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Arad ostraca

Arad ostracon
Ruins of the fort in Arad.

The Arad ostraca, also known as the Eliashib Archive, is a collection of more than 200 inscribed pottery shards (also known as sherds or potsherds) found at Tel Arad in the 1960s by archeologist Yohanan Aharoni.[1] Arad was an Iron Age fort at the southern outskirts of the Kingdom of Judah, close to Beersheba in modern Israel.[2]

One hundred and seven of the ostraca are written in the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet and dated to circa 600 BCE. Of the ostraca dated to later periods, the bulk are written in Aramaic and a few in Greek and Arabic.[3]

The majority of the Hebrew ostraca are lists of names and administrative letters to the commanders of the fort; everyday correspondence between military supply masters, requests for supplies, and so on. Most of them are addressed to Eliashib (also transliterated Elyashiv; not to be confused with the biblical high priest Eliashib), thought to be the quartermaster of Arad.[4]

Eighteen ostraca consisting mainly of letters addressed to Eliashib were found in a chamber of the casemate wall of the fort.[5] These are known as the Eliashib Archive.

Literacy rate

In 2020, an algorithmic handwriting study revealed that the Arad ostraca must have had at least twelve different authors, of which 4–7 were stationed at Arad.[6] Since Arad's garrison is estimated to only about 20–30 soldiers, the result supports a high literacy rate for the Judahite kingdom.[7] The author of the study suggested that the high literacy rate could mean that some Bible books were written before the Babylonian conquest of Judah.[8]


Ostracon 1

ʾl ʾlyšb w- To Eliashib: And
ʿt ntn lktym now, give to the Kittim
yyn b(tm) 3 w- three ba(ths) of wine, and
ktb šm hym write the name of the day.
wmʿwd hqmḥ And from the remainder of
hrʾšn t- the first flour you will de-
rkb ⊢ 1 qmḥ liver one measure of flour
lʿšt lhm l- for them to make b-
ḥm myyn read. Of the wine
hʾgnt ttn[9] from the mixing bowls, you will give (them some).[10]

The Kittim were Greek mercenaries, probably from Cyprus and the Aegean islands, employed by Judah to defend the southern frontier.[11]

Ostracon 3

Nadav Na'aman translates the text as follows:[12]

To Eliashib: And now, give from the wine 3 bath-jars, for Hananiah commands you to Beersheba with a load of a pair of donkeys. And you shall pack with them dough or [br]ea[d]. Calculate (the amount of) the wheat and the bread and take for yourself from [the store?].

Ostracon 7

Seems to refer to the celebration of the day of the new moon as a sabbath. On such days 'men of god' were consulted for oracles.[13] Many in Ezekiel are said to be delivered on such. [14]

Ostracon 16

The ostracon is inscribed both on the front and on the back (recto and verso). The frontside reads:[15]

ʾhbk ḥnnyhw šlḥ lšl- Your friend, Hananiah, (hereby) sends greet-
m ʾlyšb wlšlm bytk br- ings to (you), Eliashib, and to your household. I bl-
kt[k] lyhwh wʿt kṣʾty ess [you] by Yahweh. And now, when I left
mbytk wšlḥty ʾt your house, I sent
sp[r] zkh lpny gʾlyhw b- recei[p]t to Gealiah in (the)
y[d ʿ]zryhw wʾt hṣrwr ha[nd of A]zariah – the purse,
šʾ ʾtk whšbt[m?] k[lw] carry it with you! And return a[ll of] i[t].
ʾm ksp 5 [ḥʾr] wʾm y[š b]- If (there is still) money, look for 5 sheqels. And if there is still, at
[m]sbk šmn, šlḥ your [p]ost, any oil left—send it!
...hnḥ wʾl tšlḥ (As for the other thing,) drop it, don't send it/one
[unintelligible traces]

And the backside:[15]

ʾm hyyn tšlḥ < wkl ḥpṣ- If there is any wine, send (1/2? 1/4?). If there is anything (else) you ne-
k tšlḥ wʾm yš h[ ... ] lh[m] -ed, send (= write to me about it). And if there is still [...], gi[ve] th[em]...

When the ostracon was found, the text side on the backside were unintelligible but in 2017 a team of researchers were able to reconstruct the text using multispectral imaging techniques.[16]

Ostracon 18

Ostracon 18, also known as the House of Yahweh ostracon,[17] has an inscription that reads:

ʾl ʾdny ʾly- To my lord Elia-
šb yhwh yš- shib: may Yahweh inq-
ʾl lšlmk wʿt uire after your well-being. And now,
tn lšmryhw give to Shemariah
⥊ wlqrsy a measure (of flour), and to the Kerosite
ttn ߈ wld- you will give a measure (of flour). And concerning the mat-
br ʾšr ṣ- ter about which you co-
wtny šlm mmanded me, it is well.
byt yhwh In the house of YHWH,
hʾ yšb[9] he is staying.[10]

The Kerosite may refer to someone who was a Nethinim, a temple servant.[10]

The ostracon is notable because of the ending, "house of YHWH", which, according to many scholars, may be a reference to the Jerusalem temple.[18] Philip J. King and Lawrence E. Stager argues that since the temple at Arad was demolished 100 years prior to when the ostracon was written it therefore must refer to the Jerusalem temple.[19] Other scholars doubt whether the inscription refers to the Jerusalem temple.[20]

Ostracon 24

Ostraca 24 reads as follows:

mʿrd ⌉ wmqyn[h...] From Arad, 50, and from Kin[ah...]
wšlḥtm ʾtm rmt ng[b by]- And you shall send them to Ramat-Nege[b by the ha]-
d mlkyhw bn qrbʾwr whb- nd of Malchijah the son of Qerab'ur and he shall
qydm ʾl yd ʾlyšʿ bn yrmy- hand them over to Elisha the son of Jeremi-
hw brmt ngb pn yqrh ʾt h- ah in Ramat-Negeb, lest anything should happen to the
ʿyr dbr wdbr hmlk ʾtkm city. And the word of the king is incumbent upon you
bnbškm hnh šlḥty lhʿyd for your very life! Behold, I have sent to warn
bkm hym hʾnšm ʾt ʾlyš- warn you [Eliashib] today: [Get] the men to Elish-
ʿ pn tbʾ ʾdm šmh[21] a: lest Edom should come there![22]

The letter has been interpreted as ordering the commander of the fort to dispatch reinforcements to withstand an Edomite attack.[22]

See also



  1. ^ Pike 2020, p. 203: About two hundred inscriptions were discovered at Arad in excavations carried out from 1962 to 1964, most of them ostraca.; Aharoni 1968, p. 9: over 200 ostraca were found
  2. ^ Mendel-Geberovich et al. 2017, p. 113; 2020; Pike 2020, p. 203; Borschel-Dan 2020
  3. ^ Pike 2020, p. 203: One hundred and seven of the inscriptions from Arad are written in Hebrew, ... The bulk of the re-maining Arad inscriptions are ostraca written in Aramaic (fifth to fourth century b.c.), with a few later inscriptions in Greek and Arabic.; Kershner 2016: composed in ancient Hebrew using the paleo-Hebrew alphabet
  4. ^ Borschel-Dan 2020: The sherds were used for everyday correspondence between military supply masters, and were mostly addressed to a person named Elyashiv, who is thought to be the quartermaster in the fortress.; Pike 2020, p. 204; Kershner 2016: Eliashib, the quartermaster of the remote desert fortress
  5. ^ Boardman, Edwards & Sollberger 1992, p. 399: He is known also in this later period from a small archive, consisting of eighteen ostraca, which were found in one of the chambers of the casemate wall ... These ostraca are mainly letters directed at him as 'Eliashib'
  6. ^ Shaus et al. 2020, Introduction.
  7. ^ Shaus et al. 2020, Abstract.
  8. ^ 2020:“There is a lively debate among experts as to whether the books of Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings were compiled in the last days of the Kingdom of Judah or after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians,” said Tel Aviv University's Dr. Arie Shaus, lead author of the study. “One way to try to get to the bottom of this question is to ask when there was the potential for the writing of such complex historical works.”
  9. ^ a b AHARONI, Y. “Hebrew Ostraca from Tel Arad.” Israel Exploration Journal, vol. 16, no. 1, 1966, pp. 1–7. JSTOR, Accessed 7 Dec. 2023.
  10. ^ a b c Pike 2020, p. 204.
  11. ^ Pike 2020, p. 204; King 1993, p. 57; Kershner 2016: apparently referring to a Greek mercenary unit in the area
  12. ^ Na'aman 2013, p. 84.
  13. ^ 2 kgs 4.23
  14. ^ Keel, Othmar (1998). Goddesses and Trees, New Moon and Yahweh. Sheffield: Burns & Oates. ISBN 978-1-85075-915-7.
  15. ^ a b Mendel-Geberovich et al. 2017, p. 122.
  16. ^ Mendel-Geberovich et al. 2017, p. 113.
  17. ^ "The Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society". 1999.
  18. ^ Boardman, Edwards & Sollberger 1992, p. 400: 'house of Yahweh', probably the Temple at Jerusalem; Dever 2001, p. 212: it may refer to the temple in Jerusalem
  19. ^ King & Stager 2001, p. 314.
  20. ^ Porzia & Bonnet 2017, paragraph 12.
  21. ^ Aharoni, Yohanan. “Three Hebrew Ostraca from Arad.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 197, 1970, pp. 16–42. JSTOR, Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.
  22. ^ a b King 1993, p. 57.


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Arad ostraca
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