BMCR 2023.06.31

Corpus papyrorum judaicarum, volume 5: the early-Roman period (30 BCE–117 CE)

, , Corpus papyrorum judaicarum, volume 5: the early-Roman period (30 BCE–117 CE). Berlin; Jerusalem: De Gruyter and Magnes Press, 2022. Pp. xxvii, 217. ISBN 9783110785999.



This publication is part of an ongoing event, the issue of volumes 4–6 of the Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum (CPJ). The editors combine relevant expertise; Hacham is well known for work on the Greek literature and the history of the Jews in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt, and Ilan edited the Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity (3 vols., Tübingen, 2002–12). The original volumes 1–3 of CPJ, edited by V.A. Tcherikover, A. Fuks & M. Stern (Harvard University Press for the Magnes Press, Hebrew University: Cambridge, MA, 1957–64), have remained a resource of the utmost value for study of the Jews under Greek and Roman rule, especially but not only in Egypt. The new volumes, collectively designated N.CPJ and uniform with their predecessors, form a supplement which is likely to be valued similarly.

The old and new volumes alike gather papyri, ostraca, and inscriptions associated with Jews and Judaism, giving literature, introduction, text, English translation, and commentary. The region in view continues to be Egypt; papyri found in the Judaean wilderness and nearby are not included. Volume 4 (2020), on the Ptolemaic period, and volume 5, now under review, on the early Roman period, supplement volumes 1 and 2, respectively.

Volume 5 covers the years from the death of Cleopatra to the repression of Jewish revolt before and after Trajan’s death in August 117. Beginning before Philo, it ends after Josephus. The title page, and many entries, note a debt to the work of Izhak (I.F.) Fikhman, whose supplement to CPJ was left unfinished at his death. The editors worked in collaboration with Deborah Jacobs, Meron M. Piotrkowski, and Zsuzsanna Szántó, all also named on the title page. Each entry names the scholar(s) responsible. A list of abbreviations and short references also forms a bibliography.

The sixty-three new entries on papyri and ostraca are divided between documentary and literary texts. The nine literary entries now include biblical and magical papyri, categories not found in the original CPJ. Volume 2 had 309 entries in all, including 249 on ostraca, from finds in Apollinopolis Magna (Edfu). Volume 5 adds fifteen entries on ostraca, mainly from Edfu, but also from quarries in the eastern desert: Mons Claudianus and, near Mons Porphyrites, Domitiane (Umm Balad). An appendix gives three entries on inscriptions, numbered 171–73. As in volume 4, these are in a sequence continuing the numeration (1–156) of W. Horbury & D. Noy (edd.), Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt (Cambridge, 1992) (JIGRE).

The documents presented are mainly in Greek. A welcome new feature of the supplement is the inclusion of non-Greek texts, but in volume 5 they are relatively few. The editors note (p. 2) the decline of Aramaic and Demotic as administrative languages, late in the Ptolemaic period and early under Roman rule, respectively.

A comment may be added on the non-Greek material as indicating, not always straightforwardly, languages familiar among Jews. Thus the sixteen Demotic ostraca from Edfu with which the volume begins (entries 620–26), viewed in conjunction with the Egyptian names of Jews found in both Demotic and Greek ostraca, attest the impact of Egyptian language and culture on Jews in the Thebaid. It is also worth noting, however, that the non-Greek material may attest the influence of Greek. The Demotic ostraca presented here are tax receipts. They supplement the similar Greek receipts from Edfu in volume 2, although they happen not to attest the Jewish tax that is represented in many Greek ostraca, and they have been shown to mention some of the same persons. As far as names are concerned, this small Demotic group does not attest Latin-based Jewish names such as appear in some Greek receipts; but the Demotic receipts, like the Greek ones, present Jewish names which are often Greek, or are Hebrew names which have taken a Greek form. Instances in the last two categories are the first attestation of the Greek Kineas as a Jewish name (no. 624, 6 CE) and an early appearance (no. 623, 1 CE) of the Graecized Saulos, prominent in the New Testament (Acts 7:58, etc.).

To look ahead in the volume to the remaining non-Greek material, still with the influence of Greek in mind, one of the two magical texts presented here is inscribed on a gold lamella (no. 681, first–second century CE); probably from Egypt, it was found in Wales in 1827 at Segontium, modern Caernarfon. Mainly a Hebrew prayer for protection, it is described here as a Hebrew amulet; but the Hebrew is all in Greek transliteration, and the text also includes Greek divine epithets, and a final Greek prayer for the Jewish client. Lastly, an amphora-fragment found in Alexandria is inscribed in Hebrew characters (inscription 173), but these may again represent a Hebrew name in a Graecized form (see below).

The Demotic ostraca are followed in volume 5 by Greek ostraca from Edfu (entries 627–32), also tax receipts (no. 629 is probably for the Jewish tax); these again sometimes document persons known from ostraca registered in volume 2. Then come two papyrus fragments with Jewish names. The first (no. 633, Edfu, late first or early second century CE) brought redating to the same period of a papyrus found with it, no. 452a, which had been attributed to the second century, and is known for mentioning the overnight celebration (pannychis) of the feast of Tabernacles.

Introductions to the Edfu material stress that Tcherikover’s view of the date and environment of the ostraca presented in volume 2 has been reconsidered. No longer are nearly all ascribed to the Flavian period, and the district where most were found is regarded as the home of many Jews, but not, as Tcherikover held, a Jewish quarter. Zsántó lists possibly non-Jewish ostraca which Tcherikover included simply because they were found in this district. In volume 2, pp. 118–19 (recalled in volume 4, p. 9) A. Fuks and D. M. Lewis, presenting Tcherikover’s Edfu section after his death, had already warned readers, on the basis of suggestions by Jacques Schwartz, of reconsideration of the dating and the district; they adopted Schwartz’s redating of a number of ostraca to earlier years, and noted his judgment that not all texts found in the district are Jewish.

Among ostraca from quarries in the eastern desert (nos. 635–39) two from Domitiane can be linked with Jewish religion. A Greek request for “wheat for the Jews” (quarry workers) in place of a returned consignment of bread bears a date corresponding to 7th April; the three features together suggest that the wheat is for baking unleavened bread for Passover (no. 638, 94 or 97 CE). Another ostracon, without text, presents a drawing (reproduced), thought to represent Moses (no. 639, 81–117 CE); if so, this would be the earliest depiction of Moses in art.

The documentary entries from sites further north which follow (nos. 640–62) attest some positions held by Jews, from strategos of a nome (no. 645, perhaps from Heracleopolis, first century CE) to “head (hegoumenos) of cowherds,” perhaps indicating presidency of a guild (no. 659, unknown provenance, late Ptolemaic or early Roman). A group of ten fragments (no. 652, Tebtynis) note payments of the Jewish tax from the year 92–93, under Domitian, back to 75–76, under Vespasian. The record may reflect stricter collection of this tax under Domitian.

A special section, as in volume 2, contains entries (nos. 663–72) related to the Jewish revolt in Egypt which broke out in the last years of Trajan, accompanied by other Jewish risings in Cyrene and elsewhere. Most papyri in this section do not mention Jews expressly, but are linked by inference with the revolt. Exceptions are four documents relating to land punitively confiscated from Jews.

The editors aim especially to clarify the duration of the revolt. They sift suggestions for new documentation made by M. Kortus (1999), on letters from the archive of Apollonius, strategos of Heptakomia, and more broadly by Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev, Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE (Leuven, 2005). A selection from this material is given, with two additions and an appendix on texts not chosen. The difficulties are exemplified by one instance bearing on the history of the revolt. Pucci Ben Zeev tentatively dated to “116 (?)” and “116 or 117 (?),” respectively, and linked with the revolt, two papyrus letters which were not selected for volume 2, but mention unrest in Alexandria. Here they form no. 665 (P. Brem. 48), of 30th October in an unnamed year (U. Wilcken had suggested 118, after repression of the revolt), from Herodes the architect of Apollonius, and no. 667a (P. Mich. viii 477), undated but in a hand suiting the early second century, from the soldier Claudius Terentianus. Hacham and Ilan date both to 116–17, together with a second undated letter from Terentianus (667b, P. Mich. viii 478), and urge that they attest continuing Jewish unrest in the city.

It is helpful to have these texts presented, but it may still be a question whether the new dates are firm and whether Jews are concerned. The Greek slaughter of Jews in Alexandria after the victory in 116 of the Cyrenian Jewish force advancing into Egypt (Eusebius, H.E. iv 2, 3) might make Jewish disturbance in Alexandria itself less likely thereafter, although revolt continued in the chora; but anti-Roman disturbance by Greeks in Alexandria can be envisaged then and later. In this connection one misses reference to CPJ 158a–b, called by Wilcken the Acts of Paulus and Antoninus, and reconsidered by scholars including Pucci Ben Zeev; in volume 2 it appeared among other Acta Alexandrinorum and was related to the revolt (pp. 89, 225). This fragmentary text, dramatized propaganda but worth discussion, includes (158a) complaint by a Greek representative, Antoninus, to “Caesar,’ probably Trajan or Hadrian, concerning transfer of Jews to a location found threatening by Alexandrian Greeks—perhaps before the slaughter of 116.

The literary division (nos. 673–81) gives new Acta Alexandrinorum fragments, mainly on the Greek representative Isidore before Caligula (nos. 676–77, related to volume 2, nos. 155–56). A first-century CE Alexandrian Greek inscription in honour of the gymnasiarch Tiberius Claudius Isidoros, judged not to be the same person, is added in an appendix. The literary division begins, as in volume 4, with Greek biblical papyri, here (nos. 673–75, Oxyrhynchus) from LXX Esther, Psalms and Job, all identified as Jewish by their scroll form and, in Psalms and Job, their writing of the tetragram in palaeo-Hebrew characters. Its appearance at Ps. 64 (65):2, where LXX witnesses give ho theos and the Hebrew text usually printed has the divine name Elohim, “God,” may lend some support to the old critical view that the series of “Elohistic” psalms, to which this psalm belongs, reflect systematic correction of the tetragram to Elohim.

Finally, the appended inscriptions 171(a–b)–173 form an interesting group. A dedication made by Tiberius Julius Alexander, Philo’s nephew, as epistrategos of the Thebaid, and the opening lines of his famous later edict as prefect of Egypt, complement the treatment of papyri connected with him in volumes 2 and 5 (nos. 418, 642). Then (172) an overlooked graffito from Abydos, published by J.G. Milne in 1901, records a proskynema by Ioses in the temple of Seti I, matching other traces of Jewish visits to Egyptian temples. Lastly, an amphora fragment from Alexandria published in 1985 by Z. T. Fiema (173) is incised with Hebrew characters. Considering other possibilities, Fiema opted finally for the reading brkm, understood as “bless them.” The entry records no further discussion, and I may note W. Horbury, “A Personal Name in a Jar-Inscription in Hebrew Characters from Alexandria?,” Vetus Testamentum 44.1 (1994), 103–7, suggesting the reading brks, to be interpreted as the Graecized Hebrew name Barouchos. As stated there, Dr. D. Noy drew my attention to Fiema’s publication, and we regret that we learned of it too late to include this inscription in our JIGRE.

The editors and their collaborators must be warmly congratulated on this invaluable supplement. It adds substantially to accessible knowledge of Jewish life in what Paul Veyne called the “Graeco-Roman” empire.