Babatha's Orchard

The Yadin Papyri and an Ancient Jewish Family Tale Retold

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Philip F. Esler
  • Oxford, U.K.: 
    Oxford University Press
    , April
     2017.
     288 pages.
     $45.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780198767169.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.
Review coming soon!

Review by Pamela Barmash forthcoming.

Description

Babatha's Orchard tells a story that has gone untold for nearly two thousand years. It is a story that would have perished with the last person familiar with its details--the Jewish woman Babatha, daughter of Shim'on ben Menahem. Babatha was probably killed or enslaved by Roman soldiers at the end of Shim'on ben Kosiba's revolt in 135 CE, when they captured a cave in a wadi running into the western shores of the Dead Sea in which she and other Jewish fugitives had been sheltering. In 1961, a team of archaeologists discovered a cache of possessions that Babatha had carefully hidden before her life or freedom was probably taken by the Romans. Among them were thirty-five legal documents dated from 94 CE to 132 CE, written on papyrus in Aramaic and Greek, relating to Babatha and her family, and the leather pouch in which they had been kept. 

In this work, Philip F. Esler examines the first four documents of the archive in chronological order--Papyri Yadin 1-4, the first from 94 CE and the second, third and fourth from 99 CE, and all drafted in Nabatean Aramaic. Although from the land and time of the Bible, they reveal a tale of domestic life. It is the story of how, around December 99 CE, Shim'on, Babatha's father (but probably before she was born), unexpectedly came to acquire an irrigated date-palm orchard in his village of Maoza, on the southern shore of the Dead Sea, in the kingdom of Nabatea. Esler undertakes a close reading of P. Yadin 1-4, with occasional reference to wider contextual issues from the Dead Sea region and other parts of the ancient Mediterranean world.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Philip F. Esler is Portland Chair of New Testament Studies at the University of Gloucestershire. He is a higher education administrator and academic who became the inaugural chief executive of the UK's Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) in 2005, remaining in that role until 2009. From 1995 to 2010 he was professor of biblical criticism at St Andrews University. From 1998 to 2001 he was vice-principal for research and provost of St Leonard's College at St Andrews. During the years 1999 to 2003 he served as a member of the Board of Scottish Enterprise Fife. From October 2010 to March 2013 he was principal and professor of biblical onterpretation at St Mary's University College Twickenham. He had an earlier career as a lawyer, working in Sydney during 1978-81 and 1984-92 as an articled clerk, then solicitor and barrister.

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