Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Ancient Hebrew Scroll Fragment

The Israel Antiquities Authority has announced the recovery of a fragment from an ancient Hebrew scroll in the possession of Palestinian antiquities thieves. It's a rare find to come across a 2,000 year old scroll.

Photo: Israel Antiquities Authority

This one has a date - "Year 4 to the destruction of Israel." The official press release speculates the date could be either 74 CE after the destruction of the Temple or 139 CE after the Bar Kokhba revolt. The script and the condition of the papyrus look very similar to some of the Bar Kokhba letters, in my opinion, so I suspect the latter date is more likely.

Here's an excerpt from the IAA press release:
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 in the document followed by a name that is likely to be that of the settlement where she resided: Misalev. This is probably the settlement Salabim. The name Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov is a common name in the Second Temple period. Also mentioned in the document are the names of other people and families, the names of a number of ancient settlements from the Second Temple period and legal wording which deals with the property of a widow and her relinquishment of it.
Since the find is unprovenanced, the authenticity of the scroll is officially yet to be determined. After viewing the photo, I strongly suspect it will turn out to be genuine. Finds like this of legal or business documents in Hebrew provide important data for exploring the issues of literacy and the use of Hebrew in Palestine in the 1st-2nd centuries CE. Gone are the days of simplistic models of how Hebrew all but died out, supplanted by Aramaic and Greek. Why use a nearly dead classical language to record a legal transaction? It's intended to be read and the terms understood.

News reports about the find: Haaretz, Arutz-7, the Jerusalem Post, and the AP.
Blog reports: BiblePlaces, Paleojudaica, Claude Mariottini, Abnormal Interests, ETC, Daily Hebrew

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Hebrew papyrus inscription. It is a useful addition to the debate about whether Hebrew or Aramaic was the more prominent language at the time - although it would be helpful to know whether the destruction of AD70 or Bar Kochva was being referred to.