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Zenon Papyri: Jews in Hellenistic Egypt

Zenon PapyrusThe Zenon Papyri are the archives of a third century B.C.E. agent of the finance minister of Ptolemaic Egypt. He visited the Land of Israel on an economic mission and accompanied his master on trips in Egypt. His archives are an important source for Jewish social history.

Papyrus 158

In the 27th year of the reign of Ptolemy, son of Ptolemy, 59 and of his son Ptolemy, the priest of Alexander and of the gods Adelphoi and the kanephoros 60 of Arsinoe Philadelphos being those in office in Alexandria, in the month Xandikos, 61 at Birta of the Ammanitis. 62 Nikanor son ofXenokles, Knidian, in the service of Toubias as, sold to Zenon son of Agreophon, Kaunian, in the service of Apollonios the dioiketes, 63 a Sidonian girl named Sphragis, about seven years of age, for fifty drachmai. Guarantor… son of Ananias, Persian, of the troop of Toubias, kleruch. 64 Witnesses- …judge; [[…son of Agathon, Persian ]] 65 (cancelled) Polemon son of Straton, Macedonian, of the
cavalrymen of Toubias, kleruch; Timopolis son of Botes, Milesian, Herakleitos son of Philippos, Athenian, Zenon son of Timarchos, Kolophonian, Demostratos, son of Dionysios, Aspendian, all four in the service of Apollonios the dioiketes.

[Endorsed] Deed of sale of a girl.

Papyrus 466

Toubias to Apollonios greeting. If you and all your affairs are flourishing. and everything else is as you wish it, many thanks to the gods! I too have been well, and have thought of you at all times, as was right.

I have sent to you Aineias bringing a eunuch and four boys, house-slaves and of good stock, two of whom are uncircumcised. 67 I append descriptions of the boys for your information. Goodbye. Year 29, Xandikos 10. 68

Haimos. About 10

Dark skin

Curly hair

Black eyes

Rather big jaws

with moles on the right jaw

Uncircumcised.

Atikos. About 8

Light skin

Curly hair

Nose somewhat flat

Black eyes, scar

below the

right eye

Uncircumcised.

Audomos. About 10

Black eyes

Curly hair. Nose flat

Protruding lips

Scar near the right

eyebrow

Circumcised.

Okaimos. About 7

Round face. Nose

flat.

Gray eyes

Fiery complexion

Long straight hair

Scar on forehead

above the right eyebrow

Circumcised.

(Addressed) To Apollonios

(Docketed) Toubias, about a eunuch and 4 boys he has sent. Year 29, Artemision 16, 69 at Alexandria.

Papyrus 5 70

Toubias to Apollonios greeting. On the tenth of Xandikos I sent Aineias our servant, bringing the gifts for the king which you wrote and asked me to send in the month of Xandikos- two horses, six dogs, one wild mule out of an ass, 71 two white Arab donkeys, two wild mules’ foals, one wild ass’s foal. They are all tame. I have also sent you the letter which I have written to the king about the gifts, together with a copy for your information.

Goodbye. Year 29, Xandikos 10.

To King Ptolemy from Toubias, greeting. I have sent you two horses, six dogs, one wild mule out of an ass, two white Arab donkeys, two wild mules’ foals and one wild ass’s foal.

Farewell.

(Addressed) To Apollonios

(Docketed) 72 Toubias, about his consignment to the king, and the copy of his letter to the king. Year 29, 16 Artemision, at Alexandria.

Papyrus 6 73

[Alexan]dros to Oryas, greeting. I have received your letter, to which you added a copy of the letter written by Zenon to Jeddous 74 saying that unless he gave the money to Straton, Zenon’s man, we were to hand over his pledge to him (Straton). I happened to be unwell as a result of taking some medicine, so I sent a lad, a servant of mine, with Straton, and wrote a letter to Jeddous. When they returned they said that he had taken no notice of my letter, but had attacked them and thrown them out of the village. So I am writing to you (for your information).

Goodbye. Year 27, Peritios intercalary 20. 75

(Addressed) To Oryas.

57. Trans. from Corpus Papyrum Judaicorum, ed. V. A. Tcherikover with A. Fuks (Cambridge- For Magnes Press, Hebrew University by Harvard University Press, 1957), vol 1.

58. Tcherikover and Fuks, p. 120.

59. The 27th year of Ptolemy Philadelphus was 256 B.C.E.

60. A female cultic official.

61. April-May.

62. In Transjordan.

63. Chief financial officer in Ptolemaic Egypt.

64. The Jewish head of the military cleruchy in Transjordan.

65. The words in double square brackets were marked for erasure (“cancelled”) by the scribe.

66. Tcherikover and Fuks. pp. 126-7.

67. Circumcision does not mean that they were Jews, as other Near Eastern peoples practiced circumcision as well. It was just a physical description of the slave boys.

68. May 12, 257 B.C.E.

69. June 17, 257 B.C.E. The letter took 36 days to travel from Transjordan to Alexandria.
70. Tcherikover and Fuks, pp. 128-9.

71. A mule is normally the offspring of a male donkey and a mare. This rare animal was born to a horse and a female donkey.

72. That is, filed in the archives.

73. Tcherikover and Fuks, p. 130.

74. No doubt a Jew, most probably a landowner in Palestine.

75. April 5, 258 B.C.E.

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