Scholars disagree as to whether Yedaniah, the leader of the Judean community of Elephantine at the end of the fifth century BCE, was a priest or layperson. This article argues that the letter from the Judean garrison of Elephantine to Bagavahya (TAD A4.7, 8) is the key to answering this question. The first draft of the letter (A4.7) makes a distinction between Yedaniah and the priests, indicating that Yedaniah was a layperson. Nevertheless, the second draft explicitly identifies him as a priest according to the reconstruction of the first line (A4.8:1) by Bezalel Porten and Ada Yardeni. Although the fragmentary nature of the second draft poses problems, this reconstruction remains the most likely original reading. Yedaniah’s inclusion in the priesthood in the first line of the second draft parallels other instances in the second draft that erase the distinction between Yedaniah and the priesthood. In order to understand why Yedaniah portrays himself as a priest in the second draft even though he was in fact a layperson, one must attend to the rhetorical situation of the letter. The letter in both drafts contains sophisticated rhetorical techniques, with the second draft further enhancing the persuasive power. As part of the rhetorical strategy of the letter, both drafts implicitly draw parallels between the Elephantine Judean community and that of Jerusalem. Yedaniah’s identification as a priest in the second draft bolsters these comparisons by rhetorically presenting Yedaniah as the counterpart of Yehohanan, the high priest of Jerusalem.

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