The Oldest Papyrus that Mentions the Sabbath
by Kelly McDonald, Jr.
The oldest papyrus (outside of the Bible) which mentions the Sabbath dates to about 250 years before the time of Jesus! It is an amazing archaeological find. In this article, we share details about this find.
Papyrus is a water plant in Egypt that was used to make many materials. Among them was a paper that is called by the same name (Papyrus is the singular form, papyri is the plural). It was used for centuries before, during, and after the time Jesus. This special paper has survived in parts of Egypt due to the dry conditions. It can serve as a window to examine ancient history.
The Zenon Papyri are an archive that was found in Egypt in 1914. They date to the mid-third century BC (about 250) and provide for us the earliest evidence of daily life for people under the rule of the Ptolemies. They were originally owned by an official in the Greek-Egyptian kingdom.
Above: A papyrus found at Zenon. Public Domain.
One papyrus in this archive contains an account of the quantities of bricks received every day from the 5th to the 11th of Egyptian month called Epeiph. This ancient month would correspond to late June into late July on our current calendar.
The writer was apparently a Jewish man who observed the Sabbath. On the seventh day, no bricks were delivered. The day was simply marked with the Greek word Sabbata, meaning Sabbath.
We have the text from this papyrus below:
|5th||I have on hand bricks from Phileas 920|
|10th||2000, of which Demetrios has brought 100 those of Tanis 1000|
|11th||936; of which Demetrios has brought 888 those from Tanis 48|
While the text does not provide much information, it serves as the oldest ancient papyrus to mention the Sabbath. It is also an ancient witness of observance of the seventh-day Sabbath.
As discussed in other articles, there were Jewish people, but also Gentiles who were drawn to the Sabbath. CLICK HERE to learn more about this subject.
Kelly McDonald, Jr.
Bible Sabbath Association (BSA) – www.biblesabbath.org
Corpus Papyrorum Judaicarum. Edited by Victor A. Tcherikover and Alexander Fuks. Vol. 1. The Magnes Press, The Hebrew Universirty. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1957. pp 136-137.
Edgar, Campbell Cowan. Zenon Papyri. Vol. 4. New York: Georg Olms Verlag, 1971. pp 190-191.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Zenon Papyri.
“P.Mich.inv. 3645; Recto.” https://quod.lib.umich.edu/a/apis/x-2028/3645r_a.tif. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed January 11, 2023.