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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
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.
Israel Prize-winning Biblical scholar Shmuel Ahituv arrives for a press conference to discuss an ancient papyrus featuring the earliest Hebrew mention of Jerusalem, October 26, 2016 (Courtesy)
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.
Ahituv 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 Nahal Hever in the Judean Desert. The arid, cool location near the Dead Sea enabled the fragment's preservation over the millennia. Since the bust, 14 members of the ring of looters based near Hebron were arrested and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
While there are more than a handful of ancient Hebrew texts etched into stone and scrawled on bits of pottery from this period, the only other known Hebrew papyrus texts from before the fall of the Judean Kingdom in 586 BCE were the Marzeah Papyrus, believed to be from mid-to-late 7th century BCE trans-Jordan, and a papyrus palimpsest found at Qumran.
The Israel Antiquities Authority has moved to prevent antiquities thieves plundering the country's archaeological heritage, with particular emphasis on the limestone caves dotting the cliffs leading down to the Dead Sea. Those remote caverns have yielded two of the most significant collections of ancient Hebrew texts: the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bar Kochba letters.
Stings in recent years have busted treasure hunters and traders in the act in Judean Desert caverns and Jerusalem hotels, while archaeologists race to excavate the area's remaining caves in the hopes of discovering scientific data and, possibly, more scrolls.
Trump event in old City on 10.26.16
Moses, the foundation of US-Israel ties
Yoram Ettinger Moses, the foundation of US-Israel ties
According to Professor Robert Bellah, a leading UC Berkeley sociologist, there is "a well-institutionalized civil religion" in the United States that stipulates separation between religion and state, but not between religion and society. In fact, President John Quincy Adams wrote: "The law given from Sinai was a civil and municipal as well as a moral and religious code."
Bellah contends that civil liberties, reflecting more responsibility than rights, are Bible-driven: "Behind civil religion lie biblical archetypes [such as] the Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, New Jerusalem ... a heritage of moral and religious experience."
The legacy of Moses, the definitive lawgiver, has been such an archetype, an integral part of American cultural, ethical, legal and political history, highlighting Judeo-Christian ethical principles that shaped the U.S. and forged the foundation of its special ties with the Jewish state. Most Americans, from the early Pilgrims through the Founding Fathers until today, hold Israel in high regard and consider the Jewish state more than just a foreign policy issue.
The metaphor of Moses has been employed extensively in American political discourse. In April 2010, Professor Thomas Sugrue wrote in his book, "Not Even Past: Barack Obama and the Burden of Race": "The metaphor of Moses and Joshua, the freedom fighter and the nation builder, offered a powerful framework for Obama's campaign." In January 2000, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell greeted the newly elected President George W. Bush at the traditional post-inauguration Senate luncheon with: "We trust that you shall lead us in the best tradition of Joshua and Caleb."
On Jan. 14, 2013, the Kansas City Star wrote: "Martin Luther King must have had Moses in mind that night of his last sermon when he said, 'God has allowed me to go up on the mountain, and I have seen the Promised Land.'" Harriet Tubman, a leading abolitionist and a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad, was named "Mama Moses."
On June 27, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.
According to Chief Justice William Rehnquist: "Religion has been closely identified with our history and government. … Acknowledgments of the role played by the Ten Commandments in our nation's heritage are common throughout America. ... Since 1935, Moses has stood, holding two tablets that reveal portions of the Ten Commandments written in Hebrew, among other lawgivers in the south frieze [of the Supreme Court]. Representations of the Ten Commandments adorn the metal gates lining the north and south sides of the courtroom as well as the doors leading into the courtroom.
"Moses also sits on the exterior east facade [of the Supreme Court] holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments. ... Since 1897, a large statue of Moses holding the Ten Commandments, alongside a statue of the Apostle Paul, has overlooked the rotunda of the Library of Congress' Jefferson Building. A medallion with two tablets depicting the Ten Commandments decorates the floor of the National Archives. Inside the Justice Department, a statue entitled 'The Spirit of Law' has two tablets representing the Ten Commandments lying at its feet. In front of the Ronald Reagan Building stands another sculpture that includes a depiction of the Ten Commandments. So too a 24-foot-tall sculpture outside the Federal Courthouse, depicting, among other things, the Ten Commandments and a cross. Moses is also prominently featured in the Chamber of the United States House of Representatives. ... Moses was a lawgiver as well as a religious leader, and the Ten Commandments have undeniable historical meaning."
A 2005 Gallup Poll shows that 76% of Americans were in favor of displaying the Ten Commandments monument on the ground of the Texas State Capitol.
On March 29, 2006, the California State Senate approved bill SCR 108, stating: "This measure would recognize and acknowledge that the Decalogue, also known as the Ten Commandments, ranks among the influential historical documents that have contributed significantly to the development of the secular governmental and legal principles and institutions of the USA and the State of California. ... In the history of American institutions, no book -- except the Bible -- has played so great a role. ... Members of the U.S. Supreme Court have noted the foundational role played by the Ten Commandments in the development of our legal system."
On April 8, 2015, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill instructing the state to erect a privately funded Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the State Capitol in Little Rock. The Arkansas State House and the Senate approved the bill 72:7 and 27:3 respectively.
President Harry Truman stated: "The fundamental basis of this nation's laws was given to Moses on the Mount." A century earlier, President Abraham Lincoln referred to Exodus, Chapter 20, the Ten Commandments, as the summation of his theology.
Moses and/or the Ten Commandments feature in courthouses and in other public buildings around the country.
Moses and the Ten Commandments have always been part of the American story, shaping the worldviews of the American people. They have underscored the 400-year-old Judeo-Christian foundation of the U.S.-Israel covenant, which transcends transient politics and geostrategic considerations, catapulting U.S.-Israel cooperation to unprecedented levels -- in defiance of the State Department, but consistent with the will of the American people.