Bayis Rishon Papyrus Scroll Found With Earliest Hebrew Mention of Yerushalayim

Israel Antiquities Authority The rare parchment with the word "Yerushalem."
The rare parchment with the word “Yerushalem.” (Israel Antiquities Authority)

A rare, ancient papyrus dating to the Bayis Rishon period — 2,700 years ago — has been found to bear the oldest known mention of Yerushalayim in Hebrew.

The fragile text, believed plundered from a cave in the Judean Desert, was apparently acquired by a private individual several years ago. Radiocarbon dating has determined it is from the 7th century B.C.E., making it one of just three extant Hebrew papyri from that period, and predating the Dead Sea Scrolls by centuries.

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

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.

Addressing a press conference in Yerushalayim with IAA officials on Wednesday, Israel Prize-winning Biblical scholar Shmuel Achituv 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.

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

Achituv studied the papyrus after its acquisition by an individual who has requested anonymity.

Amir Ganor, head of the IAA’s antiquity theft prevention division, said the papyrus was determined to have come from a cave in Nachal Chever in the Yehudah Desert. The arid, cool location near the Dead Sea enabled the fragment’s preservation over the millennia.

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 papyrus was presented at a news conference shortly after Paris-based UNESCO adopted a resolution that denied Judaism’s link to the city.

For Israel, the papyrus is a rebuttal to UNESCO, which is regarded by many Israelis as hostile. Arab members of UNESCO and their supporters frequently condemn Israel.

Two weeks ago, Israel lashed out at UNESCO for renewing a similar resolution that condemned it for restrictions on Muslim access to the site, in a part of Jerusalem captured by Israeli forces in a 1967 war.

“The discovery of the papyrus on which the name of our capital Yerushalayim is written is further tangible evidence that Yerushalayim was and will remain the eternal capital of the Jewish people,” said  Culture Minister Miri Regev, in comments included in an Antiquties Authority announcement of the find.