DR. ADA YARDENI: IN MEMORIAM
Dr. Ada Yardeni, a leading palaeographer and renowned scholar of West-Semitic epigraphy, especially of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic scripts, passed away on June 28, 2018. With her death, the Israeli and world-wide community of palaeographers have lost a most celebrated member. Ada Yardeni authored 11 books, as well as 60 papers and chapters that appeared in scientific journals and books. Her contributions go beyond the works on her list of publications: she generously shared her knowledge and advice, and with her keen eye and her trained and gifted artistic hand, she traced and copied inscriptions for many colleagues. Ada was the most gifted and knowledgeable palaeographer of our generation.
Ada’s first career was in graphic design. She studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and worked at the Koren Publishing House in the production of the famous ‘Koren Bible’, moving to the Carta Publishing House, which became her home, and eventually changed her career from the arts to academy.
Ada — everyone called her by her first name — was drawn to academic studies almost by accident. While working at Carta, drawing ancient artefacts and inscriptions for the Encyclopaedia Miqraʾit (the Hebrew Biblical Encyclopaedia) and numerous other books, like Yohanan Aharoni’s Biblical Atlas, she heard from Prof. Israel Ephʿal (then secretary to the editorial board of the Encyclopaedia) about new discoveries in the fields of ancient Near Eastern history, archaeology and Bible. Her curiosity piqued, she enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for a B.A. in biblical studies and the Hebrew language. For her M.A. studies, she chose Semitic languages and palaeography. Throughout her studies and as a Ph.D candidate, under Prof. Joseph Naveh and Prof. Jonas C. Greenfield, Ada drew facsimiles for many scholars, and her special technique is well recognised by us all.
Ada’s way from artist to scholar was thus paved. And let us not forget her Kinderstube. Her father was Menahem Zulaʾy, eminent scholar of medieval Hebrew sacred poetry (piyyut), who worked on the Cairo Genizah manuscripts. While still a B.A. student, Ada began working with Prof. Bezalel Porten on the first of the four volumes of the Hebrew–English edition of Textbook of Aramaic Documents from Ancient Egypt (Jerusalem, 1986–1999). In these volumes she meticulously hand-copied the documents, set-typed the complex texts and was their co-translator into Hebrew. Her dissertation, ‘The Aramaic and Hebrew Documents in Cursive Script from Naḥal Ḥever and Related Material — A Palaeographic and Epigraphic Examination’ (Jerusalem, 1991; in Hebrew) was revised and published in two extensive bilingual volumes of some 1,150 folio pages, titled: Textbook of Aramaic, Hebrew and Nabataean Documentary Texts from the Judaean Desert and Related Material, vol. A: The Documents; vol. B: Translation. Palaeography. Concordance (Jerusalem, 2000). This masterpiece is the basic tool for the study of the cursive script of these documents. It is a superb enterprise, containing hand-copies of the documents, charts of letters and detailed studies of their development. So far, no one has challenged this huge tour de force.
In between she published a Hebrew edition of The ‘Naḥal Seʾelim’ Documents (Beer Sheva — Jerusalem, 1995), which later was included in English in Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek Documentary Texts from Naḥal Ḥever and Other Sites (The Seiyal Collection II) (DJD XXVII, Oxford, 1997), co-authored by Prof. Hannah M. Cotton. These were followed by The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters II (Jerusalem, 2001), co-authored by Prof. Baruch A. Levine. To her contribution to the study of the palaeography of the Dead Sea documents, one should add her popular and most helpful 40-page guide Understanding the Alphabet of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Jerusalem, 2014).
Following Ada’s earlier collaboration with Prof. Porten, they collaborated in studying the Aramaic Idumaean ostraca and publishing two volumes of the Textbook of Aramaic Ostraca from Idumea (Winona Lake, 2014–2016). From the same hoard of ostraca, Ada published The Jeselsohn Collection of Aramaic Ostraca from Idumea (Jerusalem, 2016). More volumes were in preparation, but were cut short when her life was prematurely curtailed.
Ada was in charge of the reading and interpretation of inscriptions written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Idumaean in the Corpus Inscriptionum Iudaeae Palaestinae (a multilingual corpus of inscriptions from Alexander to Muhammad), four volumes of which have so far appeared in print. In her work on the Jewish inscriptions written in Hebrew and Aramaic, she often collaborated with Prof. Jonathan Price. Here, too, she was in the middle of her work on the Corpus when she left us.
Among her 60 papers, I draw attention to a few outstanding ones. In her ‘Remarks on the Priestly Blessing on Two Amulets from Jerusalem’ (VT 41 :176–185), she succeeded in deciphering the tiny scratches on the silver scrolls as a coherent text and to improve its reading of this earliest quotation of a biblical text. In ‘Maritime Trade and Royal Accountancy in an Erased Customs Account from 475 B.C.E. on the Aḥiqar Scroll from Elephantine’ (BASOR 293 : 67–78), Ada succeeded in reading the arrangement and order of the daily customs ledger and accordingly, managed to restore the sequence of the text of the Aramaic Aḥiqar scroll. Ada deciphered the ‘Vision of Gabriel’, an enigmatic prophetic text of the Herodian period, written like a two-columned scroll on stone. This study, in which she collaborated with B. Elizur, was published in Hebrew as ‘A Prophetic Hebrew Text on a Stone from the 1st century BCE; Preliminary Report’ (Cathedra 123 : 155–166); and in English as ‘A Hebrew Prophetic Text on a Stone from the Early Herodian Period; Preliminary Report’, in Henze, M. (ed.), Hazon Gabriel (SBL — Early Judaism and Its Literature 29; Leiden, 2011: 11–29).
Ada did not confine herself to the study of ancient scripts. As a long-time researcher of medieval Hebrew scripts at the Institute for Hebrew Palaeography, in Jerusalem (from 1979–1991) and given her expertise in graphic design, she published The Book of Hebrew Script in Hebrew (Jerusalem, 1991) and English (Jerusalem, 1997), covering the long history of the Hebrew script from its forerunners in the Proto-Canaanite inscriptions to modern Hebrew styles and fonts. Ada also turned her skills towards popularization of the study of the alphabet, composing הרפתקאות) Harpatkaʾot; Jerusalem, 1982, in Hebrew) and its English version: A-dventure-Z: The Story of the Alphabet (Jerusalem, 2004). These colourful and humoristic books are, as their names hint, both educational and funny.
Ada’s ‘swan song’ is The Hebrew National Script up to the Babylonian Exile, which she did not see to completion. She worked on her last contribution, until her pain overcame her and she was unable to continue on her own. Ada’s passing signals the end of an era in Hebrew and West-Semitic palaeography in Israel and worldwide. Another book written by Ada Yardeni and Bezalel Porten in Hebrew, currently in press, is a selection from the Elephantine Papyri, pertaining to Jews in Egypt in the Persian period, which is scheduled to appear within months.
Although offered, Ada never held an academic position. She was content with working on documents, and she loved the artistic touch that she brought to her chosen fields. Ada was not a typical teacher, and she was not fond of standing on the podium. She did, however, stand behind her scientific decisions. We all respected her vast knowledge of epigraphy and palaeography and her ability to master the relevant ancient languages, with special emphasis on Aramaic.
Ada’s life did not take an easy path. Born in 1937, she was orphaned from her father at the age of 17 and widowed at the age of 29, left with two little girls, aged 4.5 and 3.5 years. She overcame the hardships of life and became a respected scholar. Ada is survived by her two daughters, Dafna and Hagit, and three grandchildren.
The legacy of Dr. Ada Yardeni will accompany us for many years to come.
Written by Shmuel Aḥituv