In this draft letter dated November 25, 407 B.C.E., Jedaniah, leader of Elephantine’s Jewish community, and his priestly colleagues ask Bagohi, the governor of the Persian province of Judah, to intercede on their behalf for the rebuilding of their temple:

To our lord Bagavahya governor of Judah, your servants Jedaniah and his colleagues the priests who are in Elephantine the fortress.

The welfare of our lord may the God of Heaven seek after abundantly at all times, and favor may He grant you before King Darius and the princes more than now a thousand times, and long life may He give you, and happy and strong may you be at all times.

Now, your servant Jedaniah and his colleagues thus say:

In the month of Tammuz, year 14 of Darius the king, when Arsames had departed and gone to the king, the priests of Khnub the god who are in Elephantine the fortress, in agreement with Vidranga who was Chief here, (said), saying,

“The Temple of YHW the God which is in Elephantine the fortress let them remove from there.”

Afterwards, that Vidranga, the wicked, a letter did send to Naphaina his son, who was Troop Commander in Syene the fortress, saying,

“The Temple which is in Elephantine the fortress let them demolish.”

Afterwards, Naphaina led the Egyptians with the other troops. They came to the fortress of Elephantine with their weapons, broke into that Temple, demolished it to the ground, and the stone pillars which were there—they smashed them. Moreover it happened (that the) 5 gateways of stone, built of hewn stone, which were in that Temple they demolished. And their doors, standing, and the bronze hinges of those doors, and the cedarwood roof—all of (these) which, with the rest of the fittings and other (things), which were there—all (of these) with fire they burned. But the basins of gold and silver and (other) things which were in that Temple—all (of these) they took and made their own.

And during the days of the king(s) of Egypt our fathers had built that Temple in Elephantine the fortress and when Cambyses entered Egypt—that Temple built he found it. And the temples of the gods of Egypt, all (of them), they overthrew, but anything in that Temple one did not damage.

And when this had been done (to us), we with our wives and our children sackcloth were wearing and fasting and praying to YHW the Lord of Heaven who let us gloat over that Vidranga, the cur. They removed the anklet from his feet and all goods which he had acquired were lost. And all persons who sought evil for that Temple, all (of them), were killed and we gazed upon them.

Moreover, before this—at the time that this evil was done to us—a letter we sent (to) our lord, and to Jehohanan the High Priest and his colleagues the priests who are in Jerusalem, and to Ostanes the brother of Anani and the nobles of the Jews. One (=a single) letter they did not send us.

Moreover, from the month of Tammuz, year 14 of King Darius and until this day, sackcloth we are wearing and are fasting; the wives of ours as widow(s) are made; (with) oil (we) do not anoint (ourselves) and wine do not drink.

Moreover, from that (time) and until (this) day, year 17 of Darius the king, meal-offering and ince[n]se and burnt-offering they did not make in that Temple.

Now, your servants Jedaniah and his colleagues and the Jews, all (of them) citizens of Elephantine, thus say:

If to our lord it is good, take thought of that Temple to (re)build (it) since they do not let us (re)build it. Regard your obligees and your friends who are here in Egypt. May a letter from you be sent to them about the Temple of YHW the God to (re)build it in Elephantine the fortress just as it had been built formerly.

And the meal-offering and the incense and the burnt-offering they will offer on the altar of YHW the God in your name and we shall pray for you at all times—we and our wives and our children and the Jews, all (of them) who are here. If they do thus until that Temple be (re)built, a merit you will have before YHW the God of Heaven more than a person who will offer him burnt-offering and sacrifices (whose) worth is as the worth of silver, 1 thousand talents and {about} gold.

About this we have sent (and) informed (you).

Moreover, all the(se) words in one (=a single) letter we sent in our name to Delaiah and Shelemiah sons of Sanballat governor of Samaria.

Moreover, about this which was done to us, all of it, Arsames did not know.

On the 20th of Marcheshvan, year 17 of Darius the king.

A written reply to Jedaniah’s letter has not been discovered; probably an oral response was brought back by the messenger who delivered the letter to Bagohi. This memorandum (opposite, bottom), written in the first person on a torn piece of papyrus and corrected by erasures and marginal additions, suggests that the Elephantine community did receive a response allowing them to rebuild the temple where meal- and incense-offerings could be offered:

Memorandum. What Bagohi and Delaiah said to me.

Memorandum. Saying, “You may say in Egypt before Arsames about the Altar-House of the God of Heaven which in Elephantine the fortress built was formerly before Cambyses (and) which Vidranga, that wicked (man) demolished in year 14 of King Darius: to (re)build it on its site as it was formerly and the meal-offering and the incense they shall offer upon that altar just as formerly was done.”

In a draft letter to a high Persian official, Jedaniah and his colleagues clearly state that they will not make burnt-offerings at the temple if they are allowed to rebuild it:

Your servants—

Jedaniah son of Gema[riah] by name, 1 Mauzi son of Nathan by name, [1] Shemaiah son of Haggai by name, 1, Hosea son of Jathom by name, 1 Hosea son of Nattun by name, 1: all (told) 5 persons, Syenians who are herdi[tary property-hold]ers in Elephantine the fortress—thus say:

If our lord [ … ] and our Temple of YHW the God be (re)built in Elephantine the fortress as it former[ly] was [bu]ilt—and sheep, ox, and goat as burnt-offering are [n]ot made there but (only) incense (and) meal-offering [they offer there]—and should our lord mak[e] a statement [about this, then] we shall give to the house of our lord si[lver … and] a thousa[nd] ardabs of barley.

Translations by Bezalel Porten.