From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Elephantine Papyri are a collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts dating from the 5th century BC. They come from a Jewish community at Elephantine, then called Yeb, the island in the Nile at the border of Nubia, which was probably founded as a military installation in about 650 BC during Manasseh's reign to assist Pharaoh Psammetichus I in his Nubian campaign. The dry soil of Upper Egypt preserved documents from the Egyptian border fortresses of Elephantine and Syene (Aswan). Hundreds of these Elephantine papyri, written in hieratic and Demotic Egyptian, Aramaic, Greek, Latin and Coptic, span a period of 1000 years. Legal documents and a cache of letters survived, turned up on the local 'gray market' of antiquities starting in the late 19th century, and were scattered into several Western collections.
Though some fragments on papyrus are much older, the largest number of papyri are written in Aramaic, the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, and document the Jewish community among soldiers stationed at Elephantine under Persian rule, 495-399 BCE. The Elephantine documents include letters and legal contracts from family and other archives: divorce documents, the manumission of slaves, and other business, and are a valuable source of knowledge about law, society, religion, language and onomastics, the sometimes surprisingly revealing study of names.