Clay fragment shows historic Bethlehem

May 24, 2012 at 5:27 PM
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JERUSALEM, May 24 (UPI) -- A clay fragment mentioning Bethlehem is the first archaeological evidence it existed as a city at the time of the First Temple in Jerusalem, archaeologists say.

The 2,700-year-old shard with an ancient Hebrew inscription mentioning the city of Bethlehem was recently found in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority said Wednesday.

The inscription was significant as the first evidence outside the Bible that Bethlehem existed as a city during the First Temple period, archaeologist Eli Shukron told The Times of Israel.

The half-inch shard was a bulla, or a seal imprint, used to seal shipments of silver or goods paid as tax to the Kingdom of Judah in the late 8th and 7th centuries B.C, he said.

"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," Shukron said.

Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, is mentioned repeatedly in the Bible as the burial place of the biblical matriarch Rachel, the setting for the Book of Ruth, and the hometown of King David.

In the New Testament, it appears as the birthplace of Jesus.

Bethlehem today is a Palestinian town of some 25,000 people.

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