The Arad Ostraca (Jeremiah 14)

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Illustration: Ostraca from Arad dating ca. 2,500 years

Jeremiah 14 reflects the panic and dismay of the people as they sought to preserve life and home in the face of overwhelming militsry threats. We see evidence of the same conditions reflected in a series of notes written on pieces of clay from this time period.

The site of Arad, an ancient Judean desert fortress, has yielded approximately 200 ostraca (ink-inscribed potsherds) of Hebrew and Aramaic inscriptions that constitute the largest collection of written texts recovered from Biblical times. These broken pottery pieces preserve the history of the citadel and grant a glimpse into the life of its occupants during the last decades of the kingdom of Judah. The majority of the sherds, written in paleo-Hebrew, are military communiques dating back to approximately 600 B.C. They are addressed to the commander of the fortress, Eliashiv ben Eshiyahu, with instructions to ration flour, wine and oil to soldiers serving in the Negev, as well as to the “Kittim”, an estimated 25 Aegean mercenary soldiers serving in the Judean military. A number of the ostraca contain listings of names, most likely used for recording the distribution of rations. Ostracon #24 speaks of an imminent Edomite invasion. In this letter the commander requested that reinforcement troops be sent from Arad and from the smaller fortress of Qinah to Ramat Negev, a town 20 km away, in order to repulse the Edomite threat.

In the vicinity of the Arad sanctuary, sherds with individual, personal names, possibly used as lots for priestly duties, were uncovered. Among those represented are Pashur and Meremoth (Ezra 8:33, Jeremiah 20:1), as well as “the sons of Korah” (2 Chronicles 20:19, Psalm 84:1), all priestly families mentioned in the Bible. Ostracon #18 contains the earliest extra-biblical mention of the temple as “the house of Yahweh“. In addition to their historical value, these ostraca have contributed greatly to the study of Hebrew orthography (conventional or standardized spelling of words) and its development.


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