2,000-year-old financial record unearthed on Jerusalem’s Pilgrimage Road

May 17, 2023 by Pesach Benson
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Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority uncovered a remarkable financial record dating back 2,000 years on the Pilgrimage Road in the City of David, Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare during the Second Temple period.

The discovery sheds light on the commercial activities of the time and offers a rare glimpse into the daily lives of the city’s inhabitants.

The inscription bearing the financial record. Photo: Eliyahu Yanai, City of David.

The inscription, found on a small stone tablet engraved with letters and numbers, is believed to be a receipt or payment instruction related to commercial transactions during the Second Temple period. It was discovered in an area known for its bustling commercial activity. The find was recently published in Atiqot, a  peer-reviewed archaeological journal.

Excavations in the City of David, funded by the City of David Foundation, revealed the inscription, which features seven partially preserved lines. The lines include Hebrew names accompanied by letters and numbers. The name ‘Shimon’ appears at the end of one line, followed by the Hebrew letter “mem.” The other lines contain symbols representing numbers, some of which are accompanied by the Hebrew letter “mem” or the letter “resh,” abbreviations for “money” and “quarters,” respectively.

According to Nahshon Szanton, the Excavation Director for the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Professor Esther Eshel from Bar Ilan University, other similar Hebrew inscriptions have been documented so far in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh, all marking names and numbers carved on similar stone slabs and dating to the Early Roman period. This, however, is the first inscription to be revealed to date within the boundaries of the city of Jerusalem at that time.

The researchers believe that the inscription was originally engraved onto a chalkstone slab that was used as an ossuary, a burial chest commonly employed in Jerusalem and Judea during the Early Roman period. While ossuaries are typically found outside the city, their presence within the city suggests the possibility of local artisans or stores trading them as commodities.

The Pilgrimage Road was an ancient, vital thoroughfare which connected the City of David, south of the Temple Mount, to the gates of the Second Temple. In addition to being the primary route for individuals making pilgrimages, the road was also a hub of commercial activity. The major thoroughfare was lined with shops, market stalls, and businesses catering to the needs of the pilgrims and visitors. Traders and artisans would set up their establishments along the road, offering goods, food, and various services to those passing through.

The ongoing excavation project, led by the Israel Antiquities Authority and supported by the City of David Foundation, continues to reveal new archaeological finds which contribute to a deeper understanding of Jerusalem’s history.

The use of receipts for commercial purposes during that time shows a remarkable similarity to modern practices, the researchers said.

“The remarkable discovery on the Pilgrimage Road in Jerusalem uncovers another aspect of Jewish life in the city from 2,000 years ago. The unique excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority in the area position the City of David as a pivotal center in the Jewish people’s global historical narrative,” said Rabbi Amichai Eliyahu, Israel’s Minister of Heritage.

Eli Escusido, director of the Antiquities Authority described the Pilgrimage Road excavations as a “flagship project,” saying,  “The many discoveries which are being revealed in the excavation shed light on the centrality of this road even during the Second Temple period. With every discovery, our understanding of the area deepens, revealing this street’s pivotal role in the daily lives of Jerusalem’s inhabitants 2,000 years ago.”

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