Israeli archaeologists said on Wednesday they had discovered the first physical evidence supporting Old Testament accounts of Bethlehem’s existence centuries before it turned into a holy place – Jesus Christ’s birthplace. The proof came, they said, in a clay seal unearthed near the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and imprinted with three lines of ancient Hebrew script that include the word “Bethlehem”.
Eli Shukron, who directed the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the seal apparently had been placed on a tax shipment of silver or agricultural produce sent from Bethlehem to the King of Judah in nearby Jerusalem in the 8th or 7th century BC. “This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible in an inscription from the First Temple period,” Shukron said in a statement, referring to the years 1006 BC to 586 BC.
The stamp is estimated to date back to the 7th or 8th century BC and is 1.5 centimeters long. Archaeologists believe that it was transported via a load of silver or agricultural products from Bethlehem to Judea, as a form of taxes paid to the Judean King.
Bethlehem was first mentioned in the Old Testament as the place where Rachel’s tomb, wife of Jacob, was located.