The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday revealed the earliest known extra-biblical reference to Jerusalem in Hebrew writing on a papyrus document confiscated from thieves four years ago by Israeli authorities.
The 2,800-year-old papyrus was found following an international enforcement operation by the IAA against antiquities robbers operating in the Judean Desert. Where the robbers found the papyrus cannot be sure, but it seems to have been found in a cave by the Hever Stream in the desert.
The papyrus is rare not only for the ancient Hebrew writing and the name of Jerusalem, but for existing at all. The arid desert certainly has conditions appropriate to preserve organic material over centuries, but ancient documentation that survived thousands of years remains rare. Only two other papyruses dated to the First Temple era have been found, one of which had been erased.
The papyrus was revealed at the IAA’s Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region conference on Wednesday.
Archaeologists are usually wary of publicizing finds not made through formal excavation due to the uncertainty of their origin. In this case, the researchers are confident that the find is authentic.
Carbon-14 analysis shows that the papyrus is between 2,500 and 2,800 years old. The Hebrew lettering is typical of the seventh century B.C.E. (699 B.C.E. – 600 B.C.E.) Though the writing itself could have been forged, the archaeologists believe it too is authentic.
Two lines of ancient Hebrew script were preserved on the papyrus, the IAA says.
Most of the letters are clearly legible, say Prof. Shmuel Ahituv of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and Amir Ganor of the IAA, who believe the text says:
“From the king’s maidservant, from Naʽarat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”
In other words, says the IAA, the papyrus is an original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, describing the shipment of jars of wine from storehouses in Na’arat to Jerusalem.
Naʽarat would likely be the Naʽarat mentioned 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.” However, 1 Chronicles 4:5, 6 also indicates it could be a woman’s name.
Ahituv notes that the papyrus isn’t just the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing – “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 B.C.E.”
Ahituv adds that the document reinforces the theory that the city’s original name was “Yerushalem,” not “Yerushalayim.”
“The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah,” stated Klein. “It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century B.C.E. 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.”
Actually, according to biblical chronology, (see my earlier column About Time, part two: Bible history versus secular history) the kings of Judah in the last half of the seventh century were:
- Josiah 659-629 B.C.E.
- Jehoahaz 628
- Jehoiakim 628-618
- Jehoiachin 617
- Zedekiah 616-607 B.C.E.
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