A document thought to be an ancient text written on papyrus was seized yesterday (Tuesday) in an operation led by the Intelligence Office of the Zion Region and the Undercover Unit of the Border Police in Jerusalem, in cooperation with the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery and the Archaeological Staff Officer in the Civil Administration.
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.
According to Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, “Theoretically, based on the epigraphic style, the material the document is written on, the state of preservation and the text, which includes a historic date that can be deciphered, we are dealing with a document that appears to be ancient as defined by the Antiquities Law. Since this object was not discovered in a proper archaeological excavation, it still must undergo laboratory analyses in order to negate the possibility it is a modern forgery”. Ganor adds, “The document is very important from the standpoint of historical and national research. Until now almost no historic scrolls or documents from this period have been discovered in proper archaeological excavations. A historic document that can be definitely dated based on a reference to a historical event such as the ‘destruction of Israel’ has never been discovered. Much can be learned from this document about the names of people, their surnames names and the locations of settlements in Israel during this period. From an initial reading it seems that this document deals with the property of Miriam Bat Ya‘aqov, who was apparently a widow. The deciphering of the entire document by expert epigraphers and historians may shed light on how the people of the period managed their affairs and supplement our knowledge about their way of life. What we have here is rare historic evidence about the Jewish people in their country from more than 2,000 years ago, during the days following the destruction which sent the people of Israel into exile for a very long time – until the creation of the State of Israel”.