Oldest Hebrew Mention of Jerusalem Found on Rare Papyrus from 7th Century BCE

Reference to consignment of wineskins “to Jerusalem” appears on 2,700-year-old First Temple-era scrap believed plundered from Judean Desert cave

By Ilan Ben Zion

A First Temple-era 2,700-year-old papyrus bearing the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew.

A rare, ancient papyrus dating to the First Temple Period–2,700 years ago–has been found to bear the oldest known mention of Jerusalem in Hebrew.

The fragile text, believed plundered from a cave in the Judean Desert cave, was apparently acquired by the Israel Antiquities Authority during a sting in 2012 when thieves attempted to sell it to a dealer. Radiocarbon dating has determined it is from the 7th century BCE, making it one of just three extant Hebrew papyri from that period, and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by centuries.

The IAA’s Eitan Klein said the dating of the papyrus had been confirmed by comparing the text’s orthography with other texts from the period.

The slip of papyrus, which was formally unveiled by the Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday, measures 11 centimeters by 2.5 centimeters (4.3 inches by 1 inch). Its two lines of jagged black paleo-Hebrew script appear to have been a dispatch note recording the delivery of two wineskins “to Jerusalem,” the Judean Kingdom’s capital city. The full text of the inscription reads: “From the female servant of the king, from Naharata (place near Jericho) two wineskins to Jerusalem.”

The fact that the note was written on papyrus, rather than cheaper clay ostraca, suggests the consignment of wineskins may have been sent to a person of high status.

Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem with IAA officials on Wednesday, Israel Prize-winning biblical scholar Shmuel Ahituv said the mention of a “female servant of the king” sending the wineskins to “Yerushalem” indicated that it was sent by a prominent woman to the capital.

Ahituv also said it was significant that the text features the “Yerushalem” spelling of the city’s name that is more commonly found in the Bible. There are only four instances in the bible, he noted, of Jerusalem being spelled “Yerushalayim,” with an additional letter Yod, the way it is pronounced in modern Hebrew.

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