First Reference of Bethlehem outside Bible Found on a Clay Seal in Jerusalem
Bethlehem written in ancient Hebrew script appears on the clay seal found in Jerusalem. IAA

A clay seal found during an excavation in Jerusalem is said to be the first and only object to have mention of the modern day Palestinian city of Bethlehem, outside of the Bible. Bethlehem is cited as the birth place of Jesus Christ in the Bible.

The clay seal, which has Bethlehem written in ancient Hebrew script on it, suggests Bethlehem existed in the First Temple Period (1006 - 586 BCE) and possibly in the Kingdom of Judah, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement on Wednesday.

"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," IAA excavation director Eli Shukron said.

IAA archaeologists digging at a site in the City of David found the seal - measuring 1.5cm - during the sifting of soil removed from archaeological excavations. The clay seal, or bulla, 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," the IAA explained.

According to archaeologists, the seal is believed to date back to the late seventh or eighth centuries and was used for a shipment sent from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. It further provides evidence that Bethlehem was a trade hub during the First Temple Period.

"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 added.