Oldest mention of Jerusalem in 2700-year-old papyrus 

Amid UNESCO rulings in recent weeks that attempt to erase Jewish ties to Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority revealed the discovery of a very rare, ancient papyrus bearing the oldest known mention of Jerusalem – in Hebrew.

The IAA, in collaboration with Israel Prize-winning Biblical scholar Shmuel Ahituv, made the announcement earlier this week. Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem they said that the papyrus, with paleo-Hebrew writing on the extremely fragile artifact, dates back almost 3000 years to the time of the First Temple.

Eitan Klein of the IAA said that comparing the text’s orthography (spelling system) with other texts from the same period confirmed the dating of the papyrus. Radiocarbon dating results place this relic’s origin as being inscribed anywhere from between 700 to 600 years before the birth of Messiah. Only two other Hebrew papyri date to that time.

Other examples from this period, including stone and pottery shards etched with ancient Hebrew texts, firmly place all of these relics in the same time frame.

In 2012, in a sting operation, the IAA intercepted an exchange of plundered artifacts between antiquity thieves and a dealer. The fragile papyrus, evidently found in a cave in the Judean Desert, was one of the items salvaged. It measures 11 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters. (4.3 inches by 1 inch).

The head of the IAA’s antiquity theft prevention division, Amir Ganor, explained that the arid, cool location near the Dead Sea where the papyrus was found preserved it. The location of the cave in Nahal Hever has a very similar climate to Qumran where the Dead Sea scrolls were also preserved over the centuries.

The complete script on the papyrus reads: “From the female servant of the king, from Naharata two wineskins to Jerusalem.” This is the same Naharata in the Jericho Valley mentioned in Joshua 16:7.

After extensive examination, experts including Shmuel Ahituv say that the two lines of jagged black text were originally a dispatch note recording the delivery of two wineskins “to Jerusalem,” which was the capital city of the Kingdom of Judea.

The fact that the note was written on papyrus could mean that the shipment of wineskins was intended for a person of high status. For most customers the business transaction would have been recorded on a more economical ostraca (Greek for clay writing surface, even a potsherd).

Ahituv also deduced that the mention of a “female servant of the king” sending the wineskins to “Yerushalem” indicates that it was sent to Jerusalem by a prominent woman and that the administration was very progressive.

The spelling “Yerushalem” is a portmanteau of yerusha meaning inheritance and shalem meaning wholeness. It is from this word that we get shalom meaning peace. And it is the more commonly found spelling in the Bible. Ahituv explained that in only four occasions in the Bible is Jerusalem spelled and pronounced the way it is now in modern Hebrew – Yerushalayim – a plural word alluding to the fact that Jerusalem is practically two cities.

In recent years, news sites have reported an increase in capturing treasure hunters and traders during raids in the Judean Desert. The IAA has intensified its crack down on thieves who plunder and raid Israel’s archaeological heritage.

Since the raid of 2012, 14 members of the gang of Hebron-based looters were arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Authorities have increased restrictions on further pillaging in the limestone caves located in the cliffs near the Dead Sea.

Looters and archaeologists are in a seemingly constant race to make a significant find first. While desert pirates seek to profit from illegal sales, scientists hope their excavations will yield more hidden treasures such as the Yerushalem papyrus that confirms the accuracy of the Bible.