Above: One of the tablets
Major New Archive From Jewish Babylonian Exile Released
ITHACA, NY – In a major contribution to Biblical and Mesopotamian studies, the first extra-biblical archive from the exiled Judean community in Babylonia in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE has been published, announced David I. Owen, Editor-in-Chief of Cornell University Studies in Assyriology and Sumerology (CUSAS).
Documents of Judean Exiles and West Semites in Babylonia in the Collection of David Sofer (CUSAS 28: Bethesda: CDL Press, 2014) by Laurie E. Pearce (Berkeley) and Cornelia Wunsch (London) provides complete editions, translations, copies and outstanding photographs of 103 cuneiform texts from the David Sofer Collection, together with an extensive commentary on the hundreds of new Judean personal names with Yahwistic elements.
“These names add substantially to our understanding of Judean religious beliefs during this formative period in the development of exilic Judaism,” says Owen, Director of the Jonathan and Jeannette Rosen Ancient Near Eastern Studies Seminar and the Bernard and Jane Schapiro Professor of Ancient Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Emeritus in Cornell University’s College of Arts and Sciences. The documents provide new insights into the social and economic life of the Judeans (along with others groups forcibly settled in Mesopotamia by Nebuchadnezzar II, ca. 634-562 BCE) in their own community of Al Yahudu (Jewtown) and their interrelationships with and assimilation to their West Semitic and Babylonian neighbors.
The volume also provides a comprehensive analysis and discussion of the new data. “It offers many important additions and interesting insights into the hitherto limited knowledge of this community, the naming practices of immigrant groups over several generations, and, by implication, how other exiles in Babylonia might have been influenced by similar experiences after being forcibly resettled in a foreign environment,” says Owen. “This is an essential resource not only for Assyriologists, archaeologists and historians but also for biblical scholars interested in the history of Judaism in its Mesopotamian context.”
A two-day, international symposium, “Jerusalem In Babylonia,” celebrating the publication of this volume, will be held February 2-3, 2015, at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, Israel.
Since 2007, no less that 27 major volumes in the CUSAS series have appeared under Owen’s direction as editor-in-chief. These volumes contain editions of thousands of cuneiform tablets from ancient Mesopotamia starting from the earliest written sources, ca. 3200 BCE to to the Persian period 450 BCE.
“The publications have added greatly to our knowledge of the Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform languages, history, literature, religion, economics and society of ancient Mesopotamia,” says Owen, “and the series has produced an unprecedented number of cuneiform publications unmatched by any university.”
Owen formed an international team of scholars from the United States, Italy, Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Israel and France to produce the series, widely acknowledged as the major source of information on ancient Iraq to appear since the cessation of work in that country as a result of the two Iraq wars.
Cornell University, one of the first two universities in America to introduce the study of Babylonian in the late nineteenth century, has now joined its peer universities - Penn, Yale, and Chicago - as a major contributor to Assyriological studies, says Owen. Its CUSAS series continues as perhaps the only current American series regularly producing publications of original cuneiform records from Mesopotamia.
…The documents reflect a settlement bloc of several villages between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. One of the villages is named in the tablets as Al-Yahudu, a term Babylonian sources use to describe Jerusalem.
“This is ‘Babylon’s Jerusalem,’ just as New York is the New York,” says [Wayne] Horowitz[, an archaeologist who studied the tablets]. Al-Yahudu’s residents are Jews, as their names indicate – Gedalyahu, Hanan, Dana, Shaltiel and Netanyahu. Some of the names appear to be inspired by Cyrus’ declaration allowing the return to Zion, like Yashuv Zadik or Ya’aliyahu, he says.
Until now very little had been known about the life of the Judean community that had been uprooted from Jerusalem and deported to Babylon. The collection also corresponds with the Biblical text in which the prophet Ezekiel writes “as I was among the captives by the river Chebar” (chapter 1, verse 1). The “river Chebar” or “river Chebar village” appear several times on the tablets.
The tablets reflect trade transactions, leasing houses and fields, addresses, inheritances, etc. Certificate 31, for example, is of a deal between Yirpa Ben Dohah and Ahikam Ben Refa’iyahu, in which the former trades a “trained, five-year-old bull” for “one gray jennet.” In certificate 52 a man called Ikisha sold his female slave for “three pieces of silver.” In another document, Neriayu Ben Ahikam rents a house for “10 silver shekels ... half given at the beginning of the year and the rest in the middle of the year.” The tenant undertook in the agreement to pay for damages, if any, from the foundations to the roof.
On some tablets, ancient Hebraic letters appear beside the Akkadian details. The researchers assume these were intended for cataloging and tracing. On tablet 10, for example, which deals with a bond for barley, the name Shalemiyahu appears in Hebraic. “These are the most ancient Hebraic letters from the Babylonian exile,” says Horowitz.…