Thursday, October 27, 2016

Politics and the "Jerusalem" Papyrus

THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG: Holding Up Ancient ‘Jerusalem’ Papyrus, Netanyahu Condemns UNESCO’s ‘Scandalous’ Resolution (David Israel, The Jewish Press).
Speaking Wednesday at the dedication of the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu connected the announcement of a rare, First Temple era Hebrew language papyrus that mentions the name Jerusalem, with the second UNESCO resolution this month that contradicted the Jewish history of the eternal city as well as the fact that two Jewish temples had stood on the compound now taken up by the Al Aqsa mosque.

I think this sort of political use of the newly announced papyrus is premature and unhelpful. It illustrated the concern I expressed yesterday about the papyrus, with its mention of "Jerusalem" in Hebrew in a late Iron Age II setting, as being "too good to be true." Like the Gospel of Jesus' Wife, the papyrus is exactly what the present Zeitgeist would want to have turn up in an ancient inscription. That doesn't prove it's a forgery, and so far the chances of it being genuine look pretty good to me, but it does make me worry. And if it turns out to be a forgery — and it may — the Prime Minister's action here will backfire.

Let's be cautious and take our time here. The IAA should release the full lab report of the carbon-dating testing so it can be evaluated independently. And all the media coverage and blog commentary in the last day is interesting and informative, but the real scholarly discussion of the new fragment only begins when we start to have peer-review publications on it.

Background on the "Jerusalem" papyrus is here and links. Background on the UNESCO resolutions is here and links.