Earliest known mention of Jerusalem outside Bible

The Israeli Antiquities Authority revealed today a papyrus document that contains the earliest known extra-biblical reference to Jerusalem.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Papyrus from First Temple period
Papyrus from First Temple period
Hezki Baruch

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:

“[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 delineation 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.”

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 during 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 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.”



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