Archaeologists question ‘oldest’ Hebrew mention of Jerusalem
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Archaeologists question ‘oldest’ Hebrew mention of Jerusalem

After Antiquities Authority unveils papyrus from 7th century BCE, several experts warn it is far from certain artifact is authentic

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

Archaeologists have doubted the authenticity of a 7th century BCE text that Israel says contains the earliest mention in Hebrew of Jerusalem outside the Bible, a newspaper said on Friday.

The Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled the 2,700-year-old papyrus on Wednesday, noting it predated the Dead Sea scrolls by centuries.

“How do we know it isn’t a forgery intended for the antiquities market?” Aren Maier, an archaeology professor from Bar-Ilan University, said in comments published by Haaretz on Friday.

Radiocarbon dating has determined the papyrus is from the 7th century BCE. But Maier on Thursday said carbon-14 dating to prove the document’s age was insufficient in view of “well-known cases in which writing was forged on an ancient platform.”

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)
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)

“It’s very possible that only the papyrus itself is ancient,” he said.

Professor Christopher Rollston from George Washington University has also voiced his doubts.

“Ancient papyrus is readily available for purchase online,” he wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. “No modern forger worth his or her salt would forge an inscription on modern papyrus.”

But a professor from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem defended the text’s authenticity, saying the words used on the papyrus were very rare.

“If I were a forger, I’d choose a more impressive text,” Shmuel Ahituv said.

The Antiquities Authority on Wednesday said the papyrus, found near the Dead Sea, was seized from traffickers after a lengthy investigation, as it was about to go on sale on the black market.

Amir Ganor of the Antiquities Authority told AFP on Wednesday that it was “the first mention in Hebrew of the city of Jerusalem outside the New Testament,” and proved that “Jews were in this city 2,700 years ago.”

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