A Scholar at Work: Marriage Contract Mystery Ends Happily Ever After

By Bezalel Porten

Sidebar to: Did the Ark Stop at Elephantine?

I first examined the Aramaic papyri in the Brooklyn Museum in the fall of 1969. One of the documents that most fascinated me turned out to be the “Document of Wifehood” (perhaps more colloquially, the marriage contract) by which Anani, a Jewish temple official, took Tamet, an Egyptian slave, as his wife. She was given to him by her slavemaster Meshullam, with whom Anani made the contract. As I was turning the document this way and that, from front (recto) to back (verso) , conservator Kenneth Linsner, who was with me, pointed to some holes at the bottom of the back of the document.

“What’s this writing?” he said.

“What writing?” I looked more closely. There it was. On either side of one of the holes were a few Aramaic letters. “No one has ever noticed any writing there [at the bottom of the back of the document].” By “no one,” I was of course referring to Emil G. Kraeling because he was the only scholar who had seen these documents. It was he who had published them along with excellent photographs. But the published photograph of this document did not show the bottom of the back (verso), presumably to save space, only the top of the back, showing a single line of text at the top.

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