In the Shadow of Bezalel: Aramaic, Biblical, and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Bezalel Porten.

Author:Aster, Shawn Zelig
Position:Book review

In the Shadow of Bezalel: Aramaic, Biblical, and Ancient Near Eastern Studies in Honor of Bezalel Porten. Edited by Alejandro F. Botta. Culture and History of the Ancient Near East, vol. 60. Leiden: BRILL, 2013. Pp. 1 + 429, illus. 228 [euro].

This volume of twenty-nine essays in honor of Bezalel Porten focuses on a specific range of topics. This is rare in the world of festschriften, but exceedingly helpful to students and scholars interested in researching these topics. Sixteen of the essays deal directly with the corpus of Elephantine papyri or related Aramaic texts, and several other essays focus on administrative and historical issues related to the Babylonian or Persian periods. This focus on specific texts and periods reflects the scholarly career of Bezalel Porten. In a six-page essay at the beginning of the volume, Porten explains how he earned the cognomen "Mr. Elephantine," how he came to devote much of his scholarly career to the fifth-century Aramaic papyri from Elephantine, a remote island in upper Egypt which housed a fascinating community of Judeans and Arameans. This programmatic essay, describing what has been accomplished in Elephantine studies and what remains to be done, is a valuable part of the volume. The front matter also contains a useful list of Porten's publications. A moving tribute by his four children and a six-page(!) listing of colleagues' congratulations attest to Porten's personal character.

Space does not permit a lengthy description of each article, so I will note a few salient points of those articles most closely related to the fields in which Porten has labored. Two different articles discuss a single marriage contract, which Porten published in his Textbook of Aramaic Documents (B3.3). In "Women of Elephantine and Women in the Land of Israel," Annalisa Azzoni uses this text (and others) to address the social and economic position of women at Elephantine. She notes the contractual power of one woman, Miptahyah, whose name appears in several documents. She also discusses the Egyptian slave Tamut, who can legally divorce her husband (according to the aforementioned marriage contract B3.3), notwithstanding her status as a slave. Despite these women's contractual power, Azzoni hesitates to endorse the views of scholars who see these examples as representative. Azzoni also notes the complex ethnic reality at Elephantine, noting that the same person can be called Judean and Aramean in different documents.


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