[This entry comprises two articles: Archaeology and Written Material.]


Located about halfway between Jericho and Samaria in the central hill country, Wadi ed-Daliyeh is one of the depressions through which the winter rains tumble into the Jordan Valley. The hill country begins to descend about four miles east of the village of el-Mughâyir, where the ridge consists of rolling tableland farmed by the villagers, and the wadi makes a sharp gash into the eastern rim of the hill country, leaving steep cliffs sometimes of a hundred feet or more. It descends to the narrow plain five miles from Khirbet Fasâyil, which lies about fifteen miles north of Jericho in the Jordan Valley.

Caves honeycomb the sides of the wadi. Some are small; others contain thousands of feet of passageways. It was in one of these caves, Mugharet Abu Shinjeh, that the Wadi ed-Daliyeh, or Samaria papyri, were found.

On the south side of the wadi, Mughâret Abu Shinjeh (“Cave of the Father of the Dagger”) was investigated by the Ta῾amireh bedouin in the winter of 1962 when they were driven north of their usual encampments by drought. Since the original discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947, they had been making systematic searches of the hill-country caves and recognized that dryness, and often the accumulation of layers of bat excrement and the sealing of a cave by collapsed limestone at its entrance, preserved ancient finds within. Their usual method of exploration was to dig test pits through the bat guano and to tap the rocky façade and cave walls for the hollow thud that would indicate accessible passages.

Their efforts in Mugharet Abu Shinjeh brought to light fragments of mats, human bones, a gold ring, ancient pots (which they broke in their search for gold or manuscripts), some stamped lumps of clay (bullae, or seals), and finally a few beads, coins, more seals, and some rolls and fragments of papyri. The papyri made their way through fellow Ta῾amireh bedouin to Khalil Iskandar Shahin in Bethlehem and finally reached the scholarly community in Jerusalem in April 1962. [See Scrolls Research; biography of Shahin.] When a small papyrus fragment with Aramaic written on both sides came to the attention of Yusif Saad of the Palestine Archaeological Museum and Roland de Vaux of the École Biblique et Archéologique Française, then head of the Dead Sea Scroll team, they recognized their possible importance. They took some fragments to the American Schools of Oriental Research in Jerusalem where the director Paul Lapp, after a night of study, reported that the largest fragment was part of an official document in a script dating from about 375 bce, in which the city of Samaria was clearly mentioned.

The collection offered for sale by the bedouin consisted of many small worm-eaten papyrus fragments, including a few rolls (none complete), several dozen bullae, and a few coins. First efforts concentrated on financing this purchase, and by November 1962 a fund had been established within the American Schools of Oriental Research. By the end of the month the purchase was made.

Besides the study of the documents and seals, it was important to examine the context in which they were found and, if possible, the circumstances under which they were deposited there. Through further negotiations, the Ta῾amireh disclosed the cave of their explorations, and examination indicated the probability of their claim. The next step was scientific excavation to reveal any possible remaining evidence. This task fell to Lapp.

The first campaign took place early in 1963; the second in February 1964. Logistics always presented extreme difficulties. Tents for sleeping and working were pitched in the mouths of the caves on both sides of the wadi, and water as well as all food and excavation supplies had to be brought in by donkey along a circuitous, uphill, five-mile route. In the second campaign it was possible to bring in small generators by camel, which slightly improved excavation conditions. The staff consisted of ten to fifteen archaeologists, with about fifty additional workers for each campaign.

Excavation was first carried out in the Manuscript Area (the section of the cave from which it was believed the papyri had come) and in a meter-wide (about 1 yard) trench from the mouth of the cave back to the part of the cave designated the Manuscript Area. The trench would provide the occupational history of the cave and would reveal any other possible openings or passages the bedouin had not found.

The meter-wide trench stretched and turned about fifty meters back to the Manuscript Area. The trench and small alcoves off the trench yielded pots and sherds (pottery fragments) from the latter part of the fourth century BCE covered by a thin scattering of early Roman sherds. By the end of the second campaign all the debris of the Manuscript Area had been excavated and sifted, producing pieces of pots (recently broken) and sherds from the second half of the fourth century BCE; bones and bone fragments; a few beads; a fibula (a pin for fastening clothing); two bullae; pieces of cloth, mats, pits, seeds; and bits of papyri with hints of a letter or two. One larger fragment, the only one the bedouin seemed to have missed, had six lines of text. Two other areas of the cave, called the Bat Dome and Hot Room, were excavated and produced similar material. A tiny silver coin was found in the passageway between the Manuscript Area and the Bat Dome, where the bedouin claimed to have found five silver coins (probably those offered for sale with the papyri).

The archaeological evidence on the whole supports the finds as reported by the bedouin: three hundred skeletons (however, archaeological evidence points to between thirty and fifty skeletons) covered by mats near which were the papyrus rolls and other finds. The explanation for their presence is suggested by the historians Josephus and Curtius Rufus, who wrote that the inhabitants of the city of Samaria had burned alive Andromachus, Alexander the Great's prefect in Syria, while Alexander was in Egypt; Alexander returned and destroyed the city. The Wadi ed-Daliyeh finds seem to indicate that leaders of Samaria who may have been implicated in the rebellion fled, probably down Wadi Farah into the wilderness to hide out in Wadi ed-Daliyeh. They took their food, pottery containers, jewelry and luxury items, and sealed legal documents with them. Their hiding place most likely was discovered by Alexander's Macedonian troops, and a fire built in the mouth of the cave probably suffocated the victims.

Excavations were conducted in a second cave, ῾Arâq en-Na῾sâneh (Caverns of the Sleepy One), although the finds were not related to the Samaria papyri. ῾Arâq en-Na῾sâneh was located slightly up and on the other side of the wadi from Mughâret Abu Shinjeh. This cave, though entered through a small hole, opened into a large room and many additional caverns, providing well-circulated air. Undisturbed finds indicated occupation during the Middle Bronze I period and the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The latter occupation is paralleled by finds in the caves of Wadi Murabba῾at and the Judean Desert.


  • Cross, Frank M. “The Discovery of the Samaria Papyri.” Biblical Archaeologist 6 (1963), 110–121.
    A prompt report of the discoveries and their historical context
  • Damati, Emanuel, and Zeev Erlich. “A Hoard of Denarii and a Tridrachma from Wâdī ed-Dâliyeh.” Israel Numismatic Journal 5 (1981), 33–37.
  • Gropp, Douglas M. “The Samaria Papyri from Wâdī ed-Dâliyeh: The Slave Sales.” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1986.
  • Lapp, Nancy L. “The Cave Clearances in the Wâdī ed-Dâliyeh.” In The Tale of the Tell: Archaeological Studies, edited by Paul W. Lapp, pp. 66–76. Pittsburgh Theological Monograph Series, 5. Pittsburgh, 1975.
  • Lapp, Paul W. “The Samaria Papyri.” Archaeology 16 (1963), 204–206.
  • Lapp, Paul W., and Nancy L., eds. Discoveries in the Wâdī ed-Dâliyeh. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 41. Cambridge, 1974.
  • Leith, M. J. W. Greek and Persian Images in Pre-Alexandrine Samaria: Wâdī ed-Dâliyeh Seal Impressions. Ann Arbor, 1991.

Nancy L. Lapp

Written Material

The written material from the Abu Shinjeh cave in the Wadi ed-Daliyeh, about 14 kilometers north of Jericho on the western rim of the Jordan rift, consists of fragmentary papyri and a few legible sealings and coins. Most of these were discovered in the early spring of 1962 by the Ta῾amireh bedouin. Subsequent archaeological explorations in January 1963 and February 1964 contributed modestly to the initial find and put the written materials in a more definite context (cf. P. W. Lapp and N. L. Lapp, 1974). [See Daliyeh, Wadi ed-, article on Archaeology.]

The most significant of these written remains, the papyri, are quite fragmentary. Eighteen of the fragments are long enough, that is, complete enough in their vertical dimension, to be called “papyri.” The largest papyrus, a deed of slave sale (WDSP 1), is no more than 45 percent extant. A few of these fragments are no more than a thin strip of papyrus; a couple of others are in tatters. Nine or ten further pieces are sizable enough to allow some assessment of their legal import. Nine other museum plates contain nearly 150 additional fragments of various shapes and sizes. All the plates are housed in the Rockefeller Museum in Jersusalem.

Despite the location in which they were found, the papyri are all legal documents originally drafted in Samaria in the fourth century BCE. The place where the documents were executed is given either in the first or last line of the document. In the eleven documents in which the place is preserved, it is named as the city or province of Samaria. The documents were also dated by the reign of the current Persian king in their first or last lines. Where the name of the king is preserved, it is usually Artaxerxes (at least five times). One document is dated to sometime between the thirtieth and thirty-ninth year, and therefore must come from the reign of Artaxerxes II (Mnemon), between 375 and 365 bce. The date of WDSP 1 is fully preserved as 19 March 335 bce, the second year of Darius III (Codomannus; Cross, 1985). Most of the papyri were probably written during the reign of Artaxerxes III (Ochus; 358–337 bce). The late pre-Alexandrine coins found in the cave strongly corroborate the internal indications of dating (Cross, 1974), the latest being of a Tyrian issue of 334 bce. The script of the papyri is somewhat more advanced typologically than the script of the Aramaic corpora from the late fifth century and so fits well within this horizon.

The Samaria papyri provide a rich and varied paleographic resource, from a previously underrepresented period, for better understanding the development of the Aramaic script in the second half of the first millennium BCE. Since the Samaria papyri are dated, their scripts provide an invaluable guide to dating other papyri and ostraca from Egypt and Palestine in the same general period. They are also important for reassessing the scripts of the oldest manuscripts from Qumran (Cross, 1974). But aside from the importance of this resource for epigraphists, archaeologists, and historians, familiarity with these fourth-century Aramaic scripts is crucial to biblical text critics for assessing possible transcriptional errors in restoring the biblical text.

The language of the Samaria papyri is “Official Aramaic,” the ideal standard language in which scribes of the Persian period (probably from Darius I to Darius III [522–333 bce]) would draft documents of an official nature (Gropp, 1997). The language of the Samaria papyri is virtually identical to the language of the fifth-century Elephantine legal papyri and the Arsames correspondence. In fact, despite being chronologically later, the language of the Samaria papyri is even more consistently conservative in its conformity to the norm of Official Aramaic than the language of the other two corpora. In spite of its later provenance, it also reflects little or no Persian influence in contrast to the Elephantine papyri, but especially to the Arsames correspondence where Persian influence is more extensive. The Samaria papyri do show a greater proportion of specifically late Neo-Babylonian loanwords, but this is clearly related to the origins of its legal formularies (Gropp, 1990).

If it were not for some auspicious circumstances, which provide extraordinary possibilities for reconstructing the text of the papyri, their significance would have been greatly reduced. The possibilities of reconstruction correlate directly with the legal genres represented. The best represented type of deed is the slave sale. It has proved possible to propose full reconstructions for nine or ten of these deeds despite their fragmentary condition. The slave sale deeds seem to share a common formulary to such an extent that they provide us with partially overlapping bits and pieces of the same formulary. There is remarkably little variation in the verbal realization of each formula, and even less variation in the sequence of formulas within the sale formulary. The date, the names of the principals, the names of the slaves, the sale prices, and the amount of the penalty for contravention of the sale are basically the only elements that vary from deed to deed. Each papyrus contributes a little to our knowledge of that formulary. By constant comparison and rearranging of all the bits of writing serially, Frank Moore Cross and Douglas Gropp have been able to reconstruct the entire formulary. Proposed reconstructions have been tested against estimated line lengths for each papyrus. In addition to the constraints of space, we have been aided by legal parallels from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Circular reasoning, while not wholly escaped, can be reduced to a minimum. Now that this formulary for the deeds of slave sale is established, it can be applied as a kind of template for interpreting other deeds of conveyance. Such a procedure has been successful in reconstructing a deed of house sale, but only modestly helpful in interpreting texts of other genres.

Of the fragments sizable enough to allow some assessment of their legal genre, at least half are slave sales. Some of these represent the sale of a single slave (WDSP 1, 3, 4, 11 recto, 18, 19, and 26?), others of multiple slaves (WDSP 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 20). But a variety of other legal genres are represented. There is a clear instance of a house sale (WDSP 15) and a conveyance of chambers in a public building (WDSP 14), in addition to several deeds of sale whose objects cannot be ascertained (WDSP 21, 22, 24, and 25). Two or more documents look like a pledge of a slave in exchange for a loan (WDSP 10, 12, 13 recto?, and 27?). It is impossible to be confident about the terms of these fragmentary contracts apart from some hermeneutical key provided by closer legal parallels. One conveys a vineyard, possibly as a pledge rather than as a sale (WDSP 16). Several documents may resolve some contingency, but in most cases the papyri are too fragmentary for confident interpretation. There is a receipt for the repayment of a loan involving a pledge (WDSP 17: a double document), the release of a pledged slave (WDSP 13 verso), the settlement (?) of a dispute over a slave (WDSP 11 verso), and possibly a judicial settlement by an oath (WDSP 23).

The Samaria papyri may ultimately prove most interesting for the light they shed on the history of law. They provide an especially promising occasion for the study of the contact between Aramaic and cuneiform traditions. Comparison of legal formularies provides one of the most controllable instances for the study of cultures in contact. The legal formulary of the slave sales is obviously dependent proximately or ultimately on cuneiform antecedents. But aside from a few important parallels, the extent to which the formularies of the Samaria papyri differ from the formularies of the Elephantine legal papyri is remarkable. On the other hand, the Samaria papyri share a large number of features with the later Murabba῾at and Naḥal Ḥever deeds. The Samaria papyri thus provide some counterbalance to the understandably heavy reliance on the Elephantine legal papyri for reconstructing the early development of Jewish law.

To be more specific, the origin of the sale formulary of the Samaria papyri is threefold: (1) Aramaic scribes in Babylonia adopted the late Neo-Babylonian formulary for the sale of movables (from the time of Darius I on) as their basic model, (2) Aramaic scribes (still in Babylonia) creatively modified this model by drawing on formulas from other types of late Neo- Babylonian documents, and (3) Aramaic scribes (probably in Palestine) further modified the adopted formulary by partially assimilating it to their own native legal traditions.

Notwithstanding a great deal of functional equivalence between the formularies of the Elephantine deeds of conveyance and the Samarian deeds of sale, there is very little concrete phrasing in common. The two groups of legal papyri represent fundamentally different legal traditions. The Elephantine legal papyri stem from a somewhat provincial Neo-Assyrian tradition probably of the late ninth or early eighth centuries BCE (Muffs, 1969). Both formularies provide evidence of an extended symbiosis between Aramean and Akkadian scribes. But the two cases of symbiosis are parallel and analogous rather than homologous. The Elephantine legal papyri stem ultimately from an Assyro-Aramean symbiosis (Tadmor, 1982), whereas the Samaria papyri derive from a Babylonian-Aramean symbiosis (Greenfield, 1982). The agreement in language between the Elephantine papyri and the Samaria papyri thus offers a counterpoint to the divergence in legal traditions. The formularies of the deeds from Murabba῾at and Naḥal Ḥever represent a later stage of this Babylonian-Aramean symbiosis more than a simple direct inheritance from the legalese of fourth-century Samaria. Nevertheless, they stand in the same general tradition. The evidence of the Samaria papyri both clarifies and expands our picture of the role of Aramaic scribes as creative intermediaries of cultural traditions throughout the ancient Near East.

Because the Samaria papyri are so formulaic, they offer the historian only limited evidence of the realities of life in fourth-century Samaria. They do, however, provide a few details about administration. The city of Samaria is variously designated as a “city” (qiryata᾽) and as a “citadel” (birta᾽) within the Persian province (medinta᾽) of Samaria. The papyri name two types of officials, the chief being “the governor” (paḥat shomrayin), and the second being “the prefect” (segana᾽). The fragmentary evidence of the papyri and of an inscribed bulla (WD 22) suggests that the governorship, if not also the prefecture, was kept within the Sanballatid family. [See Sanballat.]

A diversity of personal name types attested in the documents points to a diversity in the ethnic composition of the population of fourth-century Samaria. Hebrew names, most of which can be paralleled in biblical and epigraphic Hebrew, predominate. Many of these are Yahvistic. But other personal names can be identified as Aramaic, Edomite, Phoenician, Akkadian, Persian, and perhaps belong to other ethnic groups as well. It is certainly possible to make false inferences from personal names. For instance, the bearers of the Akkadian names may in fact be Arameans. Similarly, the hybrid name yhvbgh (“Yahu is God”) cautions us from drawing too much from the impeccably Persian bgbrt (“by God lifted up, esteemed”). The slaves sold are as likely to bear Yahvistic names as either the sellers or the buyers. In one case, a woman becomes the new owner of a male and a female slave (WDSP 2).

The slaves are generally sold for life (contrary to the regulations of Lv. 25.39–47). [See Slavery.] It is not completely clear whether the loan contracts are constructed in such a way as to circumvent a ban on interest. Antichretic use of the pledged slave or vineyard may have stood in place of interest. Because the term for chambers in a public building (nshkt᾽) in WDSP 14 is only rarely used outside of a sacral context, it has fueled the debate as to whether there was a temple in Samaria before the coming of Alexander (Eshel, 1996).


  • Cross, Frank Moore. “The Discovery of the Samaria Papyri.” Biblical Archaeologist 26 (1963), 110–121.
  • Cross, Frank Moore. “Aspects of Samaritan and Jewish History in Late Persian and Hellenistic Times.” Harvard Theological Review 59 (1966), 201–211.
  • Cross, Frank Moore. “Papyri of the Fourth Century B.C. from Dâliyeh.” In New Directions in Biblical Archaeology, edited by David Noel Freedman and Jonas C. Greenfield, pp. 41–62, figs. 34–39. Garden City, N.Y., 1969.
  • Cross, Frank Moore. “The Papyri and Their Historical Implications” and “Other Finds: Coins; Scarab.” In Discoveries in the Wâdi ed-Dâliyeh, edited by Paul W. Lapp and Nancy L. Lapp, pp. 17–29, 57–60. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 41. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
  • Cross, Frank Moore. “Samaria Papyrus 1: An Aramaic Slave Conveyance of 335 B.C.E.” Eretz-lsrael 18 (1985), 7*–17*, pl. 2.
    Preliminary publication of WDSP 1
  • Cross, Frank Moore. “A Report on the Samaria Papyri.” In Congress Volume: Jerusalem, 1986, edited by J. A. Emerton, pp. 17–26. Supplements to Vetus Testamentum, 40. Leiden, 1988.
    Includes a preliminary publication of WDSP 2
  • Eshel, Hanan. “Wâdi ed-Dâliyeh Papyrus 14 and the Samaritan Temple” (in Hebrew). Zion 61 (1996), 359–365.
  • Greenfield, Jonas C. “Babylonian-Aramaic Relationship.” In XXI Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Berlin, July 3–7, 1978, edited by Hans-Jörg Nissen and Johannes Renger, vol. 1, pt. 2, pp. 471–482. Berlin, 1982.
  • Gropp, Douglas M. “The Samaria Papyri from the Wâdi ed-Dâliyeh: The Slave Sales.” Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1986.
  • Gropp, Douglas M. “The Language of the Samaria Papyri: A Preliminary Study.” Maarav 5–6 (1990), 169–187.
  • Gropp, Douglas M. “The Origin and Development of the Aramaic šallīṭ Clause.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 52 (1993), 31–36.
  • Gropp, Douglas M. “Imperial Aramaic.” Encyclopedia of Near Eastern Archaeology 3 (1997), 144–146.
  • Lapp, Paul W., and Nancy L. Lapp. Discoveries in the Wâdi ed-Dâliyeh. Annual of the American Schools of Oriental Research, 41. Cambridge, Mass., 1974.
  • Muffs, Yochanan. Studies in the Aramaic Legal Papyri from Elephantine. Leiden, 1969.
  • Tadmor, Hayim. “The Aramaization of Assyria: Aspects of Western Impact.” In XXI Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Berlin, July 3–7, 1978, edited by Hans-Jörg Nissen and Johannes Renger, vol. 1, pt. 2, pp. 449–470. Berlin, 1982.

Douglas M. Gropp