Yavneh-Yam, Legal Document From

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YAVNEH-YAM, LEGAL DOCUMENT FROM , an inscribed potsherd (maximal measures: 8 × 6 in., or 20 × 16 cm.) containing a Hebrew letter of 14 lines, found in the guardroom of an ancient fortress excavated at Meẓad Ḥashavyahu by J. Naveh (1960), about one mile south of Yavneh-Yam (Minat-Rubin). The examination of the pottery found on the site (partly East Greek sherds of the Middle Wild Goat Style from 630–600 b.c.e.), the historical and geographic considerations, as well as the paleographic evidence indicate that the fortress was built by *Josiah king of Judah (640–609 b.c.e.).

The letter begins with the following phrase: "Let my lord the governor hear the word of his servant." The addressee apparently was Josiah's military governor in the newly conquered coastal area which formerly belonged to the Philistines. In the letter, written by a local scribe, a reaper, who was employed in harvesting at a royal estate named Ḥaẓar-Asam, complains of the confiscation of his coat by a man named Hoshaiahu the son of Shobai, evidently the governor's official. It seems that the charge in question was one of idling. The reaper requests the governor to return his garment, because he has finished his quota and his fellow reapers are prepared to testify his innocence.

This document sheds light on laws concerning negligence in the biblical period, well known from cuneiform sources (see Driver-Miles in bibl.). Exodus 22:25–26, which admonishes the creditor to give back the debtor's garment "before the sun goes down," reflects a similar situation, and was instituted to protect the debtor.


G.R. Driver and C. Miles, Babylonian Laws, 1 (1952), 461ff.; J. Naveh, in: iej, 10 (1960), 129–39; 14 (1964), 158–59; idem, in: Leshonenu, 30 (1965), 69–71; S. Yeivin, in: Bibliotheca Orientalis, 29 (1962), 3–10; F.M. Gross in: basor, 165 (1962), 34–46; I. Sh. Shifman, Epigrafika Vostoka, 16 (1963), 21–28; Sh. Talmon, in: basor, 176 (1964), 29–38; J.D. Amusin and M.L. Heltzer, in: iej, 14 (1964), 148–57; Pritchard, Texts3, 568; L. Delekat, in: Biblica, 51 (1970), 453–70 (includes an extensive bibliography).

[Joseph Naveh]