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Women priestesses thrown out of the Bible: evidence found in 2400-year-old curse text

Dmytro IvancheskulNews
In the Bible, as you know, only men were in charge of the temples

A 2,400-year-old message scrawled on a clay shard may not only be the oldest example of a popular ancient curse, but also the first direct evidence of the existence of female priestesses in Jewish temples. The 12-word inscription, written in ancient Aramaic, was found in 1925 and has been the subject of debate among scholars ever since.

A new interpretation of the discovery was given by Gad Barnea, a professor of Jewish history and thought at the University of Haifa in Israel, whose research was published in the journal Religions. The message was found almost 100 years ago on the site of an early Jewish temple (approximately VI century BC) on the island of Elephantine, on the Nile in southern Egypt.

According to National Geographic, scholars have long debated the text itself, but they all agree that it refers to a tunic, which was probably a sacred garment.

"Here is my tunic, which I left in (the temple)..." the inscription begins.

However, Barnea believes that this is not just a note, but a curse that calls for divine retribution against the person who stole the tunic. What is even more interesting is that a woman in the temple is instructed to carry out this curse.

"This is the first time we have documented evidence that there was a female priestess in a Jewish temple," Barnea explained.

He said that the words of the inscription create a clear rhythm. This indicates that it was read aloud as a ritual incantation in the temple.

"It has a poetic form that no one has noticed before. The fact that there is something poetic in this text was the first thing that suggested to me that there was something more than just instructions for a tunic," the scholar said.

The most interesting thing is that the inscription uses the feminine form of the Aramaic verb "to command," indicating that the ritual was under the authority of a woman in the temple hierarchy, not a man.

According to Barnea, the unnamed woman orders Yahweh to sanctify the tunic so that the person who stole it would become a "temple robber" and not just a thief. This would guarantee divine retribution for the crime.

"The consequences of this are enormous. We don't have a single priestess in the Bible, but here we have direct evidence that such priestesses existed in Jewish temples," the researcher notes.

Barnea notes that although the Bible says that only men can be priests, the inclusion of women in the leadership of the Elephantine temple could reflect the common practice of the time.

As a rare testimony about Jewish priestesses, the ostracon is also an important historical document. According to the scholar, it is not only the earliest example of this type of curse, which became very popular in the Greco-Roman world, but also the only record of any ritual performed in the Temple of Yahweh.

Aramaic language expert Tawny Holm of the Pennsylvania State University, who has reviewed Barnea's work, notes that his version is "attractive and compelling." According to her, it was previously believed that this inscription found at Elephantine was a letter (like others found there), but it did not contain the greeting that was traditional for letters of the time.

Holm adds that the ostracon is the third piece of evidence that women held power in the hierarchy of the Jewish temple at Elephantine. The others are a papyrus text about a female "servant of Yahweh" named Tapemet and a mysterious papyrus that suggests that in ancient Egypt, where Aramaic was spoken, there were women priests.

Earlier, OBOZ.UA reported that a hidden fragment of the Bible was found, which no one had seen for 1500 years.

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