JERUSALEM, May 23 — An excavation being conducted near the Western Wall in Jerusalem has yielded an artifact which constitutes the first tangible evidence of the existence of Bethlehem outside the Scripture, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced Wednesday.
A routine sifting of soil at the site Monday produced a bulla – a piece of clay that was used for sealing documents or objects for shipment. Its integrity was evidence that the item was not opened by anyone unauthorized to do so.
The artifact measures 1.5 cm and is engraved with three lines of ancient Hebrew script: "Bishv'at" (the seventh), "Bat Lechem" (Bethlehem), and "(Lemel)ekh" (for the king).
"It seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king, a shipment was sent from Bethlehem to his quarters in Jerusalem," said Eli Shukrun, director of the excavation.
It is unclear if the king referred to is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah, but Shukrun said that the bulla that was found belonged to the category of "fiscal," or administrative bulla that were used to seal payments forwarded to the taxation authorities of the Kingdom of Judah in the late 8th and 7th centuries BC.
The tax could have been paid in the form of silver or agricultural produce, such as wine or wheat, according to an IAA press release.
"This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple Period," Shukrun said. (PNA/Xinhua) DCT/RSV/mmg