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The Israel Antiquities Authority just announced the discovery of a bulla (small clay stamp used for sealing documents) bearing the name of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. The bulla dates to the 8th or 7th century BC, roughly the same time Micah prophesied that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).  It is the only extra-biblical reference to Bethlehem, and one of only ~40 bulla to be discovered from the First Temple period. 

The tiny (1.5 cm) bulla has three lines of fragmented text in paleo-Hebrew:

Hebrew:

בשבעת

לתב ים

למל]ך]

English transliteration:

Bishv’at
Bat Lechem
[Lemel]ekh 

English translation:

“in the seventh
Bethlehem
king”

The third line only contains a single Hebrew letter, but it is speculated that it is the final letter in the Hebrew word melek, or “king.” Eli Shukron, the excavation’s director, thinks the bulla “belongs to the group of ‘fiscal’ bullae – administrative bullae used to seal tax shipments remitted to the taxation system of theKingdom ofJudah in the late eighth and seventh centuries BCE.” 

While some scholars immediately questioned the paleographic identification of“Bethlehem,” several have since retracted their arguments and agreed that it is indeed Bethlehem.   

A high resolution image is available here.

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