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 from 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 conference of the 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 – the end of the First Temple period. Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows:
“From the king’s maidservant, from Naʽarat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”
“And it went down from Janohah to Ataroth, and to Naʽarat, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan.”
Israel Prize laureate and biblical scholar Prof. (Emeritus) Shmuel Ahituv also attested 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 (Likud): “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.”