New Discovery: Earliest archaeological evidence of Bethlehem during First Temple Period

Excavations in Jerusalem have produced a bulla inscribed with the name of Bethlehem from the biblical Divided Kingdom period.

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 לים 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”.

Bulla from the First Temple Period with “Bethlehem” in ancient Hebrew script on the second line. This was discovered during sifting from excavations near the Temple Mount. (Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

You may read the full press release and download a high-res copy of the photo here. (temporary link)

Bethlehem appears multiple times in the Bible.

  • Rachel, Jacob’s wife, was buried near Bethlehem. (Genesis 35:19)
  • The judge Ibzan was from Bethlehem. (Judges 12:8-10)
  • Ruth’s first husband and her in-laws from from Bethlehem. She settled down there with her second husband Boaz, another resident of the city. Boaz and Ruth were David’s great-grandparents. (Ruth 1 and 4)
  • David grew up around Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16)
  • Joab, David’s general and nephew, also grew up there. (2 Samuel 2:18-32)
  • The Philistines maintained a garrison there prior to or during David’s early reign. (2 Samuel 23:13-17)
  • The prophet Micah spoke of the Messiah coming from Bethlehem. (Micah 5:2-5)
  • Jesus was born near Bethlehem during the Roman Period. (Matthew 2; Luke 2)
HT: Joe Lauer
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About LukeChandler

Luke holds an M.A. in Ancient and Classical History and has been an adjunct professor at Florida College in Temple Terrace, Florida. Luke and his wife Melanie have five children. He serves as a minister in English and Spanish with the North Terrace Church of Christ and participates annually in archaeological excavations in Israel. Luke also leads tours to Europe and the Bible Lands.
This entry was posted in Biblical Archaeology, Inscriptions and Manuscripts, Jerusalem, New Discoveries and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to New Discovery: Earliest archaeological evidence of Bethlehem during First Temple Period

  1. pithom says:

    I’m fairly confident a survey at Bethlehem identified Iron IIc pottery, so this bulla is probably only the earliest non-biblical mention of the place-name ‘Bethlehem’.

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