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On a Newly Published Divorce Bill from the Judaean Desert*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 June 2011

Tal Ilan
Affiliation:
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Extract

A wife's right to divorce her husband does not exist in Jewish law, or so claims virtually every textbook on Jewish law. Over the years scholars have, of course, noted exceptions to this absolute assertion. In Jewish marriage contracts from Elephantine, for example, women have a right to divorce equal to that of men. Another example is the Gospel of Mark's logion on divorce, which apparently implies that either a woman or a man can initiate divorce procedures. Josephus, moreover, relates that Salome, King Herod's sister, sent her husband a bill of divorce. Mainstream scholarship has too often brushed aside these pieces of evidence as nonrepresentative actions or misunderstandings on the part of a transmitter. The Elephantine community was thus remote and had lost contact with the center of Jewish life many years earlier, living a pagan existence and following the legal practices of its neighbors. Mark was a non-Jewish author describing the actions of Palestinian Jews in light of more familiar Roman legal practices. Salome's actions contradicted Jewish law and succeeded only because of her Roman citizenship.

Type
Notes and Observations
Copyright
Copyright © President and Fellows of Harvard College 1996

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References

1 See the entire volume of The Jewish Law Annual 4 (1981)Google Scholar. And see also Falk, Ze˒ev W., The Divorce Action by the Wife in Jewish Law (Jerusalem: Institute for Legislative Research and Comparative Law, 1973) [Hebrew]Google Scholar.

2 Porten, Bezalel and Yardeni, Ada, Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt, vol. 2: Contracts (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1989) 3033Google Scholar; 60–63, 78–83.

3 Mark 10:11–12.

4 Josephus Ant. 15.259–60.

5 Yaron, Reuven, Introduction to the Law of the Aramaic Papyri (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961) 53; 127–28Google Scholar.

6 See, for example, Fitzmyer, Joseph, “The Matthean Divorce Text and Some New Palestinian Evidence,TS 37 (1976) 205Google Scholar; Lovenstam, Evald, “Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament,Jewish Law Annual 4 (1981) 4765Google Scholar, esp. p. 60.

7 See, for example, Rabello, Alfredo M., “Divorce of Jews in the Roman Empire,Jewish Law Annual 4 (1981) 9293Google Scholar.

8 de-Vaux, Roland, Milik, Jozef T. and Benoit, Pierre, Discoveries in the Judaean Desert, vol. 2: Les grottes de Muraba˓ât (Oxford: Clarendon 1961) 104–9Google Scholar.

9 Milik, Jozef T., “Le travail d'édition des manuscript du Désert de Juda,” VTSup 4 (Leiden: Brill, 1956) 21Google Scholar.

10 For a discussion of the documents' real provenance see Greenfield, Jonas C., “The Texts from Naḥal Ṣe'elim (Wadi Seiyal),” in Barrera, Julio Trebolle and Montaner, Luis Vegas, eds., The Madrid Congress: Proceedings of the International Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Madrid 18–21 March, 1991 (2 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1992) 2. 661–66Google Scholar.

11 Bammel, Ernst, “Markus 10, 11f. und das jüdische Eherecht,ZNW 61 (1970) 95101CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

12 Brooten, Bernadette J., “Konnten Frauen im alten Judentum die Scheidung betreiben? Überlegung zu Mk 10, ll–12 und 1 Kor 7, 10–11,EvTh 42 (1982) 6580Google Scholar, and see also idem, “Zur Debatte über das Scheidungsrecht der jüdischen Frau,” EvTh 43 (1983) 466–78.

13 Yardeni, Ada, Naḥal Ṣe˒elim Documents (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society and Ben Gurion University in the Negev Press, 1995) 55Google Scholar [Hebrew]. The translation is mine.

14 The politics behind this sort of apologetic reading have been amply demonstrated by Bernadette Brooten; see her Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue: Inscriptional Evidence and Background Issues (BJS 36; Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1982) 3032Google Scholar.

15 The only English translation of this text appears in Archer, Leone J., Her Price Is beyond Rubies: The Jewish Woman in Greco-Roman Palestine (JSOTSup 60; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990) 298–99Google Scholar. In my translation, I have consulted her work. The translation of Papyrus Ṣe˒elim 13 is my own, though I have relied heavily on Yardeni's linguistic notes.

16 In view of the Masada get, the Aramaic word הנא could mean “wife.” Yardeni, however, translated the word “you,” and I follow her reading.

17 I take הלעב to mean “husband” with the definite article. It could also be read as “her husband,” although that meaning is less appropriate in the context.

18 On the translation of the last two lines, see Greenfield, Jonas C., ‘“Because He/She Did Not Know Letters’: Remarks on a First Millennium C.E. Legal Expression,JNES 22 (1993) 3944Google Scholar, esp. 40 n. 8.

19 I am grateful to Ada Yardeni for pointing this out to me.

20 Cotton, Hannah M., “A Cancelled Marriage Contract from the Judaean Desert,JRomS 84 (1994) 6485Google Scholar.

21 Porten, Bezalel and Yardeni, Ada, Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt, vol. 1: Letters (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1986) 6876Google Scholar.

22 Mark 10:11–12.

23 Josephus Ant. 15.259.

24 Idem, Vita 12.

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