Justice at the House of Yhw(h): An Early Yahwistic Defixio in Furem

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What was the nature of ritual in ancient Yahwism? Although biblical sources provide some information about various types of cultic activity, we have thus far lacked any extra-biblical ritual texts from Yahwistic circles prior to Greco–Roman times. This article presents such a text—one that has been hiding in plain sight for almost a century on a small ostracon found on the island of Elephantine. It has variously been interpreted as dealing with instructions regarding a tunic left at the “house of Yhw”—the temple to Yhw(h) that flourished on the island from the middle of the sixth to the end of the fourth century BCE. While there is little debate regarding the epigraphic reading of this text, it has hitherto failed to be correctly interpreted. I present an entirely new reading of this important document, revealing it to be written in poetic form and to match the characteristics of a “prayer for justice” curse ritual. It is, in fact, the oldest known example of this genre; its only known specimen in Aramaic, its unique witness in a Yahwistic context, and the sole record of any ritual performance at a temple to Yhw(h). Significantly, it is administered by a priestess.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1324
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by the author.


  • Yahwism
  • ancient Judaism
  • ancient magic
  • curse texts
  • elephantine
  • women in religion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Religious studies


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