Category Archives: text publication

Papyrus Amherst 63 — Where do we stand?

The highly respected scholar Karel van der Toorn has just published his long-promised study on the Aramaic papyrus in demotic script as Papyrus Amherst 63 in the AOAT series volume 448 (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag 2018): a complete study, with excellent photographs and  a translation of the entire text with detailed philological commentary.  I hope that time permits me to offer a more comprehensive analysis of the current state of studies on the papyrus  (especially comparing his work with those of R. Steiner  and T. Holm), but for now I can only say that a quick look at the readings and translations  is suggestive of the old saying that what is correct here is not new and what is new is, with a few exceptions, probably not correct.

The most striking departure from the previous interpretations is his (to this reader more logical) assertion that the texts deal with events in western Syria and Palmyra as opposed to the region east of Mesopotamia.

We welcome the comments of others.

Idumean Ostraca, volume 1

Thoughts on Textbook of Aramaic Ostraca from Idumea, Vol. 1 by Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni (Eisenbrauns, 2014)


Thirty years ago or so, large numbers of unprovenanced Aramaic ostraca from southern Israel began to appear on the antiquities market and were quickly snatched up by the usual rich collectors. Many of these have been published, largely by A. Lemaire. Many have been loaned to museums. Many remain unpublished. Many (published from photographs) can no longer be located. In short, a typical mess caused first and foremost by the ability of site raiders to sell their wares to antiquities dealers who, in turn, can demand substantial prices from collectors who, in turn, enhance the value of their investments by getting certain scholars to publish their holdings. All this is well known and its ramifications repeatedly pondered by museums and scholarly societies and journals for many years now. It is not a problem with an easy solution, neither for museums nor for scholars tempted to participate in the publications. Of collectors, the less said the better.

The corpus of material in question here, from the second half of the 4th century BCE, has come to be known as the Idumean ostraca, a corpus of somewhere around 2,000 ostraca apparently from ancient Makkedah, modern Khirbet el-Kom. The great majority of the documents are brief “commodity chits,” mostly dealing with the delivery of grain. It is with this group of documents that Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni have chosen to begin their publication series of this material with what is an amazingly detailed and handsome volume. Continue reading »