Israel unveils 2,700-year-old papyrus repatriated from US

L’The Israel Antiquities Authority on Wednesday, September 7, unveiled an “extremely rare” papyrus, 2,700 years old and written in ancient Hebrew, rediscovered by chance in a residence in the Midwest in the United States. The manuscript, dated from the end of the VIIe or from the beginning of the VIe century BC, is written in paleo-Hebrew characters, typical of the period of the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem. It consists of four lines beginning with the words The Ishmael tishlakh (“Send to Ishmael!”), the text implying that it is a fragment of a letter containing instructions for the recipient.

“We don’t know exactly what was sent and where,” Joe Uziel, director of the Judean Desert Manuscripts Unit at the Antiquities Authority, told Agence France-Presse. According to the researchers, the manuscript was most likely found in the caves of the Judean Desert, whose dry climate facilitates the preservation of the papyri. “This papyrus is unique, extremely rare,” said Eitan Klein, deputy director of the Department of Theft Prevention, adding that researchers are so far aware of only two other papyri from the First Temple period.

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An incredible journey

The Iron Age Hebrews used clay shards for scribbling short notes and animal skin for writing, with papyrus being reserved for official correspondence, he explained. The return to the Middle East of this manuscript began when Shmuel Ahituv, a specialist in biblical studies, received the mandate in 2018 to complete a work on Hebrew by the late scholar Ada Yardeni.

However, the specialist was surprised to see in the book a photo of this papyrus which he had never seen before. The researcher then contacted Eitan Klein and, with the help of Ada Yardeni’s daughter, they tracked down the owner of the original: an American from Montana. The Midwestern man’s mother had received it during a visit to Jerusalem in 1965 from Joseph Saad, curator of the Rockefeller Museum, who himself had obtained it from the legendary antiques dealer in Bethlehem, West Bank. , Halil Iskander Kandu.

The latter had sold thousands of fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which he had probably bought from Bedouins who discovered them in a cave in the Judean desert, said the deputy director. Convinced that it would be better preserved there, the American owner in 2019 entrusted the manuscript to the Antiquities Authority, which established its authenticity and age using paleography and carbon 14 dating. .

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