Jerusalem's Most Ancient Letter

Archaeologists reveal the most ancient written document ever found in Jerusalem: a letter written in the 14th century BCE.

Maayana Miskin , | updated: 10:07 AM

The fragment
The fragment
Israel news photo: Hebrew University

Archaeologists working in Jerusalem have uncovered the most ancient written document ever found in the city – a fragment of a letter thought to date back to the 14th century BCE. The letter was engraved in clay using the Akkadian text, used at the time as a "bridge language" between kingdoms and others.

Researchers said the fragment shows that Jerusalem was an important city in the late Bronze age, even before it became the capital of the Jewish state and the city in which the Holy Temple was built.

The fragment was found in an excavation between the southern wall of the Old City and the City of David. The previous most ancient writing found in Jerusalem was discovered nearby, in the Shiloach stream in the City of David, and dates back to the eighth century BCE.

The fragment is small, measuring 2.0 by 2.8 centimeters. Some words or symbols can be clearly seen, including those meaning “you were,” “to do,” “them,” and “later.” The quality of the writing shows that the letter was the work of an expert scribe, which is another sign that Jerusalem was an important city at that time, said Professor Wayne Horowitz of Hebrew University, who translated the script along with a former graduate student, Dr. Takayoshi Oshima.

Horowitz, an expert in Assyriology, believes the fragment was part of a letter from the king of Jerusalem to the contemporary pharaoh in Egypt.

Archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar said the fragment was “one of the most important finds” discovered in the Jerusalem dig, in that it attests to the city's importance and centrality even at that early date. She expressed the hope that other such artifacts will be found in the same area.