Earliest evidence of Bethlehem in First Temple period
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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 Earliest evidence of Bethlehem in First Temple period

5/23/2012

Earliest archaeological evidence found of the existence of the city of Bethlehem already in the First Temple period - the first ancient artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the city of Bethlehem, which is mentioned in the Bible, was recently discovered in Jerusalem.


 
Bulla bearing the name of the city of Bethlehem (Photo: Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

(Communicated by the Israel Antiquities Authority)

While sifting soil from archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the City of David, in the "Walls around Jerusalem National Park", a bulla measuring c. 1.5 cm was discovered bearing the name of the city of Bethlehem, written in ancient Hebrew script. The sifting is underwritten by the 'Ir David Foundation' in a project being conducted in the Emek Tzurim National Park.

A bulla is a piece of clay that was used for sealing a document or object. The bulla was impressed with the seal of the person who sent the document or object, and its integrity was evidence the document or object was not opened by anyone unauthorized to do so.

Three lines of ancient Hebrew script appear on the bulla:

 בשבעת     Bishv'at
 בת לחם     Bat Lechem
 [למל]ך      [Lemel]ekh

According to Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, "it seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king (it is unclear if the king referred to here is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah), a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem.

The bulla we found belongs to the group of "fiscal" bullae - administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE. The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat." Shukron emphasizes, "this is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period, which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods."

In the Bible Bethlehem is first mentioned in the verse "in Ephrath, which is Bethlehem", and it was on the way there that Rachel died and it is where she was buried (Genesis 35:19; 48:7). The descendants of Judah settled there, among them the family of Boaz (Book of Ruth). Bethlehem's greatness begins with the anointing of David, son of Jesse, as king (1 Samuel 16).

 
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