Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Sunday 29 November |
Saint of the Day: Bl. Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Israelite psalms deciphered on ancient Egyptian papyrus

ARCHEOLOGIST

AP

J-P Mauro - published on 08/08/18

Due to an irregularity, the process took more than 120 years to complete.

The Hebrew language is forever tied to the Hebrew Bible, the advancement of which mirrors the evolution of the Jewish written language. Critical studies of the Old Testament, compared to ancient sources of the same text, reveal the passages have undergone a chain of stages before they reached the canonical versions we know today. Unfortunately, tracking this evolution is completely dependent on discovering material evidence.

The Egyptian papyrus, known as Amherst 63, is an example of such evidence. Discovered in Luxor, Egypt, in the late 19th century, it contains a composition that is strikingly similar to Psalm 20.

PAPYRUS
Photo Courtesy of Oriental Institute Museum Archives, Box 009 | Handout

This worn sheet of papyrus contains 35 literary texts, written in Aramaic, that date between the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Curiously, however, the Aramaic words are written in an Egyptian cursive called Demotic. It is this unusual combination of languages that has caused the process of deciphering the passages to take more than 120 years.

Biblical Archaeology reports Karel van der Toorn, of the University of Amsterdam, published a new translation of Amherst 63. In his article, “Egyptian Papyrus Sheds New Light on Jewish History” from the July/August 2018 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Toorn contends that the papyrus contains two more psalms, besides Psalm 20. He said:

“The two other psalms of the Amherst papyrus are not in the Bible. That does not make them any less valuable from a historical and literary point of view. These were songs the Israelites chanted before their religion turned monotheistic.” And he adds: “The three psalms clearly belong together: They were evidently composed originally in Hebrew; they celebrate Yaho (an alternate form of the name Yahweh) as king of the gods; and they are part of the liturgy of the New Year’s festival as celebrated by an Aramaic-speaking community.”

Toorn stated there was evidence suggesting that while the papyrus was penned in the 4th century BC, the text was several centuries older, and most likely originated in Palmyra, modern-day Syria, rather than in Egypt, where the ancient manuscript was discovered.

Tags:
Archaeology
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful...
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to t...
FIRST CENTURY HOUSE AT THE SISTERS OF NAZARETH SITE
John Burger
British archaeologist confident he has found ...
PRAY
Cerith Gardiner
12 Things we can be grateful for this Thanksg...
EARTHQUAKE
Bret Thoman, OFS
Two earthquakes couldn't stop these Italian n...
CATHEDRAL OF THE SACRED HEART
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
6 Questions to determine if your heart is har...
VATICAN POPE GOOD FRIDAY COLOSSEUM
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Learn to pray with the early Church and to di...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.