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Israel Unveils Rare 2,700-Year-Old Hebrew Papyrus

The 2,700-year-old papyrus fragment, verified by palaeography and carbon-14 dating, reads "Ishmael". Archaeologists say the papyrus fragment, with four lines of writing and slightly larger than a postage stamp, is one of only a few from the region to date to the Late Iron Age.

Israel has obtained a previously unknown ancient papyrus holding a long-time Montana resident and bearing a Hebrew inscription dating back about 2,700 years, the Israel Antiquities Authority said in a statement.

There is a Hebrew inscription on the previously unknown papyrus that dates back 2,700 years.


The Israel Antiquities Authority notes that the writing style of the text matches the age of the papyrus as determined using radiocarbon dating.

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Joe Uziel, director of the Judea Desert scrolls unit, says the matching of radiocarbon date and paleographic style allows them to be very confident that this is not a modern forgery.

The papyrus bearing the name of the biblical Ishmael was probably looted from a cave in the Judean Desert in the last century.

The origin of the papyrus and its journey through the desert sixty years ago to Montana and now Jerusalem remain obscure.


Antiquities officials declined to name the Montana resident, but said the man's mother received the artifact in 1965 during a visit to Jordan-ruled East Jerusalem and brought it to the United States.

Jordanian law in force at the time severely restricted the sale of antiquities and prohibited the export of artifacts without the permission of the minister of antiquities. It is unclear whether the woman has such authority.


Numerous pieces of parchment from the arid region near the Dead Sea that have appeared on the antiques market in recent years, including those found at the Bible Museum in Washington, have been proven counterfeit.

Official conservator Tanya Bitler shows off the papyrus fragment in her labs inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem


Antiquities authorities showed the papyrus to the press in their lab in Jerusalem, along with two other ancient Hebrew fragments he was holding. One was found in a cave near the Dead Sea in the 1950s, while the other was recovered from the antiquities black market in 2016 and is believed to have been looted from a cave.

Eitan Klein, head of the anti-theft unit, says the Montana-born man's mother may have purchased the object from Khalil Iskander Shahin, a Bethlehem-based antiques dealer better known as "Kando." Kando had traded most of the original Dead Sea Scrolls. Or the papyrus may have been given to him by the curator of the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.

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It remains unclear how either Shahin or the curator, both deceased, obtained the papyrus.

The unidentified Montana man inherited papyrus after his mother's death. An Israeli-born academic noticed a photograph of this previously undocumented text in a colleague's unpublished articles and informed Klein, who later found the author.


Klein said the man was invited to Jerusalem in 2019 and the parties reached an agreement to hand over the papyrus to the Israeli authorities.



The Associated Press. 7 September 2022.