Archaeological evidence for Bethlehem

Bethlehem bulla

Just a week ago I commented on the lack of archaeological evidence for Bethlehem at the time of Jesus – it was known only from about the fourth century on. I said:

“Archaeologists have found little that could identify the town of Bethlehem in the first century, leading a few to argue that it didn’t exist at that time. …. I don’t think this question has been resolved yet”

Sometimes a week is a long time in archaeology!

Now archaeologists working in the city of David area of Jerusalem, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, have announced the discovery of a small (1.5 cm) bulla, a piece of clay used to make an impression in wax, sealing a document so it couldn’t be altered. This small bulla apparently accompanied a delivery of goods to the king of Judah about 7 centuries BCE, and the bulla identifies that the shipment was despatched from Bethlehem.

This shows the existence of town named Bethlehem seven centuries before Jesus, the first independent corroboration of the Bible’s references to the town. This doesn’t prove it existed in Jesus’ day also, but if it was there 700 years before and 400 years afterwards, it suggests that it probably did indeed exist at the time of Jesus.

Who knows what discoveries are yet to come?

Photo from Israel Antiquities Authority. Report in Los Angeles Times.

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  1. This is nice! Of course, we will probably find an article on “jesusneverexisted” explaining this away, but the name Bethlehem is almost completely visible on the second line.

  2. Can you read Hebrew, or did you read that somewhere else? I find it fascinating that, presumably, some workman 2700 years ago made this bulla along with many others, and he is long gone and forgotten and his workmanship has survived underground for so long and has surfaced now/.

  3. I can read Hebrew, but not the Paleo-Hebrew script, so I read the transcription in the other script on the IAA site. Though I now see people claiming on blogs that there’s a small error in that transcription, though.

  4. Yes, I’ve heard people thought that, not just you. But there must be many villages and even towns of the time that we have no archaeology for, just an odd reference or two. I think the idea it was fictional was only proposed because it was in the Bible. And this isn’t definite “proof”, just some more evidence.

  5. Well I don’t assume everything in the bible is wrong because it is in the bible, I simply have no reason to believe it based on it being in the bible ever since I read the age of reason by thomas Paine. And while you’re right in that it is not conclusive proof it does make it allot more credible. When you have evidence for one position and none for the opposite it seems silly not to assume that, of course within the boundaries of the current observations, it is acceptable to assume Bethlehem was a town back then. I personally do not believe that this has any bearing on the validity of the birth-story (I’ve always heard it’s an obvious forgery by both religious and non-religious people) so I honestly don’t see why people would object. It’s just a funfact I guess.

  6. Can you explain what you mean please? As far as I know, Bethlehem was not a city but a village, whereas the city of David (Zion) was the city of Jerusalem, a few kilometres from Bethlehem.

  7. Hi, thanks for informing me. I didn’t know that about the Hebrew words for city and town being the same.
    But I wonder if you can explain your views a little more for me please. For I read in Joshua that Jerusalem and Bethlehem were both definitely in Benjamin, but elsewhere Joshua implies Jerusalem is in Judah. It was academic of course, because the Jewish people couldn’t capture it for several centuries until David captured it.
    But at the time it was captured, as described in 2 Samuel 5:6-9, it was known as the city of David: “The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, “You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off.” They thought, “David cannot get in here.” Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion—which is the City of David. …. David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward.”
    Later, when the two kingdoms split, Benjamin stayed with Judah, and the whole was known as Judah.
    So it seems to me that the Bible described things differently to how you do. Can you explain how you come to a different view? Thanks.

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