Hebrew Voices #91 – The Aramaic Name of God

In this episode of Hebrew Voices, The Aramaic Name of God, Nehemia Gordon discusses a cache of papyri written by a garrison of Jewish soldiers on the southern border of Egypt in the 5th century BCE. Hebrew University Professor Emeritus Bezalel Porten explains how these Jews arrived in Egypt as mercenaries in the time of King Menasheh, offered sacrifices at their own local Temple, and called on the name of the God of Israel.

I look forward to reading your comments!

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Hebrew Voices #91 - The Aramaic Name of God

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: So, you can take that Greek from 4Q120 in the Dead Sea Scrolls and you combine it with what we find in Elephantine, there’s an Aramaic form of God’s name which is “Yaho.” That’s really interesting, guys. What’s really interesting to me is that one of the clear pieces of information that I can take away from this, from the Aramaic and Greek evidence together, is there’s an “O” in His name. That’s interesting, to me.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon, and I'm here today in Jerusalem with Professor Emeritus at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bezalel Porten. Professor Porten is best known as the editor of the Elephantine papyri, one of the most important collections of documents in Jewish history. And he's a legend in this field of dealing with the Elephantine papyri. In 1952 he began his doctorate, which eventually led him to collect and translate many of the Elephantine papyri. And he just has some incredible stories and information we're going to hear about today. We're gonna hear today about a Jewish temple in southern Egypt. We're gonna hear about Jewish soldiers who were garrisoned in southern Egypt during the Persian period. We're gonna hear about people who had names based on the Psalms. We're gonna hear about people who were non-Jews who were keeping the Sabbath in the 4th and 5th century BC. I mean, incredible things that we don't hear enough about. Bezalel Porten here has discovered many of these things and translated them. Shalom, Professor Porten.

Bezalel: Shalom, Nehemia.

Nehemia: It's incredible, because I'm here, you're my neighbor. You're about a 10-minute walk from my apartment in Jerusalem. And I met you in Helsinki, at the SBL conference, the International Society of Biblical Literature conference. You were doing a fireside chat there and then later you came to my talk. And I said, “We need to get together back in our home city and have a discussion about these Elephantine papyri.” Professor Porten, I want to jump into it. I look around your apartment here in Jerusalem. One of the things I see is little cards with elephants on them and little figurines with elephants. What is Elephantine? Let's start with that, Elephantine in Egypt and what are the Elephantine papyri and ostraca?

Bezalel: Well, first of all, Elephantine is the Greek translation of yev, yud, bet, which in Egyptian means “elephant.” And we have in the Hebrew hybrid word ‘shenhav,” heh, bet, yud, bet, alef, bet, all three forms of elephant in ancient Egyptian.

Nehemia: And actually, in Hebrew shenhav is ivory…

Bezalel: Ivory, yeah.

Nehemia: …meaning literally shen is tooth. And you're saying hav or yav...

Bezalel: Hav is elephant.

Nehemia: Oh, wow.

Bezalel: So, Elephantine is the translation into Greek of this place name. Usually, the Greek names are names that sound like the Egyptian names, like Memphis sounds like “memphi,” but this one is a translation. And in the 5th pre-Christian century, there was stationed on the island of Elephantine, which lies opposite Aswan, a Jewish military colony…

Nehemia: Wow.

Bezalel: And Aswan we find concealed in the Aramaic name “sven,” samekh, vav, nun. And in Isaiah, in one of the passages, he speaks about the return of the exiles from the four corners of the earth. And the fourth corner is “eretz hasinim.”

Nehemia: Eretz hasinim.

Bezalel: Eretz hasinim. Now, in the second Isaiah scroll from the Dead Sea, it's not “sinim” but “svenim,” because the yud and the vav were pretty much the same. The yud was a little chupchik and the vav was a longer chupchik.

Nehemia: A chupchik is like a little bump, guys.

Bezalel: Right, and so it's eretz hasvenim.

Nehemia: Wait, so let me stop there for a second. Okay, so what did Isaiah originally mean when he wrote it? That's my question, or when it was written down.

Bezalel: He meant the southern border of Egypt.

Nehemia: Okay, so sinim in Isaiah refers to Aswan, is what you're saying.

Bezalel: It refers to Aswan.

Nehemia: Wow, okay, very interesting. So, from this textual variant in the Isaiah scroll, we have a confirmation that at least the way it was understood when the Isaiah scroll was copied, and maybe the original is...

Bezalel: That Jews were present in the southern part of Egypt.

Nehemia: Okay. Let's stop here for a second. Isaiah is talking about Jews coming back from the land of Aswan on the southern border of Egypt. And you have now evidence that there were Jews in Aswan. So how did they get there? What were Jews doing as a military colony? In other words, this wasn't a Jewish invasion, right? What were Jews doing garrisoned in the southern border of Egypt, on an island in the Nile River?

Bezalel: Well, in ancient times you didn't go abroad to become a farmer. You went abroad because you had a job in the army, in the military. And the 26th dynasty in Egypt, the Saite Dynasty, made itself by bringing in mercenaries, and they brought in a lot of Greek mercenaries. And here we have evidence that they also brought in Jewish mercenaries.

Nehemia: Wow.

Bezalel: So, Jews went down, or up, to Egypt in order to support the Egyptian King, the Saitic King, Psammetichus. And it's a question of whether it was Psammetichus the First or Psammetichus the Second. And then, when the Persians conquered in 525, and now they think it's 526, the Jews already had a temple there.

Nehemia: So, I want to stop you there. That was one of the most incredible things and maybe one of the most important things about the Elephantine papyri, and we'll get back to it, that there was a Jewish temple with sacrifices in southern Egypt. And the sacrifices, we'll get back to that, because the type of sacrifice is really interesting, of how there were variations of what they brought. But in southern Egypt there's this Jewish temple, which is eventually destroyed by this anti-Jewish pogrom, this attack on the temple. It's devastated by the worshipers of Khnum. Let's get to that later, but these are just incredible things.

Look, Professor, I went to a Jewish day school and then I went to a Jewish high school. And maybe I heard one or two sentences the whole time about the Elephantine papyri, and I think I learned more than most Jews, certainly of my era, about it. And I certainly never heard that there was a Jewish temple in Elephantine. Today, you can Google it so it's much easier to find out. But this is not something that... I mean, you had these incredible discoveries, and we're not being told about these things, certainly, I think, in popular Jewish culture. I don't know why that is. I mean, these are really important documents. So, give me an approximate date of when the Jews came to Elephantine as these mercenaries.

Bezalel: Well, the relevant papyrus speaks of the fact that they were there before the Persians conquered. And I, for various reasons, place their arrival at around 650 Before the Common Era.

Nehemia: Okay, and who was the King in Judah at the time of 650?

Bezalel: The King in Judah in the time of 650 was Manasseh.

Nehemia: And that's important, because that's before Josiah destroyed the high places. So, when these Jews came to Israel, there were temples on every hill and under every leafy tree, we're told in the Bible. And they come to Elephantine and what do they do? They set up a temple and they bring sacrifices. They're slaughtering animals, burning incense. It's incredible.

Bezalel: You see, for every migration there’s a push-pull. Something pushes them out of the country, and it was Manasseh's persecution that pushed them out. And what pulled them in was the invitation to become soldiers. Now, the temple needed priests. And so, because of the paganization of the Jerusalem temple, the priests fled to Egypt and they set up their own temple.

Nehemia: Okay, this is interesting. So, you're saying they fled from the paganization of the Jerusalem temple. However, these priests weren't exactly...I'm not sure Jeremiah would have been very happy with these priests, let's put it that way, from what I'm reading in these sources, or at least of the Jews, right? Because these Jews - and I don't know if we're going to jump into this already - I want to wait for it where we talk about who they were worshipping at Elephantine. But can you give us a little bit more of the background? So, how many documents are there? What materials are they written on? Give us a picture; the earliest ones are from what date until what date? I want to get a general picture, and then I want to get into some of the details about who these Jews worshiped and what they called him and her. Okay, so give us an overview first.

Bezalel: Well, the documents stretch from 495 to 399, in other words, the whole 5th century. And papyrus was the standard writing material in ancient Egypt. And these Jews were a very literate people and they wrote contracts on Papyrus. They had houses, they had slaves, and they transferred the slaves and they transferred the houses. They emancipated the slaves. These were all written on papyrus contracts. Letters were also written on papyrus.

And we have letters written by the Jewish leaders one to another, telling about their experiences outside the country, inside the country. And popular stuff, day-to-day stuff was written on scrap paper, and their scrap paper were ostraca. Now an ostracon is a potshard, a broken piece of pottery. This was the scrap paper of the ancient world. Now, in 5th century Athens they would hold, periodically, a referendum, “Do you want to hold an ostracism?” And either they voted yes or no. And if they voted yes, then, “Whom do you want to ostracize?”

Nehemia: Oh, wow. And what did it mean to ostracize a person?

Bezalel: Ostracize meant to kick them out for 10 years. That's the way the democracy protected itself against the return of the oligarchy. And they would write the name of their most unfavored person on an ostracon, and so that’s where we get the term “ostracized,” ostracon.

Now, these are little fragments and Jews lived on the island of Elephantine, but they would serve on the mainland which is Aswan, Svain. And they would write to their wives and brothers letters on ostraca, or at least there was an ostracon scribe who stood at the wharf of Aswan and it's a couple hundred meters away, the ferry that would take them to Elephantine. And they would put their requests and their love feelings on these ostraca. And so, that's the way we know that not only it was their official, legal language, Aramaic, but their daily language was Aramaic, because all of these Aramaic ostraca.

Nehemia: So, let's talk about that for a second. These documents, the ones pertaining to the Jews... because the Elephantine papyri and ostraca are written in many languages.

Bezalel: Right.

Nehemia: We have Egyptian, Demotic, Greek, we have various languages, but the Jews were writing in Aramaic, which is really interesting. So, they leave around 650 BC in the time of Manasseh, and presumably they're speaking Hebrew in Judea, like that's not even disputed, right, that they're speaking Hebrew in Judea in 650 BC? And by about 150 years later when we start to find their letters, their letters are in Aramaic. So, how did that happen?

Bezalel: Well, Aramaic is the lingua franca of the Assyrian Empire that preceded the Babylonian Empire, that preceded the Persian Empire. And by the time the Jews reached Egypt, it was the language. And the Persians, as the Book of Esther said, ruled “meHodu ve'ad Kush,” from India, Bhatia, to Ethiopia, and the border between Ethiopia or rather, Nubia and Egypt, was Elephantine; it was a border town.

Nehemia: That's really cool. You have this statement in the Book of Esther, he ruled from India to Ethiopia, and we have Jews literally on the border.

Bezalel: Right.

Nehemia: That's awesome, wow. And they're writing in Aramaic. And of course, one of the things that comes to mind for me is, that when they're writing letters to the King of Persia, they don't write to him in Persian in the book of Ezra, they write to him in Aramaic…

Bezalel: Right.

Nehemia: …because that is the international language.

Bezalel: That’s the international language.

Nehemia: And that was the daily language the Jews had. Give us an approximate ballpark number. How many Jewish papyri in Aramaic and how many ostraca are there that have been discovered in Elephantine? I don’t know, a rough number. What are we talking about, is there 10, are there hundreds?

Bezalel: Well, we’re talking about, let’s say…I'll give you a ballpark figure. We have three archives that I described in my book, Archives from Elephantine, and each one has about a dozen, and then there are random miscellaneous contracts. So, let's say there are maybe 50 legal documents, and we have maybe that number or less letters. And we have a collection of letters that was found, very surprisingly, it was found in a jar that was abandoned in an ibis cemetery. And it had about a dozen letters.

Nehemia: You said “ibis cemetery?”

Bezalel: Ibis cemetery.

Nehemia: What is ibis?

Bezalel: Ibis is a sacred bird. It's got a long beak.

Nehemia: Wait, wait, wait. So, there's a cemetery dedicated to ibis, and we find a bunch of Jewish documents in that cemetery?

Bezalel: No, Aramean documents.

Nehemia: Oh, Aramean documents, okay.

Bezalel: That's because the mailman who was supposed to deliver them from Memphis to both Luxor and Elephantine got tired, and he deposited them in a jar. And that happened daily in…

Nehemia: Wait a minute, I remember in your book, you talked about how some of these documents were actually signed and sealed and never been opened.

Bezalel: Right, these letters have never been opened. They’ve never been delivered.

Nehemia: Wow. You know what this reminds me of? There's that movie where the guy works for FedEx, and he crashes on this island. And then decades later, he gets back to civilization, he delivers that final package. And here the package was never delivered. It was found 2,500 years later, maybe 2,400 years later. Some of them were found by archaeologists, others were found by, I guess, antiquities, let's call them generously, dealers. And here we have sealed, unopened letters that were never delivered, literally, by the mailman.

Bezalel: Right.

Nehemia: Unbelievable. That is incredible.

Bezalel: These are Arameans. And what's interesting is that their names are either Egyptian names or Aramaic names. And the Jews, we have, as I said, several family archives, and they have witnesses, 4 witnesses, 8 witnesses, 12 witnesses. The names of all those witnesses are good Hebrew names.

Nehemia: Wow.

Bezalel: And we have a list of contributors. Each one gave two shekels to the God Yahu, that's the way he was called in Elephantine.

Nehemia: I can’t let that go. Finish your sentence, then we gotta talk about that.

Bezalel: They're all Hebrew names, the same that we find in the book of Jeremiah. So, Arameans changed their names, they took Egyptian names. Jews did not, they kept their Hebrew names.

Nehemia: Wow. Okay, you mentioned the god “Yao” or “Yahu” or “Yaho.” And you're talking about what we know in Hebrew as yud-heh-vav-heh, the tetragrammaton. And actually, before we started, guys, I was speaking the name the way I normally speak it, and he asked me not to speak that. So, out of deference to him I'm not going to. But the name yud-heh-vav-heh, how was that written at Elephantine? Let's start with that.

Bezalel: Well, it was written, “yud-heh-vav.”

Nehemia: And then sometimes yud-heh-heh, right?

Bezalel: In the earlier documents, there was those that are the beginning of the 5th century, we have this spelling yud-heh-heh.

Nehemia: Wow, okay.

Bezalel: And in the ostraca we have the term “Yahu Tzvaot” which is translated, “the Lord of Hosts,” meaning the military hosts. And there, the name is written “yud-heh-heh.” So, just like the name Pharaoh, you pronounce it "oh" at the end, but it's spelt with a heh. And the place named Shiloh, we pronounce it "oh" at the end, but it's written with a heh. That final heh could be a vowel letter that would signify "oh.” And so, they would write “yud-heh-heh” and then they just changed it and wrote “yud-heh-vav.”

Nehemia: So, your suggestion is that they pronounced it something like “Yaho.”

Bezalel: Right, Yaho.

Nehemia: Okay, very interesting. Now, of course, we don't have vowels, so we don't actually know for sure how they pronounced it in these Elephantine documents, right?

Bezalel: Right.

Nehemia: What's really interesting - and maybe you want to talk about this a little bit - is that later we have in, for example, 4Q120, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, we have a Greek document with a Greek text of the Book of Leviticus, where the name is written “iota alpha omega” which is pronounced “yao.” And some people have suggested that that is a continuation of this Aramaic form, yud-heh-heh, yud-heh-vav. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Bezalel: In my book I mentioned that in Greek texts we do have that spelling, I-A-O, Yao.

Nehemia: If you take that Greek form from 4Q120 in the Dead Sea Scrolls and you combine it with what we find at Elephantine, there's an Aramaic form of God's name, which is Yaho. That's really interesting, guys. What's really interesting to me is that one of the clear pieces of information that I can take away from this, from the Aramaic and Greek evidence together, is there’s an "oh" in his name, that's interesting to me.

You mentioned how in the actual ostraca they mentioned Yaho. Does that mean they spoke that name in Elephantine? The Jews of Elephantine, they spoke that name 2,500 years ago? Because later, of course, we have this - and you kind of alluded to it before we started - the modern practice of not pronouncing the name. Is your understanding that at Elephantine they freely said, “Yaho?”

Bezalel: Yes.

Nehemia: Okay. Now, one of the things that really...I shouldn't say it surprised me… It did surprise me. When I was reading over the documents again preparing for this, is there's this reference to “elahaya.” In the Jewish documents of Elephantine in Aramaic, they mentioned “elahaya,” which literally translates as gods. You don't always know if that's plural or singular, because Elohim is...And you even mentioned this in your book, could be majestic plural. But there's one place - and I may be mistranslating the Aramaic here - but it's something like “shalam ehi elahaya yishalu.” That is, it's saying he's asking that the gods asked for peace for you, and there, gods has a verb that's plural. So, you can't say that's the majestic plural there. So, talk to us a little bit about that, about this idea that the Jews of Elephantine worshiped Yaho, and they may have also worshiped...we know for sure who they worshipped, but we'll get to that. Talk to us a little bit about that, Professor.

Bezalel: Well, it could be a standard greeting formula and it occurs in letters. Friendly letters are distinct from very official letters. If the satrap, the governor of Egypt, will be writing a letter, he would get right down to the point, and he wouldn't say, “How are you doing, and may the gods bless you.” But when you're writing to your friends or your family, then you do. And this is a standard formula, “Shalam, so-and so, the welfare of so-and-so. Elahaya, the gods, yishalu bekhol idan,” “May they seek at all times.”

Nehemia: And it's “they,” right? So, at least in this formula, which may be a fixed formula, gods is plural.

Bezalel: Right. Since elahaya is plural, then the verb would have to be plural.

Nehemia: I mean, so you mentioned in your book the idea of majestic plural. In other words, we have in the Torah, of course, “Bereshit bara Elohim.” It's "bara Elohim" not "bar'u Elohim.” In other words, there is this linguistic concept in Hebrew of a majestic plural. So, it's not a given that elahaya would be a numerical plural and have a plural verb. But in this case it is, in this formula. Why is it? Did they worship multiple gods, or was this a fixed formula?

Bezalel: No, no, I think it's a fixed formula. And what they meant by it, we can't say.

Nehemia: Okay, although it could be that they worshipped more than one God. Let's jump into Jeremiah 44, guys, and this oath formula, can you pull that up? There is a document from Elephantine which describes a man taking an oath. And the connection there to Jeremiah 44 is uncanny. It's incredible. So here, Professor Porten is opening up one of his books. How many volumes is this book?

Bezalel: Four.

Nehemia: It's four volumes, and the official title is?

Bezalel: "Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt,” and this is written by myself and my late colleague, Dr. Ada Yardeni.

Nehemia: Professor, before we get to this, can you say something about Ada Yardeni? You showed me something before we started that was just unbelievable. He showed me a photograph of a document of one of these papyri, and then he showed me the one-to-one full size, I guess you would call it a transcription.

Bezalel: I call it a hand copy. I call it a hand copy.

Nehemia: A hand copy of the document. And if I showed this even to a specialist, I'm not sure they could tell, if they were both black and white, which was the photo and which was a hand copy. And that was Ada Yardeni. In other words, she traced every letter and every, as we say in Hebrew, every chupchik of every letter to where it was identical, essentially, to the original. And then it was available for studying, and you have these in the book. I mean, she was an incredible scholar, Ada Yardeni. One of the really important things she did was she didn't just study the letters, she actually copied them out by hand and learned things by copying them out, right?

Bezalel: Right.

Nehemia: We gotta talk a little bit about Ada Yardeni who recently passed away. Tell us about her.

Bezalel: Well, she was an artist. She was a graphic artist. We got together about 40 years ago. And we went all over from Moscow to Brooklyn, wherever there were papyri or ostraca, and she copied them. And it was by copying the text that you were able to truly interpret it, because you saw the way the original writer wrote the letter. And the strokes, a letter has several strokes. And we reproduced these in full size copies, and here is an example of what she's doing. And the remarkable thing about this letter is that it was apparently a palimpsest, because you can see here on the side there are two lines that go the other direction.

Nehemia: Tell us what a palimpsest is.

Bezalel: A palimpsest is an erased text. Papyrus didn't cost nothing, and you would reuse the papyrus by the way they did it, erasing the writing and writing over it.

Nehemia: Okay, so this is a recycled piece of papyrus.

Bezalel: A recycled piece of papyrus.

Nehemia: With a second letter written on it. Okay, beautiful.

Bezalel: Right, so they didn't always have to erase it, because this one went this way and this one went this way. Or the other way around, the one that's here, the original went this way, but the one we have in front of us went this way.

Nehemia: In other words, they turned it 90 degrees, and then reused the...And sometimes, guys, with palimpsests you find incredible things. Let me just throw in the Cairo Geniza. They found a page of the Jerusalem Talmud which was a palimpsest, and the lower level which had been actually erased, they washed off the text, had Achilles’ Greek translation of the Psalms, of Tehillim. And in his Greek translation of Psalms it has yud-heh-vav-heh written in paleo Hebrew letters. A little interesting side point about palimpsests.

So, sometimes you find some really surprising things. And here we have a palimpsest. And so, is this the upper layer or the lower layer? Meaning, is this the second letter or the first letter that we're looking at?

Bezalel: No, we're looking at the second. The first one is...

Nehemia: Is erased. We can still make out some of it, but it's mostly erased, okay.

Bezalel: What was interesting is, how did you preserve a papyrus? If it's like this, you fold it. And on this you can see the folds because it has these tears.

Nehemia: So, it's damaged on the folds.

Bezalel: So, there are folds from A to G, and fold C is missing. So, we have the beginning of this document and then we have about three, four letters missing, and then we have the rest of the document. Now, how does one fill in the missing part? Well, I had a wonderful teacher, Professor H.L Ginsberg, and he was also an expert in Aramaic. And he suggested for me how to restore this document. You want me to read it?

Nehemia: First read it in Aramaic.

Bezalel: Okay, so it's, “Moma'a zi menakhem bar Shalum bar Hoshaya, or “Hodaya,” “yama liMeshulam bar Natan beKherem elaha bemasgeda u’ve'Anatyahu.”

Nehemia: Okay, I gotta stop you there. Anatyahu. This is incredible. We have all these Hebrew names that he just read, and then there's the words “beit madbekha,” or something, the house of slaughtering...

Bezalel: The house of prostration.

Nehemia: House of prostration, okay. What was the Aramaic there?

Bezalel: “Masgeda, sagid…”

Nehemia: Masgeda. Okay, all right. A Misgad.

Bezalel: That's where the Muslim goes when he prays, a misgad, he prays down on his knees.

Nehemia: That's interesting, so it's the house of prostration. And then “Anatyahu.” Talk to us about this Anatyahu, that's just an incredible statement there.

Bezalel: Well, Anat, we know, is a deity and it occurs very prominently in the Ugaritic documents. And Yahu is of course, the deity of the Jews of Elephantine. And Anat is feminine, and Yahu is masculine. So, what could Anatyahu mean? Different scholars would give different explanations. Anat is the wife of Yahu, and Anat is the something of Yahu, whatever Anat means.

Nehemia: In other words, this could be the wife of Yaho, is that right?

Bezalel: Well, it could be. It's a question of who put these two together. Did the people that worshipped Yahu prefix Anat? Or did the people that worshipped Anat suffix Yahu?

Nehemia: But this isn't so surprising, because if you have a bunch of Jews who leave Judea, or Judah, in the time of King Manasseh, and in the time of Manasseh, you know, there were Jews who worshiped the God of Israel, along with consorts. And what do I mean by consorts? I mean a wife, right? In other words, we have two inscriptions...Actually, a few inscriptions that mention yud-he-vav-heh and his ashera, right? So, this isn't such a great surprise that somebody is making this reference to Anat. Let me read the English to Yaho.

This, by the way, guys, the Professor has a book here called "The Elephantine Papyri" that you can find on Amazon, this is his translation. "The oath which Menakhem the son of Shalum, son of Hoshaya” or “Hodaya,” “swore to Meshulam, son of Natan by Kherem, the God, in the place of prostration and by Anatyahu. And he swore saying, the Sheas which is in the hand of Pemi son of Pamet, which you are bringing suit against me…” So, he's making some oath, okay. And he's swearing by the house of prostration, the house of worship, and by Anatyahu. And then, Anatyahu is presumably something like the Anat related to Yaho, to yud-heh-vav-heh, to the God of Israel. Is that right? Is that a correct understanding of what’s in it?

Bezalel: Right, right.

Nehemia: So, we have these people who are worshipping the God of Israel, yud-heh-vav-heh, Yaho, they call Him. And alongside that, they're also worshiping Anat. And they're swearing by Anat and by the place of prostration. And you point out the comparison to Matthew 23:16 and verse 18, where someone swears by the Temple, right? We have this reference in the New Testament to people swearing by the Temple. And here, they're swearing by a temple, by the place of prostration and by Anatyahu. So, here I wonder - and this is me thinking out loud - when it says, “May the gods ask for your peace,” maybe they mean Yaho and Anat. Meaning, that's not impossible, right? Why just ask Yaho? His wife maybe can ask for your peace, as well.

Bezalel: Well, you have to distinguish between individual and communal. And an individual can swear by anyone and we have all of these figurines in Judah.

Nehemia: In other words, we excavated in Judea, or Judah, the kingdom of Judah in the 7th century BC, and we find idols in Jerusalem. And we think, “Oh, this can't be. We're not going to find idols in Jerusalem.” But look at the Prophets. You know, Jeremiah said, “The number of your cities are the number of your gods, O’Judah,” right? Meaning there was no lack of gods. Meaning, for the average person in Judah there were many gods. They weren't supposed to have many gods, but if you asked one of the Priests of the High Places, what would he say to you?

In other words, the Priests of the High Place that Josiah destroyed, would he say, “There's only one God?” Or he'd say, “Yeah, there's only one God and he has a wife.” So, they found in Arad, it's actually been reconstructed at the Israel Museum. It's a little high place with a big altar and a little altar. And the standard explanation is that is yud-heh-vav-heh and his wife, it's the god and his consort. And then we have a reference in the Arad ostraca, where it mentions “beit yud-heh-vav-heh,” the house of yud-heh-vav-heh. Meaning this was an altar there, or it was a temple, let's put it that way, at Arad.

So, I wonder if it's not so crazy to think that maybe they had multiple gods, and then that ties into Jeremiah 44. I'm not gonna read the whole thing, but the people come to Jeremiah in chapter 44 and they complain. They said, “You told us to stop worshipping the queen of heaven and we did, and only bad things have happened to us.” Here's how I was always taught growing up, that people do bad things but they know they're bad. And here, we have the people doing, what from the perspective of Jeremiah is a bad thing, worshiping the queen of heaven. And they said, “Wait a minute. We're sinning. We should have kept worshipping the queen of heaven, why did we stop? Only bad things have happened to us.” And maybe Anat is that queen of heaven, right? I think you suggest that in your book.

And then specifically the context there, I'm going to read this if it's okay, is swearing by the queen of heaven. Let's see, I love this. Verse 15 of Jeremiah 44, “And they answered Jeremiah, all the people who know that their women were burning incense to other gods and all the women were standing, a great congregation. And all the people who were dwelling in the land of Egypt and Patros saying, ‘The words which you spoke to us in the name of yud-heh-vav-heh, we don't listen to you. For we did all the things that came out of her mouth, to burn incense to the queen of heaven, and pour libations to her, as we did and our fathers, and our kings and our officers.’” This isn't just us. This is the official religion of the Kingdom of Judah. We were burning incense and pouring libations to the queen of heaven, and we would eat bread, etc. “Vera'a lo ra'inu,” “and we didn't see any evil when we burned incense to the queen of heaven.”

And at the end of verse 17, verse 18, “Umin az khadalnu lekater limlekhet hashamayim,” “From the time that we stopped burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations,” khasarnu kol, “we have been lacking everything. And we've been destroyed by sword and by famine.” So, this is incredible. So here they're complaining to Jeremiah, saying, “Look, we did what you told us to do, and only bad things happened to us. We should have kept doing what our kings did, burning incense to the queen of heaven and pouring out libations.”

And I love Jeremiah's answer. Guys, you've heard me talk about this in other contexts, Jeremiah 44. “And Jeremiah said to the people, to the men, to the women, and all the people who answered him this thing saying…” etc., I'm gonna jump ahead here. In verse 24, “and Jeremiah said to the people and all the women, ‘hear the word that yud-heh-vav-heh and all Judah who are in the land of Egypt, thus says yud-heh-vav-heh of Hosts, the God of Israel saying, you and your wives who spoke with your mouth and you filled your hands, saying, aso na'ase nedarenu asher nadarnu. We will surely keep the oaths which we have sworn, to burn incense to the queen of heaven.’” And then he says in the next verse, “Therefore says Lord, yud-heh-vav-heh etc., ‘Behold, I swear by My great name.’” There it is. He swears by His own name, because they were supposed to be swearing in His name; that's in the Torah. And instead, they're swearing by Anatyahu, the Anat who is the wife of yud-heh-vav-heh. And they think they're doing righteousness. I'm filling in the part where they’re swearing by Anatyahu based on your papyrus, right? Jeremiah doesn't say the name of the queen of heaven, he just calls her the “queen of heaven.”

He's saying, “You're not gonna ever swear by My name anymore, as yud-hey-vav heh lives.” And here we have - let's see, I don't know, this is more than 100 years after Jeremiah - someone who is still swearing by the queen of heaven, in the name of Anatyahu. I mean, this is incredible stuff, Professor. This is huge. This is huge stuff. Incredible. One, it's an implementation of the prophecy of Jeremiah, right? He's saying they won't swear by His name. And then the guy isn't swearing by His name, he's swearing by a combination of the name yud-heh-vav-heh and Anat. This is incredible. And they don't speak His name. This is me saying this, not the Professor. They don't say the name yud-heh-vav-heh, they drop the vav, or they drop the heh, right? They call him “Yaho.” I mean, this is incredible stuff.

Bezalel: But you should also mention he speaks about Patros. Patros is the district that includes Elephantine. It's a Greek word.

Nehemia: There it is.

Bezalel: It's an Egyptian term, “pa-ta resi,” “pa,” “the,” “ta” is “country” and “resi” is “south,” the southern country. So, it's what you would call the Negev.

Nehemia: The deep south.

Bezalel: The deep south. So, he doesn't mention that, Jeremiah, Elephantine by name, but there are obviously Jews living in that whole area. They settled in the south.

Nehemia: This is absolutely incredible. This isn't just an overlap. They're not just talking about similar things. Jeremiah is literally talking about the thing that continued at Elephantine. And now we’ve found the papyrus that actually fills in some of the gaps and helps us understand it. This is incredible stuff, Professor. Would you come back and continue to talk about some other things here? What I really want to talk about when we come back in the next episode is the Passover letter and this woman, Mivtakhya, incredible stuff. Would you come back and continue this, Professor?

Bezalel: I shall.

Nehemia: Wonderful. And would you end with the Aramaic prayer, and maybe you would do us the honor of doing it in the singular of yish'al, instead of yish'alu. Would you end with like a prayer formula? The idea just came to me, if you're willing to do it, and with the kind of prayer formula we would find, without mentioning Anat, in Elephantine papyri?

Bezalel: Well, Shlam Nehemia, Ela shmaya yish'al bekhol idan. It means, “The welfare of Nehemia, may the God of heaven seek after at all times.”

Nehemia: Amen.

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Related Posts:
The Ancient Jewish Temple in Elephantine (Nehemia Gordon with Prof. Bezalel Porten - Part 2)
Passover Letters from the Elephantine Papyri
(Nehemia Gordon with Prof. Bezalel Porten - Part 3)
Hebrew Voices Episodes
Support Team Studies
Nehemia Gordon's Teachings on the Name of God

Verses Mentioned:
Isaiah 49:12
Esther 1:1
Matthew 23:16-18
Jeremiah 44:15-30

Further Study:
Prof. Emeritus Bezalel Porten
Dr. Ada Yardeni
Elephantine Papari and Jewish Temple
The Religion of the Jews of Elephantine in Light of the Hermopolis Papyri
The Elephantine Papyri in English: Three Millennia of Cross-Cultural Continuity and Change

  • Vic says:


  • David Johnson says:

    Part 2 please…asap

  • daniel says:

    Wow – that really is incredible how the Aramaic papyri dovetails in with Jeremiah’s stern rebuke a century earlier. Can’t wait for the Pesach Letter (and other neat things, I’m sure) in your next interview. Growing up I vaguely recall the words “Elephantine Papyri”, but didn’t know the reference at all.

  • John says:

    I enjoyed the program on the Elephantine Papyri and didn’t realize there was a contingent of Jews in southern Egypt. Well done!

  • Alberto Trevino says:

    Absolutely Remarkable!

    I am so pleased that The Only Living Most High Yehovah has answered our prayers in blessing you to bright to light a better understanding of our past.

    May El Elion Yehovah open our eyes, open our minds to the Truth.

    As Yehovah Lives, so should we.

  • Janlyn Gosse says:

    Incredible and intriguing! Thank you for bringing Professor Porten to us. What an honor. There is no way that I would have known about him without Hebrew Voices. This information ties in with the studies that I have been doing of the prophets and the world in the ancient times. These are incredible primary sources that help to fill in the picture. Thank you!

  • Teresa Esparza says:

    Wonderful teaching Nehemia!!

  • Susan Lein says:

    Awesome episode — I need to immediately listen again and take detailed notes! Looking forward to the next one! Shalom!