference there to Orientalism vis a vis an African settlement is pertinent, in my view.)

The Elephantine community identified as Judeans, spoke Aramaic rather than Hebrew, and were in regular communication with Jerusalem and Gerizim. As Granerød notes, the community was not an isolated outpost stuck in a time warp:
[T]he Elephantine community stood in contact with Jerusalem. Although Elephantine was located on the traditional southern border of Egypt, it was not an isolated outpost on the fringe of the world. The Nile was navigable all the way from the Nile delta to Elephantine. A journey from Elephantine to Jerusalem might take approximately one month. In comparison, according to the Bible it took Ezra around four months to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem. In terms of travel time, the Judaeans in Elephantine were much closer to Jerusalem than was the priest-scribe who is often accorded great importance in the (re-)formation of Judaean religion in the Persian period. Whereas this may indicate potential contact and demonstrate that the historical-geographical conditions for travelling between Elephantine and Jerusalem were more favourable than those between Babylon and Jerusalem, it is also evidenced by documents from Elephantine that there was actually a two-way contact between Jerusalem and Judah (and Samaria). Not only did the Judaeans in Elephantine know the names of the tenuring governors of Judah and Samaria (in this case, even the names of the sons of the governor) and the high priest in Jerusalem (cf. A4.7 par.), they also wrote letters to them and even got a reply (although the Judaeans in Elephantine regret that the Jerusalem high priest and his colleagues did not respond to their initial letter).

[T]he Elephantine documents are contemporary sources and probably even more representative of the lived and practiced Yahwism of the Persian period than are the biblical texts. (Dimensions, p.4f)
And Kratz:
Likewise, the mission of the ambassador Hananiah bears witness to close contact between the Judeans of Elephantine and those residing outside Egypt. In a certain sense, he constitutes living proof for the situation at Elephantine being actually representative of many—if not most—portions of contemporary Judaism. Although Hananiah was himself a Judean, coming from Judah or perhaps even the Babylonian diaspora, and should therefore represent biblical Judaism of the post-state period (to follow the usual scholarly explanation), he called the thoroughly unbiblical Judeans of Elephantine his “brothers” without any reservation whatsoever. Two conclusions proceed from this state of affairs. First, the Judaism of Elephantine existed not at the edge of the world but in close contact with its Jewish brothers even outside Egypt, as evident in the correspondence concerning reconstruction of the temple and in the mission of Hananiah. Second, the Jews in the motherland, i.e., Yhwh-devotees in Samaria and Judah, raised no objection at all to their brothers at Elephantine—at least as far as we can see—nor did they distinguish themselves from them in either essence or kind. (p. 146)
As someone else said, if the finds at Elephantine had come to the scholarly community's notice much earlier with time to digest and engage with, it is possible that the Documentary Hypothesis of the Wellhausen model might never have been born.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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andrewcriddle wrote: Sat Nov 19, 2022 6:50 am There is an interesting discussion of the Elephantine Community here

Andrew Criddle
This study by is indeed interesting. The author, Esko Siljanen, especially targets one of the scholars I have been quoting from here: Gard Granerød, and the one whose book, Dimensions of Yahwism, Russell Gmirkin said was essential reading for anyone who wants to engage in an informed discussion. Siljanen sums up his problem with Granerød:
According to my view, however, Granerød does not pay enough attention to the fact that the Elephantine Judean community did not have their own High Priest, but instead expressed their respect and loyalty to the High Priest of Jerusalem. In addition, Granerød seems not to leave any place for the oral transmission of the religious tradition from Judah and Jerusalem to Elephantine. (p. 12)
Siljanen concludes that the Elephantine community were observing, among a list of other practices, the weekly sabbath. On such objections one ought to read both Siljanen's evidence and Granerød's side by side (Siljanen does not cite Kratz's earlier main study). Siljanen quotes the many references to the sabbath in the Aramaic documents, none of which points to it as anything other than an indicator of a weekly cycle, and nothing there, from what I can see, points to it as a day of rest. Siljanene's assumption is that the written Torah was extant and that certain injunctions (but not all) were known by oral transmission among the Elephantine community.
John2
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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I appreciate everyone's comments so far and am taking everything into consideration and will respond to them as I am able. And after sleeping on it, I think this thread is really more about whether or not the religion in the Elephantine Papyri is a kind of Judaism rather than trying to unravel Gmiikin's theory (which I am still in the process of digesting).

And as far as the religion in the Papyri goes, I don't understand why, when Jews offer meal offerings, incense, burnt offerings, anoint themselves with oil, wear sackcloth, fast, worship at multiple altars (e.g., 2 Ki. 23), worship multiple gods (e.g., Jer. 11:13) and treat the Sabbath as a market day (e.g., Neh. 10:31) in the OT, we call that Judaism, but when Jews do the same things in the Elephantine Papyri, that's not a kind of Judaism?

I understand that having multiple altars and gods and buying and selling on the Sabbath isn't representative of the ideal Judaism in the OT, but it was nevertheless the way some Jews/Hebrews lived in the OT. And since they were Jews, I see it as a kind of Judaism, like the religion of Jews who worshiped at the Temple in Leontoplolis until its destruction in 73 CE.

Has there ever been a time when all Jews have fully practiced the "ideal" Judaism of the OT? Part of what is now the Torah is even presented as being unknown to Jews until Josiah's time, which means that even King David never "properly" observed Passover (2 Ki. 23:22-23). Maybe the same was true for Elephantine Jews. And Jews in Nehemiah's time are presented as needing the Torah explained to them and breaking it right and left (from the perspective of "ideal" Judaism). Does that mean their religious practices weren't a kind of Judaism?

Take modern Judaism, for another example. I once went to a Torah study on the Sabbath at a Reform synagogue and they served a meal that had bacon in it. Does that mean the religion of who made it isn't a kind of Judaism? I think it is.
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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Russell Gmirkin wrote: Fri Nov 18, 2022 9:29 pm
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).

I think we're more or less in agreement about this form of worship and it's only a matter of what to call it, and I'm comfortable calling it a kind of Judaism, as I explained in my previous post.

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.

But when have Jews ever been fully compliant with the written Torah? There is only an ideal Judaism in the OT and I don't think it's ever been realized. Does that mean there's no such thing as Judaism then, only non- or partially Torah compliant Yah worship?
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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Perhaps the question initially raised comes down to definitions. Kratz uses the terms "biblical Judaism" and "non-biblical Judaism", explaining in part:
I employ non-biblical Judaism for all those who saw themselves exclusively as Israelite/Samaritan or Judahite devotees of Yhwh and biblical Judaism for those who also or even instead availed themselves of the biblical designation Israel and invoked the biblical tradition for their own self-understanding, in all their diversity and range of thought.
In one sense we can call any religious practice by people who identify as Judeans as "Judaism" -- perhaps. But that word "Judaism" has connotations that most today associate with distinctively biblical concepts that are distinguishable from anything common with other religious practices. So praying, for example, would not be Judaism, but praying with phylacteries would be Judaism. Perhaps one needs to differentiate between what one means by "yahwism" and "judaism".
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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As far as when the Torah/OT was written in light of the Elephantine Papyri goes, if it happened in Greek times I still don't see how it matters. Jews do things in the Papyri that some Jews do in the OT (multiple altars and gods, buying and selling on the Sabbath, etc.). It may not be regarded as an "ideal" kind of Judaism, but whenever the OT was written, this kind of Judaism appears to have existed in Persian times.
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neilgodfrey
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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John2 wrote: Sat Nov 19, 2022 3:48 pm As far as when the Torah/OT was written in light of the Elephantine Papyri goes, if it happened in Greek times I still don't see how it matters. Jews do things in the Papyri that some Jews do in the OT (multiple altars and gods, buying and selling on the Sabbath, etc.). It may not be regarded as an "ideal" kind of Judaism, but whenever the OT was written, this kind of Judaism appears to have existed in Persian times.
How does one define Judaism? Was not the complaint of the prophets that these "bad" Jews were indistinguishable from pagans? And if those complaints were written in Hellenistic times....?
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

Post by John2 »

neilgodfrey wrote: Sat Nov 19, 2022 3:55 pm
John2 wrote: Sat Nov 19, 2022 3:48 pm As far as when the Torah/OT was written in light of the Elephantine Papyri goes, if it happened in Greek times I still don't see how it matters. Jews do things in the Papyri that some Jews do in the OT (multiple altars and gods, buying and selling on the Sabbath, etc.). It may not be regarded as an "ideal" kind of Judaism, but whenever the OT was written, this kind of Judaism appears to have existed in Persian times.
How does one define Judaism? Was not the complaint of the prophets that these "bad" Jews were indistinguishable from pagans? And if those complaints were written in Hellenistic times....?

Jeremiah complains about "bad" Jews in 8:8 ("How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie"), which for me is evidence of the DH, since I subscribe to the idea that Jeremiah wrote Deuteronomy (and Joshua to 2 Kings) as a reaction to the P source. But in any event, whoever he is complaining about appears to have practiced some kind of Judaism with some kind of "law of the Lord."

I'm not sure how I'd fit this into Greek times though. I gather Gmirkin thinks there was Yah worship before this, so perhaps Jer. 8:8 could be a reaction to that in Greek times, with these Yah worshipers writing down their version of Judaism then too.
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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"Bad" Jews implies a "falling away" from something we/the prophets understood as normative Judaism.

I'm thinking of Thomas L. Thompson's portrayal of the biblical books as a series of reiterations of the constant theme of "new Israel" needing to replace "old (wayward) Israel". It's the constant call to renewal.

The question for the historian is when "normative Judaism" started. Did it evolve out of the pre-exilic era?

Once we think of exiles reflecting back on their pre-exilic religion, and/or reflecting on what they want their identity to be vis a vis their Babylonian neighbours, are we not working within some sort of paraphrase of the Biblical narrative itself? Is not that way of looking at the question a privileging of the biblical narrative over the raw data? Is that a justifiable approach?

There was certainly Yah worship before the Hellenistic era. Does Yahwism become Judaism when Yah is worshiped exclusively as the only god?

If we go with Gmirkin and Adler and place "biblical Judaism" no earlier than the Hellenistic era, the prophets like Jeremiah become part of a scribal exchange depicting an ongoing struggle to assert "Judaism" on the population. As per Thompson's reading of the biblical literature, we have a series of two steps forward followed by one step back. Was there a sufficient critical mass of "Judaism" established only by the time of the Hasmoneans for the rulers to calculate that it was at last possible to impose by something more than mere verbal persuasion?

If the stories of David and Solomon were propaganda precedents to justify the Hasmonean kingdom, why not the prophetic literature also functioning to promote "Judaism" over mere "Yahwism"?
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Re: The Elephantine Papyri

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Alright, but I can't help imagining that pre- or non-biblical Yahwistic Jews viewed their own version of Judaism as normative. And whether they lost out to Jews like Jeremiah writing in the 600's BCE or to Jews writing in Greek times, the end result is the kind of Judaism(s) we see today. And if it happened in Greek times, as a non-believer it wouldn't change much for me in the big picture. The winners write the history, as they say. And I have no problem with labeling the "non-normative" Jews in the OT and Elephantine Papyri as practitioners of a kind of Judaism, and if it's pre-biblical, then so be it.
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