The archive of the Judean woman Babatha, with its 35 legal papyri in Aramaic and Greek (P.
Yadin 1–35), which was hidden by her in a cave on the western side of the Dead Sea in 135 CE
and rediscovered in 1961, offers unique insights into the social world of the region from 94–132
CE. This is because legal documents reflect significant opportunities and challenges in people’s
lives and frequently bring to the surface underlying social issues and pressures. Babatha’s
documents, which reflect lively interactions between Judeans, Nabateans and Romans across
a wide range of situations, do precisely this. They allow us better to understand the context in
which New Testament texts appeared and how they made sense to their original audiences.
Matthew’s Gospel, with its strong interest in Judean/non-Judean relationships, is particularly
susceptible to such treatment. In this article, P. Yadin 11, a remarkable document in Greek
from 124 CE recording a loan of 60 denarii from a Roman centurion stationed at En-gedi to
Babatha’s second husband, is analysed for what it reveals about likely understandings of
centurions in that setting. The findings of this investigation are then applied to Matthew 8:5–13
in the interests of a socially realistic interpretation.