The Passover Papyrus from Elephantine, 419 BCE
Celebrating the Exodus in the Land of the Exodus
"festival of the unleavened bread"
Date: 419 BCE
Current Location: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany (P. 13464)
Language and Script: Aramaic; alphabetic
Biblical Verses: Exod. 12:15–20; 23:15; Lev. 23:6–7; Num. 28:17–18; 2 Kings 25:26
Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15)
This fragmentary papyrus from Elephantine is part of a letter from a Hananiah to Yedaniah, the leader of the Elephantine community and seems to explain the observance of the festival of Passover. Although the word Passover does not appear in the surviving pieces of the letter, it has become known as the “Passover Papyrus.” What we do have is references to familiar practices associated with the holiday, such as refraining from working and not eating leavened bread. As opposed to Yedaniah’s letter soliciting permission from the Persian governor to rebuild the Elephantine temple, this letter does not indicate any divergence from the practices prescribed in the Torah.
[To my brothers, Ye]daniah and his colleagues the Jewish ga[rrison,] your brother Hanan[i]ah. May God/the gods [seek after] the welfare of my brothers [at all times.] And now, this year, year 5 of King Darius, it has been sent from the king to Arsa[mes ……… …]
Now, you thus count four[teen days in Nisan and on the 14th at twilight ob]serve [the Passover] and from the 15th day until the 21st day of [Nisan observe the Festival of Unleavened Bread. Seven days eat unleavened bread. Now,] be pure and take heed. [Do] n[ot do] work [on the 15th day and on the 21st day of Nisan.] Do not drink [any fermented drink. And do] not [eat] anything of leaven [nor let it be seen in your houses from the 14th day of Nisan at] sunset until the 21st day of Nisa[n at sunset. And b]ring into your chambers [any leaven which you have in your houses] and seal (them) up during [these] days. ...
[To] my brothers, Yedaniah and his colleagues the Jewish garrison, your brother Hananiah s[on of ??].