2,000 year old papyrus roll found in Israel

The Israeli Antiquities Authority have put out a press release here that they have seized a 2,000 year old papyrus roll, containing a text written in ancient Hebrew, in “an operation.”

A document thought to be an ancient text written on papyrus was seized yesterday (Tuesday) in an operation led by the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region and the Undercover Unit of the Border Police in Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration.

The document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of the writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins.

The document itself is written on papyrus. The papyrus is incomplete and was in all likelihood rolled up. It is apparent that pieces of it crumbled mainly along its bottom part. The holes along the left part of the document probably attest to the damage that was caused to it over time. The document measures 15 x 15 centimeters.

Fifteen lines of Hebrew text, written from right to left and one below the other, can be discerned in the document. In the upper line of the text one can clearly read the sentence “Year 4 to the destruction of Israel”. This is likely to be the year 74 CE – in the event the author of the document is referring to the year when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Great Revolt. Another possibility is the year 139 CE – in the event the author is referring to the time when the rural settlement in Judah was devastated at the end of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

The name of a woman, “Miriam Barat Ya‘aqov”, is also legible …Also mentioned in … legal wording which deals with the property of a widow and her relinquishment of it. …

For downloading a high resolution image – click here

The genuineness of the document has yet to be established, they add, cautiously. 

This highlights that the desert regions of the Middle East still contain considerable numbers of books and documents, lying around, awaiting discovery.  Yet what efforts are being made to discover them?  Almost all the discoveries of books are accidental, made by fellahin in Egypt and promptly sold to dealers, or by bedouin in Israel and sold to dealers there.  Are any systematic searches being done?  If not, why not?

Note also how the finds always come from the two countries where an art-market exists.  What about the Jordanian desert?  The conditions for preservation are at least as good as those two countries.  Why aren’t we seeing mss from there?  Can’t someone persuade king Abdullah to do something?

I am reminded of a letter of the 9th century Nestorian Patriarch Timothy I, who records a find of Psalms in a manuscript in this region, in just the same manner as today.  The books are out there.

Thanks to Evangelical Textual Criticism and Paleojudaica for the info.  The Israeli link is apparently temporary, but the full text is at Paleojudaica.


One thought on “2,000 year old papyrus roll found in Israel

  1. I would not say that Palestine is unexplored archaelogically. There is a very nice article from GRBS 44 Vol. 1 (2004) here: http://www.duke.edu/web/classics/grbs/abstracts/Bar.html on late antiquity Plaestine which shows that the development of Israel has led to a large number of salvage excavations with lots of finds. In my humble opinion it is unfair to compare Egypt where papyrus was native and abundant with the rest of the desert regions where it was not. I remember reading somewhere on the web (I think it was an article by professor Bagnall online at DSpace Leiden) how even in Egypt papyrus was far less available than modern paper and it would be reused and reused. Outside Egypt where it was even harder to find it was also harder to lose or throw away. How much a country gets explored archaelogically today is a complicated matter involving among other things the number of local archeologists and how willing are foreign archeologists to come to the country. Yet as dr. Hawass wrote on his page a few months ago in Egypt, the most popular country for excavations only 40% of sites have been explored.

    The king of Jordan is quite open to foreign archeologists, there is already a large number of foreign archeological missions in Jordan and it is very possible that Greece will also open one soon (and thus become only the second foreign country after Egypt where a Greek archeological mission exists, not to mention that in Egypt the treaty with which the mission was opened was signed in late 2008). However we should not expect a country incapable of affording to buy modern military jets despite its critical need due to its border with Israel to be capable of spending more than a token sum on culture. Still though we must not forget where the Petra Papyri are coming from

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