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Becoming Diaspora JewsBehind the Story of Elephantine$
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Karel van der Toorn

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780300243512

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300243512.001.0001

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The Origins of the Elephantine Jews

The Origins of the Elephantine Jews

(p.61) 4 The Origins of the Elephantine Jews
Becoming Diaspora Jews

Karel van der Toorn

Yale University Press

This chapter seeks out the origins of the Elephantine Jews. For more than a century, their origins have been a mystery. Owing to the decipherment of Papyrus Amherst 63, this chapter reveals new understandings about who the Elephantine Jews were and where they came from. It argues that most of the men and women we have come to think of as Jews were in fact Samarian Arameans. They had a hyphenated identity, somewhat similar to the double identity of Jewish Americans. By geographical origin, they were from Samaria. Having lived for about a century in the Aramaic-speaking environment of Palmyra, they had become Arameans. They had stayed loyal to their ancestral god Yaho but equated him with the storm god Bethel. In addition to Aramaic as their new language, they had also adopted several Aramean deities associated with Bethel: Anat-Bethel, Eshem-Bethel, and Herem-Bethel. Toward 600 BCE, they had migrated to Egypt, along with the Syrians and Babylonians they had lived with in Palmyra.

Keywords:   Elephantine Jews, Papyrus Amherst 63, Samaria, Samarians, Samarian Arameans, Palmyra, double identity, Egypt

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