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A Letter of Passover Instruction, from the Judean Garrison of Elephantine/Yeb (TAD A4.1)

This letter, written in Imperial Aramaic in 419 BCE, is among the vast number of papyrus letters found in Elephantine, also known as Yeb. The Jewish (or more accurately, Judean) community of Yeb is a fascinating bit of history — a group of Judean mercenaries who settled in Egypt and built their own smaller temple! Although their origin was clearly Judean, and they referred to themselves as the ḥeila yehudaya = Judean garrison, their form of worship featured no Deuteronomic centralization, no discussion of the patriarchs, and questionable monotheism! Although the primary deity was YHW (note the difference in spelling), multiple other deities or hypostatized aspects of divinity were worshipped, and verbs for the word “God” are conjugated in the plural rather than the singular. This text is one of a series of letters written between the brothers Yedaniah and Ḥananiah. In this case, it is giving instructions for keeping the holiday of Pesaḥ. These instructions are interesting in their own right — the prohibition on beer could alternatively be read as a prohibition on any alcoholic drink, which would align with Karaite practice rather than rabbinic. But what’s even more interesting is what isn’t mentioned — the instructions given mention nothing whatsoever about the exodus from Egypt, or even God! The diktat to observe the holiday is accredited not to God or Moses, but to Darius, king of the Achaemenid Empire! This passage is a fascinating taste of a part of Judaism that we know very little about. Vocalization according to Tiberian norms and translation into English by the translator.
Source (Achaemenid Aramaic) Source (Achaemenid Aramaic with Tiberian vocalization ) Source (English translation)

אל אחי ידניה וכנותהחילא יהודיא — אחוכם חנניה

אֶל אַחִי יְדַנְיָּה וּכְנָוָתֵהּ חֵילָא יְהוּדַיָּא — אַחוּכֵּם חֲנַנִיָּה׃
To my brother Yedaniah and his comrades, the Judean garrison — your brother Ḥananiah.

שלם אחי אלהיא ישאלו

שְׁלָם אַחִי אֱלָהַיָּא יִשְׁאָלוּ׃
May the God[s] request my brother’s welfare!

וכעת שנתא דא שנת חמשדריוהושמלכא מן מלכא שליחעל ארשם לאמר

וּכְעֶת שְׁנָתָא דָּא שְׁנַת חַמֵשׁ דָרְיָוֶהוּשׁ מַלְכָּא מִן מַלְכָּא שְׁלִיחַ עַל אַרְשָׁם לֵאמֹר׃
Now, this year, the fifth year of Darius, king of kings, word was sent to Arsames to pronounce:

בירח ניסן יהוי פסח לחילא יהודיא

בִּירַח נִיסַן יֶהֱוֵי פֶּסַח לְחֵילָא יְהוּדַיָּא׃
In the month of Nisan let there be a Passover for the Jewish garrison.

כעת אנתם כן מנוארבעת עשר יומן לירח ניסן ופסחא עבדומן־יום חמשא עשרא עד־יום עשרין וחד לניסן שבעת יומן זי פטירן

כְּעֶת אַנְתֵּם כֵּן מְנוּ אַרְבְּעַת עֲשַׂר יוֹמִן לִירַח נִיסַן וּפִסְחָא עִבִדוּ מִן־יוֹם חַמְשָׁא עַשְׂרָא עַד־יוֹם עֶשְׂרִין וְחַד לְנִיסָן שִׁבְעַת יוֹמִן זִי פַּטִּירִן׃
Now, you thus count fourteen days to the month of Nisan, and do a Passover from the fifteenth day to the twenty-first day of Nisan, seven days of flatbread.

אנתם דכין הווואזדהרועבידה אל־תעבדוביום חמשא עשרא וביום עשרין וחד

אַנְתֵּם דַּכְיָן הֲווּ וְאִזְדָּהֲרוּ עִבִידָה אַל־תַעְבְּדוּ בְּיוֹם חַמְשָׁא עַשְׂרָא וּבְיוֹם עֶשְׂרִין וְחַד׃
You must clean and take heed: do not do labor on the fifteenth and on the twenty-first.

אף שכר אל תשתווכל מנדעם זי חמיר איתי בהאל־תאכלומן יום ארבעא עשרא לניסן במערב שמשא עד יום עשרין וחד לניסן שבעת יומן

אַף שֵׁכָר אַל תִשְׁתּוּ וְכָל מִנְדַּעַם זִי חֲמִיר אִיתֵי בַהּ אַל־תֵאכְלוּ מִן יוֹם אַרְבְּעָא עַשְׂרָא לְנִיסָן בְמַעֲרַב שִׁמְשָׁא עַד יוֹם עֶשְׂרִין וְחַד לְנִיסָן שִׁבְעַת יוֹמִן׃
Any beer do not drink, and anything that has leaven within it do not eat, from the fourteenth day of Nisan when the sun sets in the west to the twenty-first day of Nisan, seven days.

אל יתחזי בכם אל תהנעלובתוניכם וחתמובין יומיא אלה

אַל יִתְּחֲזֵי בָּכֵם אַל תְהַנְעָלוּ בְּתַוְנֵיכֶם וּחְתִּמוּ בֵּין יוֹמַיָּא אֵלֶּה׃
Let it not be seen among you, do not bring it into your chambers, and seal it for these days.

כן יתעבד כזי אמר דריוהושמלכא

כֵּן יִתְעֲבֵד כְּזֵי אֲמַר דָרְיָוֶהוּשׁ מַלְכָּא׃
Thus do, according to the pronouncement of Darius the king.

אל אחי ידניה וכנותהחילא יהודיא — אחוכם חנניה

אֶל אַחִי יְדַנְיָּה וּכְנָוָתֵהּ חֵילָא יְהוּדַיָּא — אַחוּכֵּם חֲנַנִיָּה׃
To my brother Yedaniah and his comrades, the Judean garrison — your brother Ḥananiah.




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