In the sunny month of June, in 176 B.C.E., members of two of Maresha’s rich Edomite families celebrated their marriage. The details of the wedding between QWSRM and his bride, Arsinoe, survive on the oldest marriage contract ever discovered in the Holy Land.1

Archaeologists at Maresha found seven fragments of the document (photo, right; translation, lower right)—written on a sherd of a pottery jug—among fill that had apparently been dumped into a cave following the destruction of the city by the Hasmoneans in 112 B.C.E.

It may seem odd to find a marriage contract written on a broken piece of pottery—especially when such wealthy families are involved. The bride’s substantial dowry, worth 300 zuµziµn, suggests her family certainly could have afforded papyrus or even parchment. No other marriage contract written on a potsherd has ever been found in Israel. Also peculiar is the absence of signatures: Marriage contracts were usually signed by several witnesses. Thus, we believe the Maresha ostracon is not the original contract but an earlier draft or a copy given to one of the parties. The final word on the contract—“sign” or “signature” (on line 12)—indicates where witnesses should add their names to the actual marriage contract. (Interestingly, this last word is in a different hand from the rest of the document, which was copied by an experienced scribe, who kept his lines neat by using the grooves left by the potter’s wheel as guides.)

The groom’s name, QWSRM, includes the name of the Edomite national god; it means “Qos is exalted.” The Edomites, Israel’s bitter enemies who lived in the Negev, expanded into southern Judah in the late seventh and early sixth centuries B.C.E., when Israel was weakened by the Babylonians. Maresha became the most important capital of western Edom, later called Idumea. Inscriptions bearing Edomite names from Maresha tombs attest to continuing Idumean presence in the city throughout the Hellenistic period. The father of Herod the Great was Idumean; some scholars have even speculated that Herod the Great, who ruled over Judea from 37 to 4 B.C.E., was born in the vicinity.

In the marriage contract, the groom, QWSRM, formally requests that Arsinoe be given to him, and the bride’s father, QWSYD (coincidentally, he and QWSRM’s father have the same name), accepts QWSRM’s proposal. Lines 6–7 stipulate that the couple’s sons will inherit their property. This clause may have been added to reassure Arsinoe’s father that his grandsons—and not any other sons QWSRM might have with other wives—will inherit QWSRM’s property. Lines 9–11 designate the value of the clothing and household utensils that Arsinoe will bring to her husband as her dowry.

Translation of Edomite Wedding Vow

1. In the month of Sivan of the year 136 (of) Se[leucus, the king],

2. QWSRM, son of QWSYD, of his own free will, [declared]

3. to QWSYD, son of QWSYHB: There is (a woman), Arsinoe [her name],

4. a previously unmarried woman. Now then: I am asking of you that [you give her to me that she may be]

5. my wife. Give (her to) me according to the custom of the daughters of [Edom(?)].

6. Male children whom I will have from her [shall inherit?],

7. and the masters of my house and my heirs, from [ ].

8. QWSYD acceded with respect to what QWSRM [had asked, and gave him Ar]sinoe,

10. his daughter, (as) wife. When he gave him [his daughter(?)], QWS[Y]D [ga]ve to Arsinoe,

10. his daughter, provisions: clothing and utensil[s of … that are] worth 300 silver zu{m}zi{m}n.

11. She bore (the provisions) and entered the domicile of the same QWSRM, her husband, in the presence of [ ].

12. Signature.