Archaeologists recently discovered the first artifact constituting tangible evidence of the existence of the ancient city of Bethlehem, which is mentioned in the Torah, according to an Israel Antiquities Authority statement released Wednesday.
The artifact, a bulla, or piece of clay for sealing a document or object, may prove the existence of Bethlehem dating back to the First Temple Period.
The dramatic discovery was made while sifting soil from archaeological excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority is conducting in the City of David, in the “Walls around Jerusalem National Park.”
The bulla, measuring 1.5 cm, was discovered bearing the name of the city, written in ancient Hebrew script. The dig is underwritten by the Ir David Foundation.
A bulla would be impressed with the seal of the person who sent the document or object, and its integrity was evidence that no one had viewed or opened the document who unless authorized.
Three lines of ancient Hebrew script appear on the bulla, including the words: Bishv'at, Bet Lechem and [Lemel]ekh.
Eli Shukron, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, stated that the discovery appears to show 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."
Shukron dated the bulla to the seventh or eighth centuries BCE during a period in which bullae were used for taxation of shipments in the Kingdom of Judah.
He emphasized the bulla's significance as, “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 Torah, Bethlehem is first mentioned in the verse “in Ephrath, which is Bethlehem”, it was on the way to Bethlehem that Rachel died and it is the site 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 became a more central biblical city with the anointing of David, son of Jesse, as king (1 Samuel 16).
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