In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sariah and a Jewish Temple not in Jerusalem, Welcome to the Elephantine Papyrus

The next update on the “Voices from the Dust” added insights is a closer focus on the previously mentioned Elephantine Documents or the Elephantine Papyri. These are a collection of Jewish manuscripts that date back to the 5th century BC. They come from a Jewish community in Upper Egypt known as Elephantine Island or Yeb during the 5th century. Elephantine Island is part of the Nile River at the border near Nubia. It turns out that this settlement was probably established as a military settlement around 650 BC which is right around the same time that Lehi and his family as well as many of the Jews who formed this community were fleeing Jerusalem. It goes to show that many who fled Jerusalem fled to the south and then on to Egypt area. Although Lehi and his family and followers didn’t go to Egypt an area that Lehi would have been familiar with, instead they were told to continue in that southern directions thus following parts of the incense trail.

Many interesting things can be found in these Elephantine documents. Hundreds of these papyri were written in hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic. The largest number where written in Aramaic and document the Jewish community among the soldiers stationed at Elephantine under Persian rule. These documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives: divorce documents, the manumission of slaves, and other business, and are a valuable source of knowledge about law, society, religion, language and the study of names.

Along with the direction of fleeing Jews the next important insight that we receive from the Elephantine Papyri is the fact that these fleeing Jews built a temple to their God. This is interesting because this has always been a point of conflict between Evangelical scholars and Mormon Apologists. The frame of mind usually held by the scholars was that the Book of Mormon had to be false because no Jew would dare flee Jerusalem and then attempt to build a temple as Nephi and his people did in 2 Nephi 5:16. This would be blasphemous and unheard of.

This thought process was shot to pieces with the finding of these documents because now not only do we know that there was a temple in Elephantine ran by the Jewish community but we even have documents appealing for assistance to rebuild the Jewish temple which had been damaged by an anti-Semitic rampage on the community. In the course of this appeal, the Jewish inhabitants of Elephantine speak of the antiquity of their damaged temple:

“Now our forefathers built this temple in the fortress of Elephantine backing the days of the kingdom of Egypt, and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it built. They (the Persians) knocked down all the temples of the gods of Egypt, but no one did any damage to this temple.”

Permission was given for the temple to be rebuilt on the spot where it formerly existed.

The next important discovery made with these documents was in the study of names. One of the names that caught much of the LDS community was that of Sariah. The Book of Mormon introduces Sariah, as the wife of Lehi and the mother of Nephi and his brothers and sisters (1 Nephi 2:5).

The conjectural Hebrew spelling of Sariah would be s´ryh and would be pronounced something like Sar-yah. Evangelical scholars may suggest that this name was an invention of Joseph Smiths imagination since Sariah doesn’t appear in the Bible as a female personal name. However, in a significant historical parallel to the Book of Mormon, the Hebrew name Sariah, spelled sryh, has been discovered as the name of a Jewish woman living at Elephantine in Upper Egypt during the fifth century B.C.The reference of Sariah of Elephantine is found in Aramaic Papyrus #22 (also called Cowley #22 or C-22) and according to A.E. Cowley the names are in fact Hebrew.

So what did this Sariah of Elephantine do that was so note worth for these papyruses?
According to C-22 Line 1 she made a contribution to Yahu Elaha, “the Lord God”. And while the purpose of the monetary offering is not explained, Cowley believes that it was for the expenses of the Jewish temple on Elephantine Island. He also dates the donation and writing to the year 419 B.C. The complete text of Line 4 indicates that Sariah had donated two sheqels of silver (KSF), a generous subscription given the generally high value of silver in ancient Egypt.

So once again we see how these voices from the dust not only confirm truths proclaimed loud and clear in the Book of Mormon but they also give added insight to the time period, society beliefs and the culture as a whole.

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