The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History, and Ideology

By Andrea M. Berlin; J. Andrew Overman | Go to book overview

10

Documents of the First Jewish Revolt from the Judean desert

Hanan Eshel

The caves of Wadi Murabba'at are located near the water holes of Nahal Dragot (Wadi Darajeh). These caves were used as temporary dwelling quarters from the Chalcolithic period to the 1950s. The presence of water during the winter months, and the wadi's remoteness from any permanent settlements, made its caves an ideal refuge throughout history. More than 175 documents have been found in the caves of Wadi Murabba'at (Benoit, Milik, and de Vaux 1960). The earliest (Mur. 17) was brought to the desert in the sixth century B.C.E., at the time of the Babylonian conquest and the destruction of the First Temple (Milik 1960:93-100; Cross 1962) whereas the latest documents (Mur. 169-73) date to the tenth century C.E. (Grohmann 1960:284-90).

In this paper I will discuss seven documents from Wadi Murabba'at. Most of the documents found in Wadi Murabba'at were brought to the caves at the end of the Second Jewish Revolt (i.e. in 135 C.E). It is hard to determine the exact date when the Bar Kokhba revolt ended. From various sources we know that the Revolt lasted three and a half years (Schäfer 1981:10-28). Mishnah Ta'anit (4:6) avers that Beitar, the last stronghold of the Revolt, fell on the ninth of Ab, namely in the middle of the summer. Four papyri found in Wadi Murabba'at have been used by some scholars to prove that Bar Kokhba captured Jerusalem and that the Revolt lasted into the winter of 135 C.E. (Koffmahn 1968:178; Applebaum 1983:254). One of the problems much debated by students of the Second Jewish Revolt is whether Bar Kokhba captured and occupied Jerusalem (Isaac and Oppenheimer 1985:54-5).

The four documents in question are, first, an Aramaic deed of land sale (Mur. 25) dated “On the [ ] day of Marheshvan, year three to the freedom of Jerusalem.” Milik ascribed this papyrus to November 133 C.E. (Milik 1960:134-7). The second document is another deed of sale (Mur. 29) written in Hebrew and dated: “The fourteenth of Elul, year two to the redemption of Israel in Jerusalem.” The vendor in this deed is Kleapos son of Eutrapelos from Jerusalem. According to Milik this document is to be dated to early 133 C.E. (Milik 1960:140-4, 205). Neither document is well preserved and there is no indication what the nature of the business they were meant to

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