First Mention of Jerusalem Is Found on an Ancient Papyrus

The earliest Hebrew reference to Jerusalem outside the Bible is found on a 2,700-year-old scroll.

Israeli authorities displayed on Wednesday a rare papyrus fragment, older than the Dead Sea Scrolls, which features the earliest known Hebrew reference to Jerusalem outside the Bible.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) recovered the fragile document after it was plundered from a cave in the Judean Desert cave by a band of antiquity robbers.

Radiocarbon dating has determined it dates back to the 7th century BC. This is the time of the First Temple, which, according to the Hebrew Bible, was constructed by King Solomon in 957 B.C. and then destroyed 400 years later by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who exiled many Jews.

Two lines of ancient Hebrew script are clearly visible on the 4-by-1 inch fragment.

"From the king's maidservant, from Naʽarat [a place near Jericho], jars of wine, to Jerusalem," the 2,700 year papyrus reads.

According to experts at the IAA, the fragment was part of a shipping document which detailed the payment of taxes or transfer of goods to storehouses in Jerusalem, the capital city of the kingdom of Judea at that time.

"It's the first time we encounter the name Jerusalem on a papyrus, which was probably written by a woman. That's very exciting, said Pnina Shor, curator and director of the Dead Sea Scroll Project at IAA.

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She noted the woman had an unusually high status in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah.

The ancient document is now wrapped in bitter controversy and politics. Israeli authorities showed it as evidence of the Jewish connection to the holy city on the same day UNESCO, the UN's world heritage organization, approved a resolution that, according to Israel, ignores Jewish ties to Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site.

Sacred to the three great monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam –- Temple Mount is one of the most disputed plots of land on Earth.

A revered site to Christians, Temple Mount is venerated by Jews as the location where Solomon's temple once stood and later Herod's temple. It abuts the Western Wall - the only remainder of the Roman sacking of the Second Temple in 70 A.D.

But it's also the third-holiest site in Islam. Known to Arabs as Haram Sharif, it includes the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, a massive golden dome that houses the rock where the Prophet Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven.

UNESCO's document refers to the disputed plot of land only as a "Muslim holy site of worship."

According to MK Miri Regev, Israel's Minister of Culture and Sport, the recovered papyrus proves beyond doubt the historic connection between Jews and Jerusalem.

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"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," Regev said in a statement.

"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," he said.

On its side Saeb Erekat, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, released a statement accusing Israel of "using archeological claims and distortion of facts."

"Contrary to what the Israeli government claims, the resolution that was voted by UNESCO aims at reaffirming the importance of Jerusalem for the three monotheistic religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam," Erekat said.

He added the resolution calls for respecting the religious sites, "including the Al-Aqsa mosque compound."

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