Papyrus With Oldest-Known Hebrew Reference to Jerusalem Proves City Jewish 1,300 Years Before Birth of Islam

October 27, 2016

4 min read

A 2,700-year-old papyrus that is the oldest known non-Biblical Hebrew reference to Jerusalem has been found, announced the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) on Wednesday. The papyrus, originally stolen by antiquities thieves, was put on display in Jerusalem on Wednesday, coinciding with the second UNESCO resolution attempting to deny Judaism’s connection to its most holy city – a connection this ancient artifact so graphically proves.

The two lines of writing on the tiny scrap of papyrus (4.3 inches by 1 inch) are surprisingly clear: “From the king’s maidservant, from Naharta, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”

The scroll was originally plundered from a cave in Nahal Hever in the Judean Desert near the Dead Sea by antiquities thieves. Professor Shmuel Ahituv of Ben-Gurion University studied the papyrus when it was first recovered. He spoke at the IAA press conference, noting that on the papyrus, the name of the city was spelled with a letter ‘yud’, as it is in modern Hebrew. Pronounced ‘Yerushalayim’, Ahituv noted that it is spelled this way only four times in the entire Bible.

Ahituv also noted that papyrus, made from the pith of the papyrus plant, was more expensive than the more common clay. The text specified a “female servant of the king” sending the wineskins to “Yerushalem”, suggesting the shipment was sent by a prominent woman to a person of high status in the capital.

The rare document from the time of the First Temple. (Shai Halevi, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)
The rare document from the time of the First Temple. (Shai Halevi, courtesy Israel Antiquities Authority)

Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, emphasized in an interview with the Jerusalem Post that the papyrus indicates the importance of Jerusalem to ancient Israel.

“It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the 7th century BCE,” he said.

IAA director Israel Hasson explained to the Jerusalem Post that ‘Naharta’ mentioned in the text is located on the border between the traditional lands of Ephraim and Benjamin.

And it went down from Janoah to Ataroth, and to Naarah, and reached unto Yericho, and went out at the Jordan. Joshua 16:7

Radiocarbon dating determined the papyrus was from the seventh century BCE, at the time of the First Temple, making it only one of three Hebrew papyri from that period and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by hundreds of years. Orthography (the study of letters and language) confirmed this date. The especially arid environment preserved the papyrus remarkably well.

The recovered document emphatically disproves the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, a precondition that has been a stumbling block preventing negotiations with Israel. This battle-cry has been taken up by UNESCO in two resolutions initiated by the Arab nations granting Islam a religious monopoly on the Temple Mount. This Hebrew papyrus proves that Jerusalem was the Jewish capital 1,300 years before Mohammed, the father of Islam, was born.

The papyrus even carries another clear indication that Jerusalem was originally a Jewish, and not Muslim, city: its subject is wine, a flourishing industry in ancient Israel and an essential part of the Temple service – and a substance expressly forbidden in Islam. Muslims would be hard-pressed to explain their part in this wine deal.

PM Netanyahu holds a close-up view of the papyrus at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya. (GPO/Kobi Gideon)
PM Netanyahu holds a close-up view of the papyrus at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya. (GPO/Kobi Gideon)

Speaking at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made use of the papyrus when discussing UNESCO’s “distorted, scandalous” decision.

“This was a document, a shipping invoice, that was sent over 2,700 years ago from Na’arat, near Jerusalem, and it says in ancient Hebrew, and this is the critical word, but you can see it in Hebrew, ‘[me-a]mat ha-melekh me-Na’aratah nevelim yi’in Yerushalima’. ‘From the king’s maidservant, from Na’arat, jars of wine, to Jerusalem’,” Netanyahu translated.

“Here is a letter from the past to UNESCO. It is written ‘Yerushalima.’ It explains, in Hebrew, our connection to Jerusalem and the centrality of Jerusalem. A servant of the king, certainly a king of Judah. It is from over 2,700 years ago – Jerusalem. Not in Arabic, not in Aramaic, not in Greek or Latin – in Hebrew.”

In her remarks at the IAA press conference announcing the recovery of the papyrus, Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) echoed the prime minister and spoke to the future. “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,” said Regev.

“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 10 times.”

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