Prof. Hannah Cotton
Dept. of Classics, Hebrew University

The Impact of the Documents from the Judaean Desert
on the Study of Jewish History in the First and Second Century CE

Archaeology and numismatics, and most recently also epigraphy, have filled some of the larger gaps left by our literary sources, both Jewish and pagan, on this singularly ill-documented revolt. Most of the documents from the Judaean Desert have been publi shed only in the last decade, and some have remained unpublished to this day. This is especially true of the documents written by Bar Kokhba and his staff, which so far have appeared only in preliminary publications by the late Y. Yadin. The final publica tion by Ada Yardeni and Baruch Levine of the Bar Kokhba leases and letters from Nahal Hever is eagerly awaited. I am grateful to them for allowing me to use my acquaintance with the transcriptions prepared by Ada Yardeni in this lecture.

It seems that Bar Kokhba not only took over the imperial domain in the places recorded in the documents, but also used the Roman model in exploiting and administering it, with parnasim paralleling the imperial procurators; like the latter, the parnasim were in charge of civil tasks only, whereas military matters were in the hands of military men, again recalling the Roman system.

We learn indirectly about the revolt from documents which did not originate in Bar Kokhba’s circles. The participation in it of Jews from the neighboring province of Arabia, as implied by the presence of their documents in the Cave of Letters in Nah al Hever, may suggest that the revolt spread into Arabia, for which there is now some epigraphic evidence. It is possible, however, that the Jews from Arabia responded to some sort of call and returned home: was it a messianic hope or what seemed like the renewal of Jewish sovereignty that made them come home?

Finally the contracts were written during the revolt in Hebrew and Aramaic. The use of Hebrew by people who previously used Aramaic, Nabataean or Greek in their contracts was inspired by the same ideology to be detected behind the Hebrew contracts from M uraba'at which, as is clear now, date to the first revolt and not to the second one. The private-law procedures visible in the contracts are nevertheless continuous with those from the immediately preceding “provincial” period and, like them, re veal the remarkable degree of integration of Jewish society into its environment.