Babatha’s first marriage contract: hiding in plain sight

Philip F. Esler*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Babatha’s archive of 35 richly informative legal documents from the period 94–I32 cE contains only the contract for her second marriage, not her first. This omission invites investigation, in this article from a microhistorical perspective. Admittedly, Greek ‘unwritten marriages’ were known in Egypt during this period, and there is evidence for the influence of Greek practices in the Dead Sea region. Nevertheless, this article argues, first, that a written contract with the all-important dowry provisions (securing her position in the event of widowhood or divorce) accompanied her first marriage. Second, it is argued that Babatha retained this contract after her husband died. Third, it is argued that her second marriage contract is a copy of the first contract and that, with all its provisions (mutatis mutandis) replicated in the second, she discarded it. This course of events illuminates significant aspects of the lives of Babatha and her family.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)303-322
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Jewish Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2023


  • Late Antiquity
  • Judean desert
  • Archaeology
  • Papyrus
  • Babatha archive
  • Ketubbah
  • Marriage
  • Divorce


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