Fourth-century B.C.E. ostraca from Idumea
Today businesses are increasingly relying on sophisticated computer software to document transactions and track fiscal performance. But in fourth-century B.C.E. Idumea, about 40 miles southwest of Jerusalem, business records were kept by writing in black ink on ostraca (broken pieces of pottery).
As Ada Yardeni explains in “2,000 Ancient Aramaic Business Scribbles (including the delivery of 30 mice)” in the September/October 2014 issue of BAR, these inscribed ostraca provide us with a window into the agricultural, economic and social life in the Hebron hills in the fourth century.
We have about 2,000 ostraca with inscriptions in Aramaic, the language the Jews brought back from Babylon following the end of the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. Many of the ostraca record the delivery of products to and from storehouses and include the year of the present ruler’s reign. Idumea and Judea were under Persian rule at this time until the empire fell to Alexander the Great around 333 B.C.E.
While the Aramaic ostraca mainly record the delivery of wheat, barley and straw, they also document the delivery of everything from olive oil to workers to even mice! 600 personal names—one hundred of these Edomite and a large group Arabic—also appear on the ostraca. In the fourth century, the population of the Hebron hills was indeed diverse, with many engaged in agricultural practices.
The majority of the fourth-century Aramaic ostraca—about 1,760 of them—are unprovenanced, the product of Bedouin looting. Should they be published? About this complicated question, author Ada Yardeni writes:
Those objecting to the publication of unprovenanced inscriptions should ask themselves if this material, which sheds light on many aspects of daily life in this area in this period—vastly enriching our knowledge—should be hidden or buried. I think it would be a huge mistake to ignore the information revealed by these texts.
Take a closer look at some of the ancient Aramaic ostraca from Idumea by reading the full article “2,000 Ancient Aramaic Business Scribbles (including the delivery of 30 mice)” by Ada Yardeni in the September/October 2014 issue of BAR.
BAS Library Members: Read “2,000 Ancient Aramaic Business Scribbles (including the delivery of 30 mice)” by Ada Yardeni as it appears in the September/October 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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