Babatha's Orchard tells a story that has gone untold for nearly two thousand years. It is a story that would have perished with the last person familiar with its details-the Jewish woman Babatha, daughter of Shim'on ben Menahem. Babatha was probably killed or enslaved by Roman soldiers at the end of Shim'on ben Kosiba's revolt in 135 CE, when they captured a cave in a wadi running into the western shores of the Dead Sea in which she and other Jewishfugitives had been sheltering. In 1961, a team of archaeologists discovered a cache of possessions that Babatha had carefully hidden before her life or freedom was probably taken by the Romans. Among them were thirty-five legal documents dated from 94 CE to 132 CE, written on papyrus in Aramaic and Greek, relating toBabatha and her family, and the leather pouch in which they had been kept. In this work, Philip F. Esler examines the first four documents of the archive in chronological order-Papyri Yadin 1-4, the first from 94 CE and the second, third and fourth from 99 CE, and all drafted in Nabatean Aramaic. Although from the land and time of the Bible, they reveal a tale of domestic life. It is the story of how, around December 99 CE, Shim'on, Babatha's father (but probably before she was born), unexpectedly came to acquire an irrigated date-palm orchard in his village of Maoza,on the southern shore of the Dead Sea, in the kingdom of Nabatea. Esler undertakes a close reading of P. Yadin 1-4, with occasional reference to wider contextual issues from the Dead Sea region and other parts of the ancient Mediterranean world.
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