Original Research - Special Collection: Foundation subjects - Old and New Testament Studies

Reading Matthew by the Dead Sea: Matthew 8:5–13 in Light of P. Yadin 11

Philip F. Esler
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 70, No 1 | a2773 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v70i1.2773 | © 2014 Philip F. Esler | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 June 2014 | Published: 20 November 2014

About the author(s)

Philip F. Esler, Portland Chair in New Testament Studies, University of Gloucestershire, United Kingdom; Department of New Testament Studies, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa


The archive of the Judean woman Babatha, with its 35 legal papyri in Aramaic and Greek (P. Yadin 1–35), which was hidden by her in a cave on the western side of the Dead Sea in 135 CE and rediscovered in 1961, offers unique insights into the social world of the region from 94–132 CE. This is because legal documents reflect significant opportunities and challenges in people’s lives and frequently bring to the surface underlying social issues and pressures. Babatha’s documents, which reflect lively interactions between Judeans, Nabateans and Romans across a wide range of situations, do precisely this. They allow us better to understand the context in which New Testament texts appeared and how they made sense to their original audiences. Matthew’s Gospel, with its strong interest in Judean/non-Judean relationships, is particularly susceptible to such treatment. In this article, P. Yadin 11, a remarkable document in Greek from 124 CE recording a loan of 60 denarii from a Roman centurion stationed at En-gedi to Babatha’s second husband, is analysed for what it reveals about likely understandings of centurions in that setting. The findings of this investigation are then applied to Matthew 8:5–13 in the interests of a socially realistic interpretation.


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