the Elephantine Papyri

The Elephantine papyri is a body of texts from 5 B.C. mostly written in Imperial Aramaic from Elephantine-a Jewish fortress on an island in the Upper Nile near Aswan in Persian-ruled Egypt.The name Elephantine is what Greek called it.Jews called it Yebu. These texts are manuscripts of Jewish soldiers and their community who were settled there by the Persians to defend the borders with Nubia.

What are the Elephantine manuscripts about.
The manuscripts number hundreds and most of them are written in the Aramaic language,apparently the mother tongue of the local Jews.Though some of them are in Ancient Egyptian (Demotic and Hieratic) ,Coptic and Greek.These are mostly documents of the local Jewish community concerning many matters  such as legal,marriage,commerce,religion and politics.Some are letters,like the letter below from the local Jewish community to Persian king Bagoas-governor of Judaea asking him to rebuild the Jewish temple in Yebu-Elephantine which Egyptian troops with the help of others looted and destroyed.

Elephantine papyri in English

Petition to Bagoas

"Petition to Bagoas",an Elephantine letter requesting from the Persian King to build a Jewish temple.

The circled word in red is the name Daryawahush-Darius spelled as DRYWHWŠ.The word circled in yellow is malkā -king spelled MLK'.

Here are the first  lines of the 'Petition to Bagoas' in English in free translation

1 To our Lord Bagohi,governor of Judaea,your servants Idnih and his partners who are in the fortress of Yeb (Elephantine).
2.May the god of heaven provide for the welfare of our Lord always generously and may you win the favour of Darius King because of him.
3.And of his court more abundantly than now a thousand fold and may he give you long life and may you always be strong and healthy. READ MORE

Who lived in Yeb-Elephantine.
Jews were not the only peoples that lived there -Aramaens and Greeks were settled there as well and there are some recorded cases of intermarriage of Jews with them.An Elephantine papyrus written in Greek provides insight into how the Jews settled in Egypt.They were invited by king Psammeticus to help him fight against the Nubians.

Darius from the manuscript

  • The task of the Jewish military garrison in Elephantine ,an island fortess in the Upper Nile,was to defend the frontier against Nubian attacks and secure the undisturbed flow of goods from Egypt to Nubia and vice versa.The fortress was an important outpost located between where Lower and Upper Egypt were divided.

Many of the papyri are in excellent condition-the dry climate of Upper Egypt was ideal for the preservation of papyrus.On top of that the owners of the documents kept them in vessels and pots and as a result some documents  were discovered neatly folded and sealed.Nowadays the Elephantine papyri lie in collections around the word.
Darius in modern Imperial Aramaic fonts
DRYWHWŠ MLK'-Darius King.Detail from the manuscript.

Here you can download Elephantive Papyrus Cursive fonts.

"Syriac language" in Syriac

"Syriac language" in Syriac is leshana suryaya .In the image below it is written in the Estrangelo script.

Syriac was a dialect of Aramaic which first appeared in writting in the 1st century A.D and flourished between the 4th-8th centuries.


Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me,a sinner

This is the beginnig of Psalm 102 Jesus Prayer in Syriac.

Mar Yeesho Msheeha breh
d Alaha rahhem al xattaya
Lord Jesus Christ Son
of God have mercy on me,a sinner

Yeesho Msheeha-Jesus Christ
breh-son,an older word for son is bar
rahhem (verb)- to show mercy,to love


malka vs melka-same writing different meaning

In the Syriac script  a dot is positioned over or under the letter to mark a vowel.If you do not use such a dot sometimes ambiguities arise .Such is the case of the words malka-king and melka-advise.They are written  exactly the same way but pronounced different.The only way to differentiate between them is by using a dot to mark the different vowels.

mlk' or malka or melka
king or advise

Read also vowels in Aramaic.


The name Martha in Aramaic

The name Martha is thought to come from Hebrew and it means 'mistress'.Here is how it is written in the Aramaic block script (Hebrew) and the Syriac Estrangelo.

Martha appears in the New Testament as the sister of Lazarus and Mary of  Bethany.According to the text she witnessed her brother's resurrection by Jesus.

Fish in Syriac is nuna.In the image below the word is written in Syriac Estrangelo.


God for this I was spared? and the Lamsa Bible

The Lamsa Bible is an English translation of the Old and New Testament based on the Syriac Aramaic Peshitta.

It was translated by George M Lamsa in 1933 who claimed that his translation of the New Testament is more accurate than all those based on Greek texts because,according to him, the Syriac version is older and it is the original.

This claim is not accepted by mainstream scholars which maintain that the New Testament was originally written in Greek.

Between his translation and the others based on Greek texts,say King James' translation,differences can be found.Take for example the famous phrase cried out by Jesus on the cross:God why have you forsaken me?In the Lamsa Bible this phrase is rendered as Eli,Eli lema sabachtan? -God for this I was spared?Lamsa claim that the Greek phrase was a mistranlation of the original Syriac and therefore his version is more accurate.


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