Papyrus Discovered from Time of Judah’s Kings

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.

From the press release:

“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.

The reports in the Times of Israel and the Jerusalem Post include various photos.

UPDATE: Christopher Rollston believes the papyrus may be ancient but the writing a modern forgery. Joseph Lauer has alerted us to high-res photos available here.


One thought on “Papyrus Discovered from Time of Judah’s Kings

  1. In addition to the poor scholarship expressed by the IAA press release ("extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah" NOT), it would be really bizarre for an ordinary receipt destined for Jerusalem to be found in a "Judean Desert cave". I side with Dr. Rollston on this one.

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