In addition to the potsherds and stone surfaces that present ancient Hebrew writing to us, two other materials were used: wooden tablets and papyrus. No examples of wooden tablets have come to light in Israel or Judah. However, the Bible refers to them (e.g., Isaiah 8:1, 30:8), there are pictures of them on ancient sculptures, and some fragments have been found in Assyria. These wooden panels, often hinged in pairs, were coated with wax on one face and usually served for temporary records and notes. Papyrus was the normal writing material. There is enough evidence from archaeological discoveries, notably the clay bullae with imprints of papyrus fibers on the back, and from analogies with other regions to make this certain, despite the fact that papyrus disintegrates in the damp soil of most Palestinian sites. Here is a good case of circumstantial arguments for the existence of something that has disappeared almost entirely.

The words “almost entirely” must qualify the last sentence because a single piece of Hebrew papyrus (shown here) has survived from the time of the later kings of Judah. It is a ragged sheet 7 inches wide and 3½ inches high. Bedouins found it in a cave in 1952. The cave was almost certainly one of those in the Wadi Murabba‘at, running into the Dead Sea some ten miles south of Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The objects later recovered from the Wadi Murabba’at caves by archaeologists and the shapes of the letters on the unique papyrus both point to a date in the seventh century B.C., the century that began in Isaiah’s time and ended in Jeremiah’s.

This piece of papyrus from the days of the prophets was used twice. The first writing was partly washed off and a different text written over it. Originally the papyrus bore a letter. There were at least five lines of writing, but only parts of the first two are legible. They read, “—iah says to you, ‘I sent with great concern to ask the welfare of your household. Now don’t pay any attention to all that X says to you ….’ ” When that message had been read, someone erased most of it and wrote a list of men’s names with an amount each one. The amounts are marked with a sign that might denote the seah measure: “Nimtar (son of) Hoshea 14; Abi (son of) Sebi 10; Eleadah (son of) Karshon 5; Shemaiah (son of) Joezer 6.”

Evidently papyrus was not too to use for an ordinary letter, but when the list had to be written, a clean sheet was either too expensive or not easily available, so an old sheet had to be used. This discovery demonstrates the use of papyrus in Judah, and its reuse illustrates the force of messages that speak of blotting or wiping someone’s name from a record (e.g., Exodus 32:32, 33).