Rare 7th century B.C. Hebrew papyrus with name of Jerusalem revealed

We have been awaiting the unveiling of this document for several days. A leaked account made it to the papers a couple of days ago, but I decided to wait until we had official word from the Israel Antiquities Authority. Today we have this information.

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In a complex enforcement operation, inspectors of the Israel Antiquities Authority seized a papyrus that includes the earliest reference to Jerusalem in an extra-biblical document, which is written in ancient Hebrew script and dates to the time of the Kingdom of Judah.

The find was revealed this morning (Wednesday) in a press [release] of the Israel Antiquities Authority

A rare and important find was exposed in an enforcement operation initiated by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery: a document written on papyrus and dating to the time of the First Temple (seventh century BCE) in which the name of the city of Jerusalem is clearly indicated. This is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.

The document, which was illicitly plundered from one of the Judean Desert caves by a band of antiquities robbers and was seized in a complex operation by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, was presented today (Wednesday) in a press [release] of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Rare 7th century B.C. Hebrew papyrus document bearing the name of Jerusalem. Photo Shai Halevi, IAA.

Rare 7th century B.C. Hebrew papyrus document bearing the name of Jerusalem. Photo Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority.

Two lines of ancient Hebrew script were preserved on the document that is made of papyrus (paper produced from the pith of the papyrus plant [Cyperus papyrus]). A paleographic examination of the letters and a C14 analysis determined that the artifact should be dated to the seventh century BCE – to the end of the First Temple period. Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:

[מא]מת. המלך. מנערתה. נבלים. יין. ירשלמה.

[me-a]mat. ha-melekh. me-Naʽartah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima.

From the king’s maidservant, from Naʽarat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem

This is a rare and original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, indicating the payment of taxes or transfer of goods to storehouses in Jerusalem, the capital city of the kingdom at this time. The document specifies the status of the sender of the shipment (the king’s maidservant), the name of the settlement from which the shipment was dispatched (Naʽarat), the contents of the vessels (wine), their number or amount (jars) and their destination (Jerusalem). Naʽartah, which is mentioned in the text, is the same Naʽarat that is referred to in the description of the border between Ephraim and Benjamin in Joshua 16:7: “And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Naʽarat, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan”.

Hebrew papyrus document from 7th century B.C. preserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photo by Shai Halevi.

Hebrew papyrus document from 7th century B.C. preserved by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Photo by Shai Halevi.

According to Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, “The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah. It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century BCE. According to the Bible, the kings Menashe, Amon, or Josiah ruled in Jerusalem at this time; however, it is not possible to know for certain which of the kings of Jerusalem was the recipient of the shipment of wine”.

Israel Prize laureate and biblical scholar Prof. (Emeritus) Shmuel Ahituv attests to the scientific importance of the document, “It’s not just that this papyrus is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing; it is the fact that to date no other documents written on papyrus dating to the First Temple period have been discovered in Israel, except one from Wadi Murabbaʽat.  Also outstanding in the document is the unusual status of a woman in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah in the seventh century BCE”.

According to Israel Hasson, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The discovery of the papyrus shows that there are other artifacts of tremendous importance to our heritage that are waiting to be found in the Judean Desert caves. The world’s heritage assets are being plundered on a daily basis by antiquities robbers solely for greed. The state has to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to embark upon a historic operation together with the public, and carry out systematic excavations in all of the Judean Desert caves.”

According to the Minister of Culture and Sport, MK Miri Regev, “The discovery of the papyrus on which the name of our capital Jerusalem is written is further tangible evidence that Jerusalem was and will remain the eternal capital of the Jewish people. It is our duty to take care of the plundering of antiquities that occurs in the Judean Desert, and no less important than this is exposing the deceit of false propaganda as is once again happening today in UNESCO. The Temple Mount, the very heart of Jerusalem and Israel, will remain the holiest place for the Jewish people, even if UNESCO ratifies the false and unfortunate decision another ten times”.

Amir Ganor, director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery explained “Organic material, such as documents, particularly delicate paper like papyrus, perish over time due to their sensitivity to moisture. The dry climate of the desert is exceptional in that it facilitates the preservation of documents that provide invaluable information regarding the way of life in antiquity and the early development of religions. The rarity of the finds and their importance are the reasons why the antiquities robbers risk their lives coming to dig in the caves in the desert cliffs. I am glad that we were fortunate to have a role in saving the papyrus, which is an important and special find that bears witness to the historical relationship between the Land of Israel and Jerusalem, and the Jewish people”.

According to Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Dead Sea Scrolls project at the Israel Antiquities Authority, “This unique papyrus joins the thousands of scroll fragments for which the Israel Antiquities Authority established dedicated conservation and photographic laboratories where the scrolls are treated using highly sophisticated means and the most advanced documentation and photographic technology available today. With a state-of-the-art camera that was developed based on technology used by NASA which records the Dead Sea Scrolls at a level that replicates the original, it is even possible to see the texture of the plant, skin or parchment on which the ancient documents were written”.

Preliminary results of the research findings will be presented tomorrow (Thursday) at the conference “Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region”, which will be held on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and be open to the public.

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Ten high resolution photos may be downloaded here. The 2:21 movie in English is available from the same source or on You Tube. [Note: The movie shows up on my preview, but not when I publish the blog. Sorry about that.]

Jim Davila, at PaleoJudaica.com raises the important question, “Is it genuine? Could it be a forgery?”

Is it genuine? Could it be a forgery? On general principles I would be tempted to file an unprovenanced 7th-8th century BCE Hebrew papyrus that happens to mention Jerusalem under “likely too good to be true.” But apparently it was seized by the IAA rather than, as originally reported, being bought from an antiquities dealer. (Or at least, it is not yet clear how the two reports fit together.) And the radiocarbon dating of the papyrus is important. It is not entirely impossible that a forger would be able to get hold of a blank papyrus fragment dating to the 7th-8th century BCE, but it seems very unlikely. And even then, how would the forger be sure enough of the date to make the script of the Hebrew match so well? So I think it is very probable that the papyrus and the inscription on it are genuine and that we should proceed with that as our preliminary conclusion, as the IAA is doing. Sometimes we are just lucky.

And there is more, here.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

3 responses to “Rare 7th century B.C. Hebrew papyrus with name of Jerusalem revealed

  1. Hi Ferrell. Perhaps a timely topic here is a 7thC muslim coin which acknowledges the existence of the Temple. Perhaps you will enjoy this: http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com.br/2016/11/the-muslim-coin-that-proves-muslims.html

  2. The first article I read this morning was the Jerusalem Post article by Daniel K. Eisenbud. The title says, “IAA refutes authenticity accusations of ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus inscription.” Here is a little hint at what you will find.

    The Israel Antiquities Authority on Sunday denied accusations by two prominent archeologists questioning the authenticity of last week’s unveiled 7th-century BCE papyrus document, purportedly inscribed with the earliest known reference to Jerusalem outside of the Bible.

    Bar-Ilan University Prof. Aren Maeir and George Washington University Prof. Christopher Rollston called into question the legitimacy of the relic two days after it was revealed by the authority and Hebrew University at a Jerusalem press conference.

    A 2:21 minute video is included in the article.

    Read the entire article here.

  3. A conference, including sessions dealing with this Hebrew papyrus document, was held Thursday at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. One of the respondents was Prof. Aren Maeir. He raised some questions about the authenticity of the document. Some of the points he made are included in an article by Nir Hasson in Haaretz. Another 15 points are included in a post by Maeir on his Tel Es-Safi/Gath blog: https://gath.wordpress.com/2016/10/28/my-take-on-the-jerusalem-papyrus/
    This may be another of those, “We will never know for certain” matters.

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