Babatha's final days: new light from Papyrus Starcky

Philip Esler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Babatha, a Judean woman from the early second century CE, hid a satchel of thirty-five legal papyri in a cave in Wadi Ḥever on the Dead Sea around 135 CE. This article argues that she brought two other papyri, in Nabatean Aramaic, into the cave (P.XḤev/Se Nab 1, also called “P.Starcky,” and P.XḤev/Se Nab 2), but culled her documents, hiding most in the satchel, while discarding these two. Initially, P.Starcky is analyzed as a title document relating to a date orchard in her hometown of Maoza in Arabia that passed by patrilineal succession to Judah, Babatha’s second husband. I then explain the relevance of P.Starcky to Babatha in relation to her seizing that orchard after Judah’s death, in spite of the claim of his orphaned nephews to the property. The nephews’ close connection with an elite woman of Roman citizenship explains why, at the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt, it was Babatha and not the nephews who carried P.Starcky into the cave. I argue further that Babatha also brought P.XḤev/Se Nab 2 into the cave but discarded it as irrelevant to her legal situation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-512
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Biblical Literature
Issue number3
Early online date15 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sept 2022


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