On the same day UNESCO approved a resolution ignoring Jewish ties to the Temple Mount, the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday displayed an unprecedented document containing a reference to Jerusalem from the First Temple period.
Written in ancient Hebrew script, and dating back to the Kingdom of Judah during the 7th century BCE, the relic made of papyrus is the earliest extra-biblical source to mention Jerusalem in Hebrew writing.
Plundered from a Judean Desert cave by a band of antiquities robbers, the document was seized in a complex operation by the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery.
According to IAA director Israel Hasson, two lines of ancient Hebrew were preserved on the document made from the pith of the papyrus plant.
“A paleographic examination of the letters and a C14 [radiocarbon] analysis determined that the artifact should be dated to the 7th century BCE, to the end of the First Temple period,” said Hasson.
“Most of the letters are clearly legible, and the proposed reading of the text appears as follows: “From the king’s maidservant, from Naharata, jars of wine, to Jerusalem.”
It was subsequently determined that the antiquity is an original shipping document from the time of the First Temple, indicating the payment of taxes or transfer of goods to storehouses in Jerusalem, Hasson said.
“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 [Naharata]; the contents of the vessels [wine]; their number or amount [jars] and their destination [Jerusalem],” said Hasson.
“Naharata, which is mentioned in the text, is the same Naharata 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 Naharata, and came to Jericho, and went out at Jordan,’” he added.
Dr. Eitan Klein, deputy director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, said 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 7th century BCE,” he said.
“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.”
Amir Ganor, director of the IAA’s Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, noted that while organic material, particularly delicate paper like papyrus, decomposes over time due to its sensitivity to moisture, the desert’s dry climate helped preserve the ancient document.
“The climate of the desert is exceptional in that it facilitates the preservation of documents that provide invaluable information regarding the way of life in antiquity and the early development of religions,” said Ganor.
Hasson added that the discovery of the papyrus shows “that there are other artifacts of tremendous importance to our heritage that are waiting to be found in the Judean Desert caves.”
Still, he warned that thieves selling such findings on the black market are extricating them at an alarming rate.
“The world’s heritage assets are being plundered on a daily basis by antiquities robbers solely for greed,” cautioned Hasson.
“The state has to mobilize and allocate the necessary resources in order to embark upon a historic operation together with the public, and carry out systematic excavations in all of the Judean Desert caves.”
Denouncing UNESCO’s vote, Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev said the relic further proves the historic connection between Jews and Jerusalem.
“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.”
Regev continued: “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.”
Preliminary results of the research findings will be presented on Thursday at the Innovations in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region Conference, which will be held on the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The event is open to the public.