JERUSALEM, Israel -- Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, existed as a thriving Judean city during First Temple Times, a recent find by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists confirms.
"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 possible also in earlier periods," said IAA archaeologist Eli Shukrun, director of the excavation at the City of David where the small clay seal was found.
Three Hebrew words inscribed on the seal -- bishvat, bat lechem, and a part of the word l'melekh -- indicate it marked a tax payment sent from Bethlehem to the king of Judah, who would have been either Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah.
Shukrun explained the seal designated a tax shipment, which "could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce such as wine or wheat."
The Bible speaks of Bethlehem Ephrathah in Genesis 35:19 and 48:17 and again in the Book of Ruth (1:2; 4:11), which is read during the upcoming festival of Shavuot (or Weeks). Ruth is mentioned in the genealogy of the Messiah in the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel.
Shavuot is celebrated 50 days after Passover, which the New Testament calls the day of Pentecost, when the early disciples were imbued with power from on high.
"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:1-4)
1 Samuel 17:12 records that Jesse, the father of King David, is the "Ephrathite of Bethlehem Judah," while the prophet Micah foretells that the Jewish Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
"But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting." (Micah 5:2)
The biblical history confirmed by the tiny clay seal serves as further evidence of the historical accuracy of the Old and New Testaments.