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Written Document Is Oldest Ever Found in Jerusalem

July 13, 2010
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Details of the discovery appear in the current issue of the 'Israel Exploration Journal.” Excavations in the Ophel have been conducted by Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. The fragment that has been found is 2×2.8 centimeters in size and one centimeter thick. Dated to the 14th century BCE, it appears to have been part of a tablet and contains cuneiform symbols in ancient Akkadian (the lingua franca of that era).

The words the symbols form are not significant in themselves, but what is significant is that the script is of a very high level, testifying to the fact that it was written by a highly skilled scribe that in all likelihood prepared tablets for the royal household of the time, said Prof. Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology at the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Horowitz deciphered the script along with his former graduate student Dr. Takayoshi Oshima, now of the Leipzig University in Germany.

Tablets with diplomatic messages were routinely exchanged between kings in the ancient Near East, Horowitz said, and there is a great likelihood, because of its fine script and the fact it was discovered adjacent to the acropolis area of the ancient city, that the fragment was part of such a 'royal missive'. Horowitz has interpreted the symbols on the fragment to include the words 'you',  'you were', 'later', 'to do' and 'them'.

The most ancient known written record previously found in Jerusalem was the tablet found in the Shiloah water tunnel in the City of David area during the 8th century BCE reign of King Hezekiah. That tablet, celebrating the completion of the tunnel, is in a museum in Istanbul. This latest find predates the Hezekiah tablet by about 600 years.

The fragment found at the Ophel is believed to be contemporary with the some 380 tablets discovered in the 19th century at Amarna in Egypt in the archives of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten), who lived in the 14th century BCE. The archives include tablets sent to Akhenaten by the kings who were subservient to him in Canaan and Syria and include details about the complex relationships between them, covering many facets of governance and society. Among these tablets are six that are addressed from Abdi-Heba, the Canaanite ruler of Jerusalem. The tablet fragment in Jerusalem is most likely part of a message that would have been sent from the king of Jerusalem, possibly Abdi-Heba, back to Egypt, said Mazar.

Examination of the material of the fragment by Prof. Yuval Goren of Tel Aviv University shows that it is from the soil of the Jerusalem area and not similar to materials from other areas, further testifying to the likelihood that it was part of a tablet from a royal archive in Jerusalem containing copies of tablets sent by the king of Jerusalem to Pharaoh Akhenaten in Egypt.

Mazar says this new discovery, providing solid evidence of the importance of Jerusalem during the Late Bronze Age, acts as a counterpoint to some who have used the lack of substantial archeological findings from that period until now to argue that Jerusalem was not a major center during that period. It also lends weight to the importance that accrued to the city in later times, leading up to its conquest by King David in the 10th century BCE., she said.

Posted on July 13, 2010

Source: (Excerpts of an article by Edgar Asher, Isranet, July 11, 2010)

Photo Credit: Isranet

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