a Jewish woman who is the central figure in a group of papyrus documents of the early second century CE found in the Judean Desert at Naḥal Ḥever. The documents, designated 5/6Ḥev 1–35, are generally known as P.Yadin (less commonly P.Babatha) or as the Babatha archive. No particular connection between this archive and Qumran literature is apparent.
The papyri were found in March 1961 in the course of the second season of the archaeological expedition led by Yigael Yadin, in the Cave of the Letters, located on the northern bank of Naḥal Ḥever about 5 kilometers southwest of ῾Ein-Gedi. The cave was named for a cache of letters of Shim῾on Bar Kokhba that had been found during the previous year's excavations. The cave apparently served as the hideaway from the Romans for people of ῾Ein-Gedi, including a commander in Bar Kokhba's forces, Yehonatan ben Be῾ayan. In a corner of the innermost chamber, hidden in a crevice and covered by stone slabs, a basketful of various household objects and a carefully wrapped pouch containing the documents of the Babatha archive were found. Underneath the pouch were more household objects and a second purse with six additional documents dating from the first and third years of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, 132 and 134 ce. Babatha's pouch, then, could not have been placed there before November 134 ce. [See Bar Kokhba Revolt; ῾Ein-Gedi.]
The Babatha archive is composed of legal documents, ranging in date from 93/94 to 132 ce and written in various languages: six documents are written in Nabatean, three in Aramaic, twenty-six in Greek. Of the Greek documents, nine have Aramaic or Nabatean subscriptions. Detailed descriptions of the documents in the Babatha archive were published by Yadin in 1962 and 1971. Three Greek documents, those later entitled 5/6Ḥev 15, 27, and 28, were published promptly by H. J. Polotsky. The Greek documents in their entirety were published after Yadin's death by Naphtali Lewis (1989); the Aramaic and Nabatean signatures and subscriptions were edited by Jonas C. Greenfield (Yadin and Greenfield, 1989). Of the remaining documents, only two in Aramaic have been published to date, 5/6Ḥev 7 and 10. Documents from the Babatha archive serve scholars concerned with various matters, including Roman legal procedure and provincial administration.
Babatha's name, in one document spelled consistently as “Babtha,” may be derived from the Aramaic word for “pupil of the eye,” indicating someone especially precious. Her father was Shim῾on son of Menaḥem, her mother Miriam daughter of Yosef son of Menashe (5/6Ḥev 7.3, 24). Babatha is regularly identified as a Maozene, that is, of Maoza, also known as Maḥoz ῾Eglatain, a port or town in the district of Zoara at the southern end of the Dead Sea in the Roman province of Arabia. Her family had lived in Maoza at least since 99 ce, when her father bought a palm grove there (5/6Ḥev 3). We do not know if she had siblings. By 120 ce she was married (5/6Ḥev 7.24–25) to Yeshua son of Yeshua son of Yosef Zaboudos, also of Maoza. If the skeletons of the eight women, between the ages of fifteen and thirty, found in the Cave of the Letters include that of Babatha, then she would have been sixteen or probably younger at the time of her marriage.
By the first half of 124 ce she had a son, Yeshua, who was quite young since he was still a minor eight years later, and her husband was dead. The city council at Petra, the metropolis of the region, assigned the orphan two guardians, one Jewish, one Nabatean. The guardians invested the boy's capital and gave Babatha an allowance for his support at the rate of one-half percent, two denarii per month, half the usual interest rate. In 124 and 125 ce, Babatha petitioned the provincial governor about this low rate and offered to triple the return if the boy's property would be entrusted to her and secured by her own property (5/6Ḥev 13–15). Her initiative appears to have failed, for in 132 ce the guardians were still giving Babatha an allowance for her son at the original rate (5/6Ḥev 27).
In 127 ce, for a provincial census, Babatha declared her ownership of four palm groves in Maoza, listing yields and taxes for each (5/6Ḥev 16). We are not told how these groves came into her possession. One grove appears to have belonged to her father and presumably was given to Babatha as a gift before he gave his remaining property to his wife (5/6Ḥev 4, 7). The same may be true of the other groves, or she may have received them as part of the settlement of her first marriage.
By February 128 ce, and possibly as early as October 125 ce, Babatha was remarried, to Judah son of Eleazar Khthousion son of Judah. His official residence was ῾Ein-Gedi, where his family lived and he owned a home, but he lived in Maoza, where he also owned property. Judah previously was married to Miriam daughter of Beianos of ῾Ein-Gedi, perhaps the sister of the Bar Kokhba commander mentioned above. Contrary to the view of several modern scholars that Judah's marriages were polygamous, nothing in the documents indicates that he was still married to Miriam when he married Babatha. The Aramaic document recording Judah and Babatha's marriage (5/6Ḥev 10) matches the traditional Jewish marriage contract as it would have been at that period. In February 128 ce, Babatha deposited with her husband three hundred denarii, probably a loan without a fixed term (5/6Ḥev 17).
In April of that year, Judah gave his daughter from his previous marriage, Shelamzion, in marriage to Yehudah Cimber son of Ananias son of Somalos, of ῾Ein-Gedi. Eleven days later he gave her his house in ῾Ein-Gedi as a gift, half of it to take effect after his death. Two years later Judah was already dead when representatives of the orphans of his deceased brother Jesus conceded to Shelamzion rights to that house (5/6Ḥev 18–20). That Shelamzion's documents were found among the papers of her stepmother Babatha is consistent with her being a minor and indicates a notable measure of trust between the two women.
Babatha, now twice widowed, probably by the age of twenty-five years or less, took possession of at least three palm groves owned by Judah in satisfaction of obligations under their marriage contract or loan. In September 130 ce, Babatha disposed of the produce of these groves by selling the crop before the harvest (5/6Ḥev 21–22). Two months later she was summoned to the court of the Roman provincial governor in Petra by the guardians of Judah's nephews to answer their claim, presumably to these same groves. A plausible reconstruction of these events would be that the estate of Eleazar Khthousion, the father of Judah, Babatha's second husband, was never completely divided between Judah and his brother Jesus in their lifetimes, but held more or less in common, and that after their deaths representatives of the orphans of each came to a settlement in June 130 ce. The orphans of Jesus relinquished rights to the house in ῾Ein-Gedi (5/6Ḥev 20); Shelamzion daughter of Judah relinquished rights to groves in Maoza (in a document that naturally would not be present in this archive). At the same time Babatha was embroiled in a suit with Miriam, Judah's first wife, over household goods of their late husband (5/6Ḥev 26). The outcome of neither litigation is known.
Representing the orphans of Jesus as episkopos (“overseer”) was a woman named Julia Crispina daughter of Berenicianus. There has been considerable scholarly speculation about her identity. It has been suggested that she was the granddaughter of Queen Berenice and thus the last Herodian princess, or, alternatively, that she was no less than the daughter of C. Julius Alexander Berenicianus, scion of the house of Herod and Roman consul in 116 ce, and granddaughter of the notorious Crispinus, an Egyptian who rose to power and dubious fame in the late first century CE (cf. Juvenal, Satires 1.26–30, 4.1–33). If so, she would have made a formidable opponent for Babatha. However, she or her father could have been freedpersons of that family, and her function may have been little more than that of a nanny. Indeed, when challenged by Babatha, she denies having the capacity to do anything but deliver documents (5/6Ḥev 25, lines 59–63).
The documentation of these legal conflicts has led reviewers such as Martin Goodman (1991), to complain of Babatha's “enthusiasm for litigious confrontation.” However, in two of the three suits recorded in the archive, it was not Babatha but her opponents who initiated the litigation. The facts as she presents them certainly raise the suspicion of corruption on the part of her son's council-appointed guardians. A picture of a very young widow of whom various parties try to take unfair advantage is equally plausible. Though evidently a woman of means, she was illiterate, apparently both in Greek and in Hebrew and Aramaic (5/6Ḥev 15.35, 22.34).
Babatha's place in Jewish society in her time has been the subject of controversy. Her archive contains neither pious phrases nor any explicit reference to the Jewish religion or to religious authority, except for an oblique reference to the Sabbath in a bequest of property (5/6Ḥev 7). Most of the documents were written in Greek, even when the principals were illiterate in that language but literate in Hebrew or Aramaic. Clearly, these documents were intended for presentation, if need be, to Roman rather than to rabbinic courts, in violation of the halakhic injunction against recourse to gentile courts. In the subscription written in Babatha's name to her property registration (5/6Ḥev 16), she is said to have taken an oath by the tyche (“genius”) of the emperor. On the other hand, there are features of the documents, most notably in Babatha's marriage contract (5/6Ḥev 10), that appear to be read best in light of rabbinic literature. Since Babatha herself was illiterate, these features reflect less her own commitments and more those of her society and are better treated in a general discussion of contracts from the Judean Desert.
- Bowersock, G. W. “The Babatha Papyri, Masada, and Rome.” Journal of Roman Archaeology 4 (1991), 336–344.
- Cotton, Hannah. “The Guardianship of Jesus, Son of Babatha: Roman and Local Law in the Province of Arabia.” Journal of Roman Studies 83 (1993), 94–108.
- Cotton, Hannah. “Deed of Gift and the Law of Succession in the Documents from the Judaean Desert.” Akten des 21. Internationalen Papyrologenkongress, 13–19 August 1995. , forthcoming.
- Cotton, Hannah, and Jonas C. Greenfield. “Babatha's Patria: Maḥoza, Maḥoz ῾Eglatain, and Zo῾ar.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 107 (1995), 126–134.
- Goodman, Martin. “Babatha's Story.” Journal of Roman Studies 81 (1991), 169–175. .
- Ilan, Tal. “Julia Crispina, Daughter of Berenicianus, A Herodian Princess in the Babatha Archive: A Case Study in Historical Identification.” Jewish Quarterly Review 82. 3–4 (1992), 361–381.
- Isaac, Benjamin. “The Babatha Archive: A Review Article.” Israel Exploration Journal 42 (1992), 62–75.
- Katzoff, Ranon. “Polygamy in P.Yadin?” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 109 (1995), 128–132.
- Lewis, Naphtali. The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters: Greek Papyri, Aramaic and Nabatean Signatures and Subscriptions. edited by Yigael Yadin and Jonas C. Greenfield. Jerusalem, 1989.
- Polotsky, H. J. “Three Documents from the Archive of Babatha, Daughter of Simeon” (in Hebrew). Eretz-Israel 8 (1967), 51–96.
- Yadin, Yigael. “Expedition D—The Cave of Letters.” Israel Exploration Journal 12 (1962), 227–257. .
- Yadin, Yigael. Bar-Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome. London and Jerusalem, 1971. .
- Yadin, Yigael, Jonas C. Greenfield, and Ada Yardeni. “Babatha's Ketubba.” Israel Exploration Journal 44 (1994), 75–101.
- Yadin, Yigael, Jonas Greenfield, and Ada Yardeni. “A Deed of Gift in Aramaic Found in Naḥal Ḥever: Papyus Yadin 7” (in Hebrew). Eretz Israel 25 (1996), 383–403.