The Israel Antiquities Authority has issued a press release with an accompanying video (below) describing a rare papyrus dating to the time of Judah’s monarchy and mentioning the name of Jerusalem. The two-line document measures 4 inches long and 1 inch tall and describes jars of wine shipped to Jerusalem. It was written by a high-ranking female official in the time of Kings Manasseh or Josiah. The papyrus was discovered by antiquities thieves working in a cave in the Judean wilderness.
“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-Na?artah. nevelim. yi’in. Yerushalima. From the king’s maidservant, from Na?arat, 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 (Na’arat), the contents of the vessels (wine), their number or amount (jars) and their destination (Jerusalem). Na’artah, which is mentioned in the text, is the same Na’arat 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 Na’arat, 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 [Manasseh], 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 Murabbaat. 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.’”
The full press release includes more quotes from senior officials.
One assumes that the cave where this papyrus was discovered was thoroughly searched, but no additional fragments were found. Even so, it surely increases hope that more such ancient documents are preserved. Hopefully the IAA will get ahead of the thieves by conducting more excavations. With a tantalizing discovery like this one, I suspect that the public might be willing to support it financially.
I’m trying to think of other papyrus fragments from the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC and earlier, and none are coming to mind. The press release does not mention any. If this is unique in that regard, this discovery is all the more remarkable.
Word is out about a ancient papyrus to be presented next week by Shmuel Ahituv. The Hebrew papyrus includes the word “to Jerusalem,” and dates to about the time of King Hezekiah. It was discovered recently in the Judean wilderness and purchased from an antiquities dealer. For information about the conference, see Aren Maeir’s post and his mention of this “VERY
HT: Joseph Lauer
UPDATE (10/22): The now-deleted reference to the number of lines on the papyrus was based on the mistaken assumption that the article’s photo showed the newly discovered papyrus.
Lawson Younger is a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and I have had the pleasure of taking several of his classes during my sojourn in Illinois. I am not sure when he began work on this volume. I do recall attending a seminar that he first offered in the fall of 2006 entitled “Arameans and the Bible.” Since then, Younger has published a handful of book chapters and articles dealing with the Arameans and he has given several lectures on the subject. Now, 10 years later, that initial course has morphed into a two-inch-thick book.
This is a technical work packed with data and analysis—it is not fluff reading. Bible students will find much of interest in its pages, for Younger treats all biblical references to Aram/Arameans, beginning with the Patriarchs through the divided monarchy. But he does much more than that, covering Aramean kingdoms and entities that receive no biblical mention but that are attested in the textual and/or archaeological record of the Near East. It is quite an impressive accomplishment. Due to the nature of the sources, a good portion of the book is told from the perspective of the Assyrians as they campaigned to the West. There are over 100 maps, illustrations, and tables sprinkled throughout the chapters (we are quite fond of the maps). You should find that this volume will satisfy all of your Aramean-history needs, and at 857 pages, it should satisfy them for some time.
From the back cover:
This volume presents a political history of the Arameans from their earliest origins at the end of the Bronze Age to the demise of their independent polities. Employing the most recent understanding of tribal political structures, aspects of mobile pastoralism, and models of migration, K. Lawson Younger Jr. takes a regional approach to explain the rise of the Aramean political institutions. He thoroughly explores the complex relationships and interactions of the Arameans with the Luwians, the Assyrians, and the Israelites. By drawing on all available sources—sociological, textual, and archaeological—Younger is able to develop a comprehensive picture of this complex and important people whose influence and presence spanned the Fertile Crescent during the Iron Age.
1. Preliminary Issues
a. Geographic Issues
b. Chronological Issues
c. Linguistic Issues: Luwian, Phoenician, Akkadian, Aramaic
2. The Origins of the Arameans
a. The Word “Aram” in the Earliest Sources
b. The Question of Qir/Kir
c. Socially Constructed Groups
e. Links with the Aḫlamû and Sutû
f. Aram in the Biblical Texts
3. The Rise of the Aramean Polities in Iron I
a. The Hittite Sphere
b. The Assyrian Sphere
c. The Levantine Sphere
4. The Aramean Polities of the Jezirah
a. The Early Renewal of Conflict between Arameans and Assyrians (934-884 BC)
d. Azallu, Bīt-Yaḫiri
e. The Laqē Confederation
g. Aramean Tribal Entities of the Jezirah
7. Hamath and Luǵath
10. Arameans in Southern Mesopotamia
a. Aramean Tribal Entities of the Jezirah
b. Aramean Tribes of Southern Mesopotamia
Side note: For a treatment of the Aramean oppression of Israel from the Israelite perspective, I recommend this work.