Last week, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of an ancient papyrus, dating to the seventh century BCE, that prominently mentions the city of Jerusalem. The text is fragmentary, but a few words are clearly visible. The scholar who has been studying the papyrus, Shmuel Ahituv, translated it as follows: “From the female servant of the king, from Nahrata, two wineskins to Jerusalem.”
The content seems rather banal—this is not a biblical text, or some previously unknown ancient narrative. It is, rather, a shipping manifest, a plain old economic document, of a type known from plenty of other examples. Why the fuss, then?
What makes this papyrus exciting, in theory, is that it seemingly confirms the existence of Jerusalem as a royal capital in seventh-century Israel: “It underscores the centrality of Jerusalem as the economic capital of the kingdom in the second half of the seventh century B.C.,” proclaimed one IAA official. Though most people familiar only with the Bible might take this for granted, the question of whether there was really a kingdom centered around Jerusalem at that point in history is a common one in scholarship. This papyrus would provide at least some evidence that the biblical story—the story that stands behind much of the nationalistic mythology of the modern state of Israel—is grounded in historical reality.