Biblical archeology has been an area of increased interest of late, with yet another discovery emerging this week that’s sure to excite and intrigue scripture enthusiasts.
As it turns out, a papyrus that dates back to the seventh century B.C. is being heralded as the oldest extra-biblical source written in Hebrew to make a reference to Jerusalem — something Arutz Sheva, among others, is dubbing a “rare and important find.”
“The document represents extremely rare evidence of the existence of an organized administration in the Kingdom of Judah,” Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, said in a statement. “It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century BCE.”
The Israel Antiquities Authority — Israel’s agency that manages the handling of antiquities — made the announcement public on Wednesday, noting that the papyrus was rescued from robbers who stole it from a cave in the Judean Desert.
It’s the contents of the document that are really grabbing some attention, though.
“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]),” reads a statement from the IAA. “Most of the letters are clearly legible.”
When translated to Hebrew, experts said that the text reads, “From the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.” It is believed that the document is an original shipping record that includes information about taxes or perhaps even the movement of good to storehouses in Jerusalem.
“According to the Bible, the kings Menashe, 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,” Klein said of the find.
But according biblical scholar Shmuel Ahituv, the document is also important for a variety of other reasons.
“It’s not just that this papyrus is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing,” Ahituv said. “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 Murabba’at.”
Plus, the text also points to a woman in the administration of the kingdom of Judah — something that was unusual at the time.
“It’s the only time — or the first time — that we encounter the name of Jerusalem on a papyrus, and the papyrus was probably written by a woman, ” Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Dead Sea Scrolls project, said in a video announcing the find.
Read more about the papyrus here.