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How Archaeology Illuminates the Parsha; Parashat Mishpatim, The Case of the Poor Man’s Cloak

February 12, 2015

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אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ לֹא תִהְיֶה לוֹ כְּנֹשֶׁה לֹא תְשִׂימוּן עָלָיו נֶשֶׁךְ.  אִם חָבֹל תַּחְבֹּל

שַׂלְמַת רֵעֶךָ עַד בֹּא הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ תְּשִׁיבֶנּוּ לוֹ. כו כִּי הִוא כסותה [כְסוּתוֹ] לְבַדָּהּ הִוא שִׂמְלָתוֹ לְעֹרוֹ בַּמֶּה יִשְׁכָּב וְהָיָה כִּי יִצְעַק אֵלַי וְשָׁמַעְתִּי כִּי חַנּוּן אָנִי.

25 “If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not treat it like a business deal; charge no interest. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it by sunset, 27 because that cloak is the only covering your neighbor has. What else can they sleep in? When they cry out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Exodus Chapter 22 שְׁמוֹת~

These verses come life in a remarkable ostracon discovered at the remnants of a Judean fortress in Southern Israel (ancient Kingdom of Judah) called Mezad Hashavyahu.

It is dated to the period of Josiah, King of Judah circa 7th c. BCE

It contains a written appeal by a field worker to the fortress’s governor regarding the confiscation of his cloak, which the writer considers to have been unjust. The worker makes his appeal to the governor on the basis of both the garment’s undeserved confiscation and by implication, the biblical law regarding holding past sundown a person’s cloak as collateral for a debt

This is a remarkable find that hasn’t been getting the attention that I humbly think it deserves. Aside from actualizing a theoretical situation described in the bible, it also seems to bear the first mention of Sabbath outside of Tanakh! (although that is disputed by some scholars).

The text:

ישמע אדני השר
את דבר עבדה. עבדך
קצר. היה. עבדך. בחצר אסם. ויקצר עבדך
ויכל ואסם כימם. לפני שב
ת כאשר כל {ע}בדך את קצר וא
סם כימם ויבא הושעיהו בן שב
י. ויקח. את בגד עבדך כאשר כלת
את קצרי זה ימם לקח את בגד עבדך
וכל אחי. יענו. לי. הקצרם אתי בחם.
{ה}ש {מש} אחי. יענו. לי אמן נקתי מא
{שם}………בגדי ואמלא. לשר להש
{יב} ……….עב{דך}…..אלו. רח
{מם. והש}בת את {בגד. ע}בדך ולא תדהמ נ

English translation (from Klaas Smelik, Writings from Ancient Israel, Westminster John Knox Press, 1991):

“Let my lord, the governor, hear the word of his servant! Your servant is a reaper. Your servant was in Hazar Asam, and your servant reaped, and he finished, and he has stored (the grain) during these days before the Sabbath. When your servant had finished the harvest, and had stored (the grain) during these days, Hoshavyahu came, the son of Shobi, and he seized the garment of your servant, when I had finished my harvest. It (is already now some) days (since) he took the garment of your servant. And all my companions can bear witness for me – they who reaped with me in the heat of the harvest – yes, my companions can bear witness for me. Amen! I am innocent from guilt. And he stole my garment! It is for the governor to give back the garment of his servant. So grant him mercy in that you return the garment of your servant and do not be displeased.”

Scans are from:

אסופת כתובות עבריות, מימי בית-ראשון וראשית ימי בית-שני.

אחיטוב, שמואל

ירושלים : מוסד ביאליק, תשנ”ג-1992
ספרית האנציקלופדיה המקראית

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