16 Aug 2018

At ... which refers to an article in Biblical Aarchaeology Review, 'Egyptian Papyrus Sheds New Light on Jewish History' ... (July/August 2018 issue BAR). Papyrus Amherst 63 is written in cursive Egyptian demotic script but also combines this with Aramaic. It has only recently been translated and it seems to be a forerunner of Psalm 20 - and two other psamls not in the Bible. They are clearly also songs chanted at some stage in the development of Jewish religion. It is evidenct they were originally composed in Hebrew, we are told, as they celebrate Yaho (a variant of Yahweh) as king of the gods (therefore going back prior to monotheism it is alleged). They were also part of the liturgy of the New Year festival as celebrated by Aramaic speaking communities on the island of Elephantine. The papyrus reflects the Jewish community (post Jeremiah and during the Persian era) on Elephantine in the 5th century BC. They shared the island with native Egyptians.

According to Jovan (addressing a question from Adam) the combination of demotic script with the Aramaic language is one of the reasons the decypherment of the papyrus has taken more than 120 years (so how did three Israelite psalms end ujp in an Aramaic compilation written in a script derived from Egyptian hieroglyphics. Between 525 and 404BC Egypt was part of the Persian Empire (5th century = 500-400AD). The Persian set up garrisons throughout Egypt, from the Nile delta to the Nile cataracts. Many of the soldiers in the Persian army were recruited from different regions of their empire. They received houses and land in return for military service - much in the same way as the Romans 500 years later, or even of the Egyptians themselves for hundreds of years prior to the Persian conquest. 

In the fifth century there were several Jewish military colonies in Egypt - including the one on Elephantine island. On the east bank of the Nile, across from the island, lay Syene - modern Aswan. This was the seat of the Persian garrison commander and his HQ. It is also where two other Aramaic speaking mercenary communities were located. One of them was Syrian (with connections to Hamath) and the other was from Babylonia. On Elephantine the Jews had a teimple of their god. In Syene there Syrian and Babylonian temples of their gods. These various gods figure prominently in Papyrus Amherst 63.