By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent
Last Updated: 2:14am BST 13/07/2007
"The sound of unbridled joy seldom breaks the quiet of the British Museum's great Arched Room, which holds its collection of 130,000 Assyrian cuneiform tablets, dating back 5,000 years.
But Michael Jursa, a visiting professor from Vienna, let out such a cry...He had made what has been called the most important find in Biblical archaeology for 100 years, a discovery that supports the view that the historical books of the Old Testament are based on fact.
Searching for Babylonian financial accounts among the tablets, Prof Jursa suddenly came across a name he half remembered - Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, described there in a hand 2,500 years old, as "the chief eunuch" of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of Babylon.
Prof Jursa, an Assyriologist, checked the Old Testament and there in chapter 39 of the Book of Jeremiah, he found, spelled differently, the same name - Nebo-Sarsekim.
Nebo-Sarsekim, according to Jeremiah, was Nebuchadnezzar II's "chief officer" and was with him at the siege of Jerusalem in 587 BC, when the Babylonians overran the city.
The small tablet, the size of "a packet of 10 cigarettes" according to Irving Finkel, a British Museum expert, is a bill of receipt acknowledging Nabu-sharrussu-ukin's payment of 0.75 kg of gold to a temple in Babylon.
The tablet is dated to the 10th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, 595BC, 12 years before the siege of Jerusalem.
Evidence from non-Biblical sources of people named in the Bible is not unknown, but Nabu-sharrussu-ukin would have been a relatively insignificant figure.
"This is a fantastic discovery, a world-class find," Dr Finkel said yesterday. "If Nebo-Sarsekim existed, which other lesser figures in the Old Testament existed? A throwaway detail in the Old Testament turns out to be accurate and true. I think that it means that the whole of the narrative [of Jeremiah] takes on a new kind of power."
Cuneiform is the oldest known form of writing and was commonly used in the Middle East between 3,200 BC and the second century AD. It was created by pressing a wedge-shaped instrument, usually a cut reed, into moist clay.
The full translation of the tablet reads: (Regarding) 1.5 minas (0.75 kg) of gold, the property of Nabu-sharrussu-ukin, the chief eunuch, which he sent via Arad-Banitu the eunuch to [the temple] Esangila: Arad-Banitu has delivered [it] to Esangila. In the presence of Bel-usat, son of Alpaya, the royal bodyguard, [and of] Nadin, son of Marduk-zer-ibni. Month XI, day 18, year 10 [of] Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon."