Today businesses are increasingly relying on sophisticated computer software to document transactions and track fiscal performance. But in fourth-century B.C.E. Idumea, about 40 miles southwest of Jerusalem, business records were kept by writing in black ink on ostraca (broken pieces of pottery).
This ancient Aramaic ostracon records the delivery of barley and wheat in the fourth year of the reign of the Persian king Artaxerxes III. Photo: Institute for the Study of Aramaic Papyri.
We have about 2,000 ostraca with inscriptions in Aramaic, the language the Jews brought back from Babylon following the end of the Babylonian exile in 538 B.C.E. Many of the ostraca record the delivery of products to and from storehouses and include the year of the present ruler’s reign. Idumea and Judea were under Persian rule at this time until the empire fell to Alexander the Great around 333 B.C.E.
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