Aramaic Elephantine Double-Dated Papyri—Jewish and Egyptian Dates

Aramaic Elephantine Double-Dated Papyri—Jewish and Egyptian Dates

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Bible Calendar Revealed

6th and 5th century BC double-dated Aramaic Papyri excavated from Elephantine Egypt

A treatise for each double-dated papyrus is listed below and supplies lunar data to show whether the named Jewish month could have begun suitably after the onset of a new moon. This work does not assert, however, that the Jewish colony used first-crescent moon sightings to declare the beginning of months as many assert. In fact, evidence shows that the month often began the night before or after the most likely first sighting of the moon, which suggests that the Hebrews based their calendar on a calculated system that closely approximated first-moon sightings. We invite the reader to follow along1 and draw his or her own conclusions based on the overall data.
Click on a manuscript below to compare dating.
Date: 18 Elul = 28 Pachon, year 15 of Xerxes (471 BC)
Papyrus written: Sept 12/13, 471 BC, night-time, JDN 1549645.5
First day of Elul: Aug 27, 471 BC; Pachon 12: JDN 1549629
Type: Building grant between Koniya and Mahseiah b. Yedoniah
Scribe: Pelatiah b. Ahio

AP-5 is the earliest papyrus that used a double-dated expression. Excavators found the document intact, rolled-up, and in excellent condition. The scribe listed the date using the standard form: Jewish day, month = Egyptian day, month, year. The Jewish date fell on Sept 12/13 (ss-ss)2, and the Egyptian date fell on Sept 12/13 (sr-sr)3. Since the start of the Egyptian day began before the start of the Jewish day, the scribe must have written the dateline after sunset. In this case, he wrote AP-5 during the night when Sept 12 changed to Sept 13. This study assigns the JDN, 1549645.5 to the papyrus.

Papyrus Date: 18 Kislev = [17] Thoth, year 21, the beginning of the reign of Artaxerxes I (465 BC)
Papyrus written: Jan 2/3, 464 BC, night-time, JDN 1551949.5
First day of Kislev: Dec 17, 465 BC; Thoth 1; JDN 1551933
Type: Property rights dispute, Dargman versus Mahseiah
Scribe: Ethan b. Aba, Dictated by Dargman

An area of the papyrus is missing where the Scribe wrote the Egyptian day number. Four single-units are visible after the gap. The break of less than an inch must allow two remaining letters for the word day and any more number units that might have followed. A group of three single digits could have occupied the gap but would have left too much space. A ten-symbol or a twenty-symbol would have filled the gap better. A ten and a twenty symbol could fit perhaps, but a ten-symbol followed by a group of three singles is the most likely combination to have occupied the space. The latter option would be slightly cramped, but it is the only possibility that could be correct for this year.

AP-8, Papyrus Date: Kislev 21 = Mesore [2]1, year 6 of Artaxerxes I (460 or 459 BC)
Papyrus written: Dec 1/2, 459 BC, night-time, JDN 1554108.5
First day of Kislev: Nov 11, 459 BC; Mesore 1; JDN 1554089
Type: Mahseiah bestowal of land to his daughter, Mitahiah
Scribe: Atharshuri Nabu-zira-ibni (Babylonian)

The dating for AP-8 has been an enigma to scholars since its publication. The scribe appears to have placed a double-fault in the data. In year six of Artaxerxes I, the first of Mesore and the twenty-first of Kislev did not coincide correctly. If the scribe meant year five instead of year six, then we can find an astronomical harmony. But this would mean that many years would have passed since the Hebrews last interpolated an intercalary month. Other papyri dates contradict this scenario.

Kraeling-1, Papyrus Date: 25 Phamenoth = 20 (read 30) Sivan, year 14 of Artaxerxes I (450 BC)
Papyrus written: July 6, 450 BC, daytime, JDN 1557247
First day of Sivan: June 7, 450 BC; Mechir 26; JDN 1557218
Type: Land dispute between Mika and Anani b. Azariah
Scribe: Mannuki

The papyrus is badly fragmented, but Emil A. Kraeling was able to arrange the pieces in a way that allowed him to translate and understand the document. The dateline is clear enough, but the synchrony arrangement is unusual: The attending scribe wrote the Egyptian day and month first and the Jewish day, month and year last. A different scribe wrote the dateline on Kraeling-6 in the same order.

Kraeling-2, Papyrus Date: 18 [Tammuz] = [2] Pharmouthi, year 16 of Artaxerxes I
Papyrus written: July 12, 449 BC, daytime, JDN 1557619
Tammuz 1: June 25, 449 BC; Phamenoth 15; JDN 1557602
Marriage contract, Tamut, the handmaiden to Ananiah b. Azariah
Scribe: Nathan b. Ananiah, who was a witness to AP-8 & 9 and wrote AP-10, AP-13 and AP-15

The dateline of this document is in poor condition. The name of the Jewish month is missing, but its day number is easy to read. The Egyptian day number is also missing. Since this study uses the Egyptian expression to fix the synchrony in absolute time, it finds that the data of Kraeling-2 is not useful. We can restore the Egyptian day astronomically with an accuracy of a day or so, but then cannot thereby use the date as evidence to reconstruct the calendar.

AP-13, Papyrus Date: 2 Kislev = 10 Mesore, year 19 of Artaxerxes I (446)
Papyrus written: Nov 17/18, 446 BC, night-time, JDN 1558842.5
First day of Kislev: Nov 17, 446 BC; Mesore 10; JDN 1558842
Transfer of land: Mahseiah b. Yedoniah to Miphtahiah, his daughter
Scribe: Nathan b. Ananiah

Nathan b. Ananiah drafted this document. Several other papyri name him as a scribe or witness. Cowley relates that this Nathan’s writing was coarse; he formed the letters poorly and often misspelled words1. His contract date lines seem to contain a problem of one sort or another. In this case, some consider that the date for Kislev would have begun too early according to his synchrony. In his defense, however, this early occurrence might show merely that Nathan wrote AP-13 at the tail end of a period where embolism did not routinely occur and that the scribe did not make a mistake here at all.

AP-14, Papyrus Date: 14 Ab = 19 Pachon, year 25 of Artaxerxes I (440 BC)
Papyrus written: Aug 26/27 440 BC, night-time, JDN 1560951.5
First day of Ab: Aug 14, 440 BC; Pachon 7; JDN 1560939
Claim settlement between Pi and Mibtahiah, daughter of Mahseiah
Scribe: Petisi b. Nabunathan (Babylonian)

The Jewish date fell on Aug 26/27 (ss-ss), and the Egyptian date fell on Aug 26/27 (sr-sr). Since the beginning of Pachon 19 preceded the beginning of Ab 14, the scribe wrote the dateline sometime after sundown on August 26 and before the dawn of August 27, 440 BC. The Julian Day assigned to this synchrony is 1560951.5. The first day of the Jewish month, Ab fell thirteen days earlier on Aug 14, 440 BC, which coincides with JDN 1560939. The true beginning of the month began at sunset on the eve before and corresponded to JDN 1560938.37. The moon was in conjunction on JDN 1560937.4 allowing a 0.97 day (about twenty-three hours) maturation and an illuminated fraction of little more than one degree.

Kraeling-3, Papyrus Date: 7 Elul = 9 Payni, year 21 Artaxerxes I (437 BC)
Papyrus written: Sep 14/15, 437 BC, night-time, JDN 1562066.5
First day of Elul: Sep 9, 437 BC; Payni 4; JDN 1562061
House sale, Bagazust and Ubil, to Ananiah b. Azariah
Scribe: Haggai b. Shemaiah

This synchrony provides very useful data for reconstructing the Hebrew calendar. Besides supporting the overall scheme, the unnaturally early beginning of Elul, in this year helps date this papyrus in absolute time. For the reasons discussed in the treatise for AP-14, the scribe could only have written Kraeling-3 at night. If the onset of Elul 7 had preceded the onset of Payni 9, the start of Elul would have scarcely begun after the new moon conjunction. And if there were only twenty-nine days in Elul, as this study proposes, then Tishri would have begun before the lunar conjunction. For the reasons specified in the treatise for AP-14, this work has firmly fixed that Elul 1 fell on Sep 9, 437 BC, JDN 1562061. The calendar day began the night before on JDN 1562060.34, and the new-moon conjunction occurred 1.25 days earlier on JDN 1562059.1.

AP-10, Papyrus Date: 7 Kislev = 4 Thoth, year [2]9 Artaxerxes I (437 BC)
Papyrus written: Dec 13, 437 BC, daytime, JDN 1562156
First day of Kislev: Dec 7, 437 BC, Epagomenal 3; JDN 1562150
Loan of money, Yauhan borrowed from Meshullam b. Zaccur
Scribe: Nathan b. Ananiah, also wrote AP-10 and AP-13

The papyrus is in good condition. The scribe, Nathan ben Ananiah, purposely or not, placed an errant date on the dateline. He matched Kislev 7 with Thoth 4 in the ninth year of Artaxerxes, which does not allow the beginning of Kislev to coincide with a new lunar synodic period. Horn and Wood1 suggested amending the year number from nine to twenty-nine. They proposed that the scribe inadvertently omitted a twenty symbol before the nine single units. This study agrees. Others propose that the scribe forgot the epagomenal month of five days that the Egyptians always inserted after Mesore and before Thoth, the new year. They imply that the Egyptian date ought to read 4 Epagomenal instead of 4 Thoth. That date would have been Dec 7/8, 456 BC. However, If the scribe believed he was writing the papyrus on Thoth 4, he would have written Year 10 of Artaxerxes instead of year 9. The first of Thoth was the annual New Year’s Day in Egypt. Thoth 1 began a new ten-day week, a new season, and a new year of the king. It is doubtful the scribe would have been unwittingly writing Thoth dates five days before such a recognized event as New Year’s Day. Contrarily, the occurrence of a dating error so early in a month or a year would have most likely resulted from the scribe writing the old month by habit.

AP-15, Papyrus Date: [25 Tishri] = 6 Epiphe, year [30] [Artaxerxes I] (435 BC)
Papyrus written: Oct 11, 435 BC, daytime, JDN 1562823
First day of Tishri: Sep 17, 435 BC; Payni 12; JDN 1562799
Marriage contract – Ashor b. Zeho and Mibtahiah
Scribe: Nathan b. Ananiah, also wrote AP-10 & AP-13

The dateline for AP-15 has degraded so that the year number is missing. Based on the circumstances of the parties involved, Cowley reasoned that Nathan penned this contract not long after the genesis of AP-14 (440 BC). Therefore, Nathan must have written it during the reign of Artaxerxes I. Cowley1 restored the date to 25 Tishri = 6 Epiphe, [?] year [Artaxerxes I]. He was able to read the Egyptian month and day easily and is certain that the visible, upper-parts of vacant letters are a match for Tishri. He further asserts that the best restoration of the day number is twenty-five because part of the twenty-symbol is still visible, and the remaining space fits five single units. He does concede that there is a lower possibility the symbol could be a ten. In our reconstruction of the Jewish calendar in use during the 5th-century B.C., AP-15 fits nicely.

Kraeling-4, Papyrus Date: 25 Tishri = 25 Epiphe, year 31 Artaxerxes I (434 BC)
Papyrus written: Oct 30, 434 BC, daytime, JDN 1563207
First day of Tishri: Oct 6, 434 BC; Epiphe 1; JDN 1563183
Partial gift of a house, Ananiah b. Azariah to Tamut, his wife
Scribe: Mauziyah b. Nathan

The synchronized dates of this well-preserved papyrus correlate astronomically. The Jewish date fell on Oct 29/30 (ss-ss), 434 BC, and the Egyptian date fell on Sept 30/31 (sr-sr). Therefore, the scribe dated Kraeling-4 during the daylight hours of Oct 30, 434 BC, JDN 1563207. The first day of Tammuz fell twenty-four days earlier on Oct 6, 434 BC, JDN 1563183. Tishri began at sunset the previous night around JDN 1563182.34. The moon was in conjunction on JDN 1563180.95 allowing a 1.39 day (about 33 hours) translation time, and an illuminated fraction of more than two degrees.

Kraeling-5, Papyrus Date: 20 Sivan = 7 Phamenoth, year 38 Artaxerxes I (427 BC)
Papyrus written: June 12, 427 BC, daytime, JDN 1565624
First day of Sivan: May 24, 427 BC; Mechir 18; JDN 1565605
Freedom for Tamut (Tpmt) extended by Meshullum b. Zakker
Scribe: Haggai b. Shemaiah

Kraeling-5 is the last double-dated, Aramaic papyri from Elephantine to have been written during the reign of Artaxerxes Longimanus. The deed itself is another in the saga of Ananiah ben Azariah and his family. Meshullum seems to extend freedom to Tamut and her daughter, Yehoyishma but only after his death and the death of his son.

Kraeling-6, Papyrus Date: 8 Pharmouthi = 8 Tammuz, year 3 Darius II (420 BC)
Papyrus written: July 11/12, 420 BC, night-time, JDN 1568210.5
First day of Tammuz: July 5, 420 BC; Pharmouthi 2; JDN 1568204
Partial house gift, Ananiah b. Azariah to Yehoyishma, a daughter
Scribe: missing

The document came to the Brooklyn Museum in bits and fragments, but Emil Kraeling pieced much of it together. The dateline is satisfactory. Once again, as in Kraeling-1, the scribe placed the Egyptian month and day first, then he wrote the Hebrew day, month, and year last.

Kraeling-8, Papyrus Date: 6 Tishri = 22 Payni, year 8 Darius II (416 BC)
Papyrus written: Sep 22, 416 BC, daytime, JDN 1569744
First day of Tishri: Sep 17, 416 BC; Payni 17: JDN 1569739
Slave Deed: Zakkur b. Meshullam to Uriah b. Mahseiah
Scribe: Dwhsn b. Nergal-usezib (Babylonian)

All the elements of a standard dateline are present and clearly written. The synchronism provides for a beginning of Tishri that is wholly consistent with a new lunar cycle. Once again, unmistakable evidence shows that the Jewish intercalary system diverged from the Persian. This papyrus provides proof that the Jews at Elephantine did not interpolate a second Adar early in 416 BC as the Persians were wont to have done.

AP-25, Papyrus Date: 3 Kislev, year 8 = 12 Thoth, year 9 Darius II (416 BC)
Written: Dec 16/17, 416 BC, night-time, JDN 1569829.5
First day of Kislev: Dec 15, 416 BC; Thoth 11; JDN 1569828
Property Dispute: Yedoniah b. Hoshaiah b. Uriah to Yedoniah b. Nathan and Mahseiah b. Nathan
Scribe: Mauziah b. Nathan

The dates ascribed to AP-25 and AP-28 contain the full set of data for both the Hebrew and Egyptian calendar systems. Remember that the Egyptian year of the king changed on Thoth 1, but the Jewish year number advanced on the first of Tishri. The year numbers were always the same from Tishri-to-Thoth but differed by one between Thoth and Tishri. During the latter, the Egyptian year number was greater by one than the other. Mauziah, the son of Nathan dated AP-25 shortly into the new year that began on Thoth 1, and he competently recorded the difference between the years. This example also comports well with the established convention of using the day, month, and year arrangement for both systems. As noted before, when a scribe applies only one year-number to a synchronism, it belongs to the system to which he attached it. In this case and in the case of AP-28, each date expression has the proper year for its associated system attached to it.

AP-28, Papyrus Date: 24 Shebat, year 13 = 9 Athyr, year 14 Darius II (410 BC)
Written: Feb 10/11, 410 BC, night-time, JDN 1571711.5
First of Shebat: Jan 18, 410 BC, Phaophi 16; JDN 1571688
Division of slaves between the brothers Mahseiah and Yedoniah after the death of their mother, Mibtahiah
Scribe: Nabutukulti b. Nabu-zira-ibni (Babylonian)

The papyrus remains in excellent condition. The dateline arrangement is the same as AP-25 and shows the full day, month, and year for both the Jewish and Egyptian systems. As in AP-25, the date falls between Thoth and Tishri, so the Egyptian year was one year greater than the Jewish year during this span for Darius II.

Kraeling-9, Papyrus Date: 24 Marchesvan = 29 Mesore, year 1 Artaxerxes II (404 BC)
Papyrus written: Nov 25/26, 404 BC, night-time, JDN 1574191.5
First day of Marchesvan: Nov 3, 404 BC; Mesore 7; JDN 1574169
Bequest of land from Ananiah to Yehoyishima, his daughter
Scribe: Haggai b. Shemaiah

The document does not differentiate this Artaxerxes from the first one in any way. Scholars have determined that the year the scribe wrote this papyrus belongs to Artaxerxes II because of the content contained in the body of the document. Only Kraeling-9 and Kraeling-10 belong to the reign of this late king. In fact, these are the last two papyri written with double dates. Whatever fate befell the Jewish community at Elephantine must have occurred soon after the scribe wrote these two papyri.

Kraeling-10, Papyrus Date: 20 Adar = 8 Choiak, year 3 Artaxerxes II (402 BC)
Papyrus written: March 9/10, 402 BC, night-time, JDN 1574660.5
First day of Adar: Feb 19, 402 BC; Athyr 20; JDN 1574642
House Bequest: Ananiah b. Azariah to Yehoyishima, his daughter
Scribe: Haggai b. Shemaiah

The datum of this papyrus further dispels any notion that the year number fixed to the Egyptian date refers to Persian reckoning and not Egyptian. Choiak 8, in 402 BC, fell between the Egyptian new year of Thoth and the Persian new year of Nisannu. Therefore, the Egyptian year would have recently changed to three while the Persian remained at two for another forty days after Ananiah’s bestowal.