Archaeologists have discovered the first evidence outside of the Bible that Bethlehem was part of the First Temple era Kingdom of Judah.
The dramatic archaeological find was announced Wednesday, five days before Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Shavuot and hear the recital of the Book of Ruth, which takes place in Bethlehem.
A half-inch clay seal was discovered at the ongoing excavations at Ir David (City of David) located across the road from the Western Wall.
The stamp, with ancient Hebrew script, is one of a group of seals used to stamp official documents that were to be opened only by authorized officials.
Three lines in the stamp state:
בת לכם (Bat Lechem)
The writing means that the stamp was sent from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign.
Eli Shukrun, director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said that it is unclear if the reference to the king is to Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah.
The stamps, or seals (called bullae), were used to seal tax shipments in the Kingdom of Judah in the late eighth century and the seventh century BCE.
“The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat,” according to Shukrun.
He added,” 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”.
Bethlehem is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis (Bereishit) when it is named concernng the place of death and burial of the Matriarch Rachel.
Bethlehem also is mentioned in the Book of Ruth as the place where “the children of Judah dwelled,” including the family of Boaz, who is a central figure in the Book of Ruth, which takes place in Bethlehem except for the first few verses..
Bethlehem is cited in the Book of Samuel as the city where David was anointed as king and the location of his family's home.