Bethlehem seal discovered in Jerusalem

The seal, or bulla measuring 1.5 cm. confirms existence of city during First Temple period.

May 24, 2012 04:08
1 minute read.
Ancient Bethlehem bulla

Ancient Bethlehem bulla. (photo credit: Courtesy Israel antiquities authority)


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Archeologists discovered an administrative seal from the First Temple period bearing the name “Bethlehem,” which is the earliest proof that the city of Bethlehem existed, the Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday. The seal, or bulla, in Latin, measuring 1.5 cm. in diameter, was used for taxation and bookkeeping in the Kingdom of Judah around 800- 700 BCE.

The bulla was discovered in dirt removed from the Antiquities Authority’s excavations in the Walls Around Jerusalem National Park. Student volunteers and archeologists sift through all of the dirt removed from the archeology sites in the area in a facility in the Ein Tzurim park, an operation funded by the City of David Foundation.

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Throughout the excavations in and around the Western Wall and the City of David, these volunteers and archeologists have uncovered a number of important discoveries while sifting through dirt.

These findings include a 2,000-year-old seal that was found in December near the Shiloah pools and a bell possibly from robes worn by kohanim discovered in an ancient drainage pit next to the Western Wall last July.

According to Antiquities Authority chief archeologist Eli Shukron, the bulla was probably used to seal a shipment of tax payments to the king of Jerusalem. Tax payments were paid in silver or agricultural produce, such as wheat or wine. The bulla has three lines of Hebrew, “B’shvat/ Bat Lehem/ [L’Mele]ch,” which most likely referred to a payment from Bethlehem to the king in the seventh year of the king’s reign.

“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,” Shukron said in a statement released by the Antiquities Authority.

The discovery comes just in time for Shavuot – which Jews will celebrate this year on Saturday night and Sunday – as the city is mentioned frequently in the Book of Ruth, which is read on the holiday. According to tradition Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem at or around Shavuot.

“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab, and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:22)

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