Frank Moore Cross

Frank Moore Cross. By Jack1956, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The New York Times on December 8, 1979 carried a front page story headlined, “Scholar Identifies Legal Pages as the Oldest Found in Palestine.”

The story describes the efforts of Harvard Professor Frank Cross to decipher fourth century B.C. papyrus fragments found in a cave north of Jericho. The fragments, which are parts of legal documents, were found with the bones of more than 300 Samaritans who fled to the cave after Alexander the Great destroyed Samaria in 331 B.C. Alexander’s men apparently discovered the Samaritans and then lit a huge fire at the mouth of the cave which drew the oxygen out of the cave. The Samaritans inside suffocated. Twenty-three hundred years later Bedouin tribesmen found the worm-infested remains of the Samaritans’ documents. Archaeologists then went in to make sure that everything possible was recovered.

Several readers have asked us if we intend to cover this story printed in the Times.

Two stories on the Samaria papyri have already appeared in the March 1978 BAR. The first is entitled “Bedouin Find Papyri Three Centuries Older Than Dead Sea Scrolls,” BAR 04-01, by Paul W. Lapp. The second is by Professor Cross himself and is entitled, “The Historical Importance of the Samaria Papyri,” BAR 04-01. The stories are illustrated with color and black-and-white pictures.

Professor Cross is continuing to work on the papyri and we hope to bring you his new insights as they are disclosed.