Biblical Archaeology Review 21:1, January/February 1995

Even Briefer

Biblical Archaeology Review

Ancient Aramaic and Hebrew Letters
Society of Biblical Literature’s Writings from the Ancient World Series, vol. 4

James M. Lindenberger (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1994) 155 pp., $44.95 cloth, $29.95 paper.

“What’s wrong? Why haven’t you sent me a letter? Even when I nearly died of snakebite, you didn’t write to see whether I was alive or dead!” This hardly sounds as if it was written centuries ago, but it was. The latest volume in the Society of Biblical Literature’s Writings from the Ancient World Series presents translations of seventy letters, nearly all the letters in Aramaic and Hebrew that have survived from the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries B.C.

Grouped according to the kind and national origins of the correspondence, the book’s eight chapters include military, administrative, business and family letters from Canaan, Phoenicia, Persia, Lachish and Elephantine. The archives of the fifth-century B.C. Jewish community at Elephantine are of special interest, as they describe firsthand the destruction of the temple there.

Each section opens with a description of the historical and social context of its letters, and each letter is initially rendered in the original language, with an English translation following. These missives bring the distant past vividly to life through such comments as, “Look, I’m sending you the vegetables tomorrow. Get there before the boat comes in—on account of the Sabbath—so they won’t be spoiled. I swear to God, if you don’t, I’ll kill you!”

A chronological table, maps, a list of sources, a concordance of texts, a bibliography, a glossary and multiple indexes accompany the text.

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