Israeli archaeologists discovered a 2,700-year-old seal with the word Bethlehem inscribed upon it, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday. This artifact is believed to be the oldest object ever discovered bearing the name of Jesus' traditional place of birth.
The clay seal's existence and age provides evidence that Bethlehem was a popular trade town and not just a name in the Bible.
Eli Shukoron said the find had historical significance because it is the first time the name of the town of Bethlehem appears outside of the Bible during that same period, reported the Associated Press.
Shukron said the seal is approximately 1.5 centimeters in diameter, reported the Herald Sun. The seal was written in ancient Hebrew script. Pottery from the same period was also discovered near the clay seal.
Shmuel Achituv is an expert in ancient scripts and teaches at Israel's Ben-Gurion University. He said the discovery was the oldest reference to Bethlehem ever found. Apart from the seal, mentions during the same period of the town are only in the Bible, he said, reported the AP.
Archaeologists believe the seal was used as a stamp is known as a fiscal bulla. It was probably used for administrative purposes and could have been used to stamp tax shipments from Bethlehem to Jerusalem.
It seems that in the seventh year of the reign of a king [of Judah, it is unclear if the king referred to is Hezekiah, Manasseh or Josiah], a shipment was dispatched from Bethlehem to the king in Jerusalem, Shukron, said in a statement on Wednesday, reported Discovery. This is the first time the name Bethlehem appears outside the Bible, in an inscription from the First Temple period [1006-586 BC] which proves that Bethlehem was indeed a city in the Kingdom of Judah, and possibly also in earlier periods.
The team of archaeologists stumbled across this rare treasure when they dug it up during an excavation outside Jerusalem's Old City walls.
There are only approximately 40 other existing seals of this kind from the first Jewish Temple period, said Achituv.
The dig has raised controversy because it is being underwritten by extreme-right wing Jewish organizations that want to repopulate the area with Jewish settlers.