[This article provides a general survey of women as mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is divided into two parts: Daily Life and The Texts.]

Daily Life

Most of the documents found in the Qumran caves that are about how daily life is to be lived according to the true interpretation of the Law of Moses contain some passages that discuss women. Of particular importance are Temple Scrolla (11Q19), the Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a), the Damascus Document, and various collections of Ordinances and Purification Rules; even the War Scroll (1QM vii.3), with its regulations for the conduct of the eschatological battle, makes mention of women in specifically excluding them from entering into the camp of the warriors. [See Damascus Document; Purity; Rule of the Congregation; Temple Scroll; War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.] It is clear that women were part of the life of the community or various communities that produced these texts.

The exception is the Rule of the Community (1QS). [See Rule of the Community.] This work makes no mention of women (except for the formulaic “one born of a woman” in 1QS xi.21) or matters of family, marriage, and sexuality. Some scholars think that this was the rule for a specific community, or perhaps an elite subgroup of men (the yaḥad) that did not include women. Other scholars see this rule as a supplementary document, to be read in conjunction with other rules; just as the Rule of the Community makes no explicit mention of the Sabbath but certainly assumed Sabbath observance, so it did not necessarily need to talk explicitly about women even if it applied to a community that included women.

Though the documents belonged to a community that was composed of both men and women, the perspective from which they are written is clearly androcentric. In accordance with the biblical pattern, laws are formulated in the masculine (unless they are clearly speaking about matters of childbirth or menstruation); for example, “they take wives and beget children” (CD vii.6–7); “let not a man lie with a woman” (CD xii.1). [See Family Life; Marriage and Divorce.] Following Hebrew grammatical usage, the masculine forms are used for adjectives and imperative verbs (e.g., “the holy ones,” “the perfect,” “hear!”) when they apply to both men and women; thus an accurate translation needs to be inclusive lest it give a false impression that only men are included.

Most of the information about women comes indirectly, from passages that are primarily concerned with marriage, sexual relations, and purity. There is virtually no theoretical discussion about women per se nor mention of individual women. The only woman's name that occurs is that of queen Shelamzion [Salome] Alexandra, in a calendric type document that lists dates in her reign (Calendric Document Ca-f 4Q322–324c). [See Shelamzion Alexandra.] Whatever the relationship between the authors of the scrolls and the Essenes, the type of abstract misogynous statements found in Josephus and Philo about the “nature” of woman (e.g., “none of them preserves her fidelity to one man,” The Jewish War 2 121; “a woman is a selfish creature, excessively jealous and an adept at beguiling the morals of her husband …,” Hypothetica xi.14–15) finds little parallel in the scrolls.


Although the Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a i.10) specifies that the marital age for men was twenty years, nothing is said about the age when women married. [See Rule of the Congregation.]

There is a lengthy and detailed exposition of regulations concerning the choice of a woman to marry. The passage (Damascus Document Df 4Q271 3.7–15) begins with a statement that the woman “is given” in marriage by a male, presumably her father (although the relationship is not stated explicitly). He is commanded to disclose any physical blemishes that the woman might have under penalty of suffering the curse of Deuteronomy 28.17 for the one who misleads the blind. He is not to give the woman to one “who is not established for her.” The exact sense of the expression is difficult to determine (contrast the different formulation in 11Q19 xvi.9 and Ketubot 3.5, “who is fit for him”). Perhaps there is a concern that she not be given to one who is incompatible, or perhaps the concern is with creating a match that is illicit within the regulations of the community. The text continues by specifying that a man is to marry a virgin or a widow who has not been sexually active after widowhood. If there is doubt about her virginity, the prospective bride is to be examined by “trustworthy and knowledgeable women” chosen by the Overseer. The examination may have been a physical examination, perhaps by midwives, to determine if the hymen was intact. (Compare Ordinancesa 4Q159 2–4, which provide for a similar examination if a husband accuses his wife of not having been a virgin on their wedding night; the biblical law in Deuteronomy 22.13–21 and its paraphrase in Temple Scrolla do not provide for such an examination.)

There are many regulations specifying which women are acceptable for marriage, and the strong element of polemic in some of these suggests a sectarian interpretation, different from the rest of Judaism. For example, marriage between a man and his niece was forbidden, and Damascus Document (CD) v.9–11 states explicitly that “The law of incest, written for males, applies equally to females, and therefore to the daughter of a brother who uncovers the nakedness of her father's brother”; later rabbinic sources allowed and even encouraged such marriages. Miqtsat Ma῾asei ha-Torah 80–82 is concerned with the union of priests “with women they are forbidden to marry,” 4Q Ordinancesb (4Q513) 2.ii with illicit relationships entered into by priests and the daughters of priests, and Halakhah (4Q251) 7 with acceptable degrees of kinship for marriage.

Polygamy and Divorce.

There are also specific sectarian regulations that limit a man to one wife. In the Damascus Document (CD iv.20b–21) “the builders of the wall” are accused of committing “fornication” by “marrying two women in their [masculine] lifetime.” According to the majority of scholars, this is a prohibition against both polygamy and divorce, or, more specifically, remarriage after divorce. This would correspond to the regulation specifically for the king in Temple Scrolla (11Q19 lvii.17–19): “He shall not take another wife in addition to her, for she alone shall be with him all the time of her life. But if she dies he may marry another.” But the Damascus Document could also be read as prohibiting remarriage absolutely, even after the death of the wife.

Yet, there are texts that suggest that divorce was possible in this community, as it was elsewhere in Judaism. The word megaresh had appeared in a fragmentary section of the Cairo Genizah copy of the Damascus Document (CD xiii.17), but the text was badly broken at this point, and, with virtually no context, many scholars hesitated to read this isolated word as “the one who divorces.” But the fuller passage preserved in Damascus Documenta from Cave 4 at Qumran, (4Q266 9.iii.4–7) establishes that this phrase does occur in the context of marriage and family (“everyone who takes a wife” and “he will instruct their sons”), and so the text, though fragmentary, is speaking of “the one who divorces. …” Other texts that may imply at least the recognition of the reality of divorce include Malachi 2.16 as it is found in Minor Prophetsa (4Q76 ii.4 “if you hate her, send her away”) and biblical verses involving divorce that are simply repeated (and not changed) in the reworkings of biblical law (e.g., 11Q19 lxvi.11, “he may not divorce her all his day,” citing Dt. 22.29; and 11Q19 liv.4–5, “but any vow of a widow or a divorced woman shall stand against her,” citing Nm. 30.9).

Regulation of Sexual Relations.

Although in numerous texts it is assumed that members of the community will be married, there are strict regulations about sexual relations even within marriage. In a list of prohibited activities in Damascus Documente (4Q270) 2.ii there is a reference in line 16 to “a pregnant woman.” Although the next phrase, meqits dam (“stirs up (?) blood”) is difficult to understand, the context suggests that what is prohibited is sexual relations during pregnancy. Josephus says specifically of the Essenes that “they do not have sexual relations with them [their wives] during pregnancy, thus showing that their purpose in marriage is not pleasure but the assurance of posterity” (The Jewish War II 161). Possibly related to this is the regulation in Damascus Documente (4Q270) 7.i.12b–13, “and he who approaches to fornicate with his wife, contrary to the regulation, shall depart and not return again.” The offense here also may be sexual relations when conception is impossible (during pregnancy and after menopause), though the passage has also been interpreted as sexual relations during menstruation or when the marriage itself is illicit. There are other places that may reflect further restriction on sexual activity, but the interpretation of these passages is less certain (for example, a prohibition against sexual relations in the three days of purification before the meeting of the council of the congregation [1Q28a i.26] or on the Sabbath [CD xi.4–5, “a man may not mix(?) voluntarily on the Sabbath”]).

Ritual Purity.

Many passages that concern women are related to issues of ritual purity, which were at the heart of sectarian ideology and a key factor in the separation of the Qumran community from the rest of Israel. Damascus Documenta 6.ii deals with the major impurities of women: menstruation, genital discharge, and impurity after childbirth. Rules for menstrual impurity (including blessings to be said) appear in the Rule of the Menstruating Women (4Q284), although unfortunately the text is very fragmentary. The biblical rules for a postpartum period of impurity, forty days after the birth of a son and eighty days after the birth of a daughter (Lv. 12.1–6), are found in Serekh Damascus (4Q265), which gives an etiology in a narrative section for the variation in the period of purification based on the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (cf. Jub. 3.8–14).

The segregation of ritually impure people, not only from the pure, but also from each other, is a distinctive feature of these regulations. Some texts speak of an actual separation of those who are ritually impure. For example, in Temple Scrolla (11Q19 xlviii.14–17) places outside of every city are set apart for menstruating women and women who have given birth; in Temple Scrolla xlvi.16–18, those who are impure are divided into separate camps. Purification Rules A (4Q274) sets up rigid barriers between the pure and impure as well as between impure persons of different categories (so that if one with a lesser degree of impurity touches someone of a higher degree, the one with the lesser degree must undergo ablution before eating). There are specific regulations for the man and the woman with genital discharges (zav and zavah) and for the menstruating woman. A menstruating woman is not to mingle with others in any way during her menses in order not to defile the camp (4Q274 1.i.6).

Often the sectarian regulation in purity matters was stricter than the general halakhah. For example, according to Temple Scrolla (11Q19 xlv.11–12), “anyone who lies with his wife and has an emission of semen he shall not enter into any part of the city of the sanctuary where I will cause my name to dwell for three days,” that is, there is a three-day impurity rather than the single day prescribed in Leviticus 15.18, and the presumption is that the woman was also impure for three days. Several texts prohibit all sexual intercourse in “the city of the sanctuary” (CD xii.1–2); the restriction sometimes has been interpreted specifically as banning women from permanent residence in Jerusalem, but the prohibition would apply to both men and women.

Oaths, Vows, and Testimony.

The capability and trustworthiness of women in regard to oaths, vows, and various types of testimony are treated in different contexts. A number of texts deal with the biblical law in Numbers 30.3–15 that gives a man in authority over a woman (husband or father) the right to invalidate any oath or vow she might take. Temple Scrolla (11Q19 liii.16–liv.3) and the pre-Qumran wisdom text Sapiential Work Ab (4Q416 iv.8–10) confirm this right. However, in the Damascus Document (CD xvi.10–12) the oath could be annulled only if it violated the covenant of the community; otherwise women had full control over oaths they made.

Two passages in the Dead Sea Scrolls describe women as being “trustworthy” (ne᾽emanot) in legal matters. Both of these involve giving testimony about the examination of a woman for evidence of virginity, either before marriage (4Q271 3.13–15) or after the marriage night (4Q159 2–4, 8–10). A passage in the Rule of the Congregation (1Q28a i.11), in a discussion of the stages of entry into the congregation, states that when the man reaches twenty and is of age to marry, “she will be received to bear witness of him concerning the judgments of the law and to take her place in the proclamation of the ordinances.” Although the precise meaning of the passage is difficult, it seems clear that the technical language of testimony (“she will be received to bear witness of him”) is here applied to women.

Membership, Leadership, and Status.

One of the most difficult questions is whether women were “members” of the community and how fully they participated in the liturgical life and communal meals. Some scholars (Schiffman, 1994; Stegemann, 1992, 1998) have maintained that women did not take the “oath of the covenant” (CD xv.6) independently but were part of the sect by virtue of marriage to a member. Other scholars (Schuller, 1994) have emphasized texts that speak of the instruction of women in the regulations of the community (1Q28a i.4) and the fact that women are not listed among those excluded from the communal assembly (1Q28a ii.3–8, CD xv.15–17, and 4Q266 8.i.6–9).

In describing the Essenes (The Jewish War 2.161), Josephus has a very enigmatic passage that states “they put their wives to the test for a three-year period”; the three years and the use of the same verb here as used elsewhere for the initiatory testing for men (The Jewish War ii.138) is at least suggestive of some type of formal initiation for women. There is very little information about whether women could attain to the higher levels of purity and share in the “pure food”; only in Temple Scrolla is there an addition to the biblical law about the captive woman (Dt. 21.10–14) that specifies that after seven years she may touch pure food (11Q19 lxiii.10–15); the implication is that other women do so. According to a rubric in the Ritual of Purification (4Q512 41.2), “a man or a woman” can recite the blessings of purification that are connected with ritual washing.

In the penal code of the Damascus Document (4Q270 7.i.13–14) mention is made of the “fathers” and the “mothers.” These seem to be honorific titles, although the precise function of those who bear these titles is unclear. Their unequal relative status may be reflected in the penalty; the offense against the fathers carried the penalty of expulsion, while offending the “mothers” warranted a penance for ten days “because the mothers do not have roqmah (?) in the midst of [the congregation] …” (In the so-called Ritual of Marriage (4Q502; though it is very uncertain whether the document is really referring to marriage), there are references to “male elders” and “female elders” (or elderly men and elderly women), “brothers” and “sisters,” and “daughter of truth”; both the parallel terminology and the familial terms suggest a respected and acknowledged status for women. [See Ritual of Marriage.]

Poetic and Sapiental Texts.

In keeping with themes that were standard in the Wisdom tradition going back to Proverbs and Ben Sira, the long Sapiential Text Aa-d (4Q415–418) gives instruction to a young man about marriage, family life, including elderly parents, and the relationship between husband and wife (4Q416 iii.20–iv.6). [See Sapiential Work.] What is most distinctive is that in one place (4Q415 1.ii.1–9) a woman is addressed directly, though the advice given to her appears to be rather conventional (unfortunately the text is broken, but phrases speak of “honoring as her father” and the holy covenant, “a subject of praise on the mouth of all”).

Other wisdom-type texts personify both Wisdom and Folly as women. This is a continuation and development of the biblical motif found in Proverbs 1–9, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to abstract from the negative portrayal of Lady Folly (in Wiles of the Wicked Woman 4Q184) or the positive portrayal of Lady Wisdom (Psalmsa 11Q5 xx.11–xxii.1, xviii.1–16) information about women per se or even attitudes toward women in the community that wrote or copied these texts. [See Wiles of a Wicked Woman.]

Other poems include the long poetic description of Sarah's beauty that is added in the retelling of the story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt (Genesis 12) in the Genesis Apocryphon (1QapGen xx), and the expanded version in Reworked Pentateuchc (4Q365) of the song that is attributed to Miriam (Ex. 15.21). [See Abraham; Sarah.] In Hodayota from Cave 1 at Qumran, a vivid image is developed of a woman in labor as a description of the advent of the messianic age (1QH iii.7–12, v.30), and God is compared to “a woman who tenderly loves her baby” (1QHa ix.30). [See Hodayot.]

The Cemetery at Qumran.

In addition to written texts, another potential source of information about women is from the large cemetery of about twelve hundred graves at Qumran. [See Cemeteries.] Theoretically, it should be possible to learn much about the relative proportion of women to men buried here and about ages and physical health. In fact, the statistically small proportion of the cemetery that has been excavated and the absence of scientific study of the remains make any extensive conclusions based on the cemetery only speculative.

Out of the approximately fifty graves that have been excavated (whether as part of the formal excavation of the site or by unofficial digging more recently), ten were graves of women, a smaller relative proportion than normally would be expected. The youngest woman was about fourteen to sixteen years old; one grave contained a child buried with its mother. In terms of the distinction that Roland de Vaux, the chief archaeologist, made between a main cemetery, extensions to the main cemetery, and two secondary cemeteries, more of the graves of females and children were located in the extensions than in the main cemetery. But until archaeologists excavate the whole cemetery in a careful and scientific manner, even such observations are at best tentative and can tell us little about women at the Qumran site.


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Eileen M. Schuller

Cecilia Wassen

The Texts

The documentary material on women from the Judean Desert consists of two women's archives and of single documents that belonged to women or mention them. With the exception of the few documents from Masada (Mas 891–894), written before 73 or 74 ce, the documents date to the end of the first century and the first half of the second century CE. [See Masada, article on Written Material.] The archives that come from the Cave of the Letters in Naḥal Ḥever (the Babatha archive: P.Yadin 1–35, 94–132 ce; the archive of Salome Komaïse daughter of Levi: gr XḤev/Se 12, XḤev/Se 60–65, 125–131 ce) revolve around the legal affairs of Jewish families in Maoza (Maḥoza/Maoḥoz) ῾Eglatain, a village on the southern shore of the Dead Sea, in what was the Nabatean kingdom and in 106 became the Roman province of Arabia. [See Babatha.] Some of the single documents were found in Wadi Murabba῾at: writ of divorce Mur 19; marriage contracts Mur 20 and 21; deeds of sale XḤev/Se50, and Mur 26 and Mur 29; deed of sale of plot Mur 30; proceedings of lawsuit Mur 113; remarriage contract Mur 115; and marriage contract Mur 116. Others belong to the so-called Naḥal Ṣe᾽elim collection, and, therefore, are likely to come from Naḥal Ḥever: contract XḤev/Se 7, contract (Kefar Bario?) XḤev/Se 8a, marriage contract XḤev/Se 11, renunciation of claims after a divorce XḤev/Se 13, and XḤev/Se 69.

I believe these documents convey a faithful picture of the realities of life, and of women's lives in particular. The two archives amply demonstrate that the Jews living in the province of Arabia and the Jews living in the province of Judea belonged to a single Jewish society whose internal ties overrode provincial boundaries, in their marriages, property holdings, and residences. The Jews represented in the other documents come from densely populated Jewish areas, from the heartland of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, a religious and national movement. [See Bar Kokhba Revolt.] The writers of these documents cannot and should not be regarded as assimilated, Hellenized, or semi-Hellenized Jews, even if many of their documents are written in Greek and lack anything that would mark them as Jewish apart from the identity of the parties as disclosed by their names.

Marriage Contracts and Dowry (Ketubbah).

We possess nine documentary marriage contracts, five in Greek (Mur 115, 116; P.Yadin 18; and XḤev/Se gr 65 and 69) and four in Aramaic (Mur 20, 21; XḤev/Se 11; and P.Yadin 10), all from the first half of the second century CE. Marriage contract XḤev/Se 11 is very fragmentary and will be ignored in the following discussion. The three remaining Aramaic marriage contracts reveal to us that the rabbinic marriage contract indeed had by then developed its own special form but had not yet become normative, because not one of the five marriage contracts written in Greek can be said to be a translation of an Aramaic ketubbah.

On two occasions we find one of the parents giving away the bride: the father in P.Yadin 18 and the mother in XḤev/Se 69. On four others it is the groom who is taking the bride to be his wife (Mur 20, 21, 115; P.Yadin 10). In two of these four documents we find in the opening lines the formula that places the marriage firmly within a Jewish framework and imposes on it the sanction of Jewish law, namely the declaration of the groom that the bride will be his wife according to the Law of Moses and the Jews (Mur 20 and P.Yadin 10). In all but one of the marriage contracts (Mur 116 has not preserved the text at this point), the groom acknowledges the receipt of a dowry from the bride (Mur 115; P.Yadin 18; XḤev/Se gr 65 and 69) or the debt of ketubbah money to her (Mur 20, 21; P.Yadin 10)—which may amount to the same thing—for the return of which his entire property, both present and future, is liable. That this was indeed so is proven by two deeds of sale from 134 and 135 ce, where the wife waives all claims on the property just sold, presumably because it guaranteed the return of her ketubbah or dowry (Mur 30 and XḤev/Se 8a). Babatha's seizure of her husband's date orchards to cover the debt of her dowry (ketubbah), attested in P.Yadin 21, 22, 23 and 24, supplies yet another proof for the entailment of the husband's property. On four occasions the acknowledgment of a dowry is also the occasion to undertake the nourishment of the wife (P.Yadin 10, 18; XḤev/Se 65, 69) and twice also that of the children to come (P.Yadin 18 and XḤev/Se gr 65). On one occasion, since the couple has been living until then in an unwritten marriage (agraphos gamos)—an institution whose legal validity was no different from that of a written marriage (engraphos gamos)—the marriage contract is merely an acknowledgment of the receipt of a dowry (XḤev/Se gr 65). All these practices and obligations frequently are documented in dozens of Greek marriage contracts from Egypt and other parts of the Roman Near East and certainly are not unique to Jewish marriage contracts. The only clauses so far attested in the Jewish tradition are those distinguishing between male and female children as heirs to their mother's property.

The dowry or ketubbah in these texts consists of valuables (jewelry and clothes) or sums of money. On one occasion the groom adds a sum of money to the dowry (P.Yadin 18). The dowry never includes real property, which is given to the daughter in deeds of gift (P.Yadin 19 and XḤev/Se gr 64) on the occasion of her marriage.

In addition to the marriages attested in the marriage contracts, the documents mention dozens of married couples. In all these cases it seems evident that Jews married among themselves. [See Marriage and Divorce.]


One of the marriage contracts is in fact a contract of remarriage of a man to his former wife (Mur 115); nevertheless the groom acknowledges here a fresh dowry. Jewish law allowed a man to remarry his divorced wife as long as she had not been married to another man in the meantime.

For three women in the two archives two husbands are attested (Babatha, Salome Komaïse, and her mother, Salome Grapte).


On the evidence of P.Yadin 26 and 34 from 131 ce its editor suggested that polygamy was practiced by Jews in Arabia at the time. This interpretation of the document is not beyond dispute: a good case could be made for a divorce having preceded the second marriage.


The Aramaic writ of divorce Mur 19 from 72 ce is a deed of divorce given by a man to his wife that reflects to a great extent the wording of the rabbinic deed of divorce. The Aramaic XḤev/Se 13 from 135 ce is a renunciation of all claims on the part of the wife who had in blatant contradiction to rabbinic law given her husband a deed of divorce. P.Yadin 18 from 128 ce attests that the woman could demand at any time the return of her dowry, and presumably thus initiate a divorce. The marriage concluded in XḤev/Se gr 69 from 130 ce was terminated by death or divorce, as shown by its cancellation by a number of crossing diagonal strokes of the pen over the document, as well as through the signatures on the back. Probably also there was a deed of divorce, a receipt for the return of the dowry, or a deed of renunciation of claims like XḤev/Se 13.


Marriage contracts Mur 20 and 21, deed of sale of plot Mur 30, marriage contracts Mur 116 and P.Yadin 10 show that the widow had a right to remain in her husband's house and be supported from his estate (while her dowry/ketubbah remained intact), either as long as she wished (Mur 30 and 116), or until the heirs paid back the money of her dowry/ketubbah (Mur 20 and 21, and P.Yadin 10). The rabbinic sources attribute the former practice to the people of Jerusalem, followed by the Galileans, whereas the latter is said to be the practice in Judea (Ket. 4.12). P.Yadin 7, a deed of gift by a husband to his wife in contemplation of death, provides the married daughter with a hut on her parents' estate, in case she becomes a widow and as long as she does not remarry (cf. T., Ket. 11.6–7).

Guardian for a Woman.

The presence of a guardian for a woman is attested only in legal documents written in the Greek language (P.Yadin 14–17, 20–22, 25, 27; XḤev/Se gr 63–65, 69). The use of a single term (epitropos) for the guardian of a woman as well as for that of a minor is due to the influence of Roman law, and the requirement for a woman to be represented by a guardian seems to have been imposed by the Roman authorities. In none of the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Nabatean papyri from the Judean Desert do we find a woman represented by a guardian. The low profile kept by the guardian of a woman even in the Greek documents is conspicuous. The four Semitic deeds that would have required the presence of a guardian of a woman under Roman law were not written under Roman rule: P.Yadin 2–3 (unpublished) and contract XḤev/Se Nab. 2 (unpublished) were written before the annexation of the Nabatean kingdom and the creation of the province of Arabia, and XḤev/Se 13 was written in ῾Ein-Gedi at the time of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Is it a mere coincidence that we do not have a document written under Roman rule in Aramaic, Nabatean, or Hebrew with a guardian representing a woman, or does this fact prove incontrovertibly that the Greek deeds, unlike the Semitic ones, were meant for Roman courts or at least had to conform to Roman legal formalities?

Guardianship Exercised by a Woman.

Babatha is totally excluded from the guardianship of her orphaned son from her first husband (P.Yadin 12–15, 27–30). This fits Roman legal practice: women were excluded by Roman law from the exercise of guardianship (e.g., Dig. 26.1.18). Furthermore, Babatha's conduct in her litigation with her son's appointed guardians is entirely in harmony with what is attested much later in the Roman legal sources as that befitting the mother of a ward vis-à-vis his appointed guardians. In Jewish law, on the other hand, a woman could serve as a guardian, if appointed by her husband in his lifetime, whether as guardian of his property or of that of his orphans. There also existed a de facto sort of guardianship: guardianship acquired by virtue of orphans boarding with a householder (semikhah). This could offer a way for a woman to become the de facto guardian of her children. It seems that boarding with his mother did not have the legal consequence of turning Babatha into the guardian of her orphaned son. Babatha's exclusion from guardianship contrasted sharply with Julia Crispina's status as an episkopos of Babatha's orphaned nephews (P.Yadin 20 and 25). She is acting together with, and once instead of, a proper male epitropos of the orphans. Her position resembles that of the Egyptian epakoloutheria attested in papyri only from the second half of the second century, who also appears accompanied by a male guardian. It seems quite likely that the later institution was created to satisfy the strictures imposed by Roman law on the exercise of guardianship by women.

Law of Succession.

In five marriage contracts daughters were to be fed and dressed from their father's estate until they got married (Mur 20, 21, 116; P.Yadin 10; XḤev/Se 69), whereas the sons inherited their mother's dowry (Mur 20, 21, 115, and 116, and possibly XḤev/Se 69). The specific clauses distinguishing between male and female children as heirs to their mother's property are so far attested only in the Jewish tradition and, apparently, already in the early Mishnaic period (Ket. 4.10–11). The evidence of P.Yadin 23 and 24 combined with the presence of three deeds of gift in the two archives from the Judean Desert—all designed to advance the financial interests of daughters and wives (P.Yadin 7 and 19; XḤev/Se gr 64)— suggests that the law of succession in force at that time (at least among the Jews) in the province of Arabia did not automatically grant a wife the right to inherit from her husband or a daughter the right to inherit from her parents when in competition with sons of her father's brother. In denying the claims of the wife to her husband's property this law seems to have been not unlike the normative Jewish law of succession. It differs from such Jewish law in preferring the claims of the man's brother or his brother's children to those of the daughter; normative Jewish law prefers the claims of children, whatever their sex, to those of the man's brother or his brother's children (Nm. 27.8, M.B.B. 8.2). Like Jewish law, however, the legal system reflected in these documents recognized a legal instrument that mitigated the rigor of rules of succession that were so prejudicial to women: the deed of gift.

Economic Activity.

The name Salome written in Greek letters on four jars discovered on Masada (Mas 891–894) must refer to the owner of the jars and/or the products therein, thus attesting to the involvement of a Jewish woman of independent means in economic activity in the period before 73 or 74 ce. The women encountered in the documents, whether married or not, own real estate—houses and orchards. Documents written in the Nabatean kingdom reveal women selling property on their own (P.Yadin 2–3 from 99 ce, unpublished; and XḤev/Se nab. 2, c.100 ce, unpublished). We find women selling property together with their husbands (XḤev/Se 50, Mur 26, and XḤev/Se 7), giving it in deeds of gift (XḤev/Se gr 64), and declaring it in the census (P.Yadin 16). Some of this property was received in deeds of gift from parents (XḤev/Se gr 64 and P.Yadin 19) and husbands (P.Yadin 7). Women lend money (P.Yadin 17) and initiate litigation concerning money and property before the Roman governor (P.Yadin 13–15, 23, 25, 26).

Literacy and Illiteracy.

In Babatha's case (P.Yadin 15, and possibly that of the mother in XḤev/Se gr 69) we are told explicitly that “she did not know her letters,” and therefore someone wrote a subscription for her. Illiteracy may be assumed even in those cases where it is not set out as the reason for the employment of a subscriber: contract (Kefar Bario?) XḤev/Se 8a, renunciation of claims after a divorce XḤev/Se 13, deed of sale XḤev/Se 50 + Mur 26, marriage contract Mur 21, deed of sale Mur 29, and deed of gift XḤev/Se gr 64.


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    Discussion of the law of succession in the documents from the Judean Desert.
  • Cotton, Hannah M. “The Guardian (᾽επίτρoπoc) of a Woman in the Documents from the Judaean Desert.” Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 118 (1997), 267–273.
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    Discussion of the relationship between the halakhah and the documents.
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    A discussion of P. Yadin 2–3, 7, 16, 23–24.
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    An interpretation of P. Yadin 26.
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    The Greek part of the Babatha Archive and Aramaic and Nabatean Signatures and Subscriptions, edited by Y. Yadin and J. C. Greenfield.
  • Wasserstein, A. “A Marriage Contract from the Province of Arabia Nova: Notes on Papyrus Yadin 18.” Jewish Quarterly Review 80 (1989), 93–130.
    An interpretation of a marriage contract between Jews written in Greek.
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    Final publication of P. Yadin 10.
  • Yadin, Yigael, J. C. Greenfield, and Ada Yardeni. “A Deed of Gift in Aramaic Found in Naḥal Ḥever. Papyrus Yadin 7” (in Hebrew). Eretz-Israel 25 (1996), 383–403.
    Final publication of P. Yadin 7.
  • Yaron, R. “The Mesadah Bill of Divorce.” Studi in onore di E. Volterra 6 (1971), 433–455.
    Discussion of writ of divorce Mur 19 and its relationship to the rabbinic writ of divorce.

Hannah M. Cotton