Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

P. Yadin 21 and Rabbinic Law on Widows' Rights

Academic journal article The Jewish Quarterly Review

P. Yadin 21 and Rabbinic Law on Widows' Rights

Article excerpt

In memoriam Naphtali Lewis

P. YADIN 21 AND ITS MIRROR TEXT P. Yadin 22, together a contract whereby Babatha disposes of a date crop, are a strange pair of documents, odd features of which have puzzled scholars since their publication.1 The key to the explanation of some of this oddity, it is here submitted, lies in rabbinic law. Babatha had claims against the estate of her deceased husband, to which the crop properly belonged, and her actions to obtain satisfaction of those claims by self-help make perfect sense m terms of that law as it was in her time.

It should be said at the outset that this presupposition, that the law as presented m rabbinic literature of antiquity or Late Antiquity can be used to interpret the Judaean Desert papyri, is controversial. There is a growing trend m Jewish historical study of Late Antiquity to claim that in the second century of this era rabbis and rabbinic tradition, if there was any, had no substantial influence on the lives of Jews outside the rabbis' own small coteries.2 One of the arguments used to support this claim is the putative absence of any reference to rabbinic law m the legal documents found in the Judaean Desert.3 In a specific instance of this trend relevant to the present study, any connection of Rabbi Akiva to the Bar Kokhba revolt is denied, and here too the Judaean Desert documents have served as a supporting argument.4 In both cases the argument relies largely on studies by Hannah Cotton and the late Adi Wasserstein, whose studies denying rabbinic influence on the documents have been very influential.5 To be sure, there has been no lack of studies pointing to the continuities between the documents and rabbinic juristic literature.6 On the other hand it is possible to counter that these continuities should not be seen as influence of rabbinic law on Jewish practice but, on the contrary, as evidence that rabbis adopted popular practice into their law. To some extent the issue is similar to the question of the priority of the chicken or the egg. On the one hand jurists give effect to what parties write m their contracts; on the other hand people write m their contracts what they expect jurists to enforce.

In the present study, then, it will be argued that the design of the transaction m P. Yadin 21 is better interpreted as a case in which rabbinic jurisprudence affected Jewish practice than the reverse. It is not the task of the present study to engage as a whole the large question of rabbinic leadership or authority, nor that of the relation of the rabbis and the documents. Rather its purpose is to demonstrate that rabbinic law as it can be stated for the mid-second century of this era by a relatively conservative reading of rabbinic texts7 provides a satisfactory interpretative tool for understanding the archaeological artifact, P. Yadin 21. The implication of this demonstration is that these documents cannot be used to argue that the society reflected in the Judaean Desert documents was far removed from any rabbinic authority.8

The documents, P. Yadin 21 and 22, part of the Babatha archive, were written on September 11, 130 C.E. By that time Babatha's second husband, Judah son of Kleazar Khthousion, had already died. He was still alive on April 16, 128, when he gave his newly married daughter a gift of a house in En Gedi, m P. Yadin 19; but he may have been no longer alive on June 19, 130, when, in P. Yadin 20, his other family members conceded that house.9 P. Yadin 21 and 22, were both written for the selfsame transaction, each one from the standpoint of each of the parries respectively.10 Both were written on the same day and by the same scribe, Germanos librarius, who elsewhere signs as Germanos son of Judah. Although there are some differences m detail between the two versions beyond the reversal of first and second person, only one sentence affects the argument here. For reasons of economy, then, I present just one of the documents and the relevant sentence of the other. …

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