Babata

(2nd century)
   Housewife of En-Gedi. In 1960 Israel archaeologists, with the help of the army, explored all the caves in the cliffs and wadis overlooking the Dead Sea, in the vicinity of the oasis of En-Gedi (‘Spring of the Goat’). Using ropes, they reached the entrance of a cave containing skeletons and belongings, dating back to the crushing of the BAR-KOCHBA revolt against the Romans in 135. Among the finds in the cave were Bar-Kochba’s letters to the defenders of En-Gedi and, within a leather pouch, a bundle of legal documents. There were thirty-five in all, written on papyrus in Greek, Aramaic and Nabatean. They included marriage certificates, title deeds to properties, court papers - all of absorbing interest to historians of the period. From them there has been reconstructed the life and concerns of Babata, a formidable Judean matron of the 2 century, who met her death in the last flicker of Jewish national independence before the present time.
   Babata was the daughter of Simeon ben-Menachem and his wife Miriam, a Jewish couple living in Mahoza at the southern end of the Dead Sea, that had been Nabatean territory before the Roman occupation. Her father acquired date palm groves and other property in Mahoza, which were deeded by way of gift to his wife and then inherited by his daughter. Babata was an unlettered woman, but shrewd and litigious. Her first husband was Yeshua ben-Joseph, by whom she had a son also called Yeshua. When her husband died, two guardians were appointed for the boy, one Jewish and one Nabatean, and a sum of money was given to them in trust for the orphan’s maintenance. In 125 she issued a summons against the guardians, calling on them to appear before the Roman governor and surrender the trust fund to her, alleging they had failed to provide for the maintenance.
   In due course Babata married again, to one Yehuda from En-Gedi. When he died, she became involved in complicated property actions with the wife and family from Yehuda’s first marriage.
   En-Gedi was caught up in the Bar-Kochba revolt, and in its last phase Roman troops arrived at the oasis. The inhabitants took refuge in inaccessible cliffside caves, where food and water had been stored for the purpose. In the largest of these caves, four hundred feet deep, the local commander hid himself together with a group of his followers and their families. Among them was Babata, who at some time during the revolt had come to live in En-Gedi with her late husband’s kinsmen. Together with her toilet articles and other personal possessions, she carefully wrapped up in sacking her archive of legal documents, and carried them with her to the cave.
   On the top of the escarpment, a hundred feet above the caves, the Roman troops encamped and settled down to starve out the Jews. Everyone died inside the cave, no doubt of hunger and thirst. That was the end of Babata’s story, until the citizens of a renewed Jewish commonwealth found her remains 1,825 years later.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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