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Administering Religion and Cult at Elephantine

Dr. James D. Moore (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)


Since the discovery of Persian period Aramaic documents at Elephantine, which reference the island’s Judean inhabitants and a temple of Yahweh/Yahô, scholars have diligently tried to describe aspects of the island’s Judean religious experience. Of the hundreds of discrete textual objects and manuscripts, no identifiably religious literature has (so-far) been found, and very few objects or Aramaic textual sources may be described as expressions of cultic practice. Instead, the corpus provides only brief allusions to religious activity in a few documentary sources or artifacts. This contribution reassesses the allusions to religious or cultic activity in the documentary sources by asking: what social and historical information can the documentary context—its genre—reveal about the references to religious activity found therein? It is observed from the outset that the evidence shows the island to be an administrative center, and this presses one to understand the administrative role of the temple. Long-held assumptions about the meaning of a few religious or cultic references will be challenged before describing the attested religious festivals/events. The study will end with a discussion of the challenges of writing vignettes of religious life given the dataset. This is a companion study to a monograph (in progress), which attempts to provide a social history of Persian period Elephantine within its imperial and administrative context.

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