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Ostracon Clermont-Ganneau 125(?): a case of ritual purity.

Helene Lozachmeur has just published "Un ostracon arameen d'Elephantine," discovered by Charles Clermont-Ganneau at Elephantine, Egypt ("Collection Clermont-Ganneau n 125?"), sometime back in 1907 and deposited in the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres.(1) That collection numbers almost 300 texts but barely a dozen or so have been published, and all but one of these by Andre Dupont-Sommer in the two decades between 1944 and 1963, and not all with photograph or hand-copy (Clermont-Ganneau 16, 44, 70, 152, 167, 169, 175, 186, 204, 277).(2) With the demise of the famed Aramaist, responsibility for the proper publication of these documents passed to Maurice Sznycer. The newly published document from this collection appears, after a hiatus of some twenty years, in a volume of tribute to Prof. Sznycer. The file number of the document is somewhat in doubt and that accounts for the question mark in the title. The infra-red photograph is very good and the hand-copy is quite an accurate reproduction. The document is of particular interest because for the first time in these Imperial Aramaic texts we encounter the word tm, "impure." We are grateful to both Sznycer and Lozachmeur for allowing us to examine this document at source (February 1993) and wish to offer a reconstruction of the fragmentary text and suggest a new interpretation of its meaning. TRANSCRIPTION


1. |slm~ mn 2. |k~n nh 3. |slh~t lkm lm 4. l thwsrw ly 5. lhm wl hw


1. htm hlw kl bq 2. y tm n h 3. lhm zy hws|rt~m 4. ly tml t|m~ 5. kn l|thwsrw~ 6. ly l|hm . . . ~



1|Greetings (to) PN~ from 2|PN.

No~w, I 3|sent (word)~ to you, saying: 4"Do not dispatch to me 5bread without it being CONVEX 1sealed. Lo, all 2the 1jar2s are impure. Behold, 3the bread which |yo~u disp|atched~ 4to me yesterday is im|pure~. Now, do not |dispatch~ 6to me |. . .~ b|read~."


The handwriting suggests that this document belongs to that same group of over thirty ostraca written by the "anonymous scribe of Syene" ca. 475 B.C.E.(3) More than a dozen of these begin on the concave side and continue on the convex (Berlin P. 8763, 10679, 10680; Bodleian Aram. Inscr. 3, 4, 7; Cairo 35468B, 43464A, 43464B; Cambridge 131-33; Clermont-Ganneau 16, 44, 70 |without photograph~, 152, 169, 186, 228, perhaps also Munich AS 899 and Berlin P. 1137), and our ostracon falls into the same category.

On the concave side, the document is intact on the left and only two words appear to be missing on the right in line 1; two words in line 2; one word in line 3; and the upper half of two letters of one word in line 4. On the convex side the right-hand margin is intact and individual letters or one or two words are missing at the left edge in lines 3-6. Including the praescriptio, the letter contains five sentences. After the opening address, each one is introduced by a transition marker (kn, hlw, h, and again kn), a rare profusion in such a short missive.


Concave 1-2: |slm~ mn |k~n, "|Greetings (to) PN~ from |PN. No~w." These lines are restored on the model of P. Berlin 11379 (slm mslk mn mh, "Greetings |to~ Meshullach from mh") and British Museum 45035 (slm mykyh mn ydnyh, "Greetings |to~ Micaiah from Jedaniah" and slm mykyh mn ntn br gmryh, "Greetings |to~ Micaiah from Nathan son of Gemariah").(4) The third letter of the second word in line 2 is apparently the nun of kn, "now," the transition marker frequently used by the anonymous scribe (Berlin P. 11380 concave:1; 17818 convex:1; Bodleian Aram. Inscr. 7 concave:2; Cairo 49625 concave:1; Clermont-Ganneau 70 concave:4, 169 concave:1, 186 concave:2).

Concave 2-3: nh |slh~t lkm lm, "I |sent (word)~ to you, saying." The descending stroke preceding lkm is probably that of a taw belonging to |slh~t, "I |sent (word)~," i.e., "am herein sending." Followed, as here, by lm, "saying," this statement is elliptical for such an introduction as kn slht lk spr|~ znh blp pmhm lm, "Thus I sent (= am sending) you this letter|r~ by the boat of Pmhn, saying" (Berlin P. 10679 concave:1-2). This construction has been designated "epistolary perfect" wherein the correspondent assumes the perspective of the recipient for whom the letter was sent in the past.(5) Indeed, the same expression is used of a letter or message that was actually sent in the past (British Museum 45035 convex:2-3; cf. also P. Berlin 11382 concave:2). For other examples of the use of slh, "send (word)," see TAD A4.1:2; 6.2:21, 6.15:8. Concave 4-5: l thwsrw ly lhm, "Do not dispatch to me bread. . . ." The fragmentary strokes at the beginning of the line which Lozachmeur thought might represent the numeral "10" are the bottom of the word l, "Do not," followed by thwsrw ly, "Do not dispatch to me." Many of the ostraca begin with the request hwsr ly, "Dispatch to me (this or that object)" (Cairo 35468B concave:1, 43464A concave:1, 49625 concave:1; Clermont-Ganneau 16 concave:1, 169 concave: 1, 186 concave:4). This is the first ostracon where the sender qualifies the request through negation--"Do not dispatch bread which is not (properly) sealed." Bread and its ingredients appear prominently in our ostraca. The famous Passover ostracon indicates that bread was prepared at Elephantine--hn grsw lhmhm lsw lhm qb /, "If they ground their (= the children's) bread, knead for them one qab" (Bodleian Aram. Inscr. 7 convex:1-2). Our ostraca usually contain outright requests for barley, e.g., one qab (Cairo 35468B convex: 1-2; cf. Cairo 49625 concave:1-2), or in exchange for legumes (Clermont-Ganneau 152 concave:1-2). The sheepshearing ostracon sent to Uriah contains a postscript to Ahutab: "We shall feed on this bread until tomorrow, (Sabbath) eve. An a(rdab) of flour remains here" (Cairo 43464B convex:4-8). There are several requests for salt (Berlin P. 17818 convex:1-2; Clermont-Ganneau 16 concave: 1-3) and one such request to Ahutab notes that "I do not have salt to put in (the) flour," implying that the correspondent was going to make the bread himself (Clermont-Ganneau 169). One writer implores his mother, Kaviliah, to assist a starving shepherd: "Both bread and flour give him" (Cambridge 131-33:13). A note to Jedaniah reports that "they are |wi~tholding from him |= the imprisoned person~ bread and water" (Clermont-Ganneau 44 concave:3).

Concave 5-Convex 1: wl hw htm, "without it being sealed." The noun-clause connected by waw copulative to a verbal clause (l thwsrw ly lhm, "Do not send me bread"), or its equivalent, always describes a state contemporaneous with the principal action. In such a circumstantial clause the word order subject-predicate (hw-htm) is preferred (cf. Gen. 15:2; 18:1; with adjective predicate, Gen. 18:12; Gesenius-Kautzsch-Cowley 141e, 156a; Jouon 159d). As noted by Lozachmeur,(6) the verb, htm, occurs in the famous Passover Papyrus (TAD A 4.1:8) and her translation here was influenced by its meaning there. The most common meaning for htm in Biblical and later Hebrew and Aramaic is "(tie and) seal" (Isa. 8:16),(7) usually a document but also such objects of value as a cask of wine (syyr whtym |Hul 105b~). We may imagine that other valuable objects or sites, such as a storeroom (Deut. 32:34) or a spring (Cant. 4:12), were sealed with such seals.(8) Why or how would one seal the bread? Convex 1-2: hlw kl bqy tm n, "Lo, all the jars are impure." The interjection hlw, "lo," often appears in the body of a letter to introduce a new sentence (TAD A 2.6:6; Berlin P. 1137 convex:4, 10679 convex:6, 10680 convex:3; Bodleian Aram. Inscr. 1 concave:5; Cambridge 131-133:9; Clermont-Ganneau 169 concave:5, 228 concave:4, convex:4). The letter in the crack at the edge of line 1 is probably aleph (cf. concave:2), yielding kl bq, "every jar." The scribe corrected himself either by erasing the letter or by assuming it illegible because on the crack. He converted the word to plural in line 2 with -y to yield bqy, "the jars." The word bq, known in later Aramaic (Ab. Zar. 37b),(9) and in the Hebrew reduplicated form bqbq (1 Ki. 14:3; Jer. 19:1, 10), occurs here for the first time in Imperial Aramaic texts.(10) Evidence for the size and shape of these apparently related vessels is unclear.(11) Convex 2-4: h lhm zy hws|rt~m ly tml t|m~, "Behold, the bread which |yo~u disp|atched~ to me yesterday is im|pure~." The particle h, "behold," occurs rarely in the ostraca letters, whether in the body of the letter, as here (Berlin P. 12800 |= 17800~ concave:4, 6 |wh~; British Museum 133028 convex:4), or at the beginning following knt, "now" (Clermont-Ganneau 152 concave:1), but appears frequently in the papyrus letters, both at the beginning (TAD A 3.1:2; 6.15:3; 6.9:2 |wkt h~) and in the body of the letter (TAD 4.3:5; 4.4:4, 6; 6.14:4 |p h~; 4.2:7 |kn h~).

The end of line 3, read, restored, and filled out by Lozachmeur(12) as hws|rt lk/lky/ly, "I gave you/You gave me" or hws|rty ly, "You (f.) gave me," should be restored, read, and taken with line 4 to read hws|rt~m ly (and not lk as Lozachmeur), "you (pl.) disp|atched~ to me" with the final mem having been squeezed above the line at the edge of the shard and thus giving (to Lozachmeur) the appearance that it belongs to line 2. The upper tip of the letter at the left edge of line 4 may indeed represent a teth, as Lozachmeur suggests, and may perhaps be restored t|m~, "im|pure~."

The adverb tml, "yesterday," appears only in the ostraca (Berlin P. 11371 concave:2, 4 |left blank by Sachau~, 17821 convex:4; British Museum 45035 convex:2).

Convex 5-6: kn l| thwsrw~ ly l|hm . . . ~, "Now, do not| dispatch~ to me |. . .~ b|read~," restored in accordance with concave 4-5. The particle kn, "now" occurs very frequently in the body of the ostraca letters to introduce a new sentence (TAD A passim; Berlin P. 11380 convex:4; Cairo 35468A concave:5; Cambridge 131-33:11; Munich AS 898 concave:6; 899 convex:1; Vienna Aram. O 2 convex:5, 7; 4 convex:4).


Mme. Lozachmeur was kind enough to send us a draft of her paper for our comments. At first reading, we were unable to make any more sense out of the fragmentary ostracon than she did. After examination of the photograph in the publication we were able to restore a text which makes good sense and has significant implications for the religious beliefs and practices of the Elephantine Jews.(13) The letter concerns the dispatch of impure vessels and bread(14) and its four sentences may be schematized in a-b-b-a fashion as follows:

l thwsrw ly lhm wl hw htm "Do not dispatch to me unsealed bread."

hlw kl bqy tm n "Lo, all the jars are impure."

h lhm . . . t|m~ "Behold, the bread . . . is im|pure~."

l| thwsrw~ ly l|hm . . .~ "Do not | dispatch~ to me |. . .~ b|read~."

We may assume that the impure bread was contained in the impure jars. Two laws in the Biblical Priestly Code address themselves to such a situation. According to the first law, if one of eight dead, impure reptiles should fall into a ceramic (earthenware) vessel, that vessel becomes impure and must be broken (Lev. 11:29-33).(15) According to the second law, if a man dies in a tent, any open vessel without a fastened lid (smyd ptyl) on it becomes impure (Num. 19:14-15).(16) The Qumran Temple Scroll adopts and modifies these laws. If a man dies in a house in a city, ceramic vessels along with the food inside them are impure for a "pure man" (= the Mishnaic haver). Open vessels and their liquified contents are impure for all persons (11QTemple 49:5-10).(17) The Mishnah elaborates and explicates: A dead, impure reptile, semen, or one who has contracted impurity by contact with a corpse renders a ceramic vessel impure through its airspace. These impure vessels in turn convey impurity (Kel. 1:1; 2:1). But a tightly stopped up vessel protects its food and liquid contents from contracting the impurity of a corpse. Some eight different substances are listed as valid sealing materials--lime, gypsum, pitch, wax, mud, excrement, clay, and plaster (Eduy. 1:14; Kel. 10:1, 2). The law is also spelled out in Targum Jonathan (to Num. 19:15), which asserts that the impurity of a corpse is transmitted to a ceramic vessel not through its outer surface but its inner space. Thus, a likely reason for our writer's rejection of the unsealed bread and his observation that all the vessels are impure would be his knowledge that there had been a recent death in the household from which the unsealed vessels with their bread were being dispatched.(18) The Passover Papyrus orders Jedaniah and his colleagues to "be pure" (hww dkyn), presumably during the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and to bring all leaven into their chambers and seal (htmw) them up during the seven days of the festival (TAD A 4.1:5, 8).(19) Rituals of purity and procedures of sealing were not strange to a community with its own temple and with scribes turning out tied and sealed contracts.

A final word on the bread in the vessel. If bq, related to bqbq, turns out to be some sort of bottle, then it would not be strange for it to serve as a container for bread. The idiom, "pour out bread" (wtsk lhm lhm), occurs some three times in the eighth-century Aramaic Sefire inscription (I B 38; III 5, 7 = KAI 222:38, 224:5, 7) and in the Greek apocryphal book of Tobit ("pour out your breads" |Tob. 4:17~).(20) Egyptian monuments of the Middle Kingdom show cakes of bread of different shapes but all of a size small enough to fit into a "bottle."(21) It was perhaps a vessel of this sort that should have been, but was not, sealed with a stopper or covered with a lid (smyd) which was tied down (ptyl) and sealed with a seal.(22)



Aime-Giron, N. Textes arameens d'Egypte. Cairo: Institut Francais, 1931.

APE Ungnad, A. Aramaische Papyrus aus Elephantine. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911.

APO Sachau.

ASAE Annales du services des antiquites de l'Egypte

CIS Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum


Fitzmyer, J. A., and S. A. Kaufman, An Aramaic Bibliography, part I: Old, Official, and Biblical Aramaic. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University, 1992.


Cowley, A. E., ed., Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar as Edited and Enlarged by the Late E. Kautzsch, Revised in Accordance with the Twenty-Eighth German Edition (1909). Oxford: Oxford University, 1923.

Jouon Jouon, P. A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew. Tr. and revised T. Muraoka. Rome: Pontificio Instituto Biblico, 1991.

KAI Donner, H., and W. Rollig. Kanaanaische und aramaische Inschriften. Three vols. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1962-64.

MAI Memoires presentes a l'Academie des inscriptions et belles-lettres

NESE Degen, R. Neue Ephemeris fur semitische Epigraphik, Bd. 1. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1972.

RES Repertoire d'epigraphie semitique

RHR Revue de l'histoire des religions

RSO Rivista degli studi orientali

Sachau Sachau, Eduard. Aramaische Papyrus und Ostraka aus einer judischen Militarkolonie zu Elephantine. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1911.


Sayce, A. H., and A. E. Cowley. Aramaic Papyri Discovered at Assuan. London: Alexander Moring, 1906.

Studies to G. R. Driver

Hebrew and Semitic Studies Presented to G. R. Driver, ed. D. W. Thomas and W. D. McHardy. Oxford: Oxford University, 1963.

TAD A Porten, B., and A. Yardeni. Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt, vol. 1. Jerusalem: Academon, 1986 (distributed by Eisenbrauns).



At the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, Joseph M. Baumgarten spoke on "Liquids and Susceptibility to Defilement in 4Q Fragments" (June 29, 1993). With his kind permission I note here that 4Q274 II,3 states wkwl sr ys lw hwtm, "and every (vessel) which has a seal." The context refers to the laws of purity in Num. 19 and indicates that the world hwtm, "seal," was used to apply to Biblical smyd ptyl, "fastened lid" (verse 15).

1 H. Lozachmeur, "Un ostracon arameen d'Elephantine: Collection Clermont-Ganneau n 125?," Semitica 39 (1989): 29-36 and Plate III (= Hommages a Maurice Sznycer, II).

2 Clermont-Ganneau 228 was published by H. Lozachmeur, "Un ostracon arameen inedit d'Elephantine (Collection Clermont-Ganneau n 228)," Semitica 21 (1971): 81-93; cf. J. Teixidor, "Bulletin d'epigraphie semitique," Syria 50 (1973): 430. 3 J. Naveh, "The Development of the Aramaic Script," Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 5.1 (1970): 36-37.

4 For discussion of this praescriptio see B. Porten and A. Yardeni, "Three Unpublished Aramaic Ostraca," Maarav 7 (1991): 208, 213.

5 D. Dempsey, "The 'Epistolary Perfect' in Aramaic Letters," Biblische Notizen 54 (1990): 7-11.

6 Semitica 39 (1989): 34.

7 See the commentary of M. H. Pope, Job, The Anchor Bible 3rd ed. (Garden City, 1980), 15:109, following TurSinai, on Jb. 14:17.

8 See A. Malamat, "'Doorbells' at Mari: A Textual-Archaeological Correlation," in Cuneiform Archives and Libraries, ed. K. R. Veenhof (Leiden: Nederlands historisch-archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1986): 160-67.

9 M. Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim (London: Luzac, 1903), 148.

10 In Clermont-Ganneau 152 concave: 1, we must read bql, "legumes", with J. T. Milik, "Les papyrus arameens d'Hermopoulis et les cultes syro-pheniciens en Egypte perse," Biblica 48 (1967): 554-55; An Aramaic Handbook, ed. F. Rosenthal (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1967), I.2:12-13.

11 See Y. Brand, Klei haheres besifrut hatalmud (Ceramics in Talmudic Literature) (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1953): 75-76.

12 Semitica 39 (1989): 32, 35-36.

13 The significance of the ostraca for the religion of the Elephantine Jews was clearly recognized by Dupont-Sommer, whose early works are cited by Lozachmeur (Semitica 39 |1989~: 31, n. 6).

14 Sources on impurity in Biblical and post-Biblical literature are cited at length by Lozachmeur (Semitica 39 |1989~: 34-35).

15 B. A. Levine, The JPS Torah Commentary: Leviticus (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989), 69-70.

16 J. Milgrom, The JPS Torah Commentary: Numbers (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990), 161-62.

17 Y. Yadin, The Temple Scroll (Jerusalem: The Israel Exploration Society, 1983), I:325-27, 416; II:212-14.

18 This point benefited from discussion with Nomi Porten.

19 B. Porten, "Aramaic Papyri and Parchments: A New Look," Biblical Archeologist 42 (1979): 91-92.

20 J. C. Greenfield, "Two Proverbs of Ahiqar," in Lingering Over Words: Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Literature in Honor of William L. Moran, ed. T. Abusch, J. Huehnergard, and P. Steinkeller (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1990), 199-201. 21 A. Erman, Life in Ancient Egypt, trans. H. M. Tirard (New York: Dover, 1971; reprint of 1894 ed.), 191.

22 The conjunction of htm and ptyl, "seal and cord," in Judah's pledge to Tamar (Gen. 38:18) refers to a seal threaded with a cord worn around the neck.
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Title Annotation:'Un ostracon arameen d'Elephantine,' text discovered by Charles Clermont-Ganneau
Author:Porten, Bezalel; Yardeni, Ada
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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