P. S. Alexander
The aim of the present study is to consider the form and function of the letter in the context of Jewish literary activity in the period c. 200 B.C.E.—c. 200 CïE. Our first task is to collect all the surviving letters and to establish a corpus of texts o which to base our analysis.
The evidence may be conveniently surveyed as follows:
Manuscript Letters. Around 28 letters (some very fragmentary) in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were found at Murabbaat, Nahal Hever and Masada in the Judaean Desert. One letter is an ostracon, one is written on wood, the rest are on papyrus. The two Masada texts are pre-73 C.E., the others all belong to the period of the Bar Kokhba War (132-135 C.E.), and even include dispatches from Bar Kokhba himself.1
1 Maccabees quotes 11 letters. These fall into three rough groups: first,
1 The Murabbaat texts were edited by Milik, in DJD 2. The letters, which are designated Mur 42-52, are all in Hebrew. Mur 49-52 are extremely fragmentary. For the Nahal Hever letters see Yadin, ‘Expedition D’, 40-50; Lifshitz, ‘Papyrus grecs’, 240-58. Further, Kutscher, ‘Language of Hebrew and Aramaic Letters’: Fitzmyer—Harrington, Manual, 158-162, 214-216. Thesigla for the Nahal Hever letters are as follows: 5/6 Ḥev 1 (Aramaic; on wood); 5/6 Ḥev 2 (Aramaic; a palimpsest); 5/6 Ḥev 3 (Greek; from Soumaios: edited by Lifshitz); 5/6 Ḥev 4 (Aramaic; a palimpsest); 5/6 Ḥev 5 (Hebrew); 5/6 Ḥev 6 (Greek; from Annanos: edited by Lifshitz); 5/6 Ḥev 7 (Hebrew); 5/6 Ḥev 8 (Aramaic); 5/6 Ḥev 9 (? Hebrew); 5/6 Ḥev 10 (Aramaic); 5/6 Hev
II (Aramaic); 5/6 Ḥev 12 (Hebrew); 5/6 Ḥev 13 (? Hebrew); 5/6 Ḥev 14 (Aramaic); 5/6 Hev 15 (Aramaic). For the two Masada texts—papMas Ep gr and MasOstr (Aramaic)—see Yadin, ‘Excavation of Masada’, 110-111. For an unpublished Hebrew letter from Shimon b. Mattatyah to Shimon b. Kosibah (? discovered at Nahal Ṣe’elim), see Milik, Travail d’Edition’, 21. Fitzmyer, ‘Aramaic Epistolography’, 224, suggests that the fragmentary ostracon Mur 72 may be a letter, or a message of some kind, but this seems highly unlikely. Some of the numerous Greek papyrus letters from Egypt were presumably written by Jews, but they are hard to identify; see, however, Tcherikover-Fuks-Stern, Corpus, nos. 4. 5, 12, 13, 128, 141, 424, 469. The early letters from Elephantini (in Aramaic) and from Arad and Lachish (in Hebrew) lie outside our time limits. They are, however, very important for comparative purposes. On them see the bibliography, especially Fitzmyer, ‘Aramaic Epistolography’; Pardee, ‘Hebrew Epistolography’; id., Handbook.