Israel repatriates rare papyrus script from First Temple period


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Conservation of the papyrus in the Israel Antiquities Authority Scrolls Conservation Laboratory.
Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities AuthorityConservation of the papyrus in the Israel Antiquities Authority Scrolls Conservation Laboratory.

There are only 3 papyri from this period in the Israel National Treasures collections

A joint intelligence operation conducted by Israeli authorities repatriated an ancient Hebrew script on papyrus belonging to the First Temple period, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said on Wednesday. 

The document was likely found in the Judean Desert caves. 

The script is composed of four torn lines that begin with the words “To Ishmael send...,” which indicates that it's a fragment of a letter containing instructions to the recipient, according to the IAA press release. 

“Based on the writing, it is proposed to date the “Ishmael Papyrus” to the seventh to sixth centuries BCE, joining only two other documents from this period in the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls collection. All three papyri come from the Judean Desert, where the dry climate enables the preservation of the papyri,” the statement said. 

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The script was located by Prof. Shmuel Ahituv together with the Antiquities Theft Prevention Unit of the IAA. 

A resident of Montana, United States, turned out to be the owner of the papyrus, which was given to his mother during her trip to Jerusalem in 1965 by the Rockefeller Museum curator Joseph Sa’ad and antiquities dealer from Bethlehem Halil Iskander Kandu. 

“The name Ishmael mentioned in the document, was a common name in the Biblical period, meaning ‘God will hear’. It first appears in the Bible as the name of the son of Abraham and Hagar, and it is subsequently the personal name of several individuals in the Bible, including Yishmael ben Netanyahu, who murdered the governor Gedaliah ben Ahikam,” Prof. Ahituv explained.

Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities Authority
Shai Halevi, Israel Antiquities AuthorityIshmael Papyrus, a rare document from the First Temple period.

“It also appears as the name of officials on paleographic finds such as bullae (clay stamp seals) used for sealing royal documents in the administration of the Kingdom of Judah, for example the bulla reading, ‘To Yishmael, son of the king’. The present document probably certified a dispatchment either to, or from, Yishmael,” he added. 

Israeli authorities convinced the owner to pass the document to the Dead Sea Scrolls Unit, which conserved and documented it with the modern multispectral system used to monitor the state of the scrolls. The document was then researched by Prof. Ahituv, who will present his findings on September 15 at the IAA’s First Judean Desert Conference at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem.

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