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Archaeological Discoveries: 2,700 Year Old Clay Fragment From Bethlehem Found in Jerusalem

(May 2012)

A 2,700-year-old clay shard with an ancient Hebrew inscription mentioning the city of Bethlehem was found in an archaeological dig in Jerusalem, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. The shard, measuring less than one inch across, was found by crews sifting through debris removed from the excavation site known as the City of David, just outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

The shard was a bulla, or a seal imprint, of a kind used to seal shipments of silver or goods paid as tax to the Kingdom of Judah in the late 8th and 7th centuries BCE, according to lead archaeologist Eli Shukron. The fragment also includes the Hebrew word “seventh” and what Shukron believes was the end of a word meaning “for the king,” suggesting it was connected to a tax paid by Bethlehem in the seventh year of the rule of one of the kings of Jerusalem.

Shukron said the inscriptions on the shard are significant because they are the first archaeological evidence that Bethlehem existed as a city during the period generally referred to by biblical archaeologists as the First Temple era.

“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 the statement.

Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible, where it appears as the burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel, as the setting for the Book of Ruth, and as the hometown of King David. In the New Testament, Bethlehem appears as the birthplace of Jesus.

Sources: Times of Israel; Yahoo News; Photograph courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority